Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The First Test Act

In February 1673 Parliament met for the first time since April 1671. They voted Charles money to continue the war and concentrated their fire on the Declaration of Indulgence. In the counties anti-Catholicism had reared its head and the debates of February and March were conducted in hysterical terms, the hysteria fanned by skilful Dutch propagandists. (For example, a pamphlet 'England's Appeal from the Private Cabal at Whitehall to the Great Council of the Nation' suggested and inseparable link between 'France, popery and taking bribes'. ) However they just stopped short of accusing Charles II of taking bribes. As Kishlansky (1996) wryly puts it,
‘ even the paranoid fantasies of the propagandists were too tame when compared to the truth’.

It was now clear that many Anglicans were prepared to consider relief for Protestant Dissenters in an attempt to mount a common front against Catholicism. On 14 February the Commons voted 168/116 that ‘penal statutes in matters ecclesiastical cannot be suspended but by an act of Parliament’, and went on to claim that Charles was ‘very much misinformed’ to believe that he had the power to suspend statutes. All Charles's policy had achieved had been to unite Anglicans and Dissenters against what was perceived to be the common enemy.

On 8 March Charles announced the cancellation of the Declaration of Indulgence. A few days later he gave his assent to a Test Act, despite pressure to the contrary from James, Clifford and Shaftesbury. This excluded all non-Anglicans from public offices by forcing office-holders
1. to swear the Oaths of supremacy and allegiance
2. to take a declaration repudiating transubstantiation
3. to provide documentary proof that they had recently received communion according to the Church of England.

‘The price of parliamentary grants was to be Anglican government’ (Kishlansky, 247). Charles’s right to appoint his own advisors had been dramatically curtailed.

The most dramatic effect of the Test Act was the resignation of the duke of York as Lord High Admiral in June. James had failed to take the Anglican sacrament at Easter - now his Catholicism was out in the open. Clifford also resigned his post as Lord Treasurer; he never recovered from this blow and died in October.

In September James married (by proxy) Princess Maria Beatrice Eleanora D’Este of Modena (Mary of Modena), the great-niece of Cardinal Mazarin, whose family were clients of Louis XIV. She had wished to be a nun but was overruled by Pope Clement X, who told her it was her religious duty to marry James (See Maureen Waller, Ungrateful Daughters, Sceptre, 2002, 54). If they had a son he would displace James’s Protestant daughters, Mary and Anne, and open up the prospect of a Catholic dynasty. Unaware that the marriage had already taken place Parliament (in October) sent an address to the king against it, and refused supply.

On 5 November all London flocked to a great pope-burning, with the additional attraction that an effigy of a Frenchman could be shot at by spectators.

By this time the Cabal had begun to disintegrate. The war was not going well, and Spain and the Empire had entered it on the Dutch side. Shaftesbury no longer supported the government. He was now convinced that Charles intended to promote Catholicism and he was determined to prevent a Catholic becoming monarch. When the queen fell seriously ill in February 1673 he had hoped Charles would remarry. When she recovered, he pressed Charles to divorce Catherine in order to marry a Protestant princess and produce a Protestant heir. But Charles was no longer thinking of divorce (he was preoccupied with his latest mistress, Louise). On 9 November 1673 he dismissed Shaftesbury from his office of Lord Chancellor, and thus created his most formidable and implacable enemy.


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