|Charles I at his trial|
To pick up on the English Civil War and its impact on the development of Anglicanism, after only a few years following his accession to the throne in 1625, Charles was losing popular support. Archbishop Laud’s High Church liturgical reforms went too far for many who had accustomed themselves to Calvinist austerity in worship and resented the innovations. (There are always those who resist and resent liturgical development, even when it is to improve the theological footing of the Liturgy.) His wars were costly and his failure to win them a national embarrassment. His dependence upon his favorites for council and his opposition to Parliament left the people feeling unheard and unrepresented. Charles also had a program to drain “The Fens”—the marshy swamplands in eastern England. The program would enrich his friends who were investing in it with hopes of converting the swamps to good rich farmland, but disrupt the lives of the locals who for centuries had made their living fishing and wildfowling. The King and Parliament were in a political tug of war with the Commons reflecting the mood of the ordinary people, especially the merchant class of the South and South East (including London) and the King representing the views of the landed aristocracy.
By the beginning of 1642 as Parliament became more assertive in their resistance to the King’s policies, and the King felt himself losing control, Charles appeared at the House of Commons with 400 soldiers to arrest five members of the House whom he perceived to be the leaders of the opposition to his policies. Charles was angry about the execution of Lord Wentworth, his Lord Deputy for Ireland and fearful about the fate of his Archbishop of Canterbury, Laud, whom Parliament had imprisoned. Wentworth had only carried out the King’s requirements to raise funds in order to avoid having to convoke Parliament to impose new taxes and Charles was in sympathy with Laud’s ceremonial approach to worship. The King’s failure to arrest the opposition left him fearful of his safety and the safety of his family and fled London. The rumors—quite probably true—were that that the Queen, Henrietta Marie, had persuaded Charles to arrest the Parliamentarians. It was a disaster. The five members of the House had been pre-warned and fled before the King arrived. The King’s coming into the House and intimidating it with his 400 guards was seen to be a gross violation of Parliamentary right and no monarch has since been permitted to enter the House of Commons.
After staying briefly first at Hampton Court and then Windsor, Charles sent his family to safety in France and proceeded to the North of England where he hoped to find support among the more traditional nobility and gentry. Meanwhile the country polarized with some cities and towns declaring support for the King and others for Parliament. This put King and Parliament at war with each other—civil war. Painting the picture with somewhat of a broad brush, the King controlled Wales, the West, the Midlands and the North. Parliament held the allegiance of London, the South, the East and the Navy. Charles established his capital at Oxford.
It is beyond the point of this blog to go through the Civil War battle by battle, suffice it to say that as the war raged back and forth over the next five years, the King lost more and more and Parliament was more and more victorious. After being besieged in Oxford, Charles fled and sought refuge with the Scots army at that time in the Midlands. The Scots, firm in their Presbyterian belief and angry with the King for his attempts to force Anglicanism on them, betrayed Charles and sold him to the Parliamentary forces in January 1647.
As England devolved from monarchy and episcopacy into what became political tyranny and religious chaos, the Church of England not only split along the High Church/Puritan fault line, it shattered into numerous religious sects. With the execution of Charles in 1649, England was declared to be a “Commonwealth” with a Republican form of government. With the abolishment of bishops in 1646 the Church officially became a Presbyterian Church. The 39 articles—the key statement of Anglican doctrine—was replaced by the Westminster Confession; the Book of Common Prayer by the Directory for Public Worship adopted from the Church of Scotland. I say “Presbyterian” because its ecclesial polity was Presbyterian (as different from Episcopalian—that is governed by bishops.) As opposed to Episcopal government—government by a bishop with his officials such as Archdeacons and Deans, in the Presbyterian system local churches are governed by a body of elders (presbyters). Churches were no longer gathered in a diocese under a bishop but governed by an assembly of presbyters known as the presbytery or classis. I want to be careful to nuance this correctly but when I say the Church of England was Presbyterian, I am not correlating it to modern Presbyterianism, but simply to say that it adopted the Presbyterian form of organization typical of most Churches in the Reformed (as opposed to Catholic, Orthodox, or Evangelical [aka Lutheran]) traditions. In fact both today’s English Presbyterians and Congregationalists would find in the time of the Commonwealth not their origins (they date back as movements within the Church of England to the late 16th century opposition to the Prayer Book and to Bishops) but certainly their coming of age. The Church of England during the Commonwealth (or as it is sometimes called the Interregnum) was a Reformed Church that was home to groups that would later distinguish themselves from one another as “Presbyterian” or “Congregational.” And indeed, in 1972 the majority of Congregational Churches in England united with the Presbyterian Church of England to form the United Reformed Church.
This Presbyterian/Congregationalist Church of England satisfied the Puritans who had long wanted to get rid of Bishops and the Prayer Book and Christmas and other “popish” traditions. Yes, Christmas was outlawed in England from 1647 until the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II in 1660—giving rise to the popular rhyme:
Now thanks to God for Charles return
Whose absence made old Christmas mourn
For then we scarcely did it know
Whether it Christmas were or no
But as I said, the Church did not split in two, it shattered. The Puritan faction was not sufficiently radical for tens of thousands who found expression for their faith—or their psychosis—in dozens of far more radical groups ranging from the Anabaptists to the Diggers to the Fifth Monarchists to the Sabbatarians to the Quakers to the Ranters. We will look at some of these groups in the future postings. Suffice it to say that what had once been one Church with a lot of factional tension now became dozens of sects ranging from the respectable to the totally out of control. While the Church of England had up to this time (quite unofficially) encompassed a wide variety of theological opinions and forms of worship, these various groups now broke apart into a wide variety of sects that, like Humpty Dumpty, never be put back together again. Suffice it to say for the purposes of this blog, that the traditional Church of England, a National and Episcopal Church, ceased to exist. It would be restored in 1660 along with the monarchy, but never again would it encompass the almost universal composite of the English people.