Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Foundation of the Anglican Church CXII

Coronation Portrait of
Charles II 

The Reign of Charles II marked not only the restoration of the monarchy but of the Anglican Church as bishops were restored to their sees and conformity to the Book of Common Prayer marked the worship of English churches.  Those clergy who had not been episcopally ordained and would not submit to reordination by a bishop and/or who would not conduct worship according to the liturgical norms of the Book of Common Prayer were deprived of their posts.  The meant that pretty much the entire Puritan wing of the Church of England went into a Non-Conformity from which the Congregational and (English) Presbyterian Churches emerged.  Baptists who had broken with the Puritans during the time of Cromwell and the Commonwealth also fell into the Non-Conformist category.  In 1661 Parliament had passed the Corporation Act which required all local government officials to take the Sacrament according to the Prayer Book Ritual and to formally foreswear the 1643 Solemn League and Covenant which had replaced the Anglican Prayer Book during the Puritan Commonwealth/English Civil War.   Furthermore, by this act, those who would not take the Sacrament according to the Rites of the Established Church could not hold office in the Army or the Navy, nor could they take a University Degree. This meant that Non-Conformists were ineligible for public office and many professions were closed to them.  In 1662 the Act of Uniformity, as mentioned above, required episcopal ordination for all clergy and adherence to the Prayer Book liturgy on pain of deprivation of office.  Parliament also passed a law that year demanding an oath of allegiance to the King.  Quakers could not take this oath as their beliefs proscribed the swearing of all oaths.  This act emarginated the Quakers from the larger English Society even more.  In 1664 Parliament passed the Conventicle Act which prohibited gatherings of more than 5 people for religious purposes unless they were under the auspices of the Church of England.  This law was meant to make Non-Conformist worship illegal.   In 1665 Parliament passed the Five Mile Act which prohibited Non-Conformist clergy from coming within five miles of towns or of the parishes they had held during the Commonwealth period.  They also were not allowed to be schoolteachers.  These acts, known collectively as the Clarendon Code, were attempts to make religious membership and worship outside the Established Church illegal and suppress religious dissent.  These laws were also grossly unsuccessful.  It is unknown just how many English followed their Non-Conformist clergy out of the Church of England as no census number were taken at the time, but later figures might indicate that at least a third of the population rejected the Established Church in favor of the Non-Conformist sects.  
The Jewish community in England was alarmed by the Conventicle Act as it technically proscribed Jewish Worship as well as Non-Conformist worship, but the King assured a delegation of English Jews who appealed to him not to worry, and the Privy Council granted them a explicit exemption so long as they obeyed the laws of the realm.  There was no such provision for Catholics, of course, but neither was there an aggressive campaign at this point to make life difficult for Catholics as Charles’ Queen, Catherine of Braganza, was a Catholic as was also Charles’ chief Mistress, the Duchess of Cleveland.  In 1672 Charles issued the Declaration of Indulgence which lifted the penal laws against both non-Conformists and Catholics, but the following year Parliament made him rescind the declaration in put in its place the Test Act which required one to swear an oath against the doctrine of Transubstantiation as well as take the Sacrament according to the Anglican Rite—this excluded both Catholics and non-Conformists from public life.
Charles was to die a Catholic, being received into the Catholic Church on his deathbed by Queen Catherine’s chaplain, the Benedictine monk John Huddleston.  Ironically Huddleston was among a group of Catholics who had saved Charles from the Parliamentarians after Charles’ defeat at the 1651 Battle of Worcester.  When Huddleston was ushered through a secret passage into the dying King’s bedchamber on February 5, 1685, the Duke of York, Charles’ brother, said: “Sire, this good man once saved your life.  He has now come to save your soul.”  The room had been cleared of all members of the Court except for the Protestant Earls of Bath and Feversham who were confidants of the King.   The presence of these two Protestant peers gave the Privy Council, expelled into an anteroom, a false confidence that the King was safe in his Protestant faith.  In the event, Charles’ conversion would be keep secret until well into the next reign.  Huddleston heard the King’s confession, anointed him, and gave him viaticum.   Some modern writers claim that he was not conscious, or at least not fully aware of what was happening, and that the conversion was foisted upon him by his Catholic Queen and his Catholic brother, James the Duke of York, who was to succeed him as King, but the contemporary accounts do not report any of this and the argument against his conversion to Catholicism seems to be more polemical than historical.  Charles was buried in the vault of Henry VII—the last Catholic King of England who had died in 1509—in Westminster Abbey without any public ceremony to mark his final religious affiliation.  The funeral was held late at night on February 14, eight days after the King’s death.  (This was a remarkably short interval between death and funeral for a prominent person in the 17th century. Charles niece, Mary II, was not buried until almost ten weeks after her death.)  The (Anglican) Dean and Chapter met the coffin at the West Door as was customary and escorted it the length of the Abbey to the chapel in the retro-choir where lay the royal vault.  Peers—including the (Anglican) bishops—attended in an official capacity but none of the late King’s blood relatives did.  They were represented by Prince George of Denmark, the Protestant husband of the King’s niece, Anne (later Queen herself).  The Dean read the Anglican burial service for this all-Protestant congregation and the King was deposited into his grave.
With Charles’ death and the succession of his brother James to the Crown, England found itself in the constitutional conundrum that a Roman Catholic was head of the Church of England.  


  1. It is difficult to assess how tolerant of Roman Catholics England was under Charles II. He himself seems to be remarkably easy-going, enjoying the company of George Fox as well as allowing his Queen the full and free exercise of her Catholic faith. Catholicism appears to have been pretty widely accepted at Court, and of course the practice of the faith throughout the country was very much centred on the houses of the aristocracy and higher gentry. Parliament (and the city of London) remained more strongly anti-Papist and of course anti-Catholic hysteria was waiting round the corner to be stirred up by Titus Oates.
    I rather like the story of Nell Gwynne's carriage being surrounded by an anti-Catholic mob who mistook her for another of the King's mistresses, the unpopular Frenchwoman Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth, and Nell leaning out to call "Good people, you are mistaken; I am the Protestant whore!"

  2. thanks for this reply. I have much more to write about the Stuart era and in particular the Catholic connections. And even though this posting ended with Charles' death, I have more to write about regarding his reign, especially the great fire and the building of the new Saint Paul's. I had thought of including the story of Nell Gwynne and the crowd, and I think I will in one of the future postings on the Stuarts. it is a great story and says a lot about the whole Restoration era and its casual morals as well as the religious tensions.