Copyright
Goldwin Smith.

The United kingdom; a political history online

. (page 48 of 84)
Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 48 of 84)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


could keep a subservient parliament sitting as long as
he pleased. The Cavalier parliament of Charles sat' for
eighteen years.

1661 The command of the military force was given back to
the king, to whom both constitutionally and as a neces-
sary adjunct of the executive it belonged, dangerous to



I CHARLES II 11

freedom in his hands as it might be and as, in the next
feign, it proved. Charles and his more absolutist brother
had marked the support which was given to despotism by
a standing army in France and had laid that lesson to
heart. When the Commonwealth army was disbanded,
three regiments, under the name of guards, were kept
on foot, and the number was afterwards raised to about
five thousand. The national safeguard was the necessity
of parliamentary supplies to maintain the army. But by
one stroke of the sword in the king's hand that safeguard
might be annulled for ever.

A dangerous step was taken towards making the king 1660
independent of parliament by granting him a revenue
for life of one million two hundred thousand pounds,
made up of the port duties added to his hereditary excise.
His extravagance proved an antidote to the unguarded
liberality of the Commons. The mistresses and syco-
phants wrought for constitutional liberty in their way.

The fangs of the treason law were sharpened, and it 1661
was made not only capital to conspire for the king's
death or deposition, but punishable to affirm him to be
a papist or a heretic, to write or speak against the estab-
lished government, to maintain the legality of the Long
Parliament, or to assert a legislative power in either or
both houses of parliament without the king.

The doctrine of non-resistance, pronouncing it treason
to take up arms against the king on any pretence what-
ever, was ominously embodied in a statute. But to make 1661
the doctrine, thus affirmed in the abstract, practically
effective, it would have been necessary to change the
spirit of the nation.

At the gorgeous coronation of Charles the religion of



12 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

etiquette was fully revived, though with innovation de-
rived from the customs of the court of France, "whereof,"*
says Clarendon, "the king and the duke had too much the
image in their heads and than which there could not be
a copy more universally ingrateful and odious to the
English nation."

With the highest of all liberties, and that which is the
salt of all, it fared for a time worst. But few, except
the author of " Areopagitica," clearly saw the value of
liberty of opinion. The press laws of the Commonwealth
had been only occasional; they were the defensive measures
of a government struggling for its life. The press law
of the Cavalier parliament was an application of the

1662 paternal policy. The censorship of the press was appro-
priately conferred on L'Estrange, a royalist spy and con-
spirator, who had signalized his loyalty by an attack on
Milton. This man was made inquisitor-general, not only
for publications, but for the whole trade. His paper,
published twice a week, was henceforth the whole newspa-
per press. Not only with freedom of the pen, but at a
later period with freedom of the tongue, government
sought to interfere. Coffee, now introduced, began to
play a part in politics. Coffee-houses became resorts and

1675 centres of political gossip. These the government closed
by proclamation; but, like other arbitrary governments,
it found that it was more dangerous to aggress on the
social pleasures of the people than on their rights, and the
proclamation was withdrawn. In all our judgments on
the conduct of the people at this time we must make
allowance for the absence of a newspaper press, for the
want of political information, and for the restraints upon
liberty of discussion. Of this caution we shall soon have



t CHAKLES II 18

need. The want of a free press in England was to some
extent compensated by the freedom of the press in Hol-
land and the printing of English works there. As the
reign went on, and political parties were developed, each
party wanting to use the polemical pen, the press prac-
tically shook itself free.

The final triumph of the French Revolution over the
old regime was assured by the new landed interest which
it had called into being, and whose tenure was bound up
with its cause. In England a good deal of the land of
the ruined Malignants had found its way by purchase
into new hands, in which, under the Indemnity Act, it 1660
remained, while its former owners, who had hoped to
recover it, loudly accused the ingratitude of the Restora-
tion, and complained that the Act of Indemnity and
Oblivion was an Act of Indemnity for the king's enemies
and of Oblivion for his friends. But the amount was not
enough to anchor the Revolution. Confiscated estates
reverted at once to the owners. On the broad lands of
the church, which the Commonwealth had sold, and for
which buyers had given fifteen years' purchase, showing
thereby their trust in the stability of republican govern-
ment, the bishops and chapters were enabled, by Hyde's
policy, to re-enter without compensating the new owners.
The leases having run out, the restored incumbents came
in for a windfall of wealth in the shape of fines, to which
Burnet partly ascribes the reign of clerical corruption
which ensued. To the purchasers of crown lands some
mercy appears to have been shown by the crown.

On the whole, therefore, much was left of the political
gains of the Revolution; while nothing could expel from
the veins of the nation the new life which had been



J4 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

infused into them by the struggle for civil and religious
liberty, the grandeur of the united Commonwealth and
the glories of the Protectorate.

So much as regarded the state. The consequences of a
union of church and state, and of making religion a
matter of government, were to be exemplified in the
Restoration on the largest scale. The nation had per-
haps not been ripe for the exodus from monarchy and
aristocracy. For an exodus from prelacy it was ripe.
It was, at all events, prepared for an ecclesiastical polity
which would have reduced the bishop from the position
of a lord to that of an officer in the church, associating
with him a council of Presbyters in each diocese. Such
was, in effect. Bishop Usher's scheme, and with it the
English Presbyterians would at this time have been
generally content. Cromwell's scheme of Comprehen-
sion seems also to have met with national acceptance.
When the bishops in their pontificals first assembled in
Westminster Abbey, the entry in Pepys's "Diary" is,
" Lord, at their going out, how people did most of them
look upon them as strange creatures, and few with any
kind of love or respect! " For a scheme of limited
episcopacy, with an inclusion of the Presbyterians, the
Covenanted king had distinctly declared, no doubt with
the approval of his mentor Hyde, when he was wooing
the Presbyterian Convention; and as an earnest of his
sincerity he had made Presbyterians his chaplains and
offered bishoprics to Baxter, Calamy, and Reynolds.
When he had won, his declaration was given to the
winds, and legislation on its lines was defeated evidently
by his own underhand influence and that of Hyde. About
belief he cared little, but Presbyterianisra, he was wont to



I CHARLES II 15

say, was not a religion for a gentleman. The great fact ^
had also dawned upon his mind that episcopacy was the
religion for a king. At a conference between the bishops
and the leading Presbyterians, held at the Savoy Palace, 1661
it plainly appeared that the bishops, with the king at their
back, were resolved against any concession. Clarendon,
who on this question was all-powerful, was bent on re-
storing the entire Anglican system, and reinstating the
bishops as much as possible in their former power. He
was seconded by the Cavaliers of the parliament, who
with reason identified the religion of the Puritan with his
politics, and with the source of their own sufferings and
humiliations. The Act of Uniformity gave a death-blow 1662
at once to Presbyterianism, to Comprehension, and to
protestant connection. It enacted that every parson,
vicar, or other minister whosoever, should, upon some
Lord's Day before the -feast of St. Bartholomew, read the
service according to the Book of Common Prayer, and
afterwards declare his unfeigned assent and consent to
all and everything contained and prescribed in that book.
It further enacted that all clergymen, all heads and fel-
lows of colleges, all university professors and lecturers,
all schoolmasters and private tutors in families should,
before the same feast, subscribe the doctrine of passive
obedience and take oaths of conformity to the liturgy
and of renunciation of the Covenant. On the black day
of St. Bartholomew a number of clergymen, reckoned at
two thousand, among whom were probably the most 1662
zealous ministers of the Gospel in England, and the
most acceptable to the people, rather than comply with
the Act went forth out of their homes, many of them to
penury, for in their case no indemnity beyond a few



16 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

months' stipend was given. The royalist clergy, ejected
by the Puritans, had met with more mercy, and harsh as
their treatment still was, in their case it might be truly
alleged, while it could not be truly alleged in this case,
that there was political danger to the government. Had
not Charles I. said that if he could save the Anglican
church, that church would give him back the sword?
In face of the resignation of the two thousand, who
shall say that Puritanism was mercenary or hollow?
By the Act of Uniformity the line was finally drawn be-
tween the state church of England and the free churches.
English Christianity was divided into two sections, the
privileged and the excluded, the relations of which were
those of legalized jealousy and hatred. Over the fall of the
Presbyterians, considering the intolerance which they had
shown, their blasphemy and heresy laws, and th6 general
part which they had played, it is not easy to shed a tear.

Episcopal ordination had not hitherto been required.
Foreigners ordained after the manner of the protestant
churches of the continent had been admitted, however
rarely, to benefices in the English church, and the com-
munion of the church of England with the protestant
churches of the continent, which carried with it a politi-
cal connection, had been preserved. The Act of Uni-
formity, by requiring episcopal ordination, put an end to
the connection, and consigned the church of England
to the strange position of isolation between Catholicism
and protestantism, from which the high church party
has in vain striven to extricate her by courting re-union,
now with the Eastern church, now with the church of
Rome. The Eastern church is hide-bound ; Rome is in-
fallible and can listen to nothing but submission.



I CHARLES II 17

Of Puritanism we hear no more. That mould nature
breaks, as she had broken the mould of the Roman Stoic,
of the Crusader, of the Huguenot, not without working
something of each character into the abiding fibre of
humanity. In its place came political Nonconformity,
having its seat chiefly in the middle or lower middle
classes ; sober-hued, staid, and comparatively unaspiring ;
lacking culture, since it was excluded from the universi-
ties, lacking social refinement, since it was out of the pale
of high society ; uncongenial, therefore, to apostles of
sweetness and light ; yet keeping the tradition of a sound
morality, as we still acknowledge in speaking of the non-
conformist conscience ; not rebellious or revolutionary,
but struggling from age to age by purely constitutional
effort for the removal of its disabilities, and as an op-
pressed body fighting always on the side of freedom. Its
annals are not poetic or picturesque ; but England might
have been an Anglican Spain, less the Inquisition, if the
nonconformists had not been there.

The efforts of Hyde, his bishops, and his Cavalier par-
liament to re-instate the true church in power did not
stop with the Act of Uniformity. The Corporation Act 1661
required all holders of municipal offices to renounce the
Covenant, to take the oath of non-resistance, and to re-
ceive the sacrament according to the Anglican form ; thus
once more degrading the holiest rite of the church of
England into a political test. The Conventicle Act for-
bade the meeting of more than five persons in addition to
the members of a family for any religious service not in
conformity with the church of England, under the penalty
of a small fine and a short imprisonment for the first of-
fence, a longer imprisonment and a heavier fine for the

VOL. II — 2



18 THE UNITED KINGDOM . chap.

second offence, and a fine of a hundred pounds, equiva
lent to several times the amount in money of our day, or
transportation for seven years, on conviction of the third
offence. The Act was to be construed in the sense most
unfavourable to the conventicles, and magistrates, that is,
Cavalier squires, were empowered to convict without a

1005 jury. The Five Mile Act enacted that no nonconformist
ex-minister or teacher who had not taken the oath of
passive obedience should come within five miles of any
city or town corporate, or of any parish where he had
formerly preached, under a penalty of forty pounds. It
also enacted that no one who had not taken the oath of
passive obedience and conformed, should teach any school
or take pupils in his house. The objects of this Act were
to cut off nonconformist ministers from the centres of
population in which they would find friends, and from
the calling of a teacher, on which almost alone they could
fall back. This completes the "Clarendon code."

1665 The Five Mile Act followed close upon the great
plague of London, in which a hundred thousand persons
died. During the plague, some of the state clergy hav-
ing fled from their cures, the pulpits were occupied by
nonconformists. If this was in the minds of the framers
of the Act, the infamy of the measure is enhanced.

The Acts were administered with cruel zeal by the local
authorities ; the squires, who were justices of the peace,
having since the Revolution and the reign of the saints
become bitter foes of nonconformity. Spies and informers
of course were bred and actively plied their trade. The
state church of England had no holocausts of heresy
such as were celebrated on the Quemadero of Seville.
But she had under Charles II. a mild and decent sub-



I CHARLES II 19

stitute for those " holy severities " in the imprisonment
of a multitude of nonconformists, not a few of whom
met their death in the filthy and noisome dungeons of
that day. Among the sufferers under the general per-
secution, though he was committed before the Acts, was
the author of the "Pilgrim's Progress." The Quakers
averred in a petition that four hundred of their number
were in the prisons of London and a thousand in those of
the country. That sect had multiplied exceedingly,
sweeping into itself most of the extreme and enthusiastic
sects which had sprung up in the revolutionary era, while
tHe meek and indomitable tenacity of the Quaker was in
the highest degree provoking to the squire upon the
bench. The refusal of the Quakers to take oaths had been
the object of a special penal law, and their meetings for
worship to the number of five or more were prohibited on 1662
pain of imprisonment with hard labour, and on the third
conviction, of banishment to the plantations.

No pretext had been afforded for persecuting legisla-
tion beyond a petty insurrection in London headed by
Venner, a fanatical cooper, which was put down with the 1661
greatest ease, and a disturbance still more petty in York-
shire, which seems to have been nursed for a sinister pur-
pose by the government. There was, therefore, no valid
excuse for the violation of Charles's promise, in his de-
claration from Breda, that there should be liberty to
tender consciences and that no man should be disquieted
or called in question for differences of opinion in matters
of religion which did not disturb the peace of the
kingdom. The Cromwellian soldiery had become quiet
and industrious citizens noted only for their good charac-
ter in their trades.



20 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

The ecclesiastical leader of the persecution and the op-
ponent in council of indulgence for the nonconformists
was Gilbert Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury, who, if
we may trust the evidence adduced by Pepys, himself
represented not only the religious opinions but the
social tastes of the time. Pepys gives an account of a
parody on a Puritan sermon performed at Lambeth for
his Grace's amusement. Sheldon had once been a mem-
ber of the liberal circle of Falkland.

The motive of the persecutions was, however, not so
much religious bigotry as political revenge or fear, at
least so far as parliament and the politicians were con-
cerned. The libertine king was too careless about
religion, too careless about anything, as well as too good-
natured, to take an active part in persecution. Among
men of the world scepticism, sometimes after the fashion
of Hobbes, was making way. Temple, the model man,
thought religion "fit only for the mob." In this reign

1677 the writ De Hceretico Oomburendo was abolished. It is a
redeeming feature of the period that men were ceasing to
waste their intellectual powers on theological questions
at once insoluble and barren, and were turning their
thoughts to political studies, moral and mental philoso-

1663 phy, or natural science. The Royal Society now took a
regular form, though its origin was earlier. Science and
mathematics were the fashion. We see this in the " Diary "
of Pepys. The king dabbled in chemistry. Prince
Rupert found time amidst his sea fights and his debauch-
eries to study the same science and introduce Rupert's
Drops. The age, if it was not more tolerant than that
which preceded, was less theological, more secular, and in
that respect a period of progress. In theology itself



I CHARLES II 21

there was a liberal movement, of which Cudworth and
the Cambridge Platonists were the chiefs. These men
drank liberalism at the fountain of Greek philosophy.

Nor, with the desire of re-instating the church whose
safety henceforth became the watchword of the royalist
party, was there combined a desire of exalting the clergy.
It was at this time that the privilege of taxing itself
in Convocation was definitely taken from the clerical 1662
order and settled in the House of Commons, in which
clergymen were not allowed to sit, though the order was
represented by the bishops in the House of Lords. The
clergy, once a powerful estate of the realm, being thus
fiscally and politically merged in the general community,
ceased to be an estate of the realm at all. The church
had her bright stars of learning, but the clergy as a body
were low and in low esteem.

Of all the achievements of the Council of State and the
Protectorate the grandest had been the union of Scotland
and Ireland with England. What a train of calamity was
ended for Ireland by that union, what a vista of calamity
to come would it have closed ! The heir of the Pro-
tector, by omitting to call Scotch and Irish members to
his parliament, had slighted his father's work. But that
work was utterly and formally undone by the ignoble
policy of the Restoration.

In Ireland, the great garrison of Cromwellian land-
owners was too strong and too firmly seated to be dispos-
sessed. Had it been threatened with ejectment it would
have drawn the Cromwellian sword. It had in its favour
the tremendous force of the English prejudice against the
catholic natives, and the memory, ever fresh, of the great
massacre, to which and to the advantage of possession it



22 THE UNITED KINGDOM ,chap.

added the influence of bribery. Ejected catholics, some
of whom had fought on the king's side, in vain besieged
the throne with their clamorous demands for restitution.
Something was conceded to them, at least to the more
powerful of them, but in the main the Cromwellians kept
the land. The unequal compromise was embodied in the

1662 Act of Settlement, to the Saxon and protestant proprietor
a grand assurance of title, to the dispossessed Celt a
sentence of disinheritance, which he passionately desired,
and at the first opportunity madly strove to reverse. The

1661 parliament of Ireland met once more at Dublin. The
protestants having kept their lands, it was necessarily
a parliament of protestant ascendancy. The Cromwellian
settlement remained, but without Cromwell, and without
the broad aegis of the united Commonwealth to cover and
gradually reconcile two races and religions. To fill the
caldron of future discord and misery to the brim came

1661 back the Anglican episcopacy under Bramhall, an old
ecclesiastical m3^rmidon of the government of Charles I.,
with a religion alien and odious alike to the catholic and
Presbyterian, with a church which was no church, but an
intrusive establishment as oppressive as the yoke of a
foreign invader. The Celts of Ireland were catholic by
accident. A fervent and preaching protestantism might
have succeeded as well with them as it did with the Celts
of Wales or with those of the Scotch Highlands. That
door of hope was shut by the intrusion of the state church
of England.

In Scotland absolutism felt that it had a privy realm
where it would not be curbed by the parliamentary insti-
tutions and the force of national sentiment by which it
was still curbed in England. A long succession of civil



I CHARLES II 23

"conflicts, devouring party after party, English invasion,
repeated defeats, and the military dictatorship which
ensued, had levelled the political ramparts and broken the
high spirit of the Scottish nation. The aristocracy, by
which the nation had been led in the early days of the
Covenant, had been decimated or estranged from the
people. The religious enthusiasm of many had been worn
out or chilled, and power had departed from those assem-
blies of the Kirk which for a time had been the real par-
liament of the Covenanting nation. The parliament was
turned into a mere tool of the government by the revival
of the Lords of Articles, a committee which controlled all 1661
legislation and was nominated by the crown. Absolut-
ism, civil and ecclesiastical, was now openly installed.
Scotland relapsed into a satrapy ; its administration fell
by turns to Middleton and Lauderdale, scoundrels both ;
the first coarse and overbearing, the second crafty and
intriguing. Lauderdale, once a Presbyterian, and still at
heart no friend to bishops, did not scruple to bear his
part in the intrusion of episcopacy into Scotland and the
destruction of the Kirk. The reactionary fury of the
Council was constantly inflamed by drink. "It was a
mad, roaring time," says Burnet, " full of extravagance ;
and no wonder it was so when the men of affairs were
almost perpetually drunk." Legislation was not reckless
only, but mad. By the Act Rescissory a clean sweep was 1661
made at once of the whole Scotch statute book for the
period of twenty-eight years during which the Presbyte-
rian establishment had been on foot. Episcopacy was
again forced upon the nation by which it was passionately
hated. Presbyterians were excluded from parliament.
The Covenanters who abounded most in the wild we§t



26 THE UNITED KINGDOM chap.

own life was vicious. They conceived the scheme, after-
1672 wards tried again by James as king, of an Indulgence
which, intended nominally for the benefit of all noncon-
formists and alluring them all alike, should in the end
inure to the benefit of the true and royal religion. It was
by thwarting this policy, as a stiff and devout liegeman
of the church of England, that Clarendon lost the king's
1667 favour and fell. But he had also fretted his royal master's
character on its other side. The solemnity of his anti-
quated virtue was oppressive to Charles and to the new
morality of the court and harem. HaTing been Charles's
tutor in exile, he had not doffed the tutor. Killigrew, the
court jester, set the circle in a roar by mimicking the
chancellor's gait with a bellows held like the seals before
him. By hot Cavaliers, Clarendon was hated as the up-
holder, to his honour, of the Indemnity Act ; by selfish
land-owners as the opponent of the Irish Cattle Act. To
the people he became odious by mismanagement in war,
by his part in the sale of Dunkirk, an acquisition to



Online LibraryGoldwin SmithThe United kingdom; a political history → online text (page 48 of 84)