H. F. (Hugh Francis) Russell-Smith.

The theory of religious liberty in the reigns of Charles II and James II online

. (page 1 of 10)
Online LibraryH. F. (Hugh Francis) Russell-SmithThe theory of religious liberty in the reigns of Charles II and James II → online text (page 1 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Camkibf t §wt(fXUKi €ssdii^s


Cambridge Historical Essays. No. XXI






aonlton: FETTER LANE, E.G.

G. F. GLAY, Manager

11 1


(BtjinbuxQ]): loo, PRINCES STREET

iScrlin: A. ASHER AND CO.


^eio Inrk: G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

JSombag anlJ (Calcutta: MACMILLAN AND Co.


A// rights reserved







ST John's college, Cambridge


Cambridge :

at the University Press




THE following Essay, which was awarded the Thirlwall
Medal for 1911, is published in the form in which
it was submitted to the Adjudicators. The subsequent
appearance of Mr Seaton's book, dealing with similar
problems, has induced me not to delay its publication.
Any attempt to expand it would lead to much un-
necessary repetition of what he has already written.

The period with which I have dealt, suggesting, as
it does, the Clarendon Code, the Test Acts, and the
Exclusion Bills, is not generally associated with the
spirit of tolerance. I have tried to show that, in spite
of the contradictory trend of legislation, there was a
definite theory of religious liberty, which was asserted
from their own points of view by the Nonconformists,
the Rational Theologians, and the Whigs. Although it
may be true that toleration was given largely from
empirical motives, the work of those who prepared the
way by forming and popularising the theory must not
be underestimated. I have therefore treated toleration
on its theoretical side, introducing other aspects only so
far as they contributed to the formation of the political


I have made more use of the pamphlet literature of
the period than of any one other source of information,
because " the bent and genius of any age is best known
by the pamphlets and papers that come daily out as the
sense of parties and sometime the voice of the nation ^"
I have added a short bibliography at the end of the
essay, to indicate the principal sources on which I have
relied. In this I have not attempted to enumerate the
pamphlets, sermons, and controversial writings which I
have consulted. I have only indicated the most im-
portant of those which were most famous at the time,
those which have an intrinsic value of their own, and
those which appear to me to represent in a typical
manner the ideas and opinions of the age.

My best thanks are due to Mr E. A. Benians of
St John's College for reading through the proofs of an
essay which was written mainly at his instigation.
^ Preface to Rennet's Register.

H. F. R. S.

St John's College,
Juhj, 1911.




Toleration and the Age of the Restoration . 1

Toleration and the Secular State ... 27

Toleration and the Church .... 70

Toleration and Locke 98

Bibliography 135

Index 141



"A Spanish lady coming not long since to see this house,
seated in a large plaine, out of the middel of a rock, and a
river brought to the top of the mountaine, with the walks and
fountaines ; ingeniously desired those that were present not to
pronounce the name of our Saviour; lest it should dissolve the
beautiful enchantment."

Algernon Sidney, in a letter to his father.

In 1689 the Bill of " Indulgence to Dissenters " Toleration
passed both Houses of Parliament and duly received ^^'
the royal signature. This Act, generally known to
posterity as the Toleration Act, is a landmark both in
political and in ecclesiastical history. It is true that
the principle of toleration was not granted. The de-
bates in the Commons^ and the title of the Act, which
merely "exempts their Majesties Protestant Subjects,
differing from the Church of England, from the
Penalties of certain Laws" illustrate this. But what
was refused in principle, was granted in practice.
Dissenters who were willing to take the oaths of
allegiance and supremacy, subscribe to a declaration
against transubstantiation, and declare their belief
in thirty-six out of the thirty-nine Articles (omitting
1 Cf. Anchitell Grey, Debates, x. p. 261, etc.

R.-S. 1


Letter on

The cul-
of a con-

the three which deal with the power of the Church
to regulate ceremonies, the Book of Homilies and
the Ordination Service) were given permission to
hold services for religious worship in licensed con-
venticles. Special provisions were made in favour of
Baptists and Quakers; Roman Catholics, Unitarians,
Deists and Atheists were expressly excluded. Hence-
forward a man might be a citizen of England without
being a member of the English Church. Limitations
were introduced by Statute into the medieval idea
of the State. Politics were beginning to be separated
from theology.

In the same year that the Bill of Indulgence to
Dissenters was passed, but later in that year, the
famous Epistola de Tolerantia, written by Locke to
Limborch three years previously, was translated into
English ^ The publication of this book marks a new
stage in the history of English thought no less than
the passing of the Toleration Act in English politics.
The connection between the Bill and the book was
probably not direct. It may have been that Locke
showed his youthful essay on " Toleration," of which
the famous letter is but an expansion, to his friend
and patron Lord Shaftesbury, and through such a
medium circulated his ideas in the Whig party.
But the book was written neither as an appeal for,
nor a justification of, an Act of Toleration. It was
merely published in the same year.

The Toleration Act and the Letter on Tolera-
tion were not productions of startling novelty or

1 The Bill became law on May 24th; the translation of the
letter was licensed on October 3rd.


originality. In 1660 Charles II returned to England
pledged by the Declaration of Breda to grant ease
to tender consciences. In 1664 the Lords debated
a Bill, which would give the King power to dispense
with the Act of Uniformity in particular cases. In
1667-8 the whole question of Toleration again came
up in Parliament. In 1672 the King's famous
Declaration of Indulgence was issued, followed by
a general pardon to Quakers. In 1673 a Bill for the
" Ease of Protestant Dissenters " was passed by the
Commons, although rejected by the influence of
the Bishops in the Lords. In 1681 a Toleration
Bill passed both Houses of Parliament and only
met with rejection from the Crown. In 1687 and
1688 James II issued his two Declarations of Indul-
gence. All these measures contained proposals that
did not differ in anything but detail from the
successful Bill of 1689. In a similar fashion Williams,
Milton, Penn, Taylor, More, followed by unnumbered
pamphleteers, had long been uttering the same
arguments that Locke used. There was opposition
to both the Act and the Letter. But the Act was
in a concrete manner successful ; and after the Letter
the doctrine of toleration became sufficiently ortho-
dox in England to assure its ultimate triumph.
The Roman Catholics had to wait over a hundred
years before they obtained the same degree of
religious liberty as the Nonconformists, having in
the meantime to submit to disabilities far more
serious than had ever fallen to the lot of the Non-
conformists. The upholders of persecution and the
medieval connection between politics and theology



were still powerful. But after 1689 there was a
definite practice and a definite theory (the one
going far beyond the other), for England to go
back upon at her risk.
The post- During the period with which we are dealing,

tioyiofthe ^^^^ supporters of toleration had a position to
oftolera- attack as well as a system to defend. To them
*^^"' this seemed preposterous because they looked upon

Liberty of Conscience as a '' natural right," and
considered it incumbent on those, who had usurped
this right, to justify their position. But as circum-
stances had imposed on them the necessity they
were prepared to accept it. They set to work to
attack the medieval system of theological politics.

It is impossible here to explain the origin of tliis
in the supposed commands of Christ to establish
His Kingdom on earth in the form of a universal
visible church ; its history from the decree of Con-
stantino, which established Christianity throughout
the Holy Roman Empire, to the transference of the
idea in miniature to a National Church of England
under Henry VIII ; its philosophy from St Thomas
Aquinas and Dante — the one emphasising the domi-
nance of the ecclesiastical, the other of the temporal
arm — through Hooker to Andrewes, Laud, Thorndike
and the other members of the Anglo-Catholic school.
The fact of importance is that this system existed in
England from the reign of Henry VIII to the Great
Rebellion and, though temporarily interrupted, was
restored in 1660 under Charles 11.

There were two possible ways of modifying the
system of a State-Church. In a letter to Limborch


written in 1689 Locke summarised them. '' In
Parliament the question of Toleration has begun
to be discussed under two designations, Comprehen-
sion and Indulgence. By the first is meant a wide
expansion of the Church, so as by abolishing a
number of obnoxious ceremonies to induce a great
many dissenters to conform. By the other is meant
the allowance of civil rights to all, who in spite of
the broadening of the National Church, are still
unwilling or unable to become members of it\"
In other words comprehension meant a toleration
of differences within the church, and indulgence a
toleration of differences outside the church. It is
possible to have the one without the other, as
subsequent history has shown. But in the seven-
teenth century it was impossible to see on which
lines the question would be finally worked out.
Bills of Comprehension came before Parliament no
less frequently than Bills of Toleration 2. The offers
of bishoprics to many of the leading Presbyterians
at the Restoration, and the popularity of the works
of Hales, Chillingworth and Taylor might have
almost justified a prophecy that the church would
be settled on a comprehensive basis. In this un-
certainty even those, who realised that schemes of
comprehension were sometimes put forward in hope
of getting a Church sufficiently large to crush all the
more radical forms of dissent^ — in fact that compre-
hension is a weapon of attack against indulgence —

1 Fox Bourne, Life of Locke, 11. p. 150.

2 E.g., in the years 1660, 1667, 1673, 1675, 1681.

^ Cf. Penn's England's present Interest discovefd, 1675, p. 53.


pleaded for it none the less\ This was partly, no
doubt, due to selfish motives. Every sect would
prefer to have liberty to hold its own doctrines within
a tolerant Church rather than to be proscribed for
holding them outside it. And, whoever argued
against comprehension, could hardly expect to be
included in any practical scheme of union. But
there is a more genuine connection between the
movements. Both of them represented a spirit of
breadth and tolerance and a recognition of the
impossibility of a complete uniformity, if not of
the positive right to difference of opinion. Where
they differ is that the movement for comprehension
is in itself no movement against the medieval unity
of Church and State. " Only indeed," says a modern
Avriter, " where real toleration exists can politics be
non-theological ; and vice versa only where the idea
of theocracy is abandoned, can there be a real
toleration-." A survey of subsequent history has
made it possible to make this generalisation. In the
seventeenth century it seemed equally practicable
to arrive at toleration of differences of opinion and
at the same time to maintain the territorial and
political unity of Church and State. And so the
advocates of liberty of conscience are found plead-
ing sometimes for comprehension, sometimes for,
what they call indifferently indulgence or tolera-
tion, and sometimes for both.

1 Perm's Address to Protestants upon the present conjuncture ^

2 J. N. Figgis in Cambridge Modern History, iii. p. 740.


These four terms were not carefully distinguished. Meaning
Liberty of conscience and toleration were almost J/on Vn-^'
interchangeable, though the former term really looks diligence,
at the question from the point of vifew of the
oppressed, and the latter from the point of view
of the oppressor. There was even less distinction
between the terms toleration and indulgence.
Neither of them, like liberty of conscience, imply
that religious liberty is a natural right. But the
term indulgence, which Charles II and James II
were so fond of using, and which we have seen was
the title of the Bill of 1689, seems to carry with it
more emphatically than the term toleration, the
implication that the existing state of things is right,
but that departures from it will merely be magnani
mously connived at. Dissenters used the term
realising that it had a less obnoxious and radical
sound to the royal and parliamentary ear. In many
cases they seemed to forget that the principle for
w^hich they consciously or unconsciously stood was
one by which the terms indulgence and tolera-
tion would themselves be intolerable. The term
comprehension was naturally not confused with
the other three. Comprehension was looked on as
one of the possible ways of receiving indulgence,
toleration and the right of liberty of conscience.
The principle, for which all these expressions stand,
is one — the freedom to hold and give public ex-
pression to differences of opinion in matters which
are purely religious.

In practice this was conceded in 1689. The Degree of

11 1 1- -^ n • • • ^ toleration

corollary, that differences of opinion in matters in i689.


purely religious should have no effect on the civil
status of those who hold them, was not granted.
The Test Act and Corporation Act were left un-
repealed. But most of the members of those sects,
which were recognised by the Toleration Act, were
willing to receive the Sacrament according to the
rites of the Church of England once during the
year, and so to qualify themselves for a certain
number of public posts.

The Res- The Age in which the principle of toleration

toration . ^^ n

an age of was strugglmg lor recognition was m many ways

reaction prepared to accept it. Religious liberty had been
reflection, in no way complete under the Commonwealth.
RoQian Catholics, Anglicans and Quakers had all
been persecuted. It had been necessary for preachers
to be licensed by the famous Board of Triers. But
liberty and variations in religious beliefs had been
permitted to a degree entirely unparalleled in English
history. When once a new form of freedom has
been granted to a nation, it is very difficult to take
it back. At the Restoration the new form of freedom
was taken away. There was a strong feeling of
discontent at the sectarianism and disorder, which
had been prevalent, and the reaction was almost
inevitable. It affected both Milton and Taylor,
the two greatest writers on toleration in its two
aspects that England had produced. The few pam-
phlets that Milton published after the Restoration
show an entirely different spirit from the Areo-
pagitica. Taylor accepted a bishopric in a Church
of England that was deaf to his teachings. The
nation welcomed a return to the old order of things,


to which it had been accustomed. But this reaction
by its nature could be but temporary. The con-
stitutional government and religious liberty, for
which the Civil War had been fought, had not been
won ; the problem for which men had bled was not
yet settled. However, men were given an oppor-
tunity to debate the whole question of tyranny in
Church and State in a calmer and more reasonable
manner. They could ask themselves why the liberty,
which had been given them under the Common-
wealth, had been a failure. They could form a
theory of toleration. There was still something
of idealism in men's attitude. There is that in
every age. But as an age of reaction the Age of
the Restoration was a practical age. It could but
postpone the return to the liberty which was still
remembered, and serve to divorce that liberty from
the licence into which it had degenerated.

After the severe and dogmatic assertiveness of Urbanity
the preceding age, an altogether lighter note was ^^g^j^^;,
struck. During the Restoration satire began to be
popular in poetry and prose alike. The theatre
again was thronged. The coffee-house became an
institution. It was the age which Pepys loved so
well, the age of Barbara, Duchess of Cleveland,
Louisa, Duchess of Portland," Nellie," and Charles II's
little spaniels. The court openly laughed at reli-
gion and made pursuit of pleasure the chief object
of existence. It was an age that posterity looks
back on with an extraordinary fondness, but an age
that the more serious minds of the day regarded
with unspeakable misgiving. Dr Owen, the great


Independent divine, writing in the year 1676 of the
irreligion, which he saw throughout the world at
that time, but dealing in particular with his own
country, deplored the combination of the more refined
love of pleasure, characteristic of the French, with
what he considered already to be the national
English vice of " sensuality in eating and drinking^'*
But prophets gave their warnings to deaf ears.

They saw with misgiving the reflection of this
spirit in the world of religion producing, as it did,
either atheism or a form of sceptical deism, or else
Roman Catholicism, the " genteel " religion, which is
indulgent to sinners'-. They did not see the othei"
side of the question, the way in which this new
spirit was humanising men's intellects and toning
down something of their harshness and uncharitable-
ness. But however unconscious of the fact they
were, this further influence was at work. It was
his sense of humour more than anything else that
made the gentle Andrew Marvell support toleration.
Smiling at the absence of humour in the bitter
attacks of the bishops on the Dissenters, he selected
one of their number, Samuel Parker, the author of
the Ecclesiastical Polity, as the butt for his gentle
satire. In the Rehearsal Transprosed he answered
the bishop. He followed through the dogmas of
what he called the " Pushpin " divinity — the idea
" that there cannot a pin be pulled out of the

1 Works, VIII. p. 207.

2 Cf. Halifax's " Character of Charles II," printed in Foxcroft's
Life and letters of Sir George Savile. Cf. also Somers' TractSy
IX. p. 47.


Church but the State immediately totters," and
comparing the Church to the ivy that grows up
an old church tower, remarked that " there is
nothing more natural than for the ivy to be of
opinion that the church cannot stand without its
supportV His conclusion was that the intolerant
bishops only needed a little more poetry in their
natures. D'Avenant had through that medium
arrived at a truth which Parker's controversial
methods could never teach him. The four lines
fi'om Astragon

''For prayer the ocean is where diversely
Men steer their course each to a several coast,
Where all our interests so discordant lie
That half beg winds by which the rest are lost "

form the basis of a theory of toleration 2. A greater
man than D'Avenant saw the poetry in the per-
fection, where " out of many moderate varieties
and brotherly dissimilitudes that are not vastly
disproportional arises the godly and graceful sym-
metry that commands the whole pile and structured
Marvell's book was a protest against the harsh-
ness and inhumanity in the attitude of a persecuting
religion. At the same time he did not wish to go
to the other extreme. What he wanted to show
was that "it is not impossible to be merry and
angry... without profaning and violating those things
which are and ought to be most sacred-'." His
urbanity did not lead him at once to take refuge

1 Rehearsal Transprosed, p. 132.

2 Ibid., p. 323.

2 Milton, Areopagitica.

■* Rehearsal Transprosed, p. 326.


in atheism, scepticism or Roman Catholicism ; it
led him to the remaining alternative — toleration.

Modern writers rightly point out that the toler-
ance, which is prompted by a love of pleasure or a
sense of humour, is not the highest kind\ Neverthe-
less it maintains the essential principle of toleration,
that men have a right to differences of opinion in
religion, even though the argument be put on no
higher plane than an analogy between the treatment
of men's consciences and their stomachs. The fol-
lowing is typical of the pamphleteering of the period.
In private life men are sufficiently civil not to force
one another's stomachs, or press on anybody a thing
against which he has an antipathy. "Forasmuch
as conscience is greater than stomach... how much
more should persons, especially protestants, be thus
friendly one to another in matters of conscience-."
Such arguments were not valueless to an age that
laid great store by civility of manners. They serve
to show that some of the advocates of toleration
connected the urbanity of the age with the move-
ment for which they stood. This urbanity was one
of the little things which was preparing England
for the recognition of a great principle.
The It must not be imagined that a violent reaction

against the strictness of the Roundheads spread
over the entire land. The old Puritan ideals were

1 Phillips Brooks' Lectures on Tolerance, p. 19. The writer
describes it as "the tolerance of pure indifference, the mere
result of aimless good nature."

- Somers' Tracts, ix. p. 50. Cf. also Rehearsal Transprosed,
p. 248. Baxter remarks (vi. p. 195) "that you may as well tell
everyone to take the same size in shoes."



still cherished in all their strictness by the dissenting
element within the nation. Controversy was still
as bitter and dogmatic as it had been in the
preceding age. The sectarian spirit was almost as
strong. Bat the important fact to realise is that
the reaction was widespread among the aristocracy.
The new families, enriched by Henry VIII with gifts
of land confiscated from the abbeys and monasteries,
had now achieved power, and were growing to be
the leaders of the nation. England had started
upon her period of oligarchy. Public opinion was
guided by the Court, the Church, the Universities.
The clamours of obscure sects could not be heard
except when voiced by the great. It is because
they were voiced by the great that these clamours
were heard and the movement for liberty of con-
science became the foremost question of the day.
Toleration for the sects was one of the leading items
on the programme of the nascent Whig party. The
result was that when Whiggism triumphed at the
Revolution, a certain degree of toleration could not
be withheld. Throughout the Rebellion and the
Commonwealth the movement for religious liberty
had been wrapped up in the movement for political
liberty. The rise of democracy was due more to the
doctrines of the Separatists than to any other one
thing. On the temporary downfall of the democratic
idea the movement for religious liberty became
fortunately identified with the new oligarchic move-
ment. Shaftesbury, Buckingham and Halifax (to
name the most famous of the Whig lords) were
consistent in their support of it. Such men as


these, were, says Trevelyan, " the best characteristic
product of Restoration Society" in that they "pre-
scribed for the State the unpopular regimen of
Toleration ^"

Why did they do it ? Because they were in-
fluenced by two other great movements both of
which are inconsistent with religious persecution.
Rational- Scepticism followed almost inevitably upon the

dejicies of dogmatism of the Reformation. Nowhere was the
the age number of sects and dogmas greater than in
the England of the Rebellion, and to search for
Truth among a hundred creeds seemed a weary
task. Does Truth exist at all ? men asked, and

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Online LibraryH. F. (Hugh Francis) Russell-SmithThe theory of religious liberty in the reigns of Charles II and James II → online text (page 1 of 10)