Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Rethinking the Late Stuart Church: The Extent of Liberal Anglicanism, 1688-1715

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Rethinking the Late Stuart Church: The Extent of Liberal Anglicanism, 1688-1715

Article excerpt

The Revolution of 1688 precipitated a crisis in the Anglican mind that, along with other trends in scientific and political thought, resulted in a transformation of the established Church of England.1 More widespread than merely a few academics and well-placed bishops, this was a movement that permeated the rank and file of the Anglican clergy.

Restoration ideals of non-resistance and passive obedience to hereditary, divine-right monarchy were shattered by the removal of James II. Clergymen were required to transfer their allegiance to a new foreign and non-Anglican king, William of Orange. Within three years most of those who were bishops in the previous reign had either died or were deprived of office for refusing to take the new oaths. Archbishop Sancroft, and bishops Ken, Turner, Frampton, William Lloyd of Norwich, and White were deprived for refusing to take the new oaths to William and Mary. Archbishop Lamplugh, and bishops Humphrey Lloyd, Cartwright, Lake, Croft, Wood, Barlow and Hall conveniently died before having to do so. This allowed the new king to replace them with others more compatible with the new regime.

William had little sympathy for the narrow, high church wing of Anglicanism, which had predominated during the Restoration. His natural inclinations were toward moderate dissenters and those who wanted to broaden the established church in order to incorporate them. These more inclusive, mostly low-church moderates, often referred to as Latitudinarians, were not only willing to accommodate to the new political realities, but also seemed more trustworthy than high churchmen, many of whom were suspected of harboring sympathies for the exiled James II. Within three years of William III's accession nearly every leading Latitudinarian in England was elevated to the episcopacy.

John Spurr doubts there was even a party of Latitudinarians during the Restoration. However, these men are personally connected and easily identifiable when appointed to church leadership after 1688. Every Latitudinarian mentioned by Spurr in "Latitudinarianism and the Restoration Church", who was still alive in the reign of William III, was elevated to the episcopacy between 1689 and 1691.2 A more recent work by Martin Griffin recognizes this new religious attitude and calls it "a cultural revolution," which became "the prevailing motif of eighteenth-century Anglicanism."3 Jeff Chamberlain concurs, admitting that the Church of England "was markedly different from what had gone before."4 However, Chamberlain studied early eighteenth-century Tory clergy and their reluctant accommodation to the revolution settlement and Whig ascendancy. Little work has been done in recent decades on the Whig clergy.

Few doubt that most early eighteenth-century Anglican bishops were moderate, if not liberal, but how characteristic was this new perspective among those in the lower levels of the clergy? Prior to the 1980s there was a basic assumption among historians of an intellectual change in the early eighteenth century that, according to one, was "so abrupt and so was a revolution."5 However, claims have been made that eighteenth-century England remained quite conservative, and that new ideas in politics, science and philosophy had little influence. Kenyon denies "that Whig political ideas enjoyed general support."6 J.C.D. Clark believed England remained an ancien regime well into the nineteenth century, and that "the mainstream of the Church of England [was] in succession to the High Church party of Anne's reign."7 This may have been true before the Revolution of 1688 or perhaps even prior to the end of press censorship in 1695. However, with a relatively free press and heated debate in the reigns of William and Mary and later Anne, new ideas spread through all levels of society, even among the clergy and by means of their pulpits on to the masses as well.

Kenyon also insists that "the contract theories of John Locke, though they were to achieve almost universal acceptance by the mid-eighteenth century, were not pressed into service by the first-generation supporters of the Revolution of 1688. …

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