The Early Stuarts, 1603-1660

By Godfrey Davies | Go to book overview

VIII
RELIGIOUS HISTORY, 1640-60

WHEN the Long Parliament met in November 1640, its attitude towards religious questions was parallel to its attitude towards politics. Just as there was a large majority to condemn Strafford and other agents of despotism, so Laud and the bishops found few defenders. In each instance unity prevailed so long as the house was content with a negative programme. Yet from the very first it was apparent that there was no real agreement whenever any fundamental changes in the church were under discussion. Thus the London petition that demanded the abolition of episcopacy, 'root and branch',1 was introduced on 11 December, but was kept in abeyance until the following February. Then an animated debate ensued during which episcopacy itself was warmly attacked and defended. It is noteworthy that even the supporters of episcopacy had no good word to say for the present bishops. For a time the parliamentary leaders, having experienced the strength of the party in favour of episcopacy, were content with a measure 'to restrain bishops and others in holy orders to intermeddle with secular affairs', but it was rejected in the house of Lords. Meanwhile a bill had been introduced into the commons to abolish bishops, deans, and chapters, 'root and branch'. Its preamble stated that long experience had shown that these church officials had hindered the perfect reformation and had been very prejudicial to the civil government. During the debates, Vane moved as a substitute for the prelates the appointment of a body of commissioners, lay and clerical, to exercise ecclesiastical jurisdiction in every county. During the summer, however, the bill was dropped. An attempt was made to introduce into the Grand Remonstrance a clause about the Book of Common Prayer, but the church party was too strong and it had to be laid aside.2 At the beginning of 1642, when the popular indignation at the attempt to arrest the five members was so strong, a bill to remove bishops from the house of lords passed the two houses and received the royal assent. Next year, when the civil war

____________________
1
Gardiner, Constitutional Documents, pp. 137-44.
2
W. A. Shaw, History of the English Church, 1640-60 ( 1900), i. 116.

-190-

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