Civil War England and the Church

Civil War England and the Church

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From 1643, within the time of the English Civil Wars (1642-51), within the areas they occupied the Parliamentarian forces instigated tribunals to display native clergy for his or her suitability to hold on ministering.

Their non secular agenda was expressed in what grew to become the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) and Westminster Directory for Worship (1644), intently allied to the Solemn League and Covenant (1643). They favoured implementation of the tenets of the unconventional Protestant reformation, specifically the extirpation of popery, abolishment of the (arch)episcopalian hierarchy and the primacy of scriptural precedent in figuring out non secular beliefs and practices.

Leicestershire, within the English Midlands, supplies an apt context for inspecting this because it was an space the place tensions between the Parliamentarian-Royalist antagonists, who largely backed the Established Church in England rather than Puritan dissenters, have been notably acute. And extant documentary proof allows some perception into the content material and final result of hearings.

It is a tiny nook of English church historical past. Yet, this era the place individuals’s allegiances, beliefs, practices and consciences have been severely examined, has many echoes in debates and challenges throughout church buildings at present.

Up to three-quarters of the round 230 clergy in Leicestershire appeared earlier than a Parliamentarian committee. Examination judged whether or not people have been ‘delinquents’ (i.e. political opponents), practised errant churchmanship (non-adherence to the newly prescribed Parliamentarian varieties and content material of providers), and whether or not they possessed ample ethical rectitude to carry workplace (centred on strict observance of the Ten Commandments). Evidence in opposition to them got here predominantly from complaints by their parishioners.

For critical misdemeanours – principally political dissent, ‘popish’ behaviour, or obduracy following an earlier warning – offenders might count on to be disadvantaged of their residing and face exile or custodial sentences. Lesser contraventions attracted fines or cautions. Committees might drop or commute fees if clergy acquiesced and signed the Solemn League and Covenant.


There have been round seventy-five removals within the county from 1643 to 1660 – 1660 being the date of the restoration of the monarchy – mainly for instances of delinquency. These included contraventions similar to performing as an confederate to Royalist forces in figuring out houses of Parliamentarian sympathisers to raid, and people to imprison, supplying arms, provisions and recruits, extorting cash from parishioners to bolster the Royalist warfare effort, or just for broadcasting Royalist propaganda from the pulpit.

Michael Crosley of Whitwick, for example, had preached that Parliamentarians have been worse than Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plotters. Sequestration adopted in absentia for many who preemptively selected exile in territories extra tolerant of their doctrinal place and for clergy who joined Royalist regiments as scouts, chaplains, and even took up arms themselves. Several died combating.

Incrimination got here not simply from phrases proclaimed from the pulpit. Several have been ensnared by statements that they had written, typically lengthy earlier than the wars began. Archdeacon Ferne, for example, had claimed in his guide Resolving of Conscience, ‘Lamentable are the distractions of this Kingdom … as a result of they collect energy from … Parliament … and pretended defence of … Religion.’ The rector of Bottesford who licensed Ferne’s guide was additionally indicted. Foston’s rector was condemned by penning within the introduction to a broadcast sermon that he was ‘an extended sufferer for fearing God and honouring the King’.

Ejections didn’t at all times proceed peacefully. In 1649 in Knighton ‘a really foul riot’ passed off within the wrestle between sympathisers of Royalist curate Inge and the Parliamentary intruder Harding. Similar disturbances occurred in Kibworth, and Thomas Pestell of Packington was ousted mid-service by males who held a gun to his chest and tore away his Book of Common Prayer. Some ministers have been evicted by armed bands within the night time, with their spouse, kids, servants and possessions dumped ignominiously on the road to create space for the substitute minister.

Even for these remaining in submit there might be intimidation. Opponents shouted them down throughout sermons, in some cases pictures have been fired; the disallowed Book of Common Prayer was snatched from them; worshippers organized boycotts, attending a church as an alternative the place they heard the politically most popular message.


Complaints of errant churchmanship centred on violations of church structure and ritual that infringed the prevailing Puritan directives. So, for instance, retaining stone altars on the east finish of the sanctuary (worse nonetheless if elevated and railed in) and harbouring statues, candles and different accoutrements hinting at superstition unjustified within the scriptures introduced condemnation.

So too did observance of disallowed featsdays, sporting proscribed vestments, and utilizing outlawed gestures similar to bowing, making the signal of the cross, or implementing kneeling for communion. Not switching from the Book of Common Prayer to the brand new Directory for Public Worship invited censure. Parishioners criticised Earl Shilton’s curate, William Holdsworth, and Higham-on-the-Hill’s Thomas Sturges for delivering the identical sermons for twenty years and studying homilies from a guide – the insinuations being that these should be previous, now disapproved teachings.

Many exploited subterfuges to dodge complaints and spare their conscience. They prayed ambiguously for the ‘nice counsellors of the land’, not eager to alienate their Royalist flock by praying for Cromwell, nor rile the Committees by praying for the King. During the interval within the 1650s when it grew to become unlawful for clergy to solemnise marriages (solely a civic justice of the peace might officiate), Joseph Holt of Stonton Wyville continued conducting ceremonies, arguing they have been authorized as a result of his civic justice good friend was sitting in church.

Others steadfastly defended their place. They claimed they have been terrorised, scared or tricked into supporting the Royalist trigger. More defiantly, individuals like Theophilus Russet/Rusted of Dalby said he didn’t care if he have been changed, he wouldn’t compromise or change to the Parliamentary Directory – a piece Jem Rice of Husbands Bosworth boldly branded as ‘a shallow factor’ devised by ‘an organization of inexperienced heads’. Andrew Lamont of Claybrook in the meantime declared the Church had been wonderful for 1500 years. Why do ‘some giddy heads’ now wish to alter issues?!

Moral laxity

The commonplace accusations in opposition to ethical requirements are summed up within the case in opposition to Thomas Bird of Somerby whom villagers described as a ‘drunkard, swearer and profaner of the Sabbath’. Aiding and abetting others to violate the Sabbath by attending alehouses, enjoying video games, singing ribald songs, and doing menial work likewise attracted opprobrium. John Hubbock of Nailstone was blamed for allegedly shopping for a soccer, quoits and shovelboard. Andrew Lamont purportedly permitted video games on Sundays. Others have been accused of playing whereas a number of confronted extra critical fees of womanising, fornication, adultery, housebreaking and grievous bodily hurt. Between 1650 and 1660 the Adultery Act threatened offenders with the loss of life penalty for adultery (and incest) and three months’ imprisonment for fornication.

The above occasions affected clergy who refused to toe the Parliamentary line. However, when the monarchy was restored in 1660 the boot was on the opposite foot. Through a sequence of Acts, Royalist supporters engaged in equally discriminative practices to rebuild the established church. They sought reparations from parliamentary vegetation, expelled them, generally forcefully, from their parishes and usually aimed to stem the tide of nonconformity. The anti-presbyterian Act of Uniformity (1662) provoked the Great Ejection that grew to become a landmark juncture in English church historical past when 1000’s of clergy nationwide felt unable to compromise their ideas by swearing allegiance to the monarch and having to be ordained by a Church of England bishop.


These have been disturbing occasions and a imaginative and prescient of what can occur when decided and uncompromising cliques acquire ascendancy and the way far individuals of religion can stray from godliness within the title of doctrinaire ideas. Of course, they have been totally different occasions and totally different mores, and one mustn’t judge an epoch by the values of one other place and age. Some might mirror although, that the scenario just isn’t so faraway from up to date debates and factionalism.

Today many clergy, and their congregations, are combating their beliefs, whether or not to stay devoted to lengthy held traditions and teachings, or betray their consciences by acquiescing to what they see as unjustified dictates imposed by misguided factions. Individuals have discovered themselves pilloried, hounded, victimised or cancelled merely for elevating debate or in response to what they mentioned or did a few years in the past. Schism and suppression linger threateningly shut. Maybe this tiny nook of English church historical past just isn’t so distant in any case.

Much extra element on the above occasions and the entire arc of church historical past in Leicestershire from earliest occasions till the late twentieth century is said in a brand new guide by Nick Miller, “Church History in Leicestershire”, printed by Book Guild ISBN 9781916668065.



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