A Gathering Storm:
The Build-Up to the Great Ejection (1/3)
On 24 August 1662, the English Parliament passed an Act designed to exclude and ‘utterly disable’ a group of religious ministers within the Established (i.e. Anglican) Church. The immediate effect of the Act of Uniformity of 1662 was the forced departure of over hundreds of gospel ministers from the churches they served. Moreover, it represented the beginning of a wave of persecution aimed at completely silencing these already-deprived Christian leaders. In the following article, Iain H. Murray explains the build-up to what would become known as the Great Ejection, or ‘Black Bartholomew’s Day’.
ON August 30, 1658, Oliver Cromwell, at the age of 59, lay dying in the Palace of Whitehall. Outside a great storm was blowing across the red tiles and ancient spires of London’s roof-tops, such as had not been remembered for a hundred years, but within the soul of the Lord Protector of England there was peace: “The Lord hath filled me,” he murmured, “with as much assurance of His pardon and His love as my soul can hold …. I am more than a conqueror through Christ that strengtheneth me.” Four days later the greatest soldier and statesman of the age had fought his last battle and entered the land “where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.”
Cromwell had embodied in his own person the two great principles which had inspired the nation sixteen years before to rise against the absolutism of the Stuart monarchy–the right of the people to freedom from oppression and the duty of preserving Protestantism from error and spiritual tyranny. As long as Cromwell was alive he struggled for a settlement that would enable these two principles to exist harmoniously together. But if the constitutional difficulties that had arisen since the Civil Wars made the problem too great for Cromwell, it was certainly beyond the abilities of those to whose charge he left the nation. As long as the greater part of a nation remains unregenerate, political freedom may not lead to the advancement of the Gospel, and Cromwell, being forced by the course of events–as he interpreted them–to an unhappy choice between the two, chose the latter. The Protector’s death resulted in a political crisis which made the choice yet more difficult, and the Puritans, as a body, were divided in their reaction to it. The Independents, such as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin who had been closest to Cromwell, believed that the spiritual gains that had been made since the Long Parliament had broken the power with which the Bishops had cramped the nation’s religious life could best be preserved by a Commonwealth. But as the years of Cromwell’s Protectorate had already shown, such a form of government would have to rely, for a time at least, upon the army for its strength, as it would never be chosen by the general consent of the people, and what would then become of the political freedom which the Commons had fought to preserve? It was thus clear to the majority that the country could find no security against anarchy or military dictatorship save in the old constitutional government based upon a Monarchy and a free Parliament. This had, in fact, long been the conviction of the largest of the Puritan parties–the Presbyterians. Though they had resisted the absolutism of Charles I they had never been against monarchy as such, and after the turmoil that followed the death of Cromwell they were more convinced than ever of the political necessity of recalling Charles Stuart to his father’s throne. But if Charles returned what would become of the spiritual freedom which they cherished? They had not forgotten how monarchy and episcopacy had been combined since the Church settlement of Queen Elizabeth against the more thoroughgoing Protestantism of Puritanism. It is not surprising therefore that while the Presbyterians saw the need of restoring the monarchy they were conscious of the possibility that such a political settlement might lead to a spiritual defeat.
Charles was not ignorant of their fears and of his need to calm them. He knew that the co-operation of the strongest Puritan party, the Presbyterians, would be needed to accomplish a Restoration and that a full disclosure of his aims would be disastrous to his interests. Thus he carefully avoided any suggestions that his return would mean an Anglican triumph; his agents were busy in England creating an impression that the Presbyterians could expect a Church settlement comprehensive enough to satisfy their convictions; testimonies to his loyalty to Protestantism were secured from French Reformed ministers; and by the famous Declaration of Breda in April 1660 he promised “a liberty to tender consciences and that no man shall be disquieted or called in question for differences of opinion in matter of religion which do not disturb the peace of the kingdom.” In such ways a general impression was given to the Presbyterians that Charles’s return would not be spiritually disastrous. The impression was deepened when a delegation of Presbyterian ministers was cordially received by Charles at The Hague and given, says Richard Baxter, “encouraging promises of peace” which “raised some of them to high expectations.”
But there were those whose misgivings were not removed. The Independents, as a body, did not share in the spirit of hopefulness. “The Presbyterian ministers,” writes Daniel Neal, “did not want for cautions from the Independents and others, not to be too forward in trusting their new allies, but they would neither hear, see, or believe, till it was too late.” Amongst some of the Presbyterians there was also uneasiness. In Parliament, Sir Matthew Hale attempted to prevent an unconditional recall of Charles and proposed that some terms of religious settlement should be agreed upon before his return. General Monk, however, knowing Charles’s anxiety for a Restoration free from conditions, resolutely opposed Hale’s proposition, warning the House of the dangers of possible social or military anarchy if the recall of the King was delayed, and asking, “What need is there of it, when he is to bring neither arms nor treasure along with him?”
After a day of fasting and prayer, upon which Baxter told the House in a sermon that “it was easy for moderate men to come to a fair agreement, and that the late reverend Primate of Ireland and myself had agreed in half an hour,” Parliament unanimously voted the King home, and on May 25, 1660, amidst a thunderous welcome Charles II landed at Dover. A Bible was immediately presented to the King by a Presbyterian minister and warmly received. Surely if “half an hour” was sufficient for Baxter and Archbishop Ussher of Ireland to settle differences, would it not be enough for a monarch who could declare that Scripture “was the thing that he loved above all things in the world”?
Unhappily both Baxter’s words to the Parliament and the King’s at Dover were, as we now know, tragically misleading as far as being a reliable indication of the future course of events is concerned, but nevertheless they are worth examining for they do reveal something of the policy that both parties were pursuing at this stage. Baxter and an important section of his Presbyterian brethren for whom he increasingly became the spokesman believed that with the Restoration of Charles the reinstatement of episcopacy was inevitable and that therefore their best hope was to seek for a revised form of episcopacy–not the despotic form that had hammered Puritanism before the Civil Wars, but a less powerful and more primitive order such as had been advanced by James Ussher, Primate of Ireland. Behind this policy was, of course, the desire, long since jettisoned by the Independents, of preserving a single national Church of which all Englishmen might be members. Baxter believed that if a tolerant and modified Episcopacy, sufficiently agreeable to many of Presbyterian convictions, were introduced, the majority of the Puritans would be able to continue side by side with those whose views of Church government were more Episcopalian. His hopes were thus pinned to a policy of comprehension, and, as his words to Parliament indicated, he believed that if moderation was pursued on both sides and the King was willing to grant concessions concerning the Liturgy and the Prayer Book, then there were good hopes of a satisfactory Church settlement.
Even when Charles was safely home on English soil his testimony to the Presbyterian minister at Dover indicates that he had not abandoned the policy which he and his minister, Edward Hyde, had been carrying on across the Channel. He had been on English soil before and had had to leave it very hurriedly in flight from Cromwell’s troops. That same army had not yet been disbanded; the Convention Parliament that sat at Westminster could still command a Puritan majority if the Presbyterians and Independents acted together; and the Royalist reaction in the country at large had still to make itself felt. A crisis with the powerful Presbyterians at this stage might still be disastrous to his interests, and consequently many of the King’s words and actions in days following the Restoration were by no means intended as genuine negotiations with the Presbyterians, but simply as sops till his own position was secure. “I had rather trust a Papist rebel than a Presbyterian,” he told the faithful Hyde, but such words at this stage were confined to a very small circle. A member of that circle was Gilbert Sheldon (by profession a divine, by practice a politician), who was to become one of the King’s closest ecclesiastical advisers. The night after Charles left Dover he was at Canterbury and there, as R. S. Bosher writes, “It is not improbable that, in the shadow of the mother Church of England, a discussion took place between Charles, the Lord Chancellor (Hyde), and Sheldon that was to have lasting consequences in the religious history of the nation”  Certainly whatever was discussed in secret at Canterbury was not the wellbeing of the Puritans, and it was no good omen for them when Sheldon was shortly made Bishop of London–their spiritual stronghold.
The royal aim, schemed by Hyde and inspired by the Laudian clergy who were all-powerful at the Court, was to re-establish the old Establishment intact, as it had been before the Long Parliament’s Root and Branch Bill had applied to the hierarchy the Scriptural principle which the English Reformers had not been willing, or perhaps able, to apply in the previous century. But from the moment of the King’s arrival in London on May 29, 1660, the intention was skilfully hidden. Twelve Presbyterian ministers had the honour of walking in the procession-no Episcopalian clergy taking part and soon the Merry Monarch had even appointed ten Puritan divines  amongst his chaplains, several of whom were invited to preach at Court during the summer without being required to use the Prayer Book. Hyde was likewise busy wooing some of the most influential Presbyterian lay leaders, and by giving them posts in the new government he sought to anticipate the danger of Puritan power in the House of Commons being brought to bear against the new regime.
It was against this well-hidden background of intrigue and duplicity that Baxter and his colleagues hopefully entered into negotiations with the King. In a meeting between leaders of the Presbyterian party and the King in June Baxter urged a union between Episcopalians and Presbyterians, professing that it could easily be procured “by making only things necessary to be the Terms of Union, by the true Exercise of Church Discipline against Sin, and by not casting out the faithful Ministers that must Exercise it, nor obtruding unworthy Men upon the People.” Charles professed his readiness to reach such a union “by abating somewhat on both sides and meeting in the midway,” and the Presbyterians were asked to set out on paper the concessions they were prepared to make. The request was carried out by July, but the Presbyterian ministers soon learned that no Episcopalian representatives had been called on to draw up concessions on their side. There were some that could already see in these events the real direction in which Hyde and the King were going. James Sharp, the Scottish observer of church affairs in London, reported home, “Episcopacy will be settled here to the height. The managing this business by papers will undo them (the Presbyterians); those motions about their putting in writing what they would desire in point of accommodation are but to gain time, and prevent petitionings (to Parliament), and smooth over matters till the Episcopal men be more strengthened.’
Amongst the English Presbyterians there were not a few eminent ministers who did not share the hopefulness of the group Baxter led, and who viewed the comprehension plan and modified Episcopacy proposal as compromising the old Puritan position. Lazarus Seaman and William Jenkyn were outspoken in their disagreement with the scheme of reconciliation advanced by Baxter, and they appear to have had the backing of such men as Cornelius Burgess, Arthur Jackson, and Giles Firmin. The story that has been handed down of a conversation between Thomas Case, one of the King’s Puritan chaplains, and Daniel Dyke will illustrate the differing outlook amongst the Puritans at this point. Soon after the Restoration Dyke voluntarily resigned the living of Hadham-Magna in Hertfordshire. Case attempted to persuade him to continue in it and argued “the hopeful prospect” which the King’s words and behaviour gave them; to this Dyke replied, “that they did but deceive and flatter themselves; that if the King was sincere in his show of piety and great respect for them and their religion, yet, when he came to be settled, the party that had formerly adhered to him, and the creatures that would come over with him, would have the management of public affairs, would circumvent them in all their designs, and in all probability not only turn them out, but take away their liberty too.”
The King’s advisers were, of course, well aware of the divided counsels within the Presbyterian ranks, and there can be little doubt that it was with a view to disrupting them still further that several of the more moderate party were offered preferments in the early autumn of 1660. The see of Hereford was offered to Baxter, Lichfield and Coventry to Calamy, Norwich to Reynolds, Carlisle to Richard Gilpin, and deaneries were offered to Manton, Bates, and Bowles. The offers might appear imposing, but Hyde well knew what would be the effect of “taking off the leading men amongst them by preferring of them.” “If some few,” he wrote, “are separated and divided from the herd . . . they are but so many single men, and have no credit and authority (whatever they have had) with their companions, than if they had never them, rather less.” At the same time as these offers were being made the King was further attempting to lull the suspicions that were being voiced by enumerating the concessions he was willing to make in a Declaration concerning Ecclesiastical Affairs. After discussions with the moderate Presbyterians the Declaration was published on October 25 and it contained much that was of encouragement to the Puritans. Liberties were given to them such as had never before been conceded by the national Church, and questions regarding the Prayer Book and ceremonies were to be referred to a future synod of divines “of both persuasions.” The only flaw (and that a fatal one) in the document was covered up with skilful ambiguity, namely, it was not said whether these concessions were to be final or merely temporary. The moderate party, however, received it with “humble and grateful acknowledgement” and in the light of the fair promise it held out for a comprehensive settlement Edward Reynolds accepted the bishopric of Norwich. But he acted alone, and had he waited for a few more months to pass it is highly probable there would not even have been one acceptance of the preferments that were offered.
All the time the King and Hyde were seeking to pacify the Presbyterians with words they were quietly by their actions recapturing the Establishment for the Laudians. All the vacant bishoprics of importance were given to this party, and even if all four Puritans had accepted bishoprics their weight would have been negligible on the episcopal bench. The royal policy through the autumn only suffered one severe scare, and that was in November when the Presbyterians in Parliament introduced a bill to give the force of law to the concessions contained in the King’s Declaration. “This was undoubtedly,” says Bosher, “the crucial moment in the history of the church settlement.” But the breach of nearly twenty years between the Presbyterians and the Independents had done its sad work; they did not vote unitedly, and by a margin of 26 votes the Anglican party managed to prevent the King’s temporary expedient becoming a stumbling block in the way of the entire re-establishment of the old system. Soon the King could breathe more freely. In December the Convention Parliament was dissolved and in the following February the army was disbanded. Caricatures of the Puritans, later to become so universal as to colour much English literature right down to the present time, were already popular both on the stage and in pamphlet propaganda. Ballads were coming into fashion which expressed the sentiment that:
A Presbyter is such a monstrous thing
That loves Democracy and hates a King.
With the tide running thus in his direction, and everything going according to plan, Charles was gradually preparing for the final settlement he had long since agreed upon with the Laudians. It was in March 1661 when four royalist candidates for Parliament were outvoted in London and four Puritans returned–this time the Presbyterians and Independents acting together–that his old fears were reawakened. Feeling against the bishops was clearly mounting in London, and fearing that London’s example might be followed by those parts of the country in which the elections were still proceeding, the King immediately proposed to ease the religious tension by fulfilling his promise of five months earlier and calling a synod of divines of both persuasions. Thus on April 15 the famous Savoy Conference began its four months’ deliberations. But the crisis was over before that date; the nation had voted into power a strongly Episcopalian and Royalist Parliament, and though in some cases it was questionable whether the elections were perfectly free, there could be no doubt that the era of Puritanism’s political power was finally at an end.
The tedious and fruitless discussions of the Savoy Conference followed the same pattern as the previous discussions. The Presbyterians, represented by the moderate party once more, had to state their case on paper and were thus put into the position of suppliants. The only difference was that now their opponents could consider them as the defeated party with much more confidence. By the time the Savoy Conference was in session the recapture of the Establishment was already a fait accompli; there was no longer any question of the representatives of both parties meeting on an equal footing, as had been originally expected, and while the Episcopalians under Sheldon’s leadership may not have entered the Conference with the determination to oppose all concessions, they certainly were not interested in a new liturgy such as Baxter suggested, still less in a modification of Episcopal powers in the direction of Presbyterianism. The Conference was futile and while we may think that Baxter was more gifted as the zealous pastor of Kidderminster than as the spokesman of the Puritans, there is no doubt that even had there been present at the Conference a Presbyterian leader of the calibre of Alexander Henderson the issue would have been the same, only more speedily reached. It was already too late. Even before the Savoy Conference was over, in Scotland, where events had been moving faster, James Guthrie had died on the scaffold true to the faith which the nation had owned in happier days: “I take God to record upon my soul,” ran his parting testimony, “I would not exchange this scaffold with the palace or mitre of the greatest prelate in Britain.”
With the breakdown at Savoy the Church settlement was left to Parliament and Convocation. The former, “the Cavalier Parliament,” had met on May 6, 1661, and was to continue in power for eighteen years. From the start it was its obvious intent to break the power of Puritanism. By a vote of 228 to 103 the Covenant  was ordered to be burned by the common hangman; all members of the House were required to receive the sacrament according to Anglican rites; the bishops were restored to the House of Lords (though they never regained the political importance they had had before the Civil Wars); and by the Corporation Act passed on December 20 all persons desiring to qualify for office in any town corporation must submit to the Episcopalian position. The Act was “a direct and heavy blow at the very heart of Dissent,” for a great part of the strength of the Puritans lay in their hold of corporate towns. It was not merely out of the resources of a fertile imagination that Bunyan relates in his Holy War how Diabolus confined the Lord Mayor to his own house, and how the recorder Conscience gave place to Forget-good, and new aldermen were appointed such as Haughty, Whoring, No-Truth and Drunkenness. It was, at least in part, the work of the Corporation Act that the way was prepared for the future sufferings of the Puritans and also for the social corruption that was to become characteristic of the Restoration Period.
In November 1661 Convocation reassembled, having been held up in its deliberations of the previous summer by the meetings of the Savoy Conference, and now it was left to this packed body to settle the matters which had been originally entrusted to a synod “of both persuasions.” Properly elected Puritan delegates to Convocation, such as Calamy and Baxter, were not admitted. The most pressing task before the assembly was to amend the Prayer Book with a view to making it less objectionable to the Puritans. By December 20 their proposed revision was finally adopted. As far as promoting a reconciliation between the two parties is concerned, it was, as might have been expected, a complete failure. Convocation, complains Baxter, “made the Common Prayer Book more grievous than before.” In view, however, of the strong Laudian element within Convocation it is surprising that a Laudian influence was not more discernible in the revision, but, as Hyde records, “the bishops were not all of one mind” and, despite Baxter’s assertion, there is some evidence that a degree of moderation was exercised and certain small concessions were in fact made, evidently with the hope of retaining some of the Presbyterians within the national church soon to be fully re-established by law.
It now only remained for Parliament to accept the revised Prayer Book and to pass a new Act of Uniformity which would exclude from the national church the body of men to which England had been most indebted for its evangelical witness since the time of the Reformation. The only difficulty the Commons had was to get the Act framed as rigorously as they wished, but by the end of April the proposed bill “had been tightened to a satisfactory pitch of severity” and it was finally passed on May 8, with the date of enforcement given as St. Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, 1662. The terms of conformity required by the Act were as follows: Reordination for all who had not hitherto been episcopally ordained; a Declaration of “unfeigned assent and consent” to all and everything contained and prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer “in these words and no other”, and to the form of making, ordaining and consecrating of bishops, priests and deacons; an oath of canonical obedience; an abjuration of the Solemn League and Covenant and of the lawfulness of taking up arms against the King under any pretence whatsoever. All ministers, chaplains, schoolmasters, heads of colleges, fellows and tutors, who did not subscribe within the time appointed were to be deprived and “utterly disabled,” and the benefices of ministers to be considered void, as if their former occupants were naturally dead.
When the Earl of Manchester complained to Charles that the Act was so rigid that few would conform, Sheldon replied, “I am afraid they will.” As we shall see, Samuel Pepys was a better prophet than the Bishop of London; it will “make mad work among the Presbyterians,” he forecast.
1 The Making of the Restoration Settlement, Dacre Press, 1957, p. 136. Bosher quotes from Robert Baillie the account later in circulation in Scotland: “When the King was at Breda, it was said he was not averse from establishing the Presbytery; nor was the contrary peremptorily resolved till the Saturday at night, in the cabin council at Canterbury.”
2 Wallis, Baxter, Calamy, Manton, Case, Reynolds, Bates, Ash, Spurstow, and Woodbridge. Henry Newcome of Manchester declined the dubious honour.
3 The Solemn League and Covenant had been drawn up in Scotland at the beginning of the Civil Wars and was intended to form the basis of a spiritual union between the two nations; the oath, which was taken by the English Parliament in 1643, included six points: they included the pledging of the subscribers to seek the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland according to the Word of God and the rooting out of popery, prelacy, and whatever is contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness. Cf. The Covenants and The Covenanters, James Kerr, 1895.
This article first appeared as The Background of the Great Ejection in the June 1662 edition of the Banner of Truth Magazine (Issue 26).
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