The Commonwealth and the Church

In the aftermath of the Civil War the Church of England was in a difficult position. Parliament recommended the adoption of Presbyterianism in 1645 but had not made any consistent effort to introduce this significant change to Church government. Like the Long Parliament that preceded it, the Rump was divided over religious policy. Generally the lines of division were between Presbyterians and Independents [Link to Dispute over Church government]; the former advocated a state-controlled (or Erastian) Church, while the latter demanded individual congregations be permitted to determine their own form of worship providing it came within the boundaries of Protestantism. The split between the 'Rumpers' over the direction of the Church was so even that it needed the vote of the Speaker to defeat a bill to introduce Presbyterianism in 1649. However this view is simplified as there were groups such as the confusingly named 'independent Presbyterians' who called for a central church but denied its right to authority over individual congregations. Perhaps the most notable example of the latter is Oliver Cromwell. Most MPs were more concerned to impose 'godliness' on England than introduce liberty of conscience. Hence the promulgation of a series of Acts intended to curb social and moral ills - such as adultery, fornication, profanity, blasphemy ('An Act against Blasphemy', 1650). Some of these legal measures were directed against specific religious groups; for example the Act against blasphemy was targeted at the Ranters, whose social conduct pushed well beyond the limits of toleration most were prepared to allow. A good indicator of the Rump Parliament's lack of commitment to the reform of the church along radical lines is evident in the fact that such legislative attempts at reform dried up quickly. Further the Elizabethan statutes stipulating Sunday worship in Anglican churches were repealed begrudgingly by the Rump; while when presented with the tithes problem, the 'Rumpers' maintained the status quo.

The experience of the Caroline Church underlined the fact that control of provincial religious worship hinged on control of the clergy and what these men preached to their congregations. Therefore the Rump realised clerical appointments were of crucial importance and frequently discussed and debated how to organise this. Owing to the religious divisions within Parliament at this stage and the sensitivity of the issue to passionate responses, the Rump could not attain a working solution acceptable to the majority. Apart from the 'Committee for the Propagation of the Gospel' in 1652, the magnitude of religious divisions at the highest political levels prevented agreement for clerical appointment and control.

Undeniably, the Civil Wars and Regicide encouraged the growth of millenarianism in England. This belief in the imminent Second Coming of Christ stemmed from an interpretation of the events of mid-century as prophetic, a cataclysmic period that would precede the erection of a nation of the saints. The old order would have to be destroyed. Collectively the Rump Parliament did not represent these ideas - but there could be found men among its numbers who did. The Rump was essentially conservative when compared to the demands of the religious and political radicals. It imposed censorship of the presses in a desperate attempt to prevent the millenarian broadsheets and pamphlets subverting society. Furthermore, the Rump established its own broadsheet, Mercurius Politicus, in order to counter radical ideas.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.