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Abstract

Even prior to Clarendon’s downfall, there had been almost continuous talk of a revision of the Act of Uniformity in order that the more moderate Presbyterians might be brought into the Church. With the Chancellor’s discharge, the advocates of a more comprehensive policy took heart and began openly to advocate such a revision. Several pamphlets appeared in 1667 and 1668 suggesting various schemes of comprehension, and two bills were prepared — one in the fall of 1667 and the other in the spring of 1668 — which were to be introduced into parliament. Both were roughly of the same dimensions. Ordination in either the Presbyterian or the Anglican form would be deemed satisfactory, kneeling at communion would no longer be mandatory, the wearing of the supplice was to be at the individual cleric’s determination, the use of the cross in baptism was no longer to be required and the word “consent” was to be omitted from the oath prescribed by the Act of Uniformity. However, the second of these two bills was the more liberal. In addition to comprehension for the Presbyterians, it offered all Protestant faiths the freedom to worship publicly upon complying with some minor legal requirements.1 Sheldon’s old friend and Staffordshire neighbor, Sir Orlando Bridgman, proposed this latter measure.

Keywords

Lower House Toleration Bill Privy Council Anglican Form Reliable Ally 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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References

  1. 1.
    Stoughton discusses these two bills, III, 373.Google Scholar
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    D. Wilkins, IV, 587, tells of the king’s encouragement to Bishop Wilkins. Stoughton discusses the comprehensionist conferences held at this time, III, 373.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 37.Google Scholar
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    This may have been either Herbert Croft, bishop of Hereford, who later came out in favor of Comprehension, or it could have been Sheldon’s old associate, Thomas Barlow, who took part in these talks, and was subsequently made bishop of Lincoln in 1675.Google Scholar
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    In support of this view see the Journals of the House of Lords for numerous occasions when the lower house sent messages to the upper persistently demanding certain actions by that body to support the Church. See VI, 389, where the Lords would have passed the Quaker Bill, but the Commons insisted on adding punitive amendments against several other sects as well; on XI, 540, the House of Commons objected to a clause in the Bill of Uniformity as reported from the Lords, insisted on adding several amendments making it more rigorous. For other similar instances, see XI, 495; XI, 557; XI, 561; XII, 21.Google Scholar
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    That these were the arguments urged at court is shown conclusively by a letter from Sheldon to archbishop of York, Cardwell, I, 290, where the primate wrote: “The consideration of the numbers of dissenters hath been an argument much insisted upon, as if their party were too formidable to be suppressed, or that the combination of the... factions being infinite, it were but lost labour to reenforce the censure and the execution of the laws against them.”Google Scholar
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    See a letter from Sheldon to the archbishop of York, Jan. 22, 1675/6, where discussing the census, Sheldon writes, “not that I am immediately commanded by his Majesty so to do, but from the assurances I have from a person near unto him [Danby] that it will be no less for his Majesty’s particular satisfaction than for the general good.” Harl. Mss. 7377.Google Scholar
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    Cardwell, Annals, I, 290. The validity of the Sheldon census has been attacked frequently. T. Richards in “The Sheldon Census,” The Transactions of the Society Cymmrodorion, (1925–26), Supp., pp. 1–19, maintains that Sheldon dictated the returns he wanted in the letter to the bishops ordering the count. Thus he considers Sheldon’s figures unreliable. However, S. A. Peyton in an article in the English Historical Review, Vol. 48, pp. 99–104, compared Sheldon’s figures for Lincolnshire with the records of the Quarter Sessions and the Arch-diaconal courts of the same county and came to the conclusion that “the Compton return [the Sheldon census] covering the portion of Lincoln under review... gives a reasonably correct account of the prevalence of active dissent in both its varieties.” When one compares the number of licenses issued to dissenting congregations by the government in 1672 — some 1500 — with the total number of congregations in England — some 8568 — it becomes apparent that Sheldon’s census was probably a fairly accurate count. (For the latter figure see statistics Sheldon assembled on all holdings in the Church, Add. Mss. C. 302.)Google Scholar
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    Of course occasional conformity became a general practice within a very few years. Yet to Sheldon laws were to be obeyed, and he would have looked upon the 1678 Test Act as a great victory for the Church.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1973

Authors and Affiliations

  • Victor D. Sutch

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