Clarendon Code

The English parliament passed a series of penal measures against religious dissent that came somewhat unjustly to be associated with Lord Chancellor Edward Hyde, earl of Clarendon, King Charles II’s chief minister. The code secured the supremacy of the Church of England, but it caused significant resentment among the populace, contributing to Clarendon’s eventual downfall and to the ultimate demise of the Stuart Dynasty in the Glorious Revolution.

Summary of Event

After the English Civil Wars and the Interregnum period, the agreement under which the Stuart monarchy was restored and Charles II Charles II (king of England);Restoration of was crowned king of England was predicated on Charles’s Declaration of Breda Breda, Declaration of (1660) in April, 1660, prior to his return to England from France. That declaration pledged “liberty of tender consciences” for all English subjects. Despite that pledge, however, the Convention Parliament (April 25-December 29, 1660) Convention Parliament (1660) , which invited Charles I’s son back from exile in France, failed to settle the question of religion in a manner acceptable to most English Protestants, including Presbyterians and Puritans. Numerous Englishmen wished to make the church comprehensive, and the king himself appeared to support such an idea. Indeed during the Parliamentary recess in September, 1660, Charles and his chancellor of the exchequer, the earl of Clarendon, Clarendon, first earl of sincerely attempted to reconcile the conflicting wishes of the Anglicans and Presbyterians Presbyterianism;England
Church of England . [kw]Clarendon Code (1661-1665)
[kw]Code, Clarendon (1661-1665)
Government and politics;1661-1665: Clarendon Code[2040]
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Clarendon Code (1661-1665)

At a joint conference of the two groups on October 25 at Worcester House (Clarendon’s lodging in London), the king issued a declaration proposing a comprehensive church settlement. Quite sensibly, he recognized the help of the Presbyterians and the Catholics Catholicism;England toward his restoration to the English throne and thus wanted an inclusive church to the extent possible. Clarendon, too, realized the dangers of alienating the non-Anglicans, especially when the army (still under Puritan influence) was not yet demobilized. Charles, however, had little idea of what sort of church the English political class would like to have. The nation had experienced a form of religious toleration in the 1650’s but remained impervious to its merits. They still looked upon the papists as well as the Independent Puritans with suspicion and contempt. Quite naturally, then, the Restoration coincided with a spontaneous revival of the Church of England represented by the Anglicans or conservative Protestants.

Though successful in settling administrative, political, and financial problems and issues somewhat satisfactorily, the Convention Parliament failed to pass any measures for toleration or comprehension and was dissolved on December 29, 1660, to be succeeded by a formal election in March and April of 1661 that returned a new Parliament on May 8, 1661. With a sizable Anglican and Royalist majority, the new Parliament became known as the Cavalier Parliament (1661-1678) Cavalier Parliament (1661-1678) . Precisely because they were Royalists, however, its members could not share the king’s inclination toward inclusiveness and toleration, because they believed that such an attitude would embolden the king-killing, class-leveling, high-taxing sectarians and congregationalists.

Only a few months prior to the election of the Cavalier Parliament, in January, 1661, the Fifth Monarchy Men Fifth Monarchy Men , members of a millenarian sect led by Thomas Venner, Venner, Thomas had proclaimed the reign of King Jesus in the center of London. Non-Anglicans still hoped for a tolerant church, and in fact the Anglican and Presbyterian representatives discussed the issue of comprehension at a conference, assembled by an order of the king issued on October 25, 1660. The conference took place at Savoy Palace in the Strand, home of Robert Sanderson, Sanderson, Robert bishop of Lincoln, from April 15 to July 24, 1661, but by then church inclusiveness was a lost cause. Thus, between 1661 and 1665, the Cavalier Parliament sought to exclude all radical sects from public life by passing a series of anti-Puritan penal legislation, known collectively, albeit somewhat misleadingly, as the Clarendon Code. Puritanism;laws against

Although the Clarendon Code was named after the staunchly Anglican lord chancellor, he was no persecutor of Puritans and he neither sponsored nor approved the laws to which his name became attached. More appropriately, the code could be labeled Cavalier. It consisted of four penal laws: the Corporation Act, the Act of Uniformity, the Conventicle Act, and the Five Mile Act. The Corporation Act of 1661 Corporation Act of 1661 required municipal officers, on pain of eviction, to renounce the Solemn League and Covenant Solemn League and Covenant and to receive Anglican Communion. The Act of Uniformity of May, 1662 Uniformity, Act of (1662) , was the central plank of the code. It required all ministers, professors, and schoolmasters to swear oaths repudiating the Covenant and the taking up of arms against the king, while agreeing to use the Book of Common Prayer for all church services.

Both King Charles and Lord Chancellor Clarendon sought to provide some comfort to the Presbyterians, the loyal Nonconformists Nonconformists , who were devoted both to monarchy and to a national church. In the House of Lords, Clarendon, supported by a number of peers and several bishops, including Gilbert Shelton, Shelton, Gilbert the archbishop, and George Morley, Morley, George bishop of Winchester, had proposed an amendment to the Bill of Uniformity that the Commons had sent up and that enjoined use of the new prayer book. The amendment empowered the king to relieve clergy from observation of the specific clauses that the Presbyterians found repugnant. However, the Lords as a body remained impervious to the idea of toleration, and the proposal was defeated. In spite of a great effort to persuade the Commons to agree to the proposal by the king’s consent to the Quaker Act of 1662 Quaker Act of 1662 (making it illegal to refuse to plead in a court of law and thus attacking the Quaker aversion to swearing oaths), the Clarendon amendment was voted down by the lower house. The upshot was that the Restoration church settlement resulted in the loss of livings for about 15 percent of the clergy in England and Wales by 1663.

All hopes for toleration and comprehension were dashed to the ground following an aborted uprising against the government in Yorkshire in October, 1663. This incident prompted Parliament to pass the Conventicle Act in 1664 Conventicle Acts (1664 and 1670) . This act imposed fines and even exile for three-time offenders for attending Nonconformist meetings (conventicles), that is, assemblies not held in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer and attended by five or more adults who were not members of the household in which the service was conducted. Finally, in 1665, Parliament passed the Five Mile Act Five Mile Act (1665) forbidding all preachers and teachers who did not take the necessary oaths and declarations from coming within five miles of any town or city as well as all evicted and ejected clergy from traveling within five miles of the parish where they had been incumbents.


The so-called Clarendon Code wrought a profound change in English religious life that was to endure for two and a half centuries. It ensured a fundamental nexus between Anglicanism and social, spiritual, and political conservatism. With its passage, all public office holders in England had to conform to the Church of England. Puritans as well as Catholics came to be officially defined as second-class citizens, and the former were often dubbed Nonconformists or Dissenters.

The Church of England, led by its bishops and served by its priests, reemerged as the Anglican establishment with the monarch as its Supreme Head, essentially the same institutional structure that Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547) had created and Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603) had consolidated. However, there was a novelty highlighted by the code. Although the king continued to be the ecclesiastical supreme head, his disciplinary prerogatives had by now transferred to Parliament, which wielded the authority to enforce religious uniformity. The church ceased to be the mouthpiece of God and assumed the task of saving society from disorder rather than people’s souls from hellfire. It thus emerged as an important partner of the monarchy to forge an ordered society free from the fanatical quest for a New Jerusalem espoused by their godly predecessor of the Interregnum.

Further Reading

  • Bucholz, Robert, and Newton Key. Early Modern England, 1485-1714: A Narrative History. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004. Chapter 9 contains an analysis of Restoration society, politics, and church.
  • Coward, Barry. The Stuart Age: England, 1603-1714. 1980. 2d ed. Harlow, England: Longman Group, 1994. A standard text by a distinguished specialist.
  • Fraser, Antonia. King Charles II. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1979. A most readable and reliable historical biography.
  • Green, Ian. The Re-establishment of the Church of England, 1660-1663. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. Superbly researched and written analysis.
  • Harris, Tim, Paul Seaward, and Mark Goldie, eds. The Politics of Religion in Restoration England. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1990. A collection of revisionist specialist articles.
  • Kenyon, J. P. The Stuart Constitution: Documents and Commentary. Reprint. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1969. A standard collection of documents and commentary by a distinguished scholar.
  • Seaward, Paul. The Cavalier Parliament and the Reconstruction of the Old Regime, 1661-1667. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. A lucid and illuminating analysis of the religious settlement by the Cavalier Parliament.
  • Whiteman, Anne. “The Re-establishment of the Church of England, 1660-63.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th ser. 5 (1955). Very helpful and insightful article. To be read in conjunction with the book by Green previously mentioned.

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Charles I; Charles II (of England); First Earl of Clarendon; Oliver Cromwell; James II; Mary II; William III. Clarendon Code (1661-1665)