England’s Act of Uniformity Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Act of Uniformity required all clergymen, college fellows, and schoolmasters to accept the revised Book of Common Prayer. By August, 1662, more than one thousand ministers had refused to conform to the Act of Uniformity and were thus ejected from the Church of England.

Summary of Event

During the English Interregnum, which began after Charles I was beheaded on January 30, 1649, English Puritans experienced religious liberty, first under the Commonwealth and then under the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. However, after the death of Cromwell in 1658 and the consequent political instability, it became apparent that a monarchical government would return. In a letter known as the Declaration of Breda Breda, Declaration of (1660) written from Holland, dated April 4, 1660, Charles II Charles II (king of England);Restoration of , two months prior to returning to English soil, promised to administer justice and offer mercy to his subjects. [kw]England’s Act of Uniformity (May 19, 1662) [kw]Uniformity, England’s Act of (May 19, 1662) [kw]Act of Uniformity, England’s (May 19, 1662) Government and politics;May 19, 1662: England’s Act of Uniformity[2120] Laws, acts, and legal history;May 19, 1662: England’s Act of Uniformity[2120] Religion and theology;May 19, 1662: England’s Act of Uniformity[2120] Social issues and reform;May 19, 1662: England’s Act of Uniformity[2120] England;May 19, 1662: England’s Act of Uniformity[2120] Uniformity, Act of (1662)

The Breda declaration, drafted with the assistance of the king’s lord chancellor in exile, Edward Hyde Clarendon, first earl of , who would be created earl of Clarendon in 1661, expressed Charles II’s desire that in his kingdom “all notes of discord, separation and difference of parties be utterly abolished” in hopes of a “perfect union.” Most important to his Puritan citizenry was the promise in the Declaration of Breda that none would be punished because of diverse views regarding religion. Simultaneously, however, Charles II pledged support for legislation that Parliament deemed necessary regarding religious uniformity, thereby inviting the Cavalier Parliament to take political action.

The forthcoming Restoration of the monarchy signaled a return of government by bishops, or episcopacy, in the Church. The Presbyterians, whose political representatives had played critical roles in restoring Charles II to the throne, sought a religious settlement that would include them within the national church. Prominent Presbyterian Presbyterianism;England leaders, such as Edmund Calamy Calamy, Edmund and Richard Baxter, Baxter, Richard met with Charles II and Anglican divines, proposing limited church government and requesting involvement in revising the liturgy. As a result of their efforts, the Savoy Conference Savoy Conference (1661) was held from April 15 through July 25, 1661, to revise the Prayer Book. However, the list of amendments provided at the Savoy Conference by the Presbyterian delegates was rejected by Anglican authorities. The debate regarding revision issues ensued in pamphlets produced on both sides. When the revised Book of Common Prayer Book of Common Prayer was presented to the Cavalier Parliament for acceptance, only a few of the Presbyterian suggestions had been implemented; the revised text was approved by only six votes.

After first convening in May, 1661, the Cavalier Parliament sought to restore the supremacy of the Church of England Church of England and commenced work on legislation restricting religious freedom and pressing for conformity. On May 19, 1662, Charles II ratified the Act of Uniformity, a bill produced by Parliament and narrowly passed by a vote of 186-180. This law, the foundational statute of the so-called Clarendon Code, required that all preachers of religion accept the revised Book of Common Prayer and the practices of the Church of England.

Because of “the great and scandalous neglect of ministers” regarding the liturgy, the objective of the Act of Uniformity was to bring peace by a “universal agreement in the public worship of Almighty God.” Unlike its predecessor, enacted in 1559 under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, the 1662 Act of Uniformity demanded not only that every minister in England use the newly revised Book of Common Prayer but also that he publicly “declare his unfeigned assent and consent” to the text.

The act set the date of Saint Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, 1662, as the deadline for every appointed minister to read the morning and evening prayers before his congregation and publicly to recite the prescribed oath contained in the bill’s text. Any minister who refused to obey would be excommunicated, “void as if he was naturally dead,” and deprived of his benefices and all “spiritual promotions.” Additionally, this law required that lecturers and chaplains at universities pronounce an oath professing conformity to the practices of the Church of England and vowing not to take up arms against the king. The Act of Uniformity also required that every parish purchase a printed copy of the Book of Common Prayer. Those charged with disobeying this bill were either fined or imprisoned.

Significance

On August 24, 1662, more than one thousand ministers refused to obey the Act of Uniformity and consequently were ejected from the Church of England. In addition to these ministers, more than seven hundred had left since 1660. By August, 1662, the prisons in London were filled to capacity with Nonconformists Nonconformists from various sects, including Quakers, Baptists, and Independents. Persecution, religious;Noncomformists in England

Although presumably intended to unite British subjects, the Act of Uniformity in fact polarized religion in England and created an enduring tradition of Nonconformity. Those who chose to worship outside of the Anglican Church were called Dissenters Dissenters , and numbered among them were persons such as Baxter, Calamy, Lucy Hutchinson, Hutchinson, Lucy John Bunyan, Bunyan, John and John Milton Milton, John . During this period of persecution, Dissenting authors produced numerous pamphlets, sermons, and other literary works, the most famous of which was Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost Paradise Lost (Milton) (1667, 1674). Bunyan, who suffered imprisonment from 1660-1672 for illegal preaching, wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come Pilgrim’s Progress, The (Bunyan)[Pilgrims Progress, The (Bunyan)] (Part 1, 1678; commonly known as The Pilgrim’s Progress) while in jail.

Although Nonconformists comprised a minority of less than 6 percent of England’s population, Parliament was concerned about minor uprisings and political unrest among Dissenters. As a result, the Five Mile Act Five Mile Act (1665) , approved on March 24, 1665, declared that those ministers ejected from the Church by the Act of Uniformity were banned from residing or entering within a five mile radius of those cities and towns where they previously had preached and ministered. Those not complying with this law were fined £40 or imprisoned for six months without bail. Nevertheless, many Nonconformist preachers persisted in preaching, and secret meetings (or conventicles) were held, often in individual homes. This era of Puritan suffering, which began with the Act of Uniformity, ended with the Toleration Act Toleration Act (1689) of 1689 after the Glorious Revolution and the ascension of William III and Mary II to the throne of England.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Achinstein, Sharon. Literature and Dissent in Milton’s England. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Challenges traditional assumptions about the culture and literature of the Restoration and offers a thorough introduction to the Dissenting tradition.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Browning, Andrew, ed. English Historical Documents, 1660-1714. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1966. Contains the significant texts of the Restoration period, including the Act of Uniformity and the Five Mile Act.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cragg, Gerald R. Puritanism in the Period of the Great Persecution, 1660-1688. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1957. Provides valuable insights on the historical context of the origins of Nonconformity.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Green, I. M. The Re-Establishment of the Church of England, 1660-1663. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. Chapter 10 focuses on Clarendon and his role in shaping and influencing political policy, especially those acts of Parliament that compose the so-called Clarendon Code.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hutton, Ronald. The Restoration: A Political and Religious History of England and Wales, 1658-1667. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1985. Provides a narrative history of England from Cromwell’s death to Clarendon’s demise. Argues that Restoration legislation from 1660-1662 can be categorized as two settlements.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Keeble, N. H. The Restoration: England in the 1660’s. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 2002. Combines a chronological and topical approach to studying the Restoration and offers a variety of viewpoints from contemporary Nonconformists.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lacey, Douglas R. Dissent and Parliamentary Politics in England, 1661-1689. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1969. Focuses on the political activity of moderate Nonconformists. Chapter 4 examines the impact of parliamentary acts on the Dissenters.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Matthews, A. G., ed. Calamy Revised: Being a Revision of Edmund Calamy’s “Account of the Ministers and Others Ejected and Silenced,” 1660-1662. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1934. This critical edition provides an informative introduction and a useful glossary of terms. Calamy’s text identifies many of the Nonconformists ejected.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Plum, Harry Grant. Restoration Puritanism: A Study in the Growth of English Liberty. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1972. This study offers an enlightening perspective on the Puritan experience in England during the mid-seventeenth century.
Related Articles in <i>Great Lives from History: The Seventeenth Century</i>

Richard Baxter; John Bunyan; Charles I; Charles II (of England); First Earl of Clarendon; Oliver Cromwell; Mary II; John Milton; William III. Uniformity, Act of (1662)

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