England during the early Restoration is a fascinating case of the cultural fertility of counterrevolution. The problem of the reimposition of authority following the destruction and revival of such traditional institutions as monarchy, bishops, and nobility led to a variety of new expedients, rather than simply the return to old verities that one might expect from the somewhat misleading term “Restoration.” Historians such as Jonathan Scott and Richard Greaves have remarked upon the continuing challenge posed by oppositional ideologies dating back to the Revolution, republican and/or radical Protestant, in the England of the Restoration. Historians such as James Jacob, Margaret Jacob, Patrick Curry, and Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, have traced the ways in which the new science and Baconian ideology participated in the effort to find new bases for authority in the still unstable England of the time following the Civil War and Interregnum. John Gascoigne, in his recent history of Cambridge University in the eighteenth century, refers to the nexus of establishment politics, rational religion, and natural philosophy that originated in the Restoration and dominated the eighteenth century in England as the “holy alliance.”
This article will examine two important, and largely neglected, documents of the early Restoration, the Discourse Concerning Prodigies (1663) and the Discourse on Vulgar Prophecies (1665), both by the Anglican clergyman and scholar John Spencer. These works, produced in response to a specific challenge to the Restoration state, contributed to the creation of a Baconian scientific ideology in the 1660s, and its “holy alliance” with Latitudinarian religion. This article also examines, in turn, Spencer's political, religious, and natural-philosophical arguments. By demonstrating the connections between them it demonstrates that the “holy alliance” predated the development of Newtonian physics, and that Spencer, neither a natural philosopher nor one of the well known Latitudinarian divines, contributed to it.