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Rethinking the Restoration: Dissenting cases for conscience, 1667–1672*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009

Gary S. de Krey
Affiliation:
St Olaf College

Abstract

On what religious and political grounds did restoration nonconformists argue for ‘ease to tender consciences’, and what did they mean by conscience? These questions are central to any evaluation of nonconformist political thought in the early restoration. Such dissenting thinkers as Slingsby Bethel, John Humfrey, Philip Nye, John Owen, William Penn, and Sir Charles Wolseley authored arguments for conscience during the intense debate about the restoration church settlement that occurred between 1667 and 1672. This essay outlines four different cases for conscience to which these arguments contributed. Two of these cases reconciled claims for conscience with the ecclesiastical authority of the monarch. Two other cases for conscience challenged the traditional religious authority of the crown.

Should any or all of these arguments for conscience be considered radical arguments? The answer to this question requires a definition of the term ‘radical’ – one that is appropriate for the late Stuart period. The grounds upon which early restoration advocates of conscience accepted an indulgence under the royal prerogative in 1672 are also explained.

The essay addresses the historiography of the restoration by considering Christopher Hill's and Richard Ashcraft's views about dissenting thought. It also proposes that the 1667–72 debate about the state and religion raised so many critical issues as to constitute an early restoration crisis about conscience.

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Copyright Cambridge University Press 1995

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References

1 Recent biographies of Charles II characterize the period differently. Jones, J. R. sees Charles himself as the principal political player of this period in Charles II: royal politician (London, 1987), pp. 79107Google Scholar. Hutton, Ronald agrees but also sees this period as ‘the Ministry of Arlington’ in Charles II: king of England, Scotland and Ireland (Oxford, 1989), pp. 254–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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5 The phrase comes from John, Owen, Indulgence and toleration considered: in a letter unto a person of honour (1667) in The works of John Owen (16 vols. London, 1852), XIII, 538.Google Scholar

6 Much of this rethinking of the restoration is brought together in the early chapters of Tim, Harris, Politics under the later Stuarts: party conflict in a divided society 1660–1715 (London and New York, 1993)Google Scholar. In addition to the secondary sources already cited, recent restoration scholarship of particular significance includes: Richard, Ashcraft, Revolutionary politics & Locke's ‘Two treatises of government’ (Princeton, 1986)Google Scholar; Andrew, Coleby, Central government and the localities: Hampshire 1649–1689 (Cambridge, 1987)Google Scholar; Mark, Goldie, ‘The theory of religious intolerance in restoration England’, in From persecution to toleration: the glorious revolution and religion in England, ed. Ole Peter, Grell, Israel, Jonathan I., AND Nicholas, Tyacke (Oxford, 1991), pp. 331–68Google Scholar; Richard, Greaves, Deliver us from evil: the radical underground in Britain, 1660–1663 (New York, 1986)Google Scholar; Richard, Greaves, Secrets of the kingdom: British radicals from the popish plot to the revolution of 1688–89 (Stanford, 1992)Google Scholar; Tim, Harris, London crowds in the reign of Charles II: propaganda and politics from the restoration until the exclusion crisis (Cambridge, 1987)Google Scholar; Christopher, Hill, The experience of defeat: Milton and some contemporaries (New York, 1985)Google Scholar; Jacob, James R., Henry Stubbe: radical protestantism and the early enlightenment (Cambridge, 1983)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Keeble, N. H., The literary culture of nonconformity in later seventeenth-century England (Leicester, 1987)Google Scholar; Pincus, Steven C. A., Protestantism and patriotism: ideology and the making of English foreign policy 1650–1668 (Cambridge, forthcoming)Google Scholar; Jonathan, Scott, Algernon Sidney and the English republic, 1623–1677 (Cambridge, 1988)Google Scholar; Jonathan, Scott, Algernon Sidney and the restoration crisis, 1677–1683 (Cambridge, 1991)Google Scholar; Paul, Seaward, The restoration, 1660–1688 (New York, 1991)Google Scholar; John, Spurr, The restoration church of England, 1646–1689 (New Haven, 1991)Google Scholar; and The pclitics of religion in restoration England, ed. Tim, Harris, Paul, Seaward and Mark, Goldie (Oxford, 1990).Google Scholar

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15 Owen, , Indulgence and toleration considered, p. 529.Google Scholar

16 Owen, , Truth and innocence vindicated, p. 491.Google Scholar

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20 Parker, , Discourse, p. 7.Google Scholar

21 Owen, , Truth and innocence vindicated, p. 376.Google Scholar

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25 The restoration interest case for conscience has been previously examined in Gunn, J. A. W., Politics and the public interest in the seventeenth century (London and Toronto, 1969), pp. 153204Google Scholar and in Scott, , Sidney and the English republicGoogle Scholar. Ashcraft mentions interest arguments for conscience only in passing, pp. 72–4.

26 For the due du Rohan see Gunn, pp. 36–8. For Rohan's influence upon Algernon Sidney's restoration thought, see Scott, , Sidney and the English republic, ch. 12.Google Scholar

27 Humfrey, , Defense of the proposition, pp. 57–8, 99100Google Scholar. Humfrey was so confident of the success of this religious formula that he alone among the dissenting authors of 1667–72 was prepared to extend the indulgence of conscience to ‘the common Papist’, though not to Jesuits or seminary priests. Ibid. p. 63.

28 Slingsby, Bethel, The present interest of England stated (1671), pp. 23, 1314, 1617, 29Google Scholar; [George, Villiers, duke of Buckingham], Letter to Sir Thomas Osbom… upon the reading of a book, called, the present interest of England stated (1672), p. 4Google Scholar. Bethel's writing was in part motivated by the need to reply to Samuel Parker's denunciation of dissenting traders as given to ‘Seditious Practices’: Parker, , Ecclesiastical politie, p. 74Google Scholar. Although Bethel has often been treated as a sectarian, he wrote in the 1681 version of this work as a militant reformer of ‘our church’ founded on ‘the Law’: Bethel, Present interest, 1681 text as reprinted in The interest of the princes & states of Europe (1689), pp. 25–31. Changes in English popular sentiment in the early:670s are examined in Steven C. A. Pincus, ‘ From butterboxes to wooden shoes: the shift in English popular sentiment from anti-Dutch to anti-French in the 1670s’, Historical Journal (forthcoming). For a comparison of Bethel's interest arguments with those of Algernon Sidney, with whom he had shared Dutch exile in the early 1660s, see Scott, , Sidney and the English republic, pp. 124, 180, 214–16.Google Scholar

29 Humfrey, , Defense of the proposition, p. 103Google Scholar; Bethel, , Present interest (1689), p. 21Google Scholar. These interest arguments were expressed in similar language in 1670–1 in the house of commons by Col John Birch: Anchitell, Grey, Debates of the house of commons, from… 1667 to… 1694 (10 vols. London, 1763), 1, 228, 421–2.Google Scholar

30 Wolseley was also a son-in-law of the puritan Lord Saye and Sele. His thought has received significant attention from Blair, Worden in ‘Toleration and the Cromwellian protectorate’, in Persecution and toleration, ed. Shells, W. J., Studies in Church History, XXI (Oxford, 1984), 229–33Google Scholar. Scott points out the similarities between Wolseley's interest theory and that of Sidney, who promoted Wolseley's candidacy for a commons seat in 1679: Sidney and the English republic, p. 221.Google Scholar

31 [SirCharles, Wolseley], Liberty of conscience, the magistrates interest (1668), pp. 35, 910, 17.Google Scholar

32 Ibid. pp. 9, 10, 17. Ashcraft devotes considerable attention to Wolseley's arguments on behalf of conscience, but he fails to note the significant differences about the issue of church and state between Wolseley and authors like Owen and Humfrey. Ashcraft, pp. 54 ff. Humfrey actually offered a friendly critique of Wolseley's case for conscience in Authority of the magistrate, pp. 8396.Google Scholar

33 William, Penn, The great case of liberty of conscience (1671) in The select works of William Penn (3 vols. London, 1825), III, 130.Google Scholar

34 [SirCharles, Wolseley], Liberty of conscience upon its true and proper grounds asserted & vindicated (1668), p. 27Google Scholar. In addition to the pieces by Wolseley and Penn, the principal sources for this case are: Public Record Office (P.R.O.) State Papers (S.P.) 29/251 /186: A few sober queries upon the late proclamation, for enforcing the laws against conventicles (1668); The Englishman, or a letter from a universal friend…with some observations upon the late act against conventicles (1670); [Nicholas, Lockyer], Some seasonable and serious queries upon the late act against conventicles [1670]Google Scholar; [Thomas, Rudyard], The peoples antient and just liberties asserted, in the tryal of William Penn, and William Mead (1670).Google Scholar

35 The authorship of this tract has recently been assigned either to Rudyard alone or to Rudyard and Penn, but it clearly presents Penn's thinking in 1670: The papers of William Penn, V, ed. Bronner, Edwin B. and David, Fraser (Philadelphia, 1986), 119Google Scholar. For Penn's early political theory, see Mary Maples, Dunn, William Penn: politics and conscience (Princeton, 1967), pp. 4472Google Scholar. For Penn's subsequent adoption of the interest case for conscience, also see: Gunn, pp. 170 ff. and Scott, , Algernon Sidney and the English republic, pp. 207, 209–10, 213, 216–17, 220–1Google Scholar. As an Oxford undergraduate in the early 1660s, Penn had become intimate with John Owen, the former university vice-chancellor. In 1662, he departed Oxford for the huguenot academy at Saumur where he was influenced by the case for conscience professed by Moise Amyraut. Before returning to England in 1664, Penn became a friend of Algernon Sidney. He also developed a friendship with Slingsby Bethel, who was abroad during these years. Harry Emerson, Wildes, William Penn (New York, 1974), pp. 2432Google Scholar; Samuel Booth, Sturgis, The huguenot source of Penn's ideal of religious tolerance (Philadelphia, 1956).Google Scholar

36 Penn, , Great case, pp. 133–4, 137, 143.Google Scholar

37 Ibid. pp. 135, 140.

38 Ibid. pp. 131, 147–8. Also see Penn's ideas as incorporated into Rudyard, pp. 32–48.

39 The Englishman, p. 9.

40 Ashcraft argues that dissenting spokesmen as a whole assigned reason an important role in gaining religious understanding, but Worden points to the distinctiveness of Wolseley's arguments about reason and religion: Ashcraft, , Revolutionary politics, pp. 54–9Google Scholar; Worden, , ‘Toleration’, pp. 232–3.Google Scholar

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43 For the importance of freedom of conscience in Leveller thought, see: Davis, J. C., ‘The Levellers and Christianity’ in Politics, religion, and the English civil war, ed. Manning, B. S. (London, 1973), pp. 246–50Google Scholar; Brian, Manning, ‘The Levellers and religion’, in Radical religion in the English revolution, ed. McGregor, J. F. and Reay, B. (Oxford, 1984), pp. 7883Google Scholar; David, Wootton, ‘Leveller democracy and the puritan revolution’, in The Cambridge history of political thought 1450–1700, ed. Burns, J. H. with the assistance of Mark Goldie (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 438–41.Google Scholar

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47 The saints freedom from tyranny vindicated: or, the power of pagan Ceasars, and antichristian kings examined (1667), pp. 912, 22.Google Scholar

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49 Ibid. fo. 78; Saints freedom from tyranny vindicated, p. 29.

50 Ashcraft sometimes refers to the debate over conscience as the debate over Samuel Parker's Ecclesiastical politie, and he sometimes treats the dissenting intellectuals as reacting to Parker's arguments: pp. 45, 66, 74. Such suggestions are misleading. This intellectual debate originated not with Parker's important book but rather with a fundamental issue; and the dissenters initiated the debate themselves, as early as 1667, when the original conventicle act was first reconsidered by parliament.

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52 Hill, , Experience of defeat, pp. 164, 168, 5661.Google Scholar

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57 Penn, as found in Rudyard, , Peoples ancient and just liberties, pp. 27, 47–8Google Scholar; Penn, , Great case, 147–8.Google Scholar

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59 B.L. Add. MS 38,856, fos. 78–80; Saints freedom from tyranny vindicated, pp. 3–5, 9, 23, 29.

60 Coven, Militant Christian, title page, unpaginated poetic introduction, pp. 12, 43; Watson, , Heaven taken by storm, pp. 56Google Scholar in commentary on Matthew 5: 5.

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62 Wolseley, , Liberty of conscience upon its true and proper grounds, p. 41.Google Scholar

63 Ibid. pp. 11–15.

64 Ibid. pp. 10–17, 21–4, 27, 29–30; Wolseley, , Liberty of conscience, the magistrates interest, pp. 56, 9.Google Scholar

65 Hill, , Experience of defeat, pp. 191206Google Scholar; Penn, , Great case, pp. 131, 143, 146–7Google Scholar; John, Stubbes, For the king and both houses of parliament who are desired to…grant a speedy redress [1670], p. 14.Google Scholar

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70 Humfrey, , Defence of the proposition, pp. 65–7Google Scholar; Humfrey, Comprehension promoted [1673 or earlier], p. 2. Humfrey was committed for the ‘seditious and treasonable clauses’ in this tract: Calamy revised, ed. Matthews, A. G. (Oxford, 1934, 1988), p. 284Google Scholar. For the parliamentary antecedents of Humfrey's programme, see Austin, Woolrych, Commonwealth to protectorate (Oxford, 1982), pp. 312–51Google Scholar. Reflecting upon pieces Humfrey published about the religious question in 1667–8, Greaves nevertheless describes him as advancing a ‘moderate course’: Enemies under his feet, pp. 143–4.Google Scholar

71 Seaward, , Cavalier ParliamentGoogle Scholar, title phrase.

72 Humfrey, , Defence of the proposition, pp. 65–6.Google Scholar

73 Nye, , Lawfulness of the oath, pp. 1718.Google Scholar

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75 Humfrey, , Authority of the magistrate, p. 75Google Scholar. Also see Ashcraft, , Revolutionary politics, p. 48Google Scholar, for comment on this passage.

76 Humfrey, , Authority of the magistrate, p. 17Google Scholar. Conal Condren, whose interpretation of Humfrey rests largely upon later writings, takes a very different approach to him from that adopted here: George Lawson's ‘Politico’, pp. 143–50.

77 See, for instance, Owen, , Indulgence and toleration considered, pp. 523, 531–2Google Scholar. Harro, Hopfl and Thompson, Martyn P. develop these distinctions between contract and consent and between constitutional and philosophical modes of discourse in their analysis of early modern contract theory: ‘The history of contract as a motif in political thought’, American Historical Review, LXXXIV (1979). esp. 934, 941.Google Scholar

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80 Humfrey, , Authority of the magistrate, p. 29Google Scholar; Humfrey, , Obligation of human laws discussed (1671), pp. 46–7Google Scholar. Also see Ashcraft, , Revolutionary politics, pp. 47–8.Google Scholar

81 Owen, , Peace-offering, p. 570.Google Scholar

82 Nye, , The king's authority in dispensing with ecclesiastical laws, p. 14.Google Scholar

83 Ibid. p. 30; Humfrey, , Authority of the magistrate, p. 15.Google Scholar

84 My analysis differs from that suggested by Weston, Corinne C. and Greenberg, Janelle R., Subjects and sovereigns: the grand controversy over legal sovereignty in Stuart England (Cambridge, 1981), p. 163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

85 Owen, , Truth and innocence vindicated, p. 366.Google Scholar

86 Alan, Macfarlane, The family life of Ralph Josselin, a seventeenth-century clergyman (Cambridge, 1970)Google Scholar; Jacob, J. R., Robert Boyle and the English revolution: a study in social and intellectual change (New York, 1977).Google Scholar

87 For ‘civic radicalism’ in restoration London, see Gary S. De, Krey, ‘Revolution redivivus: 1688–89 and tne radical tradition in seventeenth-century London politics’ in The revolution of 1688–89: changing perspectives, ed. Schwoerer, Lois G. (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 198217Google Scholar. For Sidney and Neville see Scott, Sidney and the restoration crisis and Hill, , Experience of defeat, pp. 201–6.Google Scholar

88 For the dating of Heavenly foot-man see Hill, , Tinker and a poor man, p. 327Google Scholar. Hill has also provided helpful insights about Samson Agonistes from the perspective of the English revolution: Milton and the English revolution (New York, 1977), pp. 428–48Google Scholar and Experience of defeat, pp. 310–19.

89 For the text of Locke's 1667 ‘Essay concerning toleration’, see Fox Bourne, H. R., The life of John Locke (2 vols. New York, 1876), 1, 174–94Google Scholar; John, Locke, Scritti editi e ineditit. sulla tolleranza, ed. and trans. Viano, Carlo A. (Turin, 1961), pp. 81107Google Scholar. For analysis of the ‘Essay’ see Kraynak, Robert P., ‘John Locke: from absolutism to toleration’, American Political Science Review, LXXIV, 03 (1980), 5469Google Scholar; Ashcraft, , Revolutionary politics, pp. 94101Google Scholar; Schochet, Gordon J., ‘Toleration, revolution, and judgment in the development of Locke's political thought’, Political Science, XL, 07 (1988), 8496CrossRefGoogle Scholar; John, Marshall, ‘John Locke and latitudinarianism’, in Philosophy, science, and religion in England 1640–1700, ed. Richard, Kroll, Richard, Ashcraft, AND Perez, Zagorin (Cambridge, 1992), esp. pp. 255, 266–7.Google Scholar

90 Scott, Sidney and the restoration crisis, esp. chs. 6–8, and see my remarks in ‘The first restoration crisis’, pp. 574–6, 579–80.

91 Seaward, chs. 10–11; Pincus, Protestantism and patriotism.

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