For the oldest ecclesiastical libraries, the libraries of the Anglican cathedrals, the events of the 1640s and 1650s were as traumatic as those of a century earlier, when the Reformation of the church in England had caused the dispersal of a number of large and famous cathedral libraries. The century since 1540 had seen the revival of most cathedral libraries but often on a smaller scale than before, with losses in manuscript books being, to some extent, made good in printed books, so that on the eve of the Civil War most cathedrals had a library of some kind.
‘In 1641, when the English Parliament began to dismantle the regime of Charles I, the most systematic and ferocious attack was not upon the political and legal agents of Stuart tyranny, but upon the Church of England.’ Amongst prime targets for reform were the higher clergy. For them the years 1640 to 1660 encompassed ejection, exile and, in the case of the archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, execution. Episcopacy was abolished in October 1646 and in April 1649, a few months after the execution of Charles I, so also were deans and chapters. For many cathedrals this last piece of legislation described a fait accompli, since the estates of many chapters accused of supporting the king had already been sequestered. There are accounts of the general vandalism and iconoclasm carried out in cathedrals by Puritan sympathisers, but few direct references to what happened to cathedral libraries in the 1640s and 1650s, so much of the evidence has had to be deduced from the accounts of what had to be rebuilt in the decades after the Restoration.