Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 February 2010
Addressing the church at large in 1673, Robert Neville, fellow of King's College, Cambridge and rector of Ansty, insisted that “the keys of ecclesiastical censures must always be in your hands, and not only hang at your girdles, they must not lye rusting by you, but be kept bright by constant use.” Defending the power of the restored church, clergymen like Neville were certain they exercised a spiritual discipline over the Christian community. What Mark Goldie has described as an “Anglican theory of intolerance” remained a staple element of the jurisdictional identity of the established church until at least 1689 (if not afterwards). This conviction that godly churchmen might turn the sharp sword of punishment against dissenters and schismatics was increasingly contested after the 1660s. The ever vocal dissenting attack upon the “popery” of the ecclesiastical settlement of the early 1660s, combined with growing doubts about the confessional commitments of the sovereign in the 1670s, meant that many Protestants became anxious about the legitimacy of the legal instruments for the prosecution of heresy. It became a commonplace worry that a Roman Catholic sovereign might well turn the sword of state against Protestant heretics. This ambiguous and shifting political context illustrates the tensions evident within Protestant discourses and practices: was it possible to accommodate both a national church and liberty of conscience? Might not Anglican bishops find the arguments they used to compel dissenters into communion turned against themselves?