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The Great Ejection (1643-1660)

George M. Ella | Added: Dec 28, 2005 | Category: History


The problem outlined

Having spent most of my life in Free church circles, I learnt very early of the severe persecutions meted out in England during the 17th century to Dissenters, Non-Conformists and Non-Jurors who wished to preach, teach and witness in Anglican parishes. Two books which became of special influence in forming my judgement, the first many years ago and the second in more recent years, were Thomas Coleman’s The Two Thousand Confessors of Sixteen Hundred and Sixty-Two and Edmund Calamy’s The Nonconformist’s Memorial, a three-volumed work on the same period. I still treasure these works which served under God to cause me to abhor any form of religious, political and social persecution.

As a result of reading such books as the above, however, I came to believe that Dissenters had always been the sufferers and never the aggressors. I naively believed every word of Dissenting historians who claimed that those thousands of Anglican ministers and scholars who were deprived and ejected during the Great Rebellion of 1640-1660 were removed for scandalous and ungodly behaviour. Indeed, when I read that 2,000 of these men of scandal were evicted and punished in various ways in 1643 alone, and hundreds followed them year by year, I thought that England had been rightly rid of much dross and was shocked that the Reformed Church of England had been so corrupt.

Five events caused me to review my position on the subject. One was reading about the ‘Scandalous Ministers’ in Daniel Neal’s History of the Puritans. The second was my research into the pre-Rebellion Reformed Church of England. The third was a comparison of the way the Westminster Assembly was called, in contrast to the coming into being of the Lambeth, Thirty-Nine and Irish Articles. The fourth was a comparison of Parliamentary anti-Episcopalian Laws during the Usurpation with the Anti-Conventicle Acts of the Restitution. The fifth was the methods used by Presbyterians, Independents and Baptists to fill the great spiritual gap left by the disestablishment of the Church of England and the outlawing of her clergy.

The ‘Scandalous Ministers’

Reading Dissenting Neal’s account of the fate of Anglican’s ejected by the Presbyterian-friendly Long Parliament, I realised that the word ‘scandalous’ carried totally different meanings. I had understood the term to mean ‘immoral’ and ‘ungodly’. However, the criteria chosen by Parliament to pronounce a minister ‘scandalous’ included disagreement with Parliament’s officiating as a religious body, proscribing fasts etc. and an expressed allegiance to the Monarchy. According to this ruling, ministers were deemed ‘scandalous’ for protesting against church matters being governed by those who had no office in or calling to the church they sought to regulate. By this definition, most Christians today would hopefully own themselves to be ‘scandalous’.

Another term for Anglicans used by the Presbyterian and Independent Parliament was ‘malignants’. Again this term, on close examination, has nothing to do with morals but much to do with a total lack of toleration and liberty of thought. Thus even Cromwell’s daughters were pronounced ‘malignant’ because they insisted on being married according to church rites and not merely by a secular officer. When Cromwell insisted that Archbishop Usher should be buried in Westminster Abbey and not in a private chapel as planned, he also insisted that Usher’s friends footed the bill. Apparently one of Cromwell’s own Prayerbook-loving daughters was led to believe that if she funded £600 towards the burial she would receive a government grant for the money. When the lady made an application, it was refused her on the grounds that she had proved herself to be a ‘malignant’. The moral of all this is that things are not what they may appear to be.

A brief look at the lives of some Anglicans deemed ‘scandalous’, ‘malignant’ and ‘traitors’.

Moved by this misuse of nomenclature, I began to examine the men of God who were deemed ‘scandalous malignants’ by the Commonwealth-Church powers and found amongst them some of the brightest jewels in Christ’s crown and men of unquestionable high morals, sound faith and evangelical outreach. No doubt, as Thomas Fuller clearly states, there were ministers amongst the ejected who the Reformed Church of England would have been better off without, yet Fuller protested against the arbitrary nature of their condemnation. Anyone who brought accusation against their ministers were apparently believed and no one was required to swear on oath that what they said was true. Furthermore, in mentioning these sufferers, I am not forgetting the ‘plundered ministers’ who fled from the King’s armies, many of whom were fine men of God but declared enemies of Episcopacy and the King. They too, have my sympathy.1 Yet these men, as far as could be organised in these turbulent times, were refunded of any loss and re-established in their livings by the Cromwellian Commonwealth.

The dispossessed Episcopalians did not fare so well by any means. Parliament granted each spouse a fifth of her husband’s former income, thus humiliating the ministers, now dependent on their wives, even further. However, such a compensation was not granted unmarried men and widows, nor was it given to those deemed ‘scandalous’, so most ejected ministers received no compensation at all. To add to their plight, Parliament demanded of these impoverished men that they supply horses, food, clothing and even arms for Cromwell’s ‘Model Army’. Indeed, the ‘plundered ministers’ came to be called the ‘plundering ministers’ in common parlance as they were often given choice livings taken from the Anglicans.

Of the so-called ‘scandalous’ ministers, Joseph Hall, author of Contemplations on the Historical Passages of the Old and New Testaments, was imprisoned without a trial, fined, deprived of all his goods and property, removed from his Church and harassed mercilessly. This despite being one of the co-authors of the Canons of Dort and thus a man the Calvinistic Presbyterians and Independents ought to have honoured for that fact alone. Bishop Hall found that impositions placed on ejected clergy even included confiscation of property borrowed from friends so that when he was loaned a horse, it was immediately seized for military use. Daniel Featley’s church was ransacked, his house and barn were burnt to the ground and his moveables, including a fine library of Reformed literature, were carried off. Several of Featley’s congregation were put to death but he escaped ‘official’ murder by the skin of his teeth on several occasions. Featley was invited to take part in the Westminster Assembly. He did not follow Usher’s and Ward’s advice that he should stay clear and the brave man attended the meetings only to be arrested and put in prison where he died a year and a half later as a result of his torments. Yet this man was Britain’s greatest apologist for the Reformed faith of his day. Whilst in prison, the greatest irony imaginable occurred.

The Parliament forces were being infiltrated by Romanists who were trained on the Continent as under-cover men to enter, divide and conquer Dissent, finding them a much easier target than the disestablished Reformed Church. Parliament could find no adequate defender of the faith amongst their own ranks and begged the imprisoned Featley to help them in their anti-papist campaign. Featley, ever a Valiant-for-Truth, rose to the occasion although his merciless tormentors kept him a prisoner and denied him free use of his own library that they had confiscated.

Archbishop Usher, and especially Synod of Dort men Samuel Ward2 and Walter Balcanqual, all great Reformed leaders, also suffered terribly under the Anti-Episcopalian policy of the usurping Parliament-backed new church authorities. Synod of Dort man Bishop Davenant, one of the finest Reformed men any church has ever had, died shortly before the persecutions started but his equally Reformed family, which included Edward Davenant and Church Historian Thomas Fuller, were either removed from their livings as in the case of Davenant or severely restricted as in the case of Fuller. The latter having many friends amongst the Puritan Presbyterians who were willing to turn a blind eye to a man of such worth. In all, if we are to believe the man who has done deep research into this period, John Walker3, between 8,000-10,000 Anglican clergy and scholars were ejected, and/or dispossessed, evicted, sequestered, exiled or imprisoned during the Anti-Episcopalian revolution. Historian Clarendon maintains that all the ‘learned and orthodox divines’ in the Church of England were pronounced ‘scandalous’ by the churches of the Usurpation and Richard Baxter, on the side of the rebels, tells us that as many as one half of Anglican ministers were deprived. Dissenting Baxter had certainly no axe to grind on behalf of the Episcopalians and he was as critical of the Cromwell regime as any Anglican. His case is a puzzle. Though he took the side of the Rebellion, he continued to use the Prayer Book himself, long after it was forbidden and remained a constant critic of the follies of both Cromwell and the Presbyterians. The story is told of his taking a burial service amongst the most hardened rebels and was afterwards complimented on his eloquent language and fine theology. Taking advantage of his fellow rebels’ ignorance, he had taken the service verbatim from the Anglican Prayer Book which he could recite off-by-heart. Another fine story of Baxter’s bravery is that he was leading the worship from the Book of Common Prayer when a soldier put his pistol to the saint’s head and commanded him to stop. Baxter did stop, but merely to tell the soldier that he should do his duty as a military man but he should also allow Baxter to do his duty as a minister. He then read on. The pistol was lowered. Baxter was also far more cautious in his estimation of the number of ejected Dissenting ministers than later writers such as Calamy. He gives the number of Anti-Episcopalian and Non-Jurors under the Playboy King’s reign as 1,800, whereas Edmund Calamy, grandson to the Westminster Assembly member of the same name, claims 2,000. It is interesting to note that the highly respected Baptist Church Historian, Hugh Martin, does not challenge Walker’s relatively high figures but argues that he could hardly be suspected of falsifying them as who would boast that his church had a greater number of ‘scandalous ministers’ than they were already accused of having?4 Though Neal is understandably critical of Walker, he nevertheless bases much of his own comments on statistics provided by Walker and backs them up on several occasions. However, Neal is not always fair. He accuses Walker of picking out choice examples of sequestered Anglicans which serve his purpose best, ignoring the more scandalous ones. Actually this is exactly what Neal does for the other side. One would not expect it to be otherwise. Neal also could have found far more ‘Puritan’ Anglicans amongst the dispossessed than those he chooses for comment. Here, Neal does Walker a disservice as the Anglican also objectively lists those who were charged with drunkenness, laziness and other truly scandalous deficits.

Throughout the years, Episcopalians were systematically rooted out as soon as found. Many examples could be given such as Jeremy Taylor who was fined and imprisoned on several occasions throughout the Usurpation and had to flee for his life after receiving murder threats from his fellow-but-Anti-Anglican ministers. Dr Wren, the Bishop of Ely, languished in prison without a trial from the beginning of the Rebellion until the Restoration. Ward was ejected in 1645 with 200 other Masters when the universities were ‘purged’. Many others, as in the case of Dr Beale of St John’s College, before impending imprisonment or afterwards, as in Beale’s case, fled the country and settled down in lands from Scandinavia down to Spain to be rid of their persecutors. As in the days of Mary, Holland especially hosted the British exiles. Many, such as Beale died in exile. After serving God as a country parson for 18 years, harmless Robert Herrick, preacher to the ‘simple folk’, was rooted out in 1647 and deprived of his living. Herrick fled to London and wrote his famous hymns until the Restitution, longing for ‘sacred rest; peace, and pure joys’ once more. Faced with persecution the man called the poet of poets wrote:

Make, make me thine, my gracious God,
Or with thy staff, or with thy rod;
And be the blow, too, what it will,
Lord, I will kiss it, though it kill.

The Westminster Confession compared with Reformed Anglican Statements of Faith

The Anglican confessions such as the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Lambeth Articles and the Irish Articles were all worked out as a result of ministers’ conferences, Convocation, the church courts and the initiative of the Archbishops. True, such creed-making conferences were often, but by no means always, called on behalf of the Church by the Sovereign but this also was in a church-given capacity and not the result of any secular rule. However one might deplore the interference of a sovereign in church affairs, that sovereign was a member of the Church and acted in his church capacities. It is quite a different matter to have a secular government proscribe how a spiritual body of believers ought to think and act down to the most minute of details. Especially the Lambeth and Irish Articles were purely the work of the Churches of England and Ireland and recognised as binding by all the Archbishops but even the Thirty-Nine Articles, though supervised by Edward and Elizabeth was purely a work of the English Reformers without the interference of secular powers. It was a far different case with the Presbyterian Articles of Faith. The entire organisation of the Westminster Assembly was planned and set in motion by the secular powers in complete rebellion against Church and King. It was ecclesiastically and constitutionally an illegal act. Episcopacy was abolished by Parliament in January, 1643 and a committee composed of ministers who had broken their oaths of allegiance to the King and subscription to their Church’s Articles sat side by side with politicians from both Houses to found a new established church based on total Erastian principles. It was a group of men who believed that the secular lay courts had complete authority over matters of faith, order and church discipline and paved the immediate way for the ejection of Anglican ministers. Also in the summer of 1643, the Scottish Presbyterians urged Parliament to take on their Solemn League and Covenant which turned the New Testament principled Reformed Church of England with its insistence on the new birth and the distinction between the true invisible church and the assembly of professing Christians back into an Old Testament concept of a state religion after the pattern of the Jews. In February, 1644 all British males over the age of 18 had to formally sign away their allegiance to the old Church and Kingship and declare themselves foes of Episcopacy. Those Christians who refused to sell their birthright for a mess of pottage and support a state which professed to be a church by reason of a political vote by a most one-sidedly chosen few, now had to fear for their land, occupations, personal savings and even lives. This new totalitarian state religion promised tolerance for all, providing they saw religion through the various eyes of the Presbyterians, Cromwellians and Independents and did not support Episcopalianism, Quakerism and other ‘Sectaries’.

Anti-Conventicle Laws against Anglicans

The Church of England was to all intents and purposes outlawed by the Anti-Episcopacy Act and the Solemn League. These were followed by acts forbidding the commemoration of Christ’s birth, the observation of Easter and Whitsuntide and church marriages. It must be noted that all these laws concerning ecclesiastical matters were, with the initial backing of the Presbyterians, the work of Parliament and not church assemblies and conferences. Anglicans were convinced that the Presbyterian Puritans were intent on secularising the Church of God. Laws passed in 1645 and 1646 secured the full disestablishment of the old Reformed Church and Presbyterianism was declared by law to be the established religion of Britain. This religion differed very little from the former in doctrine but laid much more stress on external structure after the French and Jewish patterns. The use of the Prayer Book was not only declared illegal as a formal expression of public faith but those who used its prayers privately were threatened with punishment. The Englishman’s home ceased to be his castle and became an open cage for all to peer into, especially ecclesiastical-cum-Government spies. Now the universities were purged by ‘church’ authorities with armed men to support them and acts were passed which banned Anglican Professors and even students from going within five miles of their former place of work and study. Ten of the sixteen heads of the Cambridge colleges refused to comply and Neal, after accepting Walker’s high figures of the number of Professors, fellows and graduates expelled adds ‘Queen’s College was evacuated.’ Again, persecution did not stop here. Law was passed on September 1655 and January 1656 (New Style) declaring that anyone employing any of these evicted scholars as private tutors would be fined and imprisoned and if persistent, banished. Now these were all Parliamentary laws made by a system which was convinced that they had the democratic powers to exercise legal rights over ecclesiastical matters. The Restitution brought with it a reestablishment of Church and King but Parliament refused to put the clock back and kept her legal powers over established religion and the so called sectarian conventicles. Thus we see the same grim laws, at times less severely practised, at other times more severely enforced, which persecuted Anglicans now persecuting Dissenters. Perhaps all that can be said here is that those who appeal to Caesar must be prepared to bow under Caesar’s authority and all Erastianism is an enemy of true liberty of thought.

Filling the void

With at least half of the Anglican clergy expelled and the universities and schools of England working with reduced staffs or made desolate, the question obviously arose as to how the void could be filled. This was no easy problem to solve as the vast populace still considered themselves Anglican and the universities and colleges had hitherto produced more Anglicans, Puritan or otherwise than Presbyterians, Puritan or otherwise. Thus drastic measures were taken which proved the speedy downfall of the new ecclesiastical establishment. Many very young, inexperienced men with, as Bunyan would say, the eggshell still sticking to their heads, took over parishes formerly pastored by men of years, learning and deep Christian experience. The American colonies were appealed to and New England sent over quite a body of fine but inexperienced youngsters to minister in the land of their fathers. Here, we can mention Increase, Nathaniel and Samuel Mather. These new men, however, could not fill the void. Now men formerly totally opposed to an established church order were invited to come forward. These included the Baptists who provided two Triers (men who were government appointed to chose able men for the ministry) and, according to Baptist sources, at least 30 men took over London livings. Next, tradesmen were asked to fill the posts and these produced a large percentage of the new established religion’s ministry. Many of these were neither trained or proved as preachers and pastors and at least some could neither read nor write. Thus moderate man of letters John Evelyn complained bitterly of the ‘novelties and novices’ brought into Britain’s pulpits by ‘blasphemous and ignorant mechanics’. He found that instead of preaching practical religion and a reformation of life, they merely aired philosophical points with an air of assumed learning.5 Augustus Toplady was even more severe. After considering the shaking that Laudianism gave to the Church, he argues that the Republicans went to such wild extravagancies of fanaticism that they out-Lauded Laud and destroyed the whole fabric. Accepting that the rebels had men who would adorn any denomination, he deplored the fact that they had nevertheless substituted men ‘immerged in the thickest dregs of ignorance, bigotry and fanaticism’. Indeed, he compared Cromwell’s letting into the pulpits whoever felt the urge to the work of Wesley and saw proof of this in the way Cromwell encouraged Arch-Arminian, John Goodwin and Arch-thug Thomas Venner to propagate their debased gospel.

Taking all these matters into account, it can no longer be said by honest Christian researchers that the ejections following in the wake of the Restitution in 1662 were either more wicked, more numerous or more severe than those shown by Dissenters to the Anglicans whom they made their enemies. Persecution is evil wherever and whenever it occurs and at whatever depth. Also the excuse given by Coleman that the Dissenting persecutions are more excusable than those of the later Anglicans because they occurred in turbulent times cannot be accepted. Those times were to a great extent caused by these persecutions and such persecution is never excusable. On the other hand, it must also be accepted that Anglicans were ejected by force from the established church of the day, whereas the clergy who opted out of the Anglican system in 1662 did so voluntarily and they opted out of a system with which they were not in agreement. Indeed, the sum total of ministers who decided on a Dissenting course was demonstrably much less than the number of Dissenters who joined the Established Church during the Usurpation. The truth is that the Dissenters realised that their status under Cromwell was worse than under Charles I. This goes especially for Presbyterians and Baptists and to a lesser extent also for Independents. This is why delegates from all churches, including the most violent rebels, soon found themselves sending their most trusted men such as Baxter, Calamy and Reynolds to kiss the exiled King’s toe and become his private chaplains. The plea of the so-called Sectarians, under the leadership of the Baptists who also found Cromwell a too stern taskmaster, is most moving in its pathos and sincerity and confession of having chosen the wrong path. The document of surrender and submission was presented personally to Charles II in Holland and closes with the words:

We must confess, that we have been wandering, deviating, and roving up and down, this way and that way, through all the dangerous and untrodden paths of fanatic and enthusiastic notions, till now at last, but too late, we find ourselves intricated and involved in so many windings, labyrinths, and meanders of knavery, that nothing but a divine clue of thread handed to us from heaven, can be sufficient to extricate us, and restore us. We know not, we know not, whether we have juster matter of shame or sorrow administered to us, when we take a reflex view of our past actions, and consider into the commission of what crimes, impieties, wickednesses, and unheard of villainies we have been led, cheated, cozened, and betrayed by that grand impostor, that loathsome hypocrite, that detestable traitor, that prodigy of nature, that sink of sin, and that compendium of baseness, who now calls himself our protector.

May this brief historical overview of the Great Ejection of 1643-1660 be of some assistance in learning from the mistakes of others, and endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

  1. See Neal, vol. ii, Part III, Chapter I, II and especially III.
  2. There were three famous Samuel Wards during this period. This is a reference to the Margaret Professor of Divinity and not to Bishop Ward. Ward died as a result of his imprisonment under the alleged ‘Calvinists’.
  3. An Attempt Towards Recovering an Account of the Numbers and Sufferers of the Clergy of the Church of England, etc..
  4. Puritanism and Richard Baxter. See Martin’s handling of the problem of numbers pp. 117-119.
  5. See Glover’s chapter on Evelyn in his Poets and Puritans, esp. p.88 ff..