corner graphic   Hi,    
Facebook image
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 24 — Protestantism in Scotland

Chapter 15 — Charles I and archbishop Laud — Religious innovations

Resource Toolbox

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24

 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30

Basilicon Doron – A Defense of Arbitrary Government – Character of Charles I – His French Marriage – He Dissolves his Parliament – Imposes Taxes by his Prerogative – A Popish Hierarchy in England – Tonnage and Poundage – Ship-money – Archbishop Laud – His Character – His Consecration of St. Catherine Cree Church – His Innovations – The Protestant Press Gagged – Bishop Williams – The Puritans Exiled, etc. – Preaching Restricted – The Book of Sports – Alarm and Gloom

Along with his crown, James VI bequeathed one other gift to his son, Charles I. As in the ancient story, this last was the fatal addition which turned all the other parts of the brilliant inheritance to evil. We refer to the Basilicon Doron. This work was composed by its royal author to supply the prince with a model on which to mold his character, and a set of maxims by which to govern when he came to the throne.

The two leading doctrines of the Basilicon Doron are,
1st, the Divine right of kings; and,
2nd, the anarchical and destructive nature of Presbyterianism.

The consequences that flow from these two fundamental propositions are deduced and stated with a fearless logic. "Monarchy," says James, "is the true pattern of the Divinity; kings sit upon God's throne on the earth; their subjects are not permitted to make any resistance but by flight, as we may see by the example of brute beasts and unreasonable creatures." In support of his doctrine he cites the case of Elias, who under "the tyranny of Ahab made no rebellion, but fled into the wilderness;" and of Samuel, who, when showing the Israelites that their future king would spoil and oppress them, and lead them with all manner of burdens, gave them nevertheless no right to rebel, or even to murmur. In short, the work is an elaborate defense of arbitrary government, and its correlative, passive obedience. [1]

Under the head of Presbyterianism, the king's doctrine is equally explicit. It is a form of Church government, he assures the prince, utterly repugnant to monarchy, and destructive of the good order of States, and only to be rooted up. "Parity?" he exclaims, "the mother of confusion, and enemy to unity." "Take heed therefore, my son, to such Puritans, very pests in the Church and commonweal, whom no deserts can oblige, neither oaths or promises bind; breathing nothing but sedition and calumnies, aspiring without measure, railing without reason, and making their own imaginations, without any warrant of the Word, the square of their conscience. I protest before the great God, and since I am here as upon my testament it is no place for me to be in, that ye shall never find with any Highland or Border thieves greater ingratitude, and more lies and vile perjuries, than with these fanatic spirits; and suffer not the principals of them to brook your land, if ye like to sit at rest, except you would keep them for trying your patience, as Socrates did an evil wife." [2] Such were the ethical and political creeds with which James VI descended into the grave, and Charles I mounted the throne. These maxims were more dangerous things in the case of the son than in that of the father. Charles I had a stronger nature, and whatever was grafted upon it shot up more vigorously. His convictions went deeper, and were more stubbornly carried out. He had not around him the lets and poises that curbed James.

There was no Andrew Melville among the prelates of the court of Charles I When baffled, he would cover his retreat under a dissimulation so natural and perfect that it looked like truth, and again he would return to his former design. His private character was purer and more respectable; than that of his father, and his deportment more dignified, but his notions of his own prerogative were as exalted as his father's had been. In this respect, the Basilicon Doron was his Bible. Kings were gods. All Parliaments, laws, charters, privileges, and rights had their being from the prince, and might at his good pleasure be put out of existence; and to deny this doctrine, or withstand its practical application, was the highest crime of which a subject could be guilty. There was but one man in all the three kingdoms who could plead right or conscience – namely, himself. Charles had not Presbyterianism to fight against in England, as his father had in Scotland, but he had another opponent to combat, even that liberty which lay at the core of Presbyterianism, and he pursued his conflict with it through a succession of tyrannies, doublings, blunders, and battle-fields, until he arrived at the scaffold.

We can touch upon the incidents of his reign only so far as they bear upon that Protestantism which was marching on through the plots of Jesuits, the armies: of kings, the calamities of nations, and the scaffolds of martyrs, to seat itself upon a throne already great, and to become yet greater. The first error of Charles was his French marriage. This match was concluded on much the same conditions which his father had consented to when the Spanish marriage was in prospect. It allied Charles with a daughter of France and Rome; it admitted him, in a sense, within the circle of Popish sovereigns; it introduced a dominating Popish element into his councils, send into the education of his children. "The king's marriage with Popery and France," says Dr. Kennet, "was a more inauspicious omen than the great plague that signalized the first year of his reign." His second error followed fast upon the first: it was the dissolution of his Parliament because it insisted upon a redress of grievances before it would vote him a supply of money. This spread discontent through the nation, and made Charles

be distrusted by all his future Parliaments. His second Parliament was equally summarily dismissed, and for the same reason; it would vote no money till first it had obtained redress of grievances. Advancing from one great error to a yet greater, Charles proceeded to impose taxes without the consent of Parliament. He exacted loans of such citizens as were wealthy, or were believed to be so, and many who opposed these unconstitutional imposts were thrown into prison. "The lord may tax his villain high or low," said Sir Edward Coke, "but it is against the franchises of the land for freemen to be taxed but by their consent in Parliament."

The nation next came to see that its religion was in as great danger as its liberty. In a third Parliament summoned at this time, the indignant feelings of the members found vent. In a conference between the Lords and Commons, Coke called the attention of the members to a Popish hierarchy which had been established in competition with the national Church. "They have," says he, "a bishop consecrated by the Pope. This bishop hath his subaltern officers of all kinds; as vicars-general, arch-deans, rural-deans, etc. Neither are these titular officers, but they all execute their jurisdictions, and make their ordinary visitations through the kingdom, keep courts, and determine ecclesiastical causes; and, which is an argument of more consequence, they keep ordinary intelligence by their agents in Rome, and hold correspondence with the nuncios and cardinals, both in Brussels and in France. Neither are the seculars alone grown to this height, but the regulars are more active and dangerous, and have taken deep root.

They have already planted their colleges and societies of both sexes. They have settled revenues, houses, libraries, vestments, and all other necessary provisions to travel or stay at home. They intend to hold a concurrent assembly with this Parliament." This Parliament, like its predecessors, was speedily dissolved, and a hint was dropped that, seeing Parliaments understood so in the cardinal virtue of obedience, no more assemblies of that kind would be held.

Tyranny loves simplicity in the instrumentalities with which it works: such are swift and sure. Taking leave of his Parliaments, Charles governed by the prerogative alone. He could now tax his subjects whenever, and to whatever extent, it suited him. "Many unjust and scandalous projects, all very grievous," says Clarendon, "were set on foot, the reproach of which came to the king, the profit to other men." [3] Tonnage and poundage were imposed upon merchandise; new and heavy duties lettered trade; obsolete laws were revived – among others, that by which every man with 40 pounds of yearly rent was obliged to come and receive the order of knighthood; and one other device, specially vexatious, was hit upon, that of enlarging the royal forests beyond their ancient bounds, and fining the neighboring land-owners on pretense that they had encroached upon the royal domains, although their families had been in quiet possession for hundreds of years.

But the most odious and oppressive of these imposts was the project of "ship-money." This tax was laid upon the port towns and the adjoining counties, which were required to furnish one or more fully equipped warships for his Majesty's use. The City of London was required to furnish twenty ships, with sails, stores, ammunition, and guns, which, however, the citizens might commute into money; and seeing that what the king wanted was not so much ships to go to sea, as gold Caroli to fill his empty exchequer, the tax was more acceptable in the latter form than in the former. One injustice must be supported by another, and very commonly a greater. The Star Chamber and the High Commission Court followed, to enforce these exactions and protect the agents employed in them, whose work made them odious. These courts were a sort of Inquisition, into which the most loyal of the nation were dragged to be fleeced and tortured.

Those who sat in them, to use the words applied by Thucydides to the Athenians, "held for honorable that which pleased, and for just that which profited." The authority of religion was called in to sanction this civil tyranny. Sibthorpe and Mainwaring preached sermons at Whitehall, in which they advanced the doctrine that the king is not bound to observe the laws of the realm, and that his royal command makes loans and taxes, without consent of Parliament, obligatory upon the subject's conscience upon pain of eternal damnation. [4]

The history of all nations justifies the remark that civil tyranny cannot maintain itself alongside religious liberty, and whenever it finds itself in the proximity of freedom of conscience, it must either extinguish that right, or suffer itself to be extinguished by it. So was it now. There presided at this time over the diocese of London a man of very remarkable character, destined to precipitate the crisis to which the king and nation were advancing. This was Laud, Bishop of London. Of austere manners, industrious habits, and violent zeal, and esteeming forms of so much the more value by how much they were in themselves insignificant, this ecclesiastic acquired a complete ascendancy in the councils of Charles. "If the king was greater on the throne than Laud," remarks Bennet, "yet according to the word of Laud were the people ruled," The extravagance of his folly at the consecration (January 16, 1630-31) of St. Catherine Cree Church, in Leadenhall Street, London, is thoroughly characteristic of the man. "At the bishop's approach," says Rushworth, "to the west door of the church, some that were prepared for it cried with a loud voice, 'Open, open, ye everlasting doors, that the king of glory may come in.' And presently the doors were opened, and the bishop, with three doctors, and many other principal men, went in, and immediately falling down upon his knees, with his eyes lifted up, and his arms spread abroad, uttered these words: 'This place is holy,

this ground is holy: in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, I pronounce it holy.' Then he took up some of the dust and threw it up into the air several times in his going up towards the church. When they approached near to the rail and Communion table, the bishop bowed towards it several times, and returning they went round the church in procession, saying the Hundredth Psalm, after that the Nineteenth Psalm, and then said a form of prayer, 'The Lord Jesus Christ,' etc., and concluding, 'We consecrate this church, and separate it to thee as holy ground, not to be profaned any more to common use.' After this, the bishop, being near the Communion table, and taking a written book in his hand, pronounced curses upon those that should afterwards profane that holy place by musters of soldiers, or keeping profane law-courts, or carrying burdens through it; and at the end of every curse he bowed toward the east, and said, 'Let all the people say, Amen.' When the curses were ended, he pronounced a number of blessings upon all those that had any hand in framing and building of that sacred church, and those that had given, or should hereafter give, chalices, plate, ornaments, or utensils; and at the end of every blessing he bowed towards the east, saying, 'Let all the people say, Amen,' After this followed the sermon, which being ended, the bishop consecrated and administered the Sacrament in manner following. As he approached the Communion table he made several lowly bowings, and coming up to the side of the table where the bread and wine were covered, he bowed seven times. And then, after the reading of many prayers, he came near the bread, and gently lifted up the corner of the napkin wherein the bread was laid; and when he beheld the bread, he laid it down again, flew back a step or two, bowed three several times towards it; then he drew near again, and opened the napkin, and bowed as before.

Then he laid his hand on the cup, which was full of wine, with a cover upon it, which he let go again, went back, and bowed thrice towards it. Then he came near again, and lifting up the cover of the cup, looked into it, and seeing the wine, he let fall the cover again, retired back, and bowed as before; then he received the Sacrament, and gave it to some principal men; after which, many prayers being said, the solemnity of the consecration ended." [5]

Laud bent his whole energies to mold the religion and worship of England according to the views he entertained of what religion and worship ought to be, and these were significantly set forth in the scene we have just described. The bishop aimed, in short, at rescuing Christianity from the Gothicism of the Reformation, and bringing back the ancient splendors which had encompassed worship in the Greek and Roman temples. When Archbishop of Canterbury, he proceeded to reform his diocese, but not after the manner of Cranmer. He erected a rail around the Communion table, and issued peremptory orders that the prebends and chapter, as they came in and out of the choir, "should worship towards the altar." He provided candlesticks, tapers, and copes for the administration of the Sacrament. He set up a large crucifix above "the high altar," and filled the window of the chapel with a picture representing God the Father, with a glory round his head.

Such of the clergy as refused to fall into his humor, and imitate his fancies, he prosecuted as guilty of schism, and rebels against ecclesiastical government. Those who spoke against images and crucifixes were made answerable in the Star Chamber, as persons ill-affected towards the discipline of the Church of England and were fined, suspended, and imprisoned. He made use of forms of prayer taken from the Mass-book and Roman Pontifical; "as if he wished," says one, "to try how much of a Papist might be brought in without Popery." There were some who said that the archbishop was at no great pains to make any wide distinction between the two; and if distinction there was, it was so very small that they were unable to see it at Rome; for, as Laud himself tells us in his Diary, the Pope twice over made him the offer of a red hat.

It added to the confusion in men's minds to find that, while the Protestants were severely handled in the Star Chamber and High Commission Court, Papists were treated with the utmost tenderness. While the former were being fined and imprisoned, favors and caresses were showered on the latter. It was forbidden to write against Popery. The Protestant press was gagged. Fox's Book of Martyrs could not appear; the noble defenses of Jewell and Willet were refused license; Mr. Gillabrand, professor of mathematics in Gresham College, was prosecuted for inserting in his Almanack the names of the Protestant martyrs out of Fox, instead of those of the Roman calendar; while the archbishop's chaplain licensed a book in which the first Reformers, who had died at the stake, were stigmatized as traitors and rebels.

Dr. Williams, Bishop of Lincoln, had been the warmest and most powerful of Laud's patrons; but all his past services were forgotten when Williams wrote a book against the archbishop's innovations. The solid learning and sound logic of the book were offense greater than could be condoned by all the favors conferred on Laud in former years; the good bishop had to pay a fine of 10,000 pounds to the king, was suspended by the Court of High Commission from all his dignities, offices, and functions, and sentenced to imprisonment during the king's pleasure. The Puritans were compelled to transport themselves beyond seas, and seek in America the toleration denied them in England. The Dutch and French Protestant congregations, which had flourished in the nation

since the days of Edward VI, had their liberties all but entirely swept away. Such of their members, within the diocese of Canterbury, as had been born abroad, were permitted to retain their own form of worship, but all of them who had been born in England were commanded to repair to their own parish churches, and preparation was made for the ultimate extinction of their communities by the injunction to bring up their children in the use of the English Liturgy, which for that end was now translated into French and Dutch.

The scaffold was not yet set up, but short of this every severity was employed which might compel the nation to worship according to the form prescribed by the king and the archbishop. Prynne, a member of the bar; Bastwick, a physician; and Burton, a divine, were sentenced in the Star Chamber to stand in the pillory, to lose their ears at Palace Yard, Westminster, to pay a fine of 500 pounds each to the king, and to be imprisoned during life. The physician had written a book which was thought to reflect upon the hierarchy of the Church; the clergyman had attacked the innovations in a sermon which he preached on the 5th of November; and the lawyer, who was held the arch-offender, had sharply reprobated stage-plays, to which the queen was said to be greatly addicted.

One sermon each Sunday was held to be sufficient for the instruction of the people; and afternoon and evening preaching was stringently forbidden. That the parishioners might fill up the vacant time, and forget as speedily as possible what they had heard in church, the "Book of Sports" put forth by King James was re-enacted, and every Sunday turned into a wake. James had enjoined that "his good people be not let from any lawful recreation, such as dancing, archery, leaping, vaulting, etc., though none must have this indulgence that abstain from coming to church." And Charles "out of the like pious care for the service of God," it was said, "and for suppressing of any humors that oppose truth, doth ratify and publish this his blessed father's declaration." All ministers were enjoined to read this edict from the pulpit during the time of Divine service, and several were visited with suspension for refusing obedience.

Alarm and discontent, with a smoldering spirit of insurrection, the consequences of this policy, pervaded all England. The more the position of the country was considered, the greater the peril was seen to be. Slavish principles were being disseminated in the nation; the ancient laws of England were being subverted by the edicts of arbitrary power; privileges and rights conveyed by charter, and hallowed by long custom, were being buried under unconstitutional exactions; the spirit of the people was broken by cruel and shameful punishments; superstitious rites were displacing the pure and Scriptural forms which the Reformation had introduced; and a civil and ecclesiastical tyranny was rearing its head in the land. Nor was the darkness of the outlook relieved by the prospect of any one, sufficiently powerful, rising up to rally the nation around him, and rescue it from the abyss into which it appeared to be descending. It was at this moment that an occurrence took place in Scotland which turned the tide in affairs, and brought deliverance to both kingdoms. This recalls us to the northern country.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, March 18th, 2018
the Fifth Sunday of Lent
There are 14 days til Easter!
Search Historical Writings
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology