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Participants in the Savoy conference (act. 1661) were engaged in the final attempt, after the restoration of the monarchy in May 1660, to reach an ecclesiastical settlement that would comprehend the great majority of protestants in England and Wales in a national church. The conference was called by warrant of Charles II, issued on 25 March 1661, and opened on 15 April at the Savoy Palace, the residence of the bishop of London, Gilbert Sheldon. Disagreements over the form the church should take and the liturgy it should use had not only been a major cause of the civil wars and a stumbling block to subsequent attempts at political resolution, but were long-standing, stretching back to the Reformation of the mid-sixteenth century and the split from Rome. Throughout this period the desirability of having one united visible church, contiguous with political boundaries, was accepted by all but a small (although growing) minority. Despite the discouraging precedent of the Hampton Court conference of 1604, which had disappointed the desires of some pious protestants to obtain from James VI and I further reform of the Church of England, there was real hope that the Savoy conference would effect reconciliation and an accommodation of a spectrum of moderate viewpoints.

That hope was liveliest among the presbyterians who had in the early months of 1660 done most to bring about the re-establishment of the monarchy. But it was to be dashed. The conference finally ran out of its allotted time, and so aborted. That left men who had returned with the king from exile, foreign and internal, and especially a handful of key bishops, most newly consecrated, to settle the terms under which adherence to the Church of England could be declared. The resultant Act of Uniformity, which took full effect on 24 August 1662, prescribed use of the Book of Common Prayer, only slightly revised from that in place before the civil wars. From that date all clergymen who could not in conscience accept the prayer book and all that it entailed were ejected from their livings, with consequences that were profound for church, state, and society for at least the next two centuries.

The background

The two decades before the Restoration had witnessed a variety of attempts to recast the national church. The Westminster assembly (act. 1643–1652) had produced a directory of worship, a confession of faith, and a catechism, all of a Reformed character. However, parliament's attempt to impose a presbyterian national church parallel to that of the Scots was unsuccessful. Independents by contrast, if they believed in a national church (and often they did not), conceived of it as a loose federation of congregations, with residual authority residing locally rather than imposed by the sovereign power. In practice the English and Welsh church of the late 1640s and 1650s largely took on this form, with its ministers regulated unevenly by commissioners and its worship in practice very varied, but with its parochial system more or less intact. There was open co-existence with the newly emerging Quakers and other more individualistic or extreme protestants gathering in voluntarist meetings, while after the official abolition in 1646 of episcopacy (leadership of the church by bishops) and the proscription of the prayer book, there were those who pursued covertly what later came to be labelled Anglicanism. Meanwhile there were theologians and thinkers like James Ussher, archbishop of Armagh, and Richard Baxter who proposed a church organized under ‘modified’ or ‘primitive’ episcopacy, with bishops shorn of their secular power and operating more or less as presidents of synods of clergy. A conference of about 200 Independents at the Savoy in 1658 delegated to ministers including John Owen, Philip Nye, and Thomas Goodwin the preparation of a confession of faith, the Savoy declaration (1658), which gave the civil magistrate no power over people's beliefs. It adopted a much broader doctrinal platform than the Westminster confession and sought the fullest co-operation between Independents and presbyterians, both at home and in New England, but foundered in the political confusion and the fears of sectarianism of the late 1650s.

In his last months of exile at The Hague Charles received not only episcopalians, such as Sheldon (the ejected warden of All Souls, Oxford), John Cosin (the ejected master of Peterhouse, Cambridge), and Edward Hyde (later first earl of Clarendon, his chief secretary) but also a group of presbyterians, including Edmund Calamy, Thomas Case, Thomas Manton, and William Spurstowe. At this point the king's basic position in any discussions on religion specified a general pardon, a free parliament, a national synod for church settlement, and religious toleration. In his declaration published at Breda on 4 April 1660, the statement of intent that predated his return, religious toleration was defined as ‘a liberty of tender consciences, and that no man shall be disquieted or called in question for differences of opinion in matters of religion, which do not disturb the peace of the kingdom’ (King Charles II His Declaration to all his Loving Subjects of the Kingdom of England, 1660).

This policy seemed evident in the first few months following the Restoration. In mid-June, after discussions with some leading presbyterians including Richard Baxter, the king asked them to set out their position in writing, and this led to a series of meetings, over some of which he presided, between them and, on the other side, George Morley (restored to his canonry at Christ Church, Oxford), Humphrey Henchman (restored to his precentorship at Salisbury Cathedral), and John Cosin (already unofficially performing prayer book services in Peterborough Cathedral). The eventual outcome, the Worcester House declaration of 25 October 1660, was a remarkable description of a comprehensive church. Suffragan bishops were to be revived to help run the over-large dioceses; to Cosin's dismay, bishops were to be assisted in their work by deans and chapters and elected clergy; confirmation was to be with the ‘consent’ of the parish priest; rural deans were to discuss matters in their areas and seek to reform any delinquent laymen, reporting them to the bishop if they failed. This was a significant step towards pastoral discipline, which was Baxter's hallmark, and he was ‘exceeding glad of it’ (Reliquiae Baxterianae, 278, 279). It also embodied earlier ideas of ‘reduced episcopacy’. But when the presbyterians tried to force the declaration through the Convention Parliament they failed, partly because the Independents, who would have been left out of the new programme, voted against them and also because the king's representatives did so, presumably at the king's behest. Notwithstanding more than a century of enactment of ecclesiastical reformation through parliament, Charles may have preferred that the matter be left to the royal prerogative.

Two issues remained unresolved at Worcester House. The first was the status of the clergy who had not, in the interregnum, received episcopal orders. This was a final stumbling-block for comprehension and it raised in an acute form the whole question of the necessity of episcopacy. Hyde, now lord chancellor, suggested conditional reordination using the formula ‘if thou are not already ordained’, thus skirting the issue of how men originally came to exercise their ministry. There were discussions and negotiations along these lines in 1668 and later, but they came to nothing. The other outstanding issue was that of the liturgy. It was simply agreed that the parties would approve a form of worship; a future commission was to consider the prayer book and offer amendments to be used by the minister as he saw fit.

The participants in the conference

By the time the Savoy House conference met in April 1661 the context had changed. A critical mass of clergy and their parishioners had unilaterally resumed use of the prayer book; the depleted ranks of the pre-war bishops had been replenished by new consecrations; scares over Quaker and sectarian insurrections had provoked a reaction; the newly elected parliament was notably dominated by young royalists enthusiastic for the return of the old order. The terms of reference set by the king countenanced ‘necessary’ amendments, but not ‘unnecessary’ alterations to long-familiar forms of worship. This was indeed a conservative agenda, but there was still enough ambiguity in it to allow a more radical approach. The principal source for what transpired is Baxter, who not only made meticulous presentations to the conference, published as A Petition for Peace (1661), but also compiled records of the proceedings, which appeared later in his Reliquiae. He was an energetic and thoughtful figure, but those on the episcopal side found him exasperating in his tenacity in argument, and his views cannot automatically be taken to represent those on his own side.

About fifty clergy received invitations to attend the conference; a few declined, and some did not attend or made little recorded contribution to proceedings. The chief participants on the episcopalian side were all bishops. Among them, Accepted Frewen, John Hacket, Robert Sanderson, and Humphrey Henchman may all be described as moderates. John Cosin, appointed to Durham, was the most pronounced Laudian—the most committed to the ceremonial style and conformist priorities of the pre-war archbishop of Canterbury; he was also learned in the liturgy. Baxter found him ‘of a rustic wit and carriage … so he would endure in our freedom of discourses with him, and was more affable and familiar than most’ (Reliquiae Baxterianae, 363). Frewen, as archbishop of York, was the nominal chairman but after the formal opening of the conference he handed over to Gilbert Sheldon, as someone who ‘knew more of the king's mind’. In fact Sheldon was not a frequent attender and the reins passed more and more to George Morley, now bishop of Worcester and Hyde's greatest friend among the bishops. He was a moderate Calvinist, an austere and very autocratic man. Others who attended most frequently were Henchman, the energetic bishop of Salisbury and then of London (Baxter thought he had ‘the most comely and reverend aspect of any of them’ (ibid.), and Sanderson, bishop of Lincoln, who played a considerable part, especially in convocation after the close of Savoy. Peter Gunning, an alternate (assistant) to the bishops and at this date master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, was influential and was accounted by Baxter as learned in the ‘fathers and councils’ but ‘fervent and passionate’ (ibid.). So was Anthony Pearson, master of Jesus College, Cambridge, and canon of Ely. Baxter said that John Gauden, bishop of Exeter, ‘was our most constant helper’ (ibid.). This was to be expected as he had continued to hold his parish during the interregnum and his appointment to Exeter had been opposed by Sheldon. On the other hand, Brian Walton, bishop of Chester, who as a biblicist had been high in the esteem of the regime of the 1650s, had set his face against fellowship with presbyterians and Independents. Anthony Sparrow, archdeacon of Sudbury, had already published a defence of the prayer book, as had the biblical scholar Herbert Thorndike. Thomas Pierce, canon of Lincoln, was a vehement and vocal episcopalian, while Richard Sterne, bishop of Carlisle, was another potential conservative, although according to Baxter he said little. Edward Martin, restored head of Queens' College, Cambridge, was an implacable opponent of both presbyterians and French Huguenots who had crossed Cosin in print. John Hacket, bishop-elect of Coventry and Lichfield, played his most important role towards the end. William Lucy, bishop of St David's, attended but made no recorded contribution, and Benjamin Lany, bishop of Peterborough, almost none. Among the alternates Baxter reported that John Earle, dean of Westminster, John Barwick, dean of Durham, and Peter Heylyn, subdean of Westminster, did not attend; nor did John Warner, the pre-war bishop of Rochester. Present apparently only as an ‘auditor’ was John Tillotson, a future archbishop of Canterbury who had probably not yet been ordained.

The presbyterian members of the conference were nominated by Edmund Calamy and Edward Reynolds, who had helped draft the Worcester House declaration and had then been counted a presbyterian. Like Baxter, Calamy, and some others of that persuasion, Reynolds had been offered a bishopric the previous autumn; the only one to accept, in January 1661 he had been consecrated bishop of Norwich. Although at the conference he regularly supported the presbyterian side, Baxter felt that he was too ‘mild’ and ‘timorous’ to cut much ice with his fellow bishops (Reliquiae Baxterianae, 364). Apart from Baxter, Calamy was the obvious presbyterian leader, having been the most influential minister in London during the Commonwealth. The London-based ministers were clearly the most likely to attend, as it would be easier and cheaper for them. Of these Thomas Manton, William Spurstowe, and Matthew Newcomen were the most influential as were, among the alternates, Thomas Jacombe and William Bates, who according to Baxter ‘spoke very solidly, judiciously and pertinently’ (ibid., 364); Arthur Jackson, who had been a leader of London presbyterians, was apparently inactive, and Roger Drake, a former moderator of their assembly, did not attend. Others included John Conant, rector of Exeter College, Oxford, and son-in-law of Reynolds, the controversialists John Collinges and Benjamin Woodbridge. Samuel Clarke the biographer and John Lightfoot, master of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, ‘attended only once or twice, evidently disgusted by the acrimony’ (Oxford DNB). It might have been expected that Anthony Tuckney, master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, the puritans' ‘nursery’, and a great scholar, would have been very influential, but he appeared little, ‘alledging his backwardness to speak’ (Reliquiae Baxterianae, 307); at sixty-one he was ‘something of a theological dinosaur’ (Oxford DNB). Thomas Horton, Gresham professor at Cambridge, was a non-attender, while William Moses, an ejected college head beginning a career as a lawyer, declined his invitation. At first Baxter himself had said he did not want to join the team; but his colleagues easily dissuaded him—something they may later have regretted when his pertinacious and tactless arguments almost brought proceedings to a halt.

Conference proceedings

The participants were given four months to complete their work and submit a written report to the king. From the outset it became clear that this was not a meeting between equals, as Worcester House had been, but that the bishops were in the chair and setting the agenda. Their opponents were required to make their objections in writing. This was initially unpalatable, but persuaded otherwise by Baxter they set about drawing up ‘general exceptions’ to the current prayer book, while Baxter was given the task of writing an alternative liturgy that could be used by non-episcopalians who so wished. The ‘brethren’ met daily to prepare their exceptions and Baxter took a fortnight to produce his liturgy, using only (he said) the Bible and his concordance. He then joined his colleagues on the exceptions, focusing on ‘disorder’ and ‘defectiveness’ in the Book of Common Prayer.

On 4 May the exceptions were presented to the bishops, who prepared answers at twice-weekly meetings. It is generally thought that they did not necessarily start out with a negative, uncompromising attitude, but that their position had hardened by mid-June, by which time they tended to become more dismissive. On 8 May a new parliament opened, which was markedly more sympathetic to episcopalianism and the prayer book than its predecessor. It was not until 12 June that the presbyterians came up with a vast set of ‘replies’ to the bishops, and the first week in July that Baxter's liturgy, agreed by his colleagues with only a few exceptions, was presented to the conference. It was, said Henry Ferne, dean of Ely—a useful alternative source to Baxter on conference proceedings—of ‘extraordinary length … larger and longer than the [Church of England] Liturgy’ (BL, Add. MS 28053, fol. 1). It was given for his opinion to Hacket, who wrote to a friend, ‘I am sorry to see that it was so un-consonant, so quite different in the frame from our Liturgy. Which produceth the result … that the ancient Prayer Book shall be held up with some few alterations and additions’ (BL, Sloane MS 1710, fol. 202).

In its last fortnight the conference moved finally to open discussion. Each side chose three representatives for this: Pearson, Gunning, and Sparrow for the episcopalians; Bates, Jacombe, and Baxter for the presbyterians. The former soon asked if they could call in others, some of them not even members of the conference. Although the nonconformists agreed, the decision led, according to Baxter, to a general hubbub, with Morley in particular out-shouting Baxter. These final days were largely dominated, in argument and writing, by Baxter, and Ferne detected that Bates and Jacombe felt that Baxter spoke ‘more strict than they would have him’. Morley said later that the presbyterians seemed to want ‘an amicable and fair compliance which was wholly frustrated by Mr Baxter's furious eagerness to engage in a disputation’ (G. Morley, The Bishop of Worcester's Letter to a Friend for Vindication of Himself, 1662, 13).

An important principle of difference between the episcopalians and presbyterians was, as it had always been, over matters ‘indifferent’ or ‘adiaphora’, that is, not clearly agreed by all concerned but not essential to faith and practice. The presbyterians felt that these should be left to individual conscience, whereas most bishops believed that they had the right and power to legislate on such matters, drawing on the traditions of the church, and that denial of this impugned their lawful authority. Matters at issue were mainly ‘ceremonies’, including the wearing of a surplice for church services and the signing of the cross at baptism. But most important was kneeling to receive the bread and wine at communion, which some nonconformists could not contemplate because they thought it implied adoration of the consecrated elements, as in the Roman Catholic church. Baxter's fondness for the medieval scholastic style of argument makes it difficult to follow his reasoning here as elsewhere, but Ferne teases out the heart of the matter: Baxter did not say that kneeling to receive communion was ‘sinful’, but that insistence upon it ‘under penalty of being deprived of the sacrament was unlawful’ (BL, Add. MS 28053).

The presbyterian position on the Book of Common Prayer echoes to a very large extent the Westminster assembly's Directory for the Public Worship of God (1645) for a presbyterian national church. Their aim, that the liturgy should be ‘scriptural’ and not contain anything contrary to scripture, was obviously something of a chimera and many of the exceptions they raised in pursuit of it were pettifogging. They wished to see the prayer book versions of the epistles and gospels in the communion service in the latest King James translation of the Bible, and to exclude the Apocrypha altogether from the prayer book; they felt that the weekly collects were too short and that the corporate responses of the congregation at morning and evening prayer and the litany only produced a vague ‘murmuring’; they were very angry that exercise of the ‘gift of prayer’ (that is, extemporary prayer) by the minister was ‘totally excluded’; they objected to the inclusion of Lent and saints' days; there was not enough provision for the ‘exclusion of scandalous and obstinate sinners’ from holy communion, something they had insisted on at Worcester House; and they pointed out that the rubric concerning the consecration of the bread and wine was ‘not here explicit or distinct enough’ to exclude Catholic adoration of the sacrament (Proctor and Frere, 197). This was an important point and one that was also covered by Baxter in his alternative liturgy.


The Savoy conference ended formally on 25 July 1661. Meanwhile the new parliament had already met and, with it, the convocations of the southern and northern provinces, ‘the Church of England parliament’. According to Ferne, prolocutor of the southern province, the convocations recognized that the Savoy conference ‘was an antecedent commission to ours’ (BL, Add. MS 28053), so they refrained at first from discussing liturgical matters that were still being dealt with by the Savoy meetings and occupied themselves with the composition of special services for various occasions. They were let off the leash in November, when parliament reassembled after the summer recess, the king having meanwhile authorized convocation to ‘consult on matters relating to the settlement of the Church’ (BL, Lansdowne MS 957, fol. 42). They then appointed three committees for the revision of the prayer book. There is no evidence of the discussion, but they acted very quickly as the preliminary work had already been done by the bishops. On 20 December the revision was completed and went to the privy council of 24 February 1662. The Commons accepted the revised prayer book on 15 April.

Only two matters of consequence were added to the old prayer book. First, a new ordinal was composed to replace that of 1620, carefully emphasizing the difference between bishops and priests. This would be a set-back for nonconformists, who argued that in the early church bishops and priests were one and the same order. However, the other major change would have gratified them. This was the restoration of the ‘black’ rubric, so-called because it was printed at the end of the communion service in heavy type. Included in the 1552 prayer book, its omission from that of 1559 was a long-standing puritan grievance. It was meant to reassure the communicants that in kneeling to receive the bread and wine ‘no adoration is intended, or ought to be done, either unto the sacramental bread or wine there bodily received, or unto any corporal presence of Christ's natural flesh and blood’ (Proctor and Frere, 197). Sheldon opposed this move but was overruled by Gauden and Morley.

The bishops made seventeen concessions to the presbyterian exceptions as drawn up at the conference, most of them suggested by Cosin. The most important were: that the epistles and gospels should be in the King James Bible version, although the earlier beautiful translation of the Psalms by Miles Coverdale was retained; and that the consecration of the bread and wine at holy communion should include manual acts. The question of keeping ‘scandalous sinners’ away from holy communion was touched on when the local clergyman was bidden to get an ‘open and notorious evil liver’ (Proctor and Frere, 197) to repent, but this went much less far than the Worcester House proposals. The other concessions were on more trivial verbal changes.

Meanwhile parallel but radically different proposals were being drawn up for the holy communion by Matthew Wren, the surviving bishop of Ely, and Cosin, who were both pronounced high churchmen. This was known as the Durham book and the manuscript survives at the Cosin Library in Durham, with marginal notes by Cosin's chaplain, William Sancroft, later archbishop of Canterbury. It was based partly on the Scottish prayer book of 1637 which was ‘Laudian in colour’ (Bosher, 245). Cosin had been working on this for some time and essentially he was proposing that Thomas Cranmer's second prayer book of 1552, which had survived through the years, should be replaced by his first of 1549, which was less protestant. But when the proposals were submitted to the bishops they opted to retain the 1552 version and, perhaps remembering the king's instruction that there should be as few alterations as possible, were very moderate in their final revision. (There was not another formal attempt to revise the communion service in a 1549 direction until the Church of England proposed a revised prayer book in 1928; this was turned down by parliament.)


The Act of Uniformity, which ushered in the new order, laid down the requirements for the clergy to continue in the Church of England. They must accept the Thirty-Nine Articles in toto, not just the doctrinal articles; they must abjure the covenant by which the presbyterian church had been established; they must affirm their non-resistance to the king and take the oath of canonical obedience to their bishop; they must be in episcopal orders by St Bartholomew's day (24 August) 1662; and, finally, by that day, they must accept the revised Book of Common Prayer. There were problems because in many places the newly printed prayer book was not available. There was also a rash of episcopal ordinations in the dioceses, suggesting that a number of ministers ordained—but not episcopally—in the Commonwealth had been awaiting the outcome of Savoy and the Act of Uniformity. Samuel Pepys observed that the act could ‘make mad work among Presbyterians’. He was right. Soon, more than 936 ministers, many of them the most devoted in the land, were ejected (Calamy rev., xiii). Notwithstanding the fact that, from the ejections of 1660 and 1662, 171 later conformed, this was not just a personal tragedy for those permanently excluded. Not only did the exodus of so many pastors, with their flocks, accelerate confessional divisions into a spectrum of voluntary denominations, the division of protestants into conformists and nonconformists also had profound social and cultural consequences that lasted well into the nineteenth century, especially in the north and in Wales. While the legislation, which excluded nonconformists, like non-Christians, from education in the universities or important office, was repealed by 1900, it was only in the later twentieth century with, on the one hand, the rise of ecumenical initiatives and local dialogue and, on the other, consciousness of multiculturalism that the significance of what had not happened in 1661 and what had happened in 1662 began to fade.

Barry Till


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