The Survival of the Church of England in the 17th Century
John Morrill re-examines a stormy period of religious history.
Between 1643 and 1647 the Church of England was destroyed, Its system of government by 'archbishops, bishops, deans, archdeacons etc.' (as a canon of 1640 expressed it) was scrapped; the Book of Common Prayer was proscribed and its use made a criminal offence; the celebration of the major Christian festivals – Christmas, Easter, Whit etc. – was also prohibited. The leaders of the church were all dead, in prison, in exile, or in hiding; the universities were ruthlessly purged; between a quarter and a third of the parish clergy were ejected from their homes and positions. Dioceses were replaced by county-wide ecclesiastical co-operatives, and cathedral churches were converted into prisons, shopping precincts, or large parish churches; and churchwardens and others were directed to remove all the 'monuments of idolatry and superstition' (stained glass, statues, carvings on fonts and other furnishings) which had survived the first reformation of images in the mid sixteenth century. The lands and revenues of the Bishops and of the Cathedral chapters were handed over to the creditors of the state.