You think times are bad? They have been worse Arthur Middleton reminds us of when it was a lot worse for orthodox members of the Church of England

It was the Laudians who maintained the presence of the Church of England after the martyrdom of Charles I, when the Prayer Book was replaced by a Puritan Directory of Worship in an attempt to presbyterianize Anglicanism. These High Churchmen remained faithful to the Anglican principles of Hooker, Andrewes and Laud. For them the Church of England was the national embodiment of historic Catholic faith and order, despite being ousted from the Establishment. They were not personal disciples of Laud and not an ecclesiastical party but shared his religious viewpoint as the faithful remnant of a persecuted church, from which all others had fallen away. They lived partly in exile and partly as an underground movement in Cromwellian England, as a minority maintaining a separate and independent existence.

Within a generation of Lauds martyrdom, the struggle between Anglicans and Puritans for possession of the Church of England ended in complete victory for the Laudians. It found permanent expression in the religious settlement of 1662 and in the long-term gave to the English Reformation its definitive character.


There were learned scholars, able theologians and saintly priests among them. As a group they were universally detested by the predominantly Puritan Parliament, while their ceremonial innovations were opposed. Charles Is support helped them to impose their will. His martyrdom seemed the final blow. Bishops were abolished, the Church’s lands and monies seized, its doctrine revised and the Prayer Book replaced by the Directory of Worship. Bishops were ejected and hundreds of priests faithful to Anglican principles were expelled and replaced by ‘intruders’ – Puritan or Presbyterian ministers not episcopally ordained. The questions of ordination, sacramental administration, liturgy and ceremonial, the symbols of church order and unity, were ignored. Cromwell opposed every attempt to define a doctrinal basis beyond ‘faith in God by Jesus Christ’.

These ejected clergy became refugees in their own country, deprived of house, income and parish church. William Sancroft said that in every meeting they discussed options where liberty of conscience could be enjoyed, ‘for the Church here will never rise again, though the Kingdom should…’ The doors of that Church will be closed to them, ‘and conscientious men will refuse to preach, where they cannot (without danger of a pistol) do what is more necessary, pray according to their duty.’ He saw fresh expressions of church ‘in caves and dens of the earth, and upper rooms and secret chambers for a Church in persecution to flee to; and there is all our refuge.’ The Laudian theologian Dr Hammond shared this mood and while their present sufferings inclined him to leave, he told Gilbert Sheldon it was not an option for him. Hammond felt that his friends who had taken refuge on the Continent had been premature and that more good could be done by staying.

Underground liturgy

Episcopally ordained priests could not hold a living and a Commission was set up to prevent it. Bishops were forbidden to ordain and using the Prayer Book was illegal. Cathedral services were suspended and cathedrals used as storehouses or stables. Christian marriage was abolished and replaced with marriage before a Justice of the Peace and disobedient clergy or couples were punished. Observance of Christmas was abolished, and as John Evelyn records in his diary in 1656, he received the Sacrament at Dr Wilde’s lodgings, but in 1657 a congregation worshipping privately was arrested for keeping the ‘superstitious time of the Nativity’ He describes another occasion in London when soldiers held them at gunpoint as they received the Sacrament and some were imprisoned.

Though the Church was reduced to ‘a chamber or conventicle’, the fervour of devotion was increased rather than diminished. Diaries of the time record people enthusiastically seeking the services of the Church, the Daily Offices and Eucharist, in private celebrations in houses and hideouts, despite the risk of penalties. The Prayer Book became an underground liturgy that made the Church of England present and kept it alive though imprisoned.

Some of ‘the ancient orthodox clergy deprived of their livings and silenced’ looked for poor parishes in which to exercise their ministry. Royalist households had chaplains, and Prayer Book worship was held privately, while some parish churches began reviving the liturgy in a discreet and modified form. In London, a number of parishes were celebrating Prayer Book Offices and Eucharist, and at Exeter House, Peter Gunning and Jeremy Taylor attracted large congregations.

Theology and apologetic

Dr Hammond was convinced that the Church could not survive these troubled times merely by a policy of aloofness and obstruction. It must justify its unbending opposition on theological and historical grounds. He was the inspiration and encouragement in making this time a golden age of High Anglican theology and apologetic. Hammond set himself the task of building an intellectual defence of the faith whose outward structure lay in ruins. There appeared biblical works, sermons, apologies for the Church of England, episcopacy, ceremonies and infant baptism. He set up a charity to maintain a society of exiled scholars, setting in motion a decade of theological output in defence of the Anglican position.

Many of these classics of Anglican theology can be found in the Library of Anglo-Catholic theology. It made the issue of episcopal ordination central to his time, greatly helped by the rediscovery of the Ignatian letters. They also propagated their views by introducing orthodox divines into the homes of the nobility and gentry as tutors and chaplains. In this way a generation of squires absorbed the principles of a ‘proscribed and persecuted Church’ who came to cherish the Faith of the Martyr King Charles.

As the Established Church ceases to be the Church of England, the national embodiment of historic Catholic faith and order, and becomes a sect or conventicle, dubious orders will become more common as the Church of England continues to exist in disused shops, private houses, community centres, ‘upper rooms and secret chambers,’ unless and until a separate jurisdiction is established in law.

So it would be premature to take refuge elsewhere. More good can come by staying, like the Laudians, to maintain for our sacramentally displaced people the Catholic Faith and Order of the Church of England in fresh expressions. The establishment of such a jurisdiction will be the time to gather into it those scattered faithful.