1661-1662: History Around Savoy

As Lee Gatiss put it, “1662 was not a good year for those to whom the gospel and a good conscience were more precious than the institutional church”. However, 1661 was a key point in history that led to tragedy in 1662. This will be a short historical survey of the issues revolving around the infamous “Book of Common Prayer as Amended by the Westminster Divines” (1867) and the Savoy Conference (1661). The title itself is quite misleading. The Westminster assembly has been adjourned for about eight years by this time.  There are many on the list that was not a part of the assembly: Richard Baxter, Arthur Jackson, Samuel Clarke, and Thomas Horton (to name a few). Also, Richard Baxter says, “Any Man that was for a Spiritual serious way of Worship (though he were for moderate Episcopacy and Liturgy), and that lived according to his Profession, was called commonly a Presbyterian, as formerly he was called a Puritan, unless he joined himself to Independents, Anabaptists, or some other Sect which might afford him a more odious Name” (Reliquiae Baxterianae, Part II, page 278). There was no distinction being made. The “Presbyterians” were in contrast to those of the established Church of England. It should be noted that this is not going to be a theological treatment, but instead a focus on the historical issues.

Charles II, Promises, Break

When Charles was in Breda, he made a few statements which gave some (if not most) of these “Presbyterians” (slight) ease. He claimed there would be tolerance for those who did not agree with the established church on such things as ceremonies, holy days, worship, etc. He also claimed there would be a review and reform of the Book of Common Prayer. Lee notes, “at Breda, puritan representatives had stressed that although they were not enemies of a moderate form of episcopacy, they were concerned that the Book of Common Prayer would be re-introduced in the royal chapel, along with the surplice and ceremonies they objected to” (Gatiss, Tragedy).

Lee continues by noting, not all seemed as it appeared. “All was not as it appeared behind the scenes.  ‘It seems that the king himself was sincere enough in his statements,’ writes Gerald Bray, ‘but he was surrounded by men who were thirsting for revenge.  Once he was safely back on the throne, Charles found that he had to make concessions to these extremists, and the good intentions of Breda were seriously compromised as a result.’[10] In 1660 the country was unprepared for the immediate restoration of anglicanism as well as monarchy; most anticipated that there would be liberty, toleration, and a new settlement to be negotiated and debated by Parliament in due course.  ‘For some months,’ avers Bosher, ‘the King and his Chancellor, as well as the High Church leaders, paid lip service to this general expectation.  At the same time they proceeded quietly and cautiously to put into effect the measures necessary for the recapture of the Establishment by the church party.’[11] So while ‘[t]he King might speak graciously to his Presbyterian subjects… his favour was showered on the Laudians.’”(Gatiss, Tragedy)

With all of these things set in place, we should fast forward to 1661 and the Conference of Savoy. Quickly we note the prelates were coming back into power because Charles II was coming back to the throne. There was some back and forth dialogue about what might (hopefully) be allowed exceptions to the Book of Common Prayer and others (including ceremonies, Holy Days, etc).  As the prelates were coming into power, Baxter gives an account of events that followed:

176. At this time was the Convocation chosen: for till now it was deferred. Had it been called when the King came in, the inferiour Clergy would have been against the Diocesan and Imposing way: But afterwards many hundreds were turned out that all the old sequestred Ministers might come in. And the Opinion of Reordination being set afoot, all those Ministers, that for Twenty years together, while Bishops were laid aside, had been Ordained without Diocesans, were in many Countreys denied any Voices in the Election of Clerks for the Convocation: By all which means, and by the Scruples of abundance of Ministers, who thought it unlawful to have any thing to do in the choosing of such a kind of Assembly, the Diocesan Party wholly carried it in the Choice.

177. In London the Election was appointed to be in Christ’s Church, on the Second day of May (1661). The London Ministers that were not yet ejected, proved the major Vote against the Diocesan Party, and when I went to have joyned with them, they sent to me not to come, as they did also to Mr. Calamy, and (without my knowledge) they chose Mr. Calamy and me for London. But they carried it against the other Party but by Three Voices: And the Bishop of London having the power of choosing Two out of Four (or Four out of Six) that are chosen by the Ministers in a certain Circuit, did give us the great use of being both left out, and so we were excused, and the City of London had no Clerk in the Convocation. How should I have been there baited, and what a vexatious place should I have had in such a Convocation!

178. The fourth day of May, we had a meeting with the Bishops, where we gave in our Paper of Exceptions to them; which they received.

179. The seventh day of May was a Meeting at Sion-Colledge of all the London Ministers, for the choice of a President and Assistants for the next Year: where (some of the Presbyterians upon a pettish Scruple absenting themselves) the Diocesane Party carried it, and so got the Possession and Rule of the Colledge.

180. The eighth day of May the new Parliament and Convocation sat down, being constituted of Men fitted and devoted to the Diocesan Interest.

181. On the two and twentieth day of May, by order of Parliament, the National Vow and Covenant was burnt in the Street, by the Hands of the common Hangman.” (Reliquiæ Baxterianæ, Pg. 302-303)

Lee tells us, “the 1660 Act led to the ejection of a total of 695 mostly puritan ministers from their churches and the reinstallation of staunchly loyal old Church Anglicans” (Gatiss, Tragedy).  The prelates or bishops were also, “men who were thirsting for revenge” (Gatiss, Tragedy).

Scotland, Restoration, Horror

Meanwhile, in Scotland during the Restoration Period (1660-1690) there was a scene of horror. According to Robert Wodrow’s account, restoration Scotland presented “a very horrid scene of oppression, hardships and cruelty” against the Presbyterians. Lord Macaulay’s states that the Covenanters were persecuted “like wild beasts, tortured till their bones were beaten flat, imprisoned by hundreds, and hanged by scores”.

We are also told of events that forced many ministers out of their pulpits and churches. While we know that there were many of the same issues that would follow in England, Scotland got the first taste: “In Scotland the court carried their measures with a high hand; for having got a parliament to their mind, the earl of Middleton, a most notorious debauchee, opened it, with presenting a letter of his majesty to the house; after which they passed an act, declaring all Leagues not made with the king’s authority illegal. This struck at the root of the covenant made with England in 1643. They passed another act rescinding all acts made since the late troubles, and another empowering the king to settle the government of the church as he should please. It was a mad, roaring time (says the bishop) and no wonder it was so, when the men of affairs were almost perpetually drunk. The king hereupon directed that the church should he governed by synods, presbyters, and kirk sessions, till he should appoint another government which he did by a letter to his council of Scotland, bearing date Aug. 14. 1661, in which he recites the inconveniences which had attended the presbyterian government for the last twenty three years, and its inconsistency with monarchy. — ‘Therefore (says he) from our respect to the glory of God, the good and interest of the protestant religion, and the better harmony with the government of the church of England. We declare our firm resolution to interpose our royal authority for restoring the church of Scotland to its right government by bishops, as it was before the late troubles. And our will and pleasure is, that you take effectual care to restore the rents belonging to the several bishoprics; that you prohibit the assembling of ministers in their synodical meetings till our further pleasure; and that you keep a watchful eye over those, who by discourse or preaching endeavor to alienate the affections of our people from us or our government.’” (Neal and Toulmin, Pg. 379-380)

There were quite a few men, in Scotland, who were killed for not bowing the knee to the king and fighting against such tyranny. One of the more famous stories is about Rev. James Guthrie. He, along with a Captain, was executed on June 14th 1661. James Guthrie, Minister of Stirlin, concluded his dying speech with these words: “I take God to record upon my soul, that I would not exchange this scaffold with the palace or mitre of the greatest prelate in Britain. Blessed be God, who hath shewed mercy to such a wretch, and has revealed his son in me, and made me a minister of the everlasting gospel; and that he has designed, in the midst of much contradiction from satan and the world, to seal my ministry upon the hearts of not a few of this people, and especially in the congregation and presbytery of Stirlin” (Neal and Toulmin, Pg. 381). Govan, the young captain who stood next to James Guthrie at their execution, said, “I bear witness with my blood to the persecuted government of this church, by synods and presbyteries. I bear witness to the solemn league and covenant, and seal it with my blood. I likewise testify against all popery, prelacy, idolatry, superstition, and the service book (BOCP), which is no better than a relic of the Romish Idolatry” (Neal and Toulmin, Pg. 382). These were just some of the events that took place in Scotland, but back in England men like Edmund Calamy were fighting against the tyranny of the King and the prelates.

Savoy, Fight, Failure

Edmund Calamy (Westminster Divine), fighting hard against the prelates,  is spoken about in Baxter’s account: “I have reason to think that the Generality of the Bishops and Doctors present never knew what we offered them in the reformed Liturgy, nor in this Reply, nor in any of our Papers, save those few which we read openly to them. For they were put up and carried away, and I conjecture scarce any but the Writers of their Confutations would be at the Labour of reading them over. And I remember in the midst of our last Disputation, when I drew out the short Preface to this last Reply (which Mr. Calamy wrote, to enumerate in the beginning before their Eyes, many of the grossest Corruptions which they stifly defended and refused to reform) the Company was more ashamed and silent, than at any thing else that I had said; by which I perceived that they had never read or heard that very Preface, which was as an Epistle to themselves: Yea, the chief of them confessed when they bid me read it, that they knew no such thing: So that it seems before they knew what was in them, they resolved to reject our Papers, right or Wrong, and to deliver them up to their Contradictors” (Reliquiæ Baxterianæ). As we see, “Mr. Calamy wrote, to enumerate in the beginning before their Eyes, many of the grossest Corruptions which they stifly defended and refused to reform” (Reliquiæ Baxterianæ). Baxter also gives many other accounts of this back and forth dialogue. He mentions many times that the Bishops were not at all willing to give in to the Presbyterians and their exceptions. The “Presbyterians” continued to ask for exceptions, but with no success.

At the end of the conference, they all agreed there should be a short letter written to the king stating they desired peace and unity in the kingdom. However, the Savoy conference was no success. The Bishops would not allow exceptions and the Presbyterians would not allow for the Book to be their rule. We see this on two different accounts:

“To these several objections and demands the Church commissioners returned distinct answers, and also made concessions, which the Presbyterians would not accept of at the expiration of the commission it was mutually agreed that the report of the conference should be delivered to the king in writing, and that each party should give in this general account: ‘That the Church’s welfare, that unity and peace, and his majesty’s satisfaction, were ends upon which they were all agreed; but as to the means, they could not come to any harmony.’ And thus the conference ended without any accommodation.” (Gee and Hardy, Pg. 593-594)

“If the nonconformists should be ejected, they urged, that there not be clergymen enough to fill the vacant pulpits; they put them in mind of their peaceable behavior in the latter times; what they had suffered for the royal cause, and great share they had in restoring the king; they pleaded his majesty’s late declaration, and the design of the present conference. To all which the bishops replied, they were only commissioned to make such alterations in the liturgy as should be necessary, and such as should agreed upon. The ministers replied, that the word necessary, must refer to the satisfying tender consciences; but the bishops insisted, that they saw no alterations necessary, and therefore were not obliged to make any till they prove them so. The ministers prayed them to consider the ill consequence that might follow upon a separation. But all was to no purpose, their lordships were in the saddle, and, if we may believe Mr. Baxter,  would not abate the smallest ceremony, nor correct the grossest error the peace of the church. Thus the king’s commission expired July 25, and the conferences ended without any prospect of accommodation.” (Neal and Toulmin, Pg. 369)

Holy Days and Exceptions, BOCP, Divines

When we look at the Book of Common Prayer as Amended by the Westminster Divines, we see (for example) that they did not want holy day observances. One common idea that has recently emerged is that the Divines might not have been as readily strong on their convictions as they once were. Yet, the book itself shows otherwise:  “VI. That the religious observation of Saints’ days, appointed to be kept as holy-days, and the vigils thereof, without any foundation (as we conceive) in Scripture, may be omitted. That if any be retained, they may be called festivals, and not holy-days, nor made equal with the Lord’s day, nor have any peculiar service appointed for them, not the people be upon such days forced wholly to abstain from work, and that the names of all others now inserted in the Calendar, which are not in the first and second books of Edwards the Sixth, may be left out.” (Book of Common Prayer as Amended by the Westminster Divines: Appendix II, The Presbyterian Exceptions Against the Book of Common Prayer, Pg. 145)

We are also told in another source (along with the ones already provided) that Holy Day observances, like Christmas, were not the only exceptions the Divines wanted from the service book: “Hereupon a paper containing exceptions against several parts of the rubric, and the offices of Common Prayer, the use of the surplice, the sign of the cross, kneeling at the Lord’ Supper, the religious observation of Lent and saints’ days and several other things of the like nature” (Gee and Hardy, Pg. 593)


Regardless of the title, the Book of Common Prayer as Amended by the Westminster Divines is misleading. This was not the Westminster Assembly, but the Savoy Conference. There was also zero success as to the means of unity and peace for England. The Puritans (“Presbyterians”) would not give in to the Book of Common Prayer (with all its Holy Days, Ceremonies, etc) and the Bishops would not amend the Book for the sake of the Presbyterians. The Bishops were out for revenge, not compromise.  Eventually many (if not all) were ejected. It is quite a tragic time in the history of England. Lee Gatiss is correct when he claims that 1662 is truly a year of tragedy, but 1661 was just as bad.

Finally, I will leave with this quote by R. Andrew Meyers, speaking on the Book of Common Prayer as Amended by the Westminster Divines, with a side note of it being “restored” in American Presbyterianism: “The book… [was] part of a 19th century effort to return American Presbyterian worship to the Episcopalian liturgy. It is misnamed because the event in 1661 that the author is writing about was the Savoy Conference’s attempt to reach a compromised liturgy. The Conference included 12 Anglican delegates and 12 Presbyterian/Puritan (“Presbyterian” is used very broadly) delegates. If you read further in the book, it has an appendix which notes all the Presbyterian ‘exceptions’ to the Book of Common Prayer that was produced by the Conference. There were a few Westminster divines who attended the Conference, but it was the Savoy Conference, not the Westminster Assembly that produced this liturgy. It is only titled the way it is to achieve a certain sympathy from 19th century Presbyterians towards high church worship.”



Works Cited

Baxter, Richard. Reliquiæ Baxterianæ, Or, Mr. Richard Baxter’s Narrative of the Most Memorable Passages of His Life and times. London: Printed for T. Parkhurst, J. Robinson, J. Lawrence and J. Dunton, 1696. Print.

Lee Gratiss. The Tragedy of 1662: The Ejection and Persecution of the Puritans. Received on 12/11/16. Received from http://theologian.org.uk/gatissnet/TheTragedyof1662.html. Web.

Robert Wodrow. The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland, from the Restoration to the Revolution. Robert Burns Ed., 4 Vols. (Glasgow, 1828-30), I, 57.

Thomas Babington Macaulay. The History of England from the Ascension of James II. 2 Vols. (London, 1849). I, 86.

Shields, Charles W. The book of common prayer: as amended by the Westminster divines A.D. 1661. Philadelphia: James S. Claxton, 1867. Web. https://archive.org/stream/bookofcommonpray00shie#page/n7/mode/2up

Gee, Henry, and William J. Hardy. Documents illustrative of English church history: compiled from original sources. London: Macmillan, 1914. Web.

Neal, Daniel, and Joshua Toulmin. The history of the Puritans, or Protestant non-conformists, with an account of their principles; their attempts for a further reformation in the church; their sufferings; and the lives and characters of their most considerable divines. Portsmouth, NH: Charles Ewer, 1816. Web.

Gratiss Footnotes

[10] G. Bray, Documents of the English Reformation (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 1994), page 544.

[11] R. S. Bosher, The Making of the Restoration Settlement: The Influence of the Laudians 1649-1662 (London: Dacre Press, 1951), page 149.

[12] ibid., page 155.  The ‘Laudians’ here are so named for Archbishop Laud, a fervent opponent of the puritans but who was at this point long dead (since 1645).  The use of “Anglican” and “Anglicanism” to describe the same interest group (despite being based on the Medieval Latin ecclesia anglicana, “The English Church”) is anachronistic, being a nineteenth century usage, but one so convenient and readily understandable today that it is difficult not to use it.  On “Anglicanism” as a term originating in the 1830s see M. Burkill, The Parish System: The Same Yesterday, Today and Forever? (London: Latimer Trust, 2005), pages 42-43 who notes, however, that the idea of “Anglicanism” probably does date from the “imposition of Episcopacy in 1662”.  I have not capitalised the term, as a way of acknowledging its non-technical use here.

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