Prelates, Those Dirty Dogs

It has been a year since I wrote on the Savoy Conference (1661), but I have recently begun a project on the topic. I have been going over old references, and have acquired some new ones along the way. It is interesting to continually read the “good” intentions of the Breda Declaration, but finding out the Savoy conference went so badly. Why, you might ask, did the conference end up achieving no movement? No agreement? No accomplishment? Well, quite frankly, the prelates were a bunch of “dirty dogs”.

In reading Edward Cardwell’s A History of Conferences we take notice that the bishops were advised to “win over” those who had distaste for the Book of Common Prayer. Observed by Dr. Barwick on the 22nd of April in 1660, after receiving a letter, he writes:

The king desires that he [Dr. Morley] and you, and other discreet men of the clergy, should have frequent conferences with those of the Presbyterian party, that, if it be possible, you may reduce them to such a temper as is consistent with the good of the church; and, it may be, it would be no ill expedient to assure them of present good preferments in the church. But, in my own opinion, you should rather endeavor to win over those who, being recovered, will have both reputation and desire to merit from the church, than be over solicitous to comply with the pride and passion of those who propose extravagant things. As what can be said to the divine who is not only so will satisfied with his rebellion, but would require other men to renounce their innocence and justify him, which I am confident no parliament will ever do.1

In his Life (2.121), Lord Clarendon gives his opinion on this matter as well:

It is an unhappy policy, and always unhappily applied, to imagine that classis of men can be recovered and reconciled by partial concessions, of granting less than they demand. And if all were granted they would have more to ask, somewhat as a security for the enjoyment of what is granted, that shall preserve their power, and shake the whole frame of the government. Their faction is their religion; nor are those combinations ever entered into upon real and substantial motives of conscience, how erroneous soever, but consist of many glutinous materials, of will, and humor, and folly, and knavery, and ambition, and malice, which make men cling inseparably together till they have satisfaction in all their pretenses, or till they are absolutely broken and subdued, which may always be more easily don’t than the other.2

It seems here that most (if not all) the bishops were of one mind before the conference ever took place: either submit to all of their demands (which would never happen) or subdue their opponents. The non-conformists of the Savoy Conference never had a chance.

After the conference, Bishop Kennett writes:

And so, ended this conference without union or accommodation; the Presbyterian divines depending too much on the encouragement they had received from the king and his chief ministers, on the assurances given them by some of the leading members of the parliament, and on the affections of the people; in all which they were mistaken, as well as in the merit of their cause.3

Without any forward advancement in their discussions, the end result would be the Act of Uniformity of 1662. Either you conform to the prelates, or be ejected from your pulpit by force.


1. Cardwell, Edward. A History of Conferences and Other Proceedings Connected With the Revision of The Book of Common Prayer; From The Year 1558 To The Year 1690. 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 1840. (Pg. 248-249)

2. Clarendon, Edward H. The Life of the Edward Earl of Clarendon. Vol. 2, Clarendon Printing House, 1760. (Pg. 121)

3. Cardwell, Edward. A History of Conferences and Other Proceedings Connected With the Revision of The Book of Common Prayer; From The Year 1558 To The Year 1690. 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 1840. (Pg. 266-267)

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