Did he have any religion? His life suggests the same attitude that we find in many contemporary Frenchmen, who lived as atheists and died as Catholics; this seemed to get the best of both worlds, and to be a great improvement on Pascal’s “wager.” “His sense of religion was so small,” said Burnet, “that he did not so much as affect the hypocrite, but at prayers and sacraments let everyone, by his negligent behavior, see how little he thought himself concerned in these matters.” 30 “My Lord, my Lord,” said a preacher to a dozing peer in the congregation, “you snore so loud you will wake the King.” 31 Saint-Évremond, who knew Charles well, described him as a deist 32—i.e., one who acknowledged a Supreme Being, more or less impersonal, and interpreted the remainder of the religious creeds as popular poetry; and the Earl of Buckingham and the Marquess of Halifax agreed with Saint-Évremond. 33 “He said once to myself,” reports Burnet, “that he was no atheist, but he could not think God would make a man miserable for taking a little pleasure out of the way.” 34 Charles welcomed the materialist Hobbes to his friendship, and protected him against the theologians who demanded his prosecution for heresy. Voltaire thought that the King’s “extreme indifference to all [religious] disputes that commonly divide men had contributed not a little to his reigning peacefully.” 35
Probably he was a skeptic with a leaning toward Catholicism; i.e., doubting the theologies, he preferred Catholicism for its colorful ritual, its marriage with the arts, its lenience to the flesh, and its support of monarchy. He had probably forgotten that the Catholic League and some Jesuit fathers had sanctioned regicide. He remembered that English Catholics had fought for his father, that a third of the nobles who had died for Charles I were Catholics, 36 that the Irish Catholics had persisted in loyalty to the Stuarts, and that a Catholic government had supported him in his long exile. His generally sympathetic spirit inclined him to desire some mitigation of England’s anti-Catholic laws, which, in Hallam’s judgment, “were highly severe, in some cases sanguinary.” 37 He did not share the English Protestant’s memory of the Gunpowder Plot (1605), or dread of subjection to the Inquisition and to Rome. He took no offense at the open adherence of his brother—and presumptive heir—to the Catholic faith. We may judge from his deathbed conversion that he too would have professed Catholicism if that had been politically practical.
So, as an amiable politician, he accepted and supported the Anglican Church. It had been loyal to his father, who had died in its defense; it had suffered under Cromwell; it had worked for the Restoration. Charles took for granted that some religion should receive state sanction and aid as an agent of education and social order. He was constitutionally horrified by Puritanism; besides, it had had a fair chance at government, and had proved too severe and unpopular. He could not forget that the Presbyterians had imprisoned, and the Puritans had beheaded, his father, and that he himself had been forced to accept their creed, and to apologize for the sins of his parents. He signed as obviously just the act of the Convention Parliament restoring to their parishes the Anglican clergymen who had been dispossessed by the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, he had promised “liberty to tender consciences,” and that no man should be “disquieted” for peaceable diversities of religious belief. In October, 1660, he proposed a comprehensive toleration of all Christian sects, even mitigating the laws against Catholics, but the Presbyterians and the Puritans, fearing this relaxation, joined with the Anglicans in rejecting the plan. To reconcile Presbyterians and Anglicans he suggested a compromise liturgy, and a limited episcopacy in which bishops would be assisted and advised by elected presbyters; Parliament vetoed the idea. The “Savoy Conference” of twelve bishops and twelve Presbyterian divines (1661) reported to the King that “they could not come to an harmony.” 38
It was a lost opportunity, for the new Parliament was overwhelmingly Anglican. It opened old wounds by re-establishing episcopacy in Scotland and Ireland; it restored ecclesiastical courts for the punishment of “blasphemy” and nonpayment of tithes to the Anglican Church; it made the Anglican Book of Common Prayer obligatory on all Englishmen; by the “Corporation Act” (November 20, 1661) it disqualified from public office all persons who had not received the sacrament according to the Anglican rite before the election; and by the “Act of Uniformity” (May 19, 1662) it required all clergymen and teachers to take an oath of nonresistance to the King, and to declare their full assent to the Book of Common Prayer. Clergymen who rejected these conditions were to vacate their livings by August 24. Some twelve hundred so refused, and were ejected. These, and the eight hundred already displaced by restored Anglicans, joined, with a great part of the congregations, the swelling body of “Sects” or “Dissenters” who finally compelled the Act of Toleration of 1689.
Charles tried to modify the Act of Uniformity by asking Parliament to let him exempt from the loss of their benefices those ministers whose only objections were to the wearing of the surplice, or the use of the cross in baptism; the Lords agreed, the Commons refused. He sought to soften the blow by delaying the execution of the act for three months; this too was frustrated. On December 26, 1662, he issued a declaration announcing his intention to exempt from the penalties of the act peaceable persons whose consciences prevented them from taking the required oath; but Parliament distrusted and rejected this appeal as implying the power of the King to “dispense” from obedience to the laws. Charles indicated his feelings by releasing imprisoned Quakers (August 22, 1662), and by confirming religious toleration in the charters that he granted to Rhode Island and Carolina, and in his instructions to the governors of Jamaica and Virginia.
Parliament felt that such toleration should have no place in England. To end Quaker “conventicles” it defined these as meetings of more than five persons additional to the members of a household; and it ruled (1662) that any person attending such an assembly should be fined five pounds or suffer three months’ imprisonment for the first offense, ten pounds or six months for the second, banishment to convict plantations for the third. Offenders unable to pay the cost of their transportation to the colonies were to serve five years as indentured laborers; and transported convicts who escaped or returned to England before the expiration of their terms were to be put to death. In 1664 these measures were extended to Presbyterians and Independents. The “Five Mile Act” of 1665 forbade nonjuring ministers to reside within five miles of any corporate town, or to teach in any school, public or private. These laws came to be called the Clarendon Code because they were enforced by the King’s chief minister against the express wishes of the sovereign. Charles accepted this harsh legislation because he was appealing to Parliament for funds, but he never forgave Clarendon, and lost respect for the bishops who, so soon after being restored, proved so hard in vengeance and poor in charity. Charles concluded that “Presbyterianism is no religion for a gentleman, and Anglicanism is no religion for a Christian.” 39
The Anglican Church, recognizing its dependence upon the monarchy, reasserted more positively than ever the divine right of kings, and the mortal sinfulness of resistance to an established royal government. In 1680 Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha, or The Natural Power of Kings Asserted, reached publication, twenty-seven years after his death, and became the standard defense of the doctrine. In the “Judgement and Decree” of Oxford (1683) leading divines of the Anglican Church declared it “false, seditious, and impious, even heretical and blasphemous” (and therefore a capital crime) to hold that “authority is derived from the people, that if lawful governors become tyrants, they forfeit the right of governing, that the King hath but co-ordinate right with the other two estates, the Lords and the Commons”; and it added that “passive obedience is the badge and character of the Church of England.” 40 This proved to be an uncomfortable doctrine when, two years later, James II tried to make England Catholic.
The restored Anglican clergy, despite its intolerance, had many admirable qualities. It allowed a wide latitude of theological opinion within its own membership, from Laudians (later known as “High Churchmen”) who approached Catholic doctrine and liturgy, to Latitudinarians (later “Broad Churchmen”) who sympathized with a liberal theology, stressed the moral rather than the doctrinal element in Christianity, discouraged persecution, and sought to reconcile Puritans, Presbyterians, and Anglicans. Charles supported these “men of latitude,” and appreciated the comparative brevity of their sermons. 41 Greatest of these liberal theologians was John Tillotson, whom Charles made his chaplain, and whom William III made Archbishop of Canterbury (1691), “a man of clear head and sweet temper,” 42 who opposed “popery,” atheism, and persecution with equal ardor, and dared to rest Christianity on reason. “We need not desire any better evidence that a man is in the wrong,” he said, “than to hear him declare against reason, and thereby to acknowledge that reason is against him.” 43 The lower Anglican clergy, the “parsons,” tended now to become the spiritual servants of the local lords, even of the squires, and fell into an almost plebeian status;* but in the cities and the better benefices many Anglican clergymen distinguished themselves by an erudition and literary capacity that later produced some of the best historiography in Europe. In general a spirit of doctrinal moderation came to prevail in the Anglican Church rather than among the Dissenters, in whom persecution intensified dogmatism.
The Puritans suffered now not merely political persecution but a social contumely in which they were the butt of those whose easy morals had been inconvenienced under the Puritan regime. They bore with courage this turn of the wheel. Some migrated to America, many took the required oaths. Their finest figure in this age was Richard Baxter, a man of reasonable temper who was willing to accept any compromise that would not impair his fiery theology. Though faithful to Puritan ideology to the end, he condemned the execution of Charles I and the absolutism of Cromwell, and favored the Restoration. After 1662 he was prohibited from preaching, and was repeatedly arrested for violating the prohibition. He was one of the most enlightened of the Puritans, yet he applauded the burning of witches in Salem, Massachusetts, and thought of his God in terms that made Moloch seem amiable. Who are the saved? “They are,” said Baxter, “a small part of lost mankind, whom God hath from eternity predestined to this rest.” 44He emphasized, in his sermons, the tortures of hell, whose “principal author is God Himself. . . . The torments of the damned,” he wrote, “must be extreme, because they are the effect of the divine vengeance. Wrath is terrible, but revenge is implacable.” 45 He forbade sexual intercourse except to have offspring with a lawful mate; and if this restriction required stoic self-control, he recommended cold baths and a vegetable diet to moderate erotic desire. 46 We almost forgive his theology when we see him, aged seventy (1685), standing trial before the brutal Judge Jeffreys for having uttered a few words against Anglican pretensions; he was denied all chance to defend or explain himself, and was sentenced to pay five hundred marks or remain in jail till the full sum should be paid. 47 He was freed after eighteen months, but he never recovered his health.
The Quakers continued to suffer arrest and confiscation of property for refusing to take oaths, or avoiding Anglican services, or holding illegal assemblies. In 1662 there were over 4,200 of them in English jails. “Some of them were crowded into prisons so close that there was not room for all of them to sit down. . . . They were refused straw to lie upon; they were often denied food.” 48 Their patience and persistence finally won the battle; the persecutions diminished in fact if not in law. In 1672 Charles freed twelve hundred of them; 49 and in 1682 his brother James, Duke of York, gave to the Scottish Quaker Robert Barclay, the rich Friend William Penn, and some associates a patent for the province of East Jersey in America.
Penn was the son of the Admiral William Penn who had captured Jamaica for England. When the boy was twelve he went through various stages of religious excitement, during which he was so “suddenly surprised with an inward comfort and . . . an external glory in the room, that he has many times said that from thence he had the seal of divinity and immortality,” the conviction “that there was a God, and that the soul of man was capable of enjoying His divine communication.” 50 At Oxford he was fined and expelled for refusing to attend Anglican services (1661). Returning to his father, he was whipped and turned out of doors for his avowed Quakerism. The relenting father sent him to France to learn la gaieté Parisienne; there, perhaps, Penn acquired some of his courtly ways. In 1666 he had so far reconciled himself with sin as to serve in the army in Ireland, but a year later he attended a Quaker meeting in Cork, took fire again, expelled a heckling soldier, and was arrested. From his prison he wrote to the lord president of Munster a plea for freedom of worship. Returning to England, he burned his bridges behind him, became a Quaker preacher, was again and again arrested. His trial in 1669 played a role in the history of English law. The jury acquitted him; the judge fined and imprisoned the jury for contumacy; the jurors appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, which, by unanimously declaring that they had been unlawfully arrested, vindicated the right and power of juries in England. However, Penn was jailed for refusing to remove his hat in court. He was released in time to be present at his father’s death (1670), which left him a fortune of fifteen hundred pounds a year, and a claim on the Crown for sixteen thousand pounds lent by his father to Charles II. Reimprisoned for preaching, he wrote in jail his most eloquent defense of toleration, The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience (1671). In an interval of freedom he married a wealthy woman, and bought an interest in the western half of what is now the state of New Jersey. For this colony he wrote (1677) a constitution assuring religious toleration, jury trial, and popular government; but control passed out of his hands, and the full provisions of the constitution were not applied.
In 1677 Penn, George Fox, Robert Barclay, and George Keith crossed the Channel to preach Quakerism on the Continent. Some of Penn’s converts from Kirchheim founded Germantown in Pennsylvania, and were among the first to declare it wrong for Christians to have slaves. Back in England, Penn took the lead in keeping the Quakers from joining the persecution of Catholics for the “Popish Plot”; his Address to Protestants of All Persuasions (1679) was a powerful appeal for complete religious toleration. In 1681 the Crown accepted his proposal to surrender his debt claim in exchange for a grant of what we now know as Pennsylvania. He suggested the name Sylvania for the vast and highly wooded tract; Charles II prefixed the name Penn in memory of the admiral. Though subject ultimately to the King, the government of the new colony was democratic, the relations with the Indians were friendly and just, and religion was left free by the predominantly Quaker settlers. For two years Penn labored there; then (1684), hearing that a new and violent persecution of his sect had begun in England, he returned to London. A year later his friend the Duke of York became James II, and Penn became a man of influence in the government. We shall meet him again.
The passive resistance of the Quakers to persecution was the strongest force making for religious toleration in this intolerant age. A Dissenter estimated that there were sixty thousand arrests for religious nonconformity between 1660 and 1688, and that five thousand of those so arrested died in jail. 51 The intolerance of Parliament was worse than the immorality of the court or the stage. “In this crucial period,” said one who wrote history almost as well as he made it, “the King was almost the only modern and merciful voice . . . Throughout his reign he consistently strove for toleration.” 52 When (1669) three men were sentenced under an old Elizabethan law to forfeit a large sum to the Crown for failing to attend Anglican services, Charles pardoned the fines, and declared that he would not have this statute enforced hereafter, “it being his judgment that no one ought to suffer merely for conscience’ sake.” 53
More Englishmen would have agreed with him had they not suspected him of wishing to relieve the disabilities of English Catholics; and England was still so fearful of papal domination, Spanish Inquisitions, and government by priests, that Presbyterians and Puritans preferred to have their own worship outlawed rather than permit the Catholic worship in England. The English Catholics were at this time approximately five per cent of the population. 54 Politically they were impotent, but the Queen was a Catholic, and the King’s brother made little attempt to conceal his conversion (1668). By that time there were 266 Jesuits in England, one of them a bastard son of Charles, and they were beginning to appear confidently in public despite the most stringent laws. Catholic schools were being set up in private homes. England worried. Annually the Protestants celebrated an antipopery parade, carrying to Smithfield, and there joyously burning, effigies of the pope and the cardinals. They had not forgotten Guy Fawkes. But the Catholics waited hopefully. At any moment now a Catholic would be king.