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The decline of comprehension in the Church of England, 1689-1750

Walsh, Ashley ORCID: 2022. The decline of comprehension in the Church of England, 1689-1750. Journal of British Studies 61 (3) , pp. 702-727. 10.1017/jbr.2022.57

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Following several attempts to fashion a broad-based national church from the Church of England by reforming the Act of Uniformity (1662), the failed Comprehension Bill that accompanied the Toleration Act (1689) was the final such proposal tabled in Parliament. Although historians have examined moments when comprehension reappeared in eighteenth-century confessional discourse, less attention has been paid to connecting these moments within England's long Reformation and to explaining why the prospects for comprehension remained so dim. Its supporters claimed the Elizabethan via media in church and state to fashion a national church within a godly commonwealth by uniting Anglicans with “moderate” Dissenters. However, the High Church campaign against the practice of occasional conformity meant that comprehension ceased to be a viable political proposition by the time of the Tory landslide of 1710 and the passage of the Occasional Conformity Act (1711). The development of the culture of “free enquiry” among Dissenters further widened the gulf between them and the establishment, reinforcing the aspiration of the established church's Whig leaders for harmonious coexistence rather than unity. Despite its failure as a political proposition, Whig churchmen and moderate Dissenters continued to idealize comprehension due to their (albeit loosening) Hookerian commitment to unity in church and state.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Publisher: University of Chicago Press / Cambridge University Press (CUP)
ISSN: 0021-9371
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 26 September 2022
Last Modified: 23 May 2023 15:58

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