Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Black Bartholomew's Day

St Bartholomew's day was traditionally kept on August 24th each year. On that day in 1572 there was a terrible massacre of defenceless Protestants in France, known as Black Bartholomew's Day. The same epithet is sometimes used to refer to the Great Ejection on August 24th, 1662.
On that date, all the reforming plans of the last 20 years completely out of public favour, the Church of Englans was reconstituted under the Act of Uniformity, in a way that made things very unpleasant once more for the Puritans. By its provisions, on that day, every clergyman was to be expelled from his charge if he failed to declare his assent to everything contained in the revised Book of Common Prayer. Similarly all who had failed, during the period of the Commonwealth, to obtain episcopal ordination, was commanded now to obtain it and take an oath of canonical obedience. The theories on which the old 'Solemn League and Covenant' had been based were to be renounced and the doctrine of the king's supremacy over the church accepted.
The result was that some 2000 clergy marked Bartholomew Day by coming out of the church. Richard Baxter, Richard Alleine, Edmund Calamy, John Owen and a host of toehrs were among them.
The act became the more harsh from its coming into operation just before a whole year's tithes were due. Two thousand families, hitherto dependent on stipends for support, were driven hither and thither in search of a livelihood. This was rendered more and more difficult by a number of subordinate statutes passed in rapid succession. The ejected ministers were not allowed to exercise, even in private houses, the religious functions to which they had been accustomed. Their books could not be published without episcopal sanction, previously applied for and obtained. A statute, called the 'Conventicle Act,' punished with fine, imprisonment or transportation, every one present in any private house where religious worship was carried on - if the total number exceeded by more than five the regular members of the household. Another act, the 'Oxford Act,' imposed on these ministers an oath of passive obedience and non-resistance. If they refused to take it, they were prohibited from living within five miles of any place where they had ever resided, or of any corporate town, and from eking out their scanty incomes by keeping schools, or taking in boarders. A second and stricter version of the Conventicle Act deprived the ministers of the right of trial by jury, and empowered any justice of the peace to convict them on the oath of a single informer, who was to be rewarded with a third of the fines levied. No flaw in the legal document, called the mittimus, was allowed to vitiate it and the 'benefit of the doubt' in any uncertain cases, was to be given to the accusers, not to the accused.
Writers who take opposite sides on this subject naturally differ as to the causes and justification to be assigned for the ejection; but there is very little difference of opinion as to the misery suffered during the years 1662-1688. Those who, in one way or other, suffered homelessness, hunger, and penury on account of the Act of Uniformity and the ejection that followed it, have been estimated at 60,000 persons, and the amount of pecuniary loss at £12-14 million. Defoe, Penn and other contemporary writers, set down up-wards of 5000 Nonconformists as the number who perished within the walls of prisons. Many others, like Baxter, were hunted from house to house, from chapel to chapel, by informers, whose only motive was to obtain a portion of the fines levied for infringement of numerous statutes.
Considered as a historical fact, dissent may be said to have begun in England on this 24th August 1662, when the Puritans, who had before formed a body within the church, now ranged themselves as a dissenting or Nonconformist sect outside it.

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