Monday, 1 October 2007

Corporation Act 1661

The Corporation Act of 1661 is an Act of Parliament (13 Cha. II. St. 2 c. 1). It belongs to the general category of test acts, designed for the express purpose of restricting public offices in England to members of the Church of England.
Though commonly spoken of as one of the "Penal Laws", and enumerated by Butler in his Historical Account of the Laws against the Roman Catholics of England, it was not directly aimed against them, but against the Presbyterians. It was passed in December 1661, the year after the Restoration, by Charles II. Parliament was at that time entirely reactionary. The Cavavliers were in power, and they aimed at nothing short of restoring England to its state before the time of the Commonwealth. It required all the prudence of the Earl of Clarendon, the Lord Chancellor, to restrain them. The Corporation Act represents the limit to which he was prepared to go in endeavouring to restrict the power of the Presbyterians. They were influentially represented in the government of cities and boroughs throughout the country, and this act was designed to dispossess them.
The Act provided that no person could be legally elected to any office relating to the government of a city or corporation, unless he had within the previous 12 months received the sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the rites of the Church of England. He was also commanded to take the Oaths of Allegiance adn Supremacy, to swear belief in the Doctrine of Passive Obedience, and to renounce the Covenant (ie Solemn League and Covenant).
In default of these requisites the election was to be void. A somewhat similar act passed 12 years later, known as the Test Act, prescribed for all officers, civil and military, further stringent conditions, including a declaration against transubstantiation.
These two acts operated very prejudicially on Catholics, forming an important part of the general Penal Code which kept them, like nonconformists, out of public life. In later times the number who qualified for civil and military posts in accordance with their provisions was very small, and an Act of Indemnity used to be passed annually, to relieve those who had not done so from the penalties incurred.
The Corporation Act remained nominally in force throughout the 18th Century. It was eventually repealed in 1828.

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