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wright to Chester. Many pamphlets were written and dispersed in favour of liberty of conscience; and sir Roger L'Estrange, with other mercenary writers, were employed to maintain, that a power in the king to dispense with the laws, is law.* But the opinion of private writers not being thought sufficient, it was resolved to have the determination: of the judges, who all, except one, gave it as their opinion; 1. That the laws of England were the king's laws. 2. That it is an inseparable branch of the prerogative of the kings of England, as of all other sovereign princes, to dispense with all penal laws in particular cases, and on particular occasions. 3. That of these reasons and necessity the king is sole judge. 4. That this is not a trust now invested in, and granted to, the present king, but the ancient remains of the sovereign power of the kings of England, which was never yet taken from them, nor can be. Thus the laws of England were given up at once into the hands of the king, by a solemn determination of the judges.
This point being secured, his majesty began to caress the Nonconformists. “ All on a sudden (says bishop Burnett) the churchmen were disgraced, and the dissenters in high favour. Lord-chief-justice Herbert went the western circuit after Jefferies, who was now made lord-chancellor, and all was grace and favour to them; their former sufferings were much reflected upon and pitied; every thing was offered that might alleviate them; their ministers were encouraged to set up their conventicles, which had been discontinued, or held very secretly, for four or five years ; intimations were given every where, that the king would not have them or their meetings disturbed."* A dispensation or licence-office was set up, where all who applied might have an indulgence, paying only 50s. for themselves and their families. Many who had been prosecuted for conventicles, took out those licences, which not only stopped all processes that were commenced, but gave them liberty to go publicly to meetings for the future." Upon this (says the same reverend prelate) some of the dissenters grew in* Welwood's Memoirs, p. 194.
+ Page 78. † King James, previously to his adopting these conciliating measures with the dissenters, such was his art and duplicity, had tried all the melbods he could think of to bring the church into bis designs: and iwice offered, it was said, to make a sacrifice of all the dissenters in the kingdom to them, if they would but have complied with him : but failing in this attempt, he faced about to the Nanconformisls. Calamy's History of his own Life, vol. 1. p. 170, MS.-Ed.
solent, but wiser men among them perceived the design of the Papists was now, to set on the dissenters against the church; and therefore, though they returned to their conventicles, yet they had a just jealousy of the ill designs that lay hid, under all this sudden and unexpected show of grace and kindness, and they took care not to provoke the churchparty.” But where then were the understandings of the high-church clergy, during the whole reign of king Charles II. while they were pursuing the Nonconformists and their families to destruction, for a long course of years? Did they not perceive the design of the Papists? Or were they not willing rather to court them, at the expense of the whole body of dissenting Protestants ! Bishop Laud's scheme of uniting with the Papists, and meeting them half way, was never out of their sight; however, when the reader calls to mind the oppression and cruelties that the conscientious Nonconformists underwent from the high-church party for twenty-five years, he will be ready to conclude they deserved no regard, if the Protestant religion itself had not been at stake.
Thus the all-wise providence of God put a period to the prosecution of the Protestant dissenters from the penal laws; though the laws themselves were not legally repealed, or suspended, till after the revolution of king William and queen Mary. It may not therefore be improper to give the reader a summary view of their usage in this and the last reign, and of the damages they sustained in their persons, families, and fortunes.
The Quakers, in their petition to king James* the last year, inform his majesty, that of late above one thousand five hundred of their friends were in prison, both men and women; and that now there remain one thousand three, hundred and eighty-three, of which two hundred are women; many under sentence of premunire; and more than three hundred near it, for refusing the oath of allegiance because they could not swear.t-Above three hundred and fifty have died in prison since the year 1660, near one hundred of which since the year 1680.- In London, the jail of Newgate has
* It was addressed not to king James only, but to both houses of parliament. They made also an application to the king alone; recommending to bis princely clemency the case of their suffering friends. Sewel, p. 592. This was not so copious a stale of their case as the petition to which Mr. Neal refers, and is called by Gough their first address. Vol. 3. p. 162; and the Index under the word Address.-Ed.
Sewel, p. 588. 593.
been crowded within these two years, sometimes with near twenty in a room, whereby several have been suffocated, and others, who have been taken out sick, have died of malignant fevers within a few days ;-great violences, outrageous distresses, and woful havock and spoil, have been made on people's goods and estates, by a company of idle, extravagant, and merciless, informers, by prosecutions on the conventicle-act, and others, as may be seen in the margin.* Also on qui tam writs, and on other processes, for 201. a month; and two thirds of their estates seized for the king: --some bad not a bed left to rest upon; others had no cattle to till the ground, nor corn for seed or bread, nor tools to work with the said informers and bailiffs in some places breaking into houses, and making great waste and spoil, under pretence of serving the king and the church.-Our religious assemblies have been charged at common law with being riotous routs, and disturbances of the peace, whereby great numbers have been confined in prisons, without regard to age or sex; and many in holes and dungeons :-the seizures for 201. a month have amounted to several thousand pounds; sometimes they have seized for eleven months at once, and made sale of all goods and chattels both within doors and without, for payment:-several who have employed some hundreds of poor families in manufacture, are by those writs and seizures disabled, as well as by long inprisonment; one in particular, who employed two hundred people in the woollen manufacture.—Many informers, and especially impudent women, whose husbands are in prison, swear for their share of the profit of the seizures—the fines upon one justice's warrant have amounted to many hundred pounds; frequently 101. a warrant, and five warrants together for 501. to one man; and for nonpayment, all his goods carried away in about ten cart-loads. They spare neither
The acts or penal laws on which they suffered were these: Some few suffered on 27 Henry VIII. cap. 20, Others on 1 Eliz. cap. 2, for twelve-pence a Sunday. 5 Eliz. cap 23, de excommu. capiendo. 23 Eliz. cap. 1, for 201. a month. 29 Eliz. cap. 6, for more speedy and due execution of last statute. 35 Eliz. cap. 1, for abjuring the realm on pain of death. 3 King James I. cap. 4, for better discovering aud suppressing Popish recusants. 13th and 14th of king Charles II. against Quakers, &c. transportation. 17 Charles II. cap. 2, against Nonconformists. 32 King Charles II. cap. 1, against seditious conventicles.
N. B. The Quakers were not much affected with the corporation and test acts, beeause they would not take an oath;
Nor with the Oxford five-mile act, which cut the others to pieces.
widows, nor fatherless, nor poor families; nor leave them so much as a bed to lie upon :-thus the informers are both witnesses and parties, to the ruin of great numbers of sober families; and justices of peace have been threatened with the forfeiture of 1001, if they do not issue out warrants upon their informations. With this petition, they presented to the king and parliament a list of their friends in prison in the several counties, amounting to one thousand four hun, dred and sixty.
But it is impossible to make an exact computation of the number of sufferers, or estimate of the damages his majesty's dissenting subjects of the several denomination sustained, by the prosecutions of this and the last reign; how many families were impoverished, and reduced to beggary; how many lives were lost in prisons and poisome jails ; how many ministers were divorced from their people, and forced to live as they could, five miles from a corporation : how many industrious and laborious tradesmen were cut off from their trades; and their substance and household goods plundered by soldiers, or divided among idle and infamous informers. The vexatious suits of the commons, and the expenses of those courts, were immense.
The writer of the preface of Mr. Delaune's Plea for the Nonconformists, says,* that Delaune was one of near eight thousand Protestant dissenters, who had perished in prison in the reign of king Charles II. and that merely for dissenting from the church in some points which they were able to give good reason for; and yet for no other cause, says he, were they stifled, I had almost said, murdered in jails.--As for the severe penalties inflicted on them, for seditious and riotous assemblies, designed only for the worship of God, he adds, that they suffered in their trades and estates, within the compass of three years, at least 2,000,0001.; and doubts, whether in all the times since the Reformation, including the reign of queen Mary, there can be produced any thing like such a number of Christians who have suffered death; and such numbers who have lost their substance for religion, Another writer adds,t that Mr. Jeremy White had carefully collected a list of the dissenting sufferers, and of their sufferings, and had the names of sixty thousand persons who had suffered on a religious account, between the resto* Preface to Delaune's Plea, p. 5.
+ History of the Stuarts, p. 715.
ration of king Charles II.‘and the revolution of king William; five thousand of whom died in prison. That Mr. White told lord Dorset, that king James had offered him a thousand guineas for the manuscript, but that be refused all invitations and rewards, and concealed the black record, that it might not appear to the disreputation of the church of England, for which some of the clergy sent him their thanks, and offered him an acknowledgment, which he generously refused. The reader will form his own judgment of the truth of these facts. It is certain, that besides those who suffered in their own country, great numbers retired to the plantations of New-England, Pennsylvania, and other parts of America. Many transported themselves and their effects into Holland,* and filled the English churches of Amsterdam, the Hague, Utrecht, Leyden, Rotterdam, and other parts. If we admit the dissenting families of the several denominations in England, to be one hundred and fifty thousand, and that each family suffered no more than the loss of 3 or 41. per annum, from the act of uniformity, the whole will amount to twelve or fourteen millions; a prodigious sum for those times! But these are only conjectures; the damage to the trade and property of the nation was undoubtedly immense; and the wounds that were made in the estates of private families were deep and large; many of whom, to my certain knowledge, wear the scars of them to this day.
When the Protestant dissenters rose up into public view as a distinct body, their long sufferings had not very much diminished their numbers; which, though not to be compared with those of the establishment, or the tories and Roman Catholics, were yet so considerable, as to be capable of turning the scale on either side, according as they should throw in their weight, which might possibly be owing, amongst others, to the following reasons :
1. To their firmness and constancy in a long course of
Among these were, Mr. Howe, Mr. Shower, Mr. Nai. Taylor, Mr. Papillon, sir John Thompson (afterward lord Haversham), sir John Guise, and sir Patience Ward. The states of Holland treated the English refugees with particular respect. But as it has been pertinently observed, it was a reproach to this nation, that, in particular, so excellent a person as Mr. Howe, whose unaffected piety, polite and profound learning, and most sweet, ingenuous, and genteel temper, entitled him to the esteem of the greatest and best men in the land of all persuasiovs; that such a one at that time could not have a safe and quiet habitation in bis nalive country. 'Tong's Life of Shower, p. 51. ED.