chapter  5
19 Pages

Truth, Uniformity and Toleration: Making a British Compromise? c.1500–c.1750

Henry VII,on coming to the throne, had no difficulty in maintaining vigil­ ance against the lingering ‘Lollardy’ which still occasionally surfaced. In 1498 the king himself gained great credit for converting a priest from his heretical opinions so that the man 'died as a Christian' Grateful for papal support, especially in the years immediately after 1485,Henry gave no en­ couragement to religious innovation. It would have been inconceivable to him that, 200 years later in 1689, there would be a Toleration Act which would modify the penal laws against religious Dissenters, though it still did not abolish them. The notion that the state had an obligation to 'establish5 a particular expression of the Christian religion was not dead even then. Reli­ gion was not merely a private and personal matter, it was frequently the ex­ pression of national values and aspirations. Debate about the form of the Church and the content of theology, seen in this context, was fundamental not incidental. 'Reformation5 was not so much an instant replacement of one creed by another as a protracted process, ebbing and flowing,in which the claims of truth, uniformity and toleration coexisted and conflicted in an un­ easy trinity. The interaction between these concerns shaped the Britain of 1750.