The Test Act of Charles II
From 'A History of the British Nation' by AD Innes, 1912
Declaration of Indulgence
To keep the hands of the government free parliament was prorogued from 1670 to 1673. In the interval the sham second treaty with France was negotiated; Charles, instigated by Ashley, who was made Earl of Shaftesbury and Lord Chancellor, issued a Declaration of Indulgence suspending the operation of the penal laws; and in 1672 war was declared in conjunction with France against Holland. "No clap of thunder on a fair frosty day could more astonish the world," wrote Temple in his memoirs. The approach of war at a moment when it would have been dangerous to meet parliament drove the Cabal to a dangerous expedient.
The Stop of the Exchequer
Government had, according to custom, obtained a temporary loan from the goldsmiths of about a million and a half, which was to be paid back when the taxes for the year were collected. The money in the treasury and the taxes for its repayment were now attached for the purposes of the war. The money which the goldsmiths had lent was to a great extent money which had been deposited with them by merchants. This "Stop of the Exchequer," as it was called, deprived them of the means of repaying the deposits, and widespread financial ruin resulted.
The war itself went ill. The Dutch, fighting single-handed and threatened with utter destruction by the combined attack of France and England, this time proved themselves a match for the united forces of their enemies on the sea; and when they were in danger of being overwhelmed by land fell back oh their last defence — opened the dykes, and laid the country under water. A revolution swept away the oligarchy which controlled the State, and set at its head young William of Orange, who thus began his career as the implacable foe of Louis XIV; but this-same change also changed the attitude of Charles towards the Dutch Republic.
William, the grandson of Charles I, stood next in succession to the English throne after the king's brother James and his daughters, for Charles's wife, Catherine of Braganza, had borne him no children. Charles hated the Dutch oligarchy; but a Holland dominated by William of Orange was another matter.
In 1674 articles of peace were signed between Holland and England. There were other reasons, too, which led to this result. In 1673 it had become no longer possible to repeat the prorogation of parliament, and parliament met in resentful mood. The royal prerogative had been asserted in a manner not to its liking. Clarendon of old had checked Charles's first attempt to exercise the dispensing power and to relieve individuals from religious penalties and disabilities. Now members returned, indignant, to find Roman Catholics in high favour.
The Test Act
Very decisively parliament dispelled any illusions that may have existed in Charles's mind with regard to their hostility to Romanism by passing the Test Act, which required all persons holding public office to receive the Sacrament according to the Anglican rite and expressly to deny the Roman doctrine of Transubstantiation. The most intolerantly Anglican of parliaments was as bitterly Anti-Romanist as if it had been composed of Presbyterians.
Even the Protestant dissenters made it obvious that they would rather submit to Corporation Acts and Five Mile Acts themselves than be relieved at the price of toleration for Papists. From that moment Charles, however Reluctantly, entirely abandoned his design of reinstating Romanism, and the Declaration of Indulgence was formally withdrawn. Louis may have recognised that circumstances were too strong for his cousin, but he realised at the same time that the purposes of the secret treaty were for the time being out of reach; he could not gravely resent the withdrawal of England from the Dutch War.
This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.