Royal ecclesiastical supremacy and the Restoration church

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The nature and extent of the royal supremacy over the Church of England proved contentious in Restoration England, especially when Charles II and James II sought to use their ecclesiastical prerogative to legitimate Nonconformist worship. Although the supremacy was a long-established institutional fact of the English church-state, it could be presented in diverse ways. This article outlines six versions of royal supremacy which were expressed, arguing that it was a contested and multiform entity which was manipulated by polemicists for their own purposes. Its location in the monarch alone, in crown-in-parliament, or in delegation to a lay vicegerent was unclear. Its character could be presented as purely jurisdictional or partly sacerdotal. The Declaration of Indulgence of 1672 led to the paradox of Nonconformists upholding the supremacy while the established church limited it. The political and religious insecurities of the Cabal era (1667-73) highlighted tensions and divergences which had been latent in concepts of the supremacy since its establishment under the Tudors. It is therefore vital to contextualize Restoration arguments in Reformation debates. Recognizing that 'royal' 'supremacy' was neither invariably monarchical nor inevitably absolute is significant for our understanding of the character of both the Restoration ecclesiastical polity and those who governed it.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-345
Number of pages22
JournalHistorical Research
Issue number209
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2007


  • Restoration
  • Church of England
  • Royal supremacy
  • Episcopacy
  • Dissent


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