Significance Of The Toleration Act Essay

1023 words - 4 pages

Significance of the Toleration Act
Religious intolerance was normal practice throughout the Middle Ages,
the Reformation bringing with it much persecution. Christian
Anti-Semitism fuelled the religious insecurity prevalent in Europe
but by the end of the sixteenth century Poland, the Dutch Republic and
France had reached a state of ‘tolerance’, being in contrast to the
religious intolerance still present in England at this time. The
passing of the Toleration Act in 1689 appears to have been a close
call, coming as it did during a particularly unstable period, making
its conception all the more surprising. However, the practical
achievement of the Act was remarkable, it being the first time in
English history that dissenters such as Quakers, Presbyterians,
Independents and Baptists were recognised by law and given a right to
free worship. The significance of the Act must be judged by both its
sort and long term effects and must be assessed both socially and
politically but what is perhaps of major significance is that it
constituted both a turning point and a catalyst for change at a time
when the Anglican Church was coming under re-evaluation.

The Toleration Act reduced the Church of England from the national to
merely the established church of England.[1] It could be argued that
in many ways this was simply a legal and political recognition of what
had prevailed for forty years but this does not diminish its
significance. The simple act of acknowledging dissenters caused
Anglicans to loose power and created political, ideological and
ecclesiastical schisms which rumbled long into the nineteenth Century.
Many Anglicans had extreme concerns that the Act would encourage
people to stay away from church altogether. John Prideaux, Archdeacon
of Norwich at the time gives us a example of this grievance, writing
in 1691

‘…more lay hold of it to separate from all manner of Worship to
perfect irreligion than goe to them; and although the Act allows no
such liberty, the people will take it soe.’

As suggested in the passage above, the Act was resolutely against
the ‘unreligious’ who chose to go to the ‘alehouse’ rather than mass
and in fact sect 16 contains a strongly worded condemnation of such

’Provided always and...

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