Reference Centre

English Statutes affecting Roman Catholics

1531-1533 Act of Conditional Restraints of Annates (1532) On the threats of writs of praemunire (writs for the punishment of persons supporting papal jurisdiction in England) against the whole clergy, convocation acknowledges King Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Church in England and abolishes appeals and payments of Annates to Rome. Annates were the payments due to the Pope from first-year encumbants of ecclesiastical benefices in England.
1534 Act for the Submission of the Clergy,
Act Concerning Ecclesiastical Appointments and Absolute Restraint of Annates,
Act Concerning Peter's Pence and Dispensations,
Act of Supremacy
Declares the King and his heirs and successors to be the only supreme head, on earth, of the Church of England. Appointment of bishops is transferred from Rome to a congé d'elire from the King and the Church is annexed to the State. The definition of the phrase congé d'Elire being (in Law French, congé d'eslire "leave to elect") a licence from the Crown in England issued under the great seal to the dean and chapter of the cathedral church of a diocese, authorizing them to elect a bishop or archbishop, as the case may be, upon the vacancy of any episcopal or archi-episcopal see in England. [Coredon "Dictionary of Medieval Terms," p. 83]
1535 Suppression of Religious Houses Act also known as the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act Dissolution of the smaller monastries by King Henry VIII who relied, in large part, on the reports of "impropriety" Thomas Cromwell had received, thereby establishing the power of the King to dissolve religious houses that were failing to maintain a religious life. Additionally, this act enabled the King to compulsorily dissolve monasteries with annual incomes of less than £200 as declared in the Valor Ecclesiasticus. There were potentially 419 such monasteries. The King was also afforded the discretion to exempt any of these houses from dissolution at his pleasure. All property of the dissolved house would revert to the Crown. Many monasteries forwarded a case for continuation of their existence to the King and upon payment of fines were permitted to remain as such. In all, only 243 houses were actually dissolved as a result of this Act. The dissolution of the affected monasteries took place during 1536 following one or two visits by Cromwell's commissioners.
1539 Second Suppression Act,
Six Articles Act
By 1539 the vast majority of monasteries in England and Wales had already been dissolved. However, there were still a number of greater monasteries in existence that resisted dissolution. The Act of 1539 also provided for the suppression of religious hospitals; which, in England, had constituted a distinct class of institution, endowed for the purpose of caring for older people. A few of these hospitals, such as Saint Bartholomew's Hospital in London, were exempted by special royal dispensation, but most closed, their residents being discharged with small pensions. The last of the priories and abbeys were finally dissolved during 1540.
1539 Six Articles Act Borne out of King Henry VIII's uneasiness with the appearance of Lutheran doctors and their theology within England and their attempt to join the Anglican Church of England with the German protestants in Europe. The articles reaffirmed traditional Catholic doctrine on six key issues being, 1. transubstantiation, 2. the reasonableness of withholding of the cup from the laity during communion, 3. clerical celibacy, 4. observance of vows of chastity, 5. permission for private masses, 6. the importance of auricular confession. Penalties under the Act, "the whip with six strings", ranged from imprisonment and fine, to death. However, the severity of punishments under the Act were reduced by a new Act passed during 1540, which retained the death penalty only for denial of transubstantiation. A further Act limited the arbitrariness of the Act of Six Articles.
1548 The Clergy Marriage Act 1548 Permitted Priests to marry so that the clergy might be relieved from the restraint which had been imposed on them by the Romish church, in violation of the first command given by heaven to mankind. This Act declared that all laws, canons, constitutions, and ordinances which forbid marriage of any ecclesiastical or spiritual persons, who by God's law may lawfully marry, shall be void; and to compel the performance of marriage, where engagements had been made so that the ecclesiastical judge was authorized to give sentence for solemnization of a marriage upon a pre-contract.
21 January 1548/9 Act of Uniformity The official introduction of Protestant doctrine and practice into England and Wales and establishing The Book of Common Prayer as the sole legal form of worship in England. Prior to that time, the churches of England used various different versions of the Latin-language Missal. for the uniformity of service, and administration of the sacraments. This Act states that there had been for a long time divers forms of common prayer, as the use of Sarum, of York, of Bangor, and of Lincoln; and besides these, many more forms had of late been used, as well in morning and evening prayer as in the communion, commonly called the mass; that the King had endeavored in vain to prevent other innovations of this kind, and therefore had appointed the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops to draw one convenient and meet order of prayer and administration of the sacraments, to be used all over England and Wales, which they had now performed in a book entitled The Book of the Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, after the Use of the Church of England; wherefore it was enacted, that every minister in cathedrals, parish churches, and other places, should be bound to say and use the matins and even-song, celebration of the Lord's Supper, commonly called the mass, and administration of each of the sacraments, and all their common and open prayer, in such order and form as is mentioned in the aforesaid book, and not otherwise, under certain penalties.
1549 The Putting Away Of Books And Images Act This Act ordered the abolition of all religious books (all antiphoners, missals, grails, processionals, manuals, legends, pies, portuasses, primers, in Latin or English, couchers, journals, ordinals, and all other books) other than the Book of Common Prayer, if they tend to superstition and idolatry; and commands all persons to deface and destroy images of all kinds that were erected for religious worship, under a penalty for any to prevent the same. More specifically, all persons and bodies corporate having any such books or images taken out of churches or chapels, were to destroy such images, and deliver such books to the bishop or his commissary within three months to be destroyed; and persons who omitted so to do were to forfeit for every book 20s for the first offence, £4 for the second, and, for the third, imprisonment at the King's will. Exempted from defacement or destruction under this Act were any images or pictures set, or engraven upon any tomb in any church, chapel, or church-yard, "only for a monument of any dead saint." It was also enacted that the people might still keep the primers set forth by the late King Henry VIII provided they erased the sentences of invocation, and names of popish saints. The act was repealed by Mary I of England but James I of England re-established it.
1551 Act Of Uniformity This act begins by stating that many persons refused to come to their parish churches, and other places where prayer, administration of the sacraments, and preaching was used. It enacts, therefore, that all persons shall faithfully endeavor themselves to resort to their parish church or chapel where the Common Prayer and such service was used, upon every Sunday and holyday, and there abide during the time of Common Prayer and preaching, upon pain of the censures of the church, which the bishops are solemnly in God's name required to see executed; and they are thereby empowered to reform and punish all such offences. And because, says the statute, many doubts had arisen about the said service, 'rather by the curiosity of the ministers and mistakers, than of any other worthy cause,' the king had caused the Book of Common Prayer to be faithfully perused and perfected, to this act; at the same time adding a form and manner of consecrating archbishops, bishops, priests, and deacons, to be of like force and authority as the former; the former statute is declared to be in force for establishing this new book of Common Prayer, now explained and perfected, and the form of consecration and ordination. Any person being present at any other form of prayer than according to this book, is, for the first offence, to be imprisoned six months; for the second, a whole year; and for the third, during life. For the better observation of this act, curates are directed once a year to read it on a Sunday in the church, at the time of the most assembly.
1553 First Act of Repeal Queen Mary I restores the Catholic doctrine and Mass as they had existed at the end of the reign of King Henry VIII but she did not restore the church lands, nor papal supremacy in England.
1554   Parliament during the continuing reign of Queen Mary I, votes to reunite with Rome and receives absolution.
1555 Grand Bill, Act of Supremacy repealed, old heresy act revived 4th January the Grand Bill restores the Catholic situation to the condition that existed prior to 1529 but preserved the rights of Elizabeth I. Massive persecution and burning of Protestant heretics; deprived churchmen were executed and Ridley and Latimer were burnt at the stake in Oxford. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, was convicted of heresy and burnt on 21 March 1556.
1559 Second Act of Supremacy and Second Act of Uniformity Revived the act of King Henry VIII that had separated the Church from Rome and abolished papal power in England. During the first year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, all beneficied clergy and crown officials are bound to swear an oath that the Queen was the only supreme governor of the realm in all excclesiastical and temporal causes. Those same clergy and crown officials were also required to deny the spiritual jursidiction of any foreigner or foreign power and to utterly renounce the same on penalty of death. All persons who refrained from taking the oath were debarred from all State and church offices. Pursuant to the Second Act of Uniformity a new prayer book as well as uniformity of all religious service was also ordered.
1570   Queen Elizabeth I excommunicated by the Pope.
1571 13 Eliz. 1, c. 2, Thirty-Nine Articles Punished with the penalties of a praemunire any person bringing into the country any Agnus Dei, cross, picture, et cetera from Rome. The Thirty-Nine Articles stated the final formal doctrines of the Church of England, purging the Forty-Two Articles of King Edward VI of any extreme Protestant elements.
1581 Recusancy Acts Passed against the Jesuits.
1593   An act was passed to retain the Queen's subjects in obedience and providing for imprisonment of all offenders until they conformed. To follow a Roman Catholic service of worship was deemed to be disobedient to Her Majesty.
1605 3 Jac. 1, c. 5 Penalized the sale or purchase of Popish primers.
1664 Conventicle Act Made it criminal to hold a religious meeting of more than five persons not of the same family for worship not in accordance with the Church of England's Prayer Book. Indications are that this Act was rigorously enforced.
1678 30 Car. 2, st. 2 Exclusion of Roman Catholics from Parliament was effected by the requirement of a declaration against transubstantiation from members of either House.
1696 7 & 8 Wm. 3, c. 27, s. 19 Roman Catholicas saw disenfrancisement by the requirement of an oath of supremacy required by this Act.
1696 7 & 8 Wm. 3, c. 24 Remained in place until 1791 and effected the exclusion of Roman Catholics from the profession of barrister, attorney, or solicitor by requiring a declaration against transubstantiation which was required under the statute 1672, 25 Car. 2, c. 2.
1698 11 & 12 Wm. 3. c. 4 Punished any Papist assuming the education of youth with imprisonment for life.
1700 Act of Settlement Required that the sovereign of Great Britain be a Protestant
1791 Roman Catholic Relief Act Permitted freedom of worship with unlocked doors.
1829 Roman Catholic Relief Act Permitted enfranchisement and qualification for sitting in Parliament. Also contained a series of enactments directed towards the gradual suppression and prohibition of Jesuits and members of other religious orders, communities, or socieites of the Church of Rome, bound by religious or monastic vows. This Act, however, did not render void any testamentary bequest to such institutions, orders or persons.  This Act further prohibited any Roman Catholic to hold the office of regent, Lord Chancellor of Great Britain or Ireland, or of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, or Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.  This Act also debarred Roman Catholics from holding office in any public schools.
1832 Roman Catholic Charities Act Subjecting Roman Catholics to the same laws as Protestant dissenters with respect to schools and places for religious worship, education, and charitable purposes. Also provided for the banishment of certain persons.
1848 11 & 12 Vict., c. 108 Permitted diplomatic relations between the sovereign of Great Britain with the sovereign of any Roman State. However, the sovereign of Great Britain was prohibited from receiving any priest, Jesuit or member of any other religious order bound in monastic or religious vows as an ambassador of that Roman State.
1867 Office and Oath Act Permitted the Lord Chancellor of Ireland to be a Roman Catholic. The office was eventually abolished by the Irish Free State (Consequential Provisions) Act, 1922.
1871 Universities Tests Act, ss. 1, 8 Roman Catholics were debarred from holding any professorship of divinity at the universities of Oxford, Cambridge or Durham, or any other office for which membership of the Church of England or holy orders of that Church was required. They were also not permitted to hold office in the colleges of Eton, Westminster or Winchester.
1926 Roman Catholic Relief Act Repealed nearly all remaining disabilities of Roman Catholics within Britain.
1974 Lord Chancellor Act (Tenure of Office & Discharge of Ecclesiastical Functions) Declared for avoidance of future doubt that the office of Lord Chancellor was and may be occupied by a Roman Catholic. However, his visitational and functions and his gifts of patronage are to be exercised by the Prime Minister or some other Minister of the Crown.

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