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Acts of Uniformity

These British parliamentary measures were four in number.

(1) The Act of 1549. This statute of Edward VI* commanded the use of the First Book of Common Prayer in English churches. Various penalties were imposed on clergy who failed to conform: a fine and imprisonment for the first offense, deprivation of one's living and imprisonment for the second, and life-imprisonment for the third. The act also declared that all services save in the universities and private devotions were to be in English.

(2) The Act of 1552. Another statute of Edward VI, but passed during the Protectorate of Northumberland, a time of growing political and religious conservatism, this enforced the use of the Revised Prayer Book and extended the penalties of the former act to include absence from church services and attendance at private conventicles. The acts of 1549 and 1552 were both repealed by the Catholic queen, Mary Tudor* in October 1553.

(3) The Act of 1559. This enforced Queen Elizabeth's* compromise religious settlement and regulated the ecclesiastical discipline of the Church of England for the next ninety years. It repealed all the legislation of Queen Mary which had restored Roman practices and commanded the use of a slightly modified edition of the 1552 Prayer Book. Penalties were again laid down, and ecclesiastical dress and ornaments were to be such as obtained in 1549, the queen as head of the church reserving for herself the privilege of introducing further needful ceremonies and rites-a provision to which the Puritans were later strongly to object.

(4) The Act of 1662. This was the most important of the laws restoring the Anglican establishment passed by the Cavalier Parliament of Charles II* following the Restoration, and the first of those acts of systematic repression known as the Clarendon Code.* It commanded universal adoption of a slightly revised form of the Elizabethan Prayer Book and received royal assent on 19 May. Before the ensuing St. Bartholomew's Day (24 August), all ministers had publicly to give their “unfeigned consent and assent” to the Book, and obtain episcopal ordination if not so ordained. A declaration of loyalty and repudiation of the National Covenant* had also to be taken. These provisions led to the “Great Ejection” of about 2,000 Presbyterian, Independent, and Baptist ministers, the final parting of the ways between Anglicans and Puritans, and the consequent birth of English Nonconformity. So far as Dissenters were concerned, the Act was made practically inoperative by the Toleration Act of William and Mary (1689), but it remained effective in regard to the Church of England, though it was later modified in several directions-most notably during the archiepiscopate of A.C. Tait.* Historically, Broad Churchmen have valued it as providing for unity based on comprehensiveness within the Established Church, and evangelicals have held to it as a safeguard for the Thirty-Nine Articles,* but High Churchmen, especially of the more extreme sort, have found it vexatious and restrictive.