Chapter 2. Its Lower House in relation to its Upper

{355} I LEFT off, in my first paper, with the meeting of the Convocation in the last year of William, the immediate subject of dispute between the two Houses being as to the power of the Lower to adjourn itself independently of the Upper. It may seem surprising, at first sight, that there should be room for dispute, where an appeal to usage might settle the matter at once. But the genius of the union of Church and State had been opposed to frequent meetings of the clergy, who had been called together for business only on especial occasions; and a good part of the records of Convocation had been lost in the fire of London. On the other hand, there had been so many alterations in the constitution of the country in the foregoing two hundred years, that it seemed hardly safe or fair to rest upon precedents of a very remote date. And there was certainly a close analogy between the actual origin and formation of the Parliament, and the assumed history and state of the Convocation on Atterbury's theory, which seemed to render recent precedents scarcely necessary. In truth, the ecclesiastical system which the Reformation undertook was never completed; and, much as Laud did for the Church, there was no call upon him in his day, with such a king as Charles, to place its synods on an intelligible and consistent footing.

However, there was, after all, sufficient information to be had as regarded the general relation of the Lower {356} House to the Upper, which nothing but the impetuosity of faction could obscure; especially a memorandum of Archbishop Parker's, which seems entirely to bear out the bishops in their resistance to what were dangerous innovations on the part of the inferior clergy. Indeed, that, on the whole, the Upper House was in the right, and the Lower in the wrong, is sufficiently clear to my mind, first, from Bull and others, who were members of the Lower House, taking the side of the bishops; next, from the indecency of the Lower House deciding by themselves in favour of their pretended rights, and, acting on their own decision, considering that the existing usage was on the side of the bishops.


The Convocation took its rise in the course of the fourteenth century, between three and four hundred years before the controversy which I am employed in relating, under circumstances which shall be mentioned at another time. At present, I will but describe its internal structure, by way of throwing light upon the question of "Adjournments," which was immediately in dispute. Originally, it consisted, as the Parliament itself, only of one House, the inferior clergy being rather assistants to the bishops than possessed of co-ordinate authority, and being allowed a place in it principally on account of those money-questions which interested lower as well as superior ecclesiastics. It was called by the Archbishop's mandate, directed to the Bishop of London as Dean of the Province; to the Archbishop the returns of members were made, and before him, as President of Convocation, the members appeared on the day fixed for assembling. The members thus convened representing different interests, it was natural that, from {357} time to time, they should, for dispatch of business, be divided into several committees, that the whole meeting might be enabled the better to ascertain and to forward the views of each section of their constituents. Hence, it is said, there were sometimes as many as four separate assemblies transacting business in the Convocation; the Bishops, the regulars, the deans and chapters, and the parochial clergy. In process of time, however, these settled into the two main divisions of the bishops and the inferior clergy, at present called, as in Parker's "Descriptio," the two Houses of Convocation. Thus, the Lower House, in its origin, had no independent existence, being a mere appendage to the Upper, separated off from it for convenience, sent out from it to debate on this or that question specially submitted to it, and recalled at the President's pleasure to report the opinions and advice of its members. Accordingly, at first it had no separate place of meeting, but merely retired to a distant part of the room where the Bishops assembled. Though, however, originally merely a committee of the Convocation, in process of time it gained powers by the force of custom, which, in consequence, it was very difficult to distinguish from legal rights. Usage is a sufficient sanction, whether in civil or ecclesiastical matters, where antecedent principles, moral or religious, do not stand in the way. In the quarrel before us, there was the twofold controversy—first, what the usage was? next, whether, granting it to emancipate the Lower House as fully as the clergy of the day maintained, such usage was not counter to the principles of the episcopal regimen, and therefore invalid as an authority? It had long been the custom for the inferior clergy to hold their meetings in a separate room, though in the same place with the Bishops. They had long {358} received and reported business through one of their number, called the Prolocutor, Referendary, or, "organum vocis Domus Inferioris," who also presided at their debates. Such was the received usage; but, owing to the infrequency of the meetings of Convocation, and to the absence of a jealous accuracy in the proceedings of an assembly of men who were in the mutual relation of fathers and sons in the ministerial office, it was scarcely possible to decide exactly the limit of the power possessed by the Lower House, especially considering there was the parallel and complete history of the two Houses of Parliament, (which also originally formed but one House,) to supply and comment upon the deficient precedents of the Convocation. Accordingly, to this parallel the champions of the Lower House had recourse, in order to establish their independence; while the Bishops appealed first to the original state of the Convocation, next to the principles of episcopacy and the precedents of primitive Synods.

In the meanwhile, thus much was granted on all hands to the Lower House, which implied a very considerable power in presbyters, had it nothing more—the right of presenting their grievances to the Upper, of offering petitions for making canons, revising old ones, etc., of being assessors of the Upper in judicial matters, and, lastly, of having a veto on synodical acts. But the main object coveted by the Lower House was the power of originating measures, and, in 1689, they had ventured to exercise it, when they made a representation to the Bishops about some of the latitudinarian and scandalous books of the day. On the other hand, the Upper House maintained, in opposition to such spontaneous movements on the part of the Lower, that the power, not only of origination, but also of jurisdiction, lay solely with the {359} Bishops, who were to prescribe to them their subjects and times of debate, the choice and number of their committees, to determine the question of elections, to censure for absence, and especially to prorogue their meetings, the claim which of course most effectually interfered with that independence which the Lower House affected. On this last point, the power of Adjournments, the controversy turned, in the proceedings of 1700-1: the Lower House asserted they might remain sitting after the adjournment of the Upper, and that they might adjourn themselves to any time or times before, and need not meet upon, the day fixed for its re-assembling.

In the language of Convocation, as of other Church Synods, a Session has not the meaning given to it in Parliament, but stands for every separate meeting devoted to discussion; and to prorogue or continue the Convocation is to end the Session, or to adjourn. This was customarily done by schedule from the Archbishop, (unless he declared it by word of mouth to the members of the Lower House present,) sent down to the clergy, and conveyed to them through the Prolocutor; and as the dispute turned, in the first instance, upon its wording, I will here transcribe it, as used by Tenison, in 1700:

"In Dei Nomine, Amen. Nos Thomas, Providentiâ Divinâ Cantuariensis Archiepiscopus, totius Ang1iæ Primas et Metropolitanus, rite et legitimè procedentes, præsentem sacram Synodum sive Convocationem Prælatorum et Cleri nostræ Cantuariensis Provinciæ, usque ad et in hunc diem, horas et locum continuatam et prorogatam, necnon omnia et singula certificatoria, hactenus introducta, et introducenda et non introducta, in eodem statu quo nunc sunt, ad et in diem Veneris, 28vum diem instantis mensis Februarii, inter horas 8vum et 11mam ante meridiem ejusdem diei in hunc locum, una cum ulteriori continuatione et prorogatione dierum extunc sequentium, et locorum, si oporteat, in eâ parte fiendis, continuamus et prorogamus in his scriptis.
"THO. CANTUAR." {360}

The form of prorogation in the Lower House, consequent upon this, as used by the Prolocutor, was as follows: "Intimamus hanc convocationem esse continuatam usque ad et in diem ... in hunc locum; et monemus omnes ad tunc et ibidem interessendum." From the former of these two forms, the Bishops argued that the Lower House, being included in "præsentem sacram synodum sive convocationem," was adjourned by the Metropolitan; the other party replied that, in like manner, the phrase præsens parliamentum was used in the adjournments of the House of Lords, yet at that day it referred to the proceedings of that House alone. Upon this, the advocates for the Upper House observed that "Prælatorum et cleri" was added in the schedule; that its actual effect had ever been to prorogue the Lower House, as was confirmed by the oldest convocation-men then living; and, further, that it was also declared in it that the matters in debate must remain in statu quo, sealed and secured, till the next Session,—a provision quite inconsistent with the claim of the Lower House, to open and discuss them in the interval. They added that the schedule could not be altered except by Act of Parliament. Moreover they referred to the word intimamus, in the Prolocutor's form, as corroborating their position concerning the dependent character of the Lower House.

The opposite party maintained a different interpretation of the word intimamus, which in the ecclesiastical courts and in Councils (they said), was a word of authority, being even used by the Pope in the Council of Constance. Then they went on to destroy the evidence derivable from the form of the schedule, which, they said, was unknown till the reign of Henry VIII., introduced by Archbishop Warham, who was bred up in the canon {361} law, after the pattern of the Lateran council, but accompanied on its introduction into England by a new clause, inserted in the Archbishop's mandate of summons, calling on the clergy, to send up proctors "habentes authoritatem continuationi et prorogationi consentiendi," as if to avoid encroachment on the rights then enjoyed by the Lower House, of voting on the question of adjournment. Further, they maintained, that not even the wording of the schedule was against them, that is as interpreted by the practice of the Upper House; for the schedule seemed to place the adjournment in the Archbishop's hands absolutely, whereas the Bishops certainly had a voice in it; if, then, he did but declare the adjournment, the question whether any other than the Bishops had a share in it was left undecided.

On the other hand, the advocates of the Bishops further appealed, in support of their claim of jurisdiction over the Lower House,—first, to the circumstance that the catalogue of the Lower House was prefixed to their own register; next, that the names of proxies for its absent members were lodged with their registrar; thirdly, that, according to Archbishop Whitgift's tables, his registrar had the sole right of fees for exhibiting these proxies; fourthly, that, in these matters, the actuary of the Lower House was accustomed to act only as the registrar's deputy.

The members of the Lower House, in reply, brought together, from their own journals, what they considered to be precedents for their exercising the independent right of Adjournments. The alleged precedents were as follows: that in 1586, Sessions 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, it is recorded that the prolocutor, (and in the 10th, that a member of the Lower House, "nomine prolocutoris,") "continuavit hujusmodi convocationem quoad hanc {362} domum." In 1640, sess. 7, "Domini continuarunt et prorogarunt ulteriorem sessionem," etc. In 1677, March 21st, "Prolocutor continuavit," he being Stillingfieet, and, in 1678, "Dominus prolocutor continuavit, hanc synodum."

The Bishops answered, that these expressions "prolocutor continuavit," etc., were undeniably exceptions to the ordinary style, and were most naturally accounted for as familiar and inaccurate modes of speaking, hastily adopted by the actuary; that, in these very instances (except those of 1640), the Upper House (as its registers showed) was adjourned by the Archbishop from and to the very same day and hour as the Lower House, showing clearly that the Lower House followed herein the movements of the Upper; and that, with the exception of 1586, the instances were adduced, not from registers, but from short, confused, and ill-written minutes—a mere scribble, taken down at the time, and attested by no one—a circumstance especially to be kept in view in considering the very different precedents of 1640, which they confessed were, at first sight, deserving of attention.


These important precedents were as follows:—on May 5th, 1640, both Houses sat; the register of the Upper says, that the Archbishop's commissioner prorogued the whole Convocation to May 9th, and from thence again to May 13th; whereas by the minutes of the Lower House the clergy adjourned from May 5th to May 8th, and so to May 13th. However, this was explained, as the Bishops argued, from the history of that troubled time. On May 5th, Charles dissolved his Parliament; but, desirous to have the grant of the subsidies which he expected from the clergy, he consulted the Lord Keeper whether the Convocation might still sit, {363} though Parliament was dissolved. Finding that it was possible, he directed the Archbishop to go on with the business they had begun; but he, hearing that some of its members had doubts about the point of law, advised a further reference to his Majesty's Council, who determined as the Lord Keeper had done before them. Accordingly a new commission was issued, the former having limited the Session of the Convocation to the Session of Parliament, and they set to business again on May 13th. The interval, then, was a time of confusion, there being continual informal meetings through it; some of which, mentioned by Fuller and Heylin, are not even noticed either in the register or minutes. After the 13th, all is regular and correspondent again, in the times of adjournment, as recorded in the journals of the two Houses.

The other instance brought forward by the clergy was from the end of the same year. According to the register of the Upper House, the Convocation was prorogued from December 19th, 1640, to January 13th, 1641; but the minutes of the Lower mentioned an adjournment from December 19th to December 23rd, and from thence to January 13. Now it so happens that on December 18th the Archbishop was accused of high treason, and committed to the custody of the usher of the black rod; and it also happens, that, in the preceding May, after an assault upon his palace, the rabble who made it turned their fury on the Convocation, who were forthwith protected by the train bands. All this was enough to put its members into confusion on the present occasion; and December 23rd, two days before Christmas, is not a probable time for an ordinary meeting, as is implied by the adjournment of the Upper House from the 19th to January 13th. Further, there {364} is no proof the Upper House did not in the event meet on the 23rd, since its register breaks off abruptly upon the Archbishop's arrest. The only difficulty on the face of the documents was the actual intention of the Lower House on the 19th, to meet on the 23rd, whereas the Upper did not so intend; to which it was answered, that there were the strongest reasons for thinking this entry in the register of the Lower House was not made till afterwards. In the five Sessions, from December 9th to January 17th, (of which December 19th and 23rd were two,) no business was done; and the minute of them seems, from the ink, which is different from what comes before and after, to have been made at one and the same time. Further, there is great inaccuracy and irregularity in the minutes at other times: such as the joining together in the same paragraph the acts of several Sessions, and a confusion of dates. Such was the explanation offered by the Upper House. To which it was added, that, in 1689, a committee had been appointed to inspect the registers, and adjust the privileges of both Houses, and at that time the lower clergy did not allege the quotations now produced in behalf of their claims of independence.

But the advocates of the Lower House did not rest their case on the result of an inquiry into one or two mere precedents; they appealed, as their chief argument, to their resemblance to the House of Commons; and they contended that, in spite of forms and precedents, the Act of Submission, in 25 Henry VIII., had, in matter of fact, destroyed the power of the Metropolitan altogether, and placed the king in his stead; so that the clergy being now under the king, and the king having allowed them to meet, the Archbishop could not interfere with them. This famous Act will come under {365} our notice by-and-by; here it is enough to observe, in opposition to this theory, that it does not hint at any change in the relation between Archbishop and clergy in synodal matters; only subjecting the whole Church to the king. In spite of every attempt to assimilate the Convocation to the Parliament, both in its internal structure and its relation towards the sovereign (and undoubtedly there is a resemblance), these distinctions between them are undeniable: viz., that the king summons the Parliament in his own name, under the great seal, through the Lord Chancellor; receives the returns, receives the Commons on the first day of meeting, directs them to choose and confirms their Speaker: whereas it is the Archbishop, empowered indeed by king's writ, but by his own mandate, addressed to the Bishop of London, who convenes the Convocation, in his own name, under his own archiepiscopal seal; receiving the returns, receiving the Lower House on their first meeting, and directing them to choose, and confirming when chosen, their prolocutor. Accordingly, Parker's "Descriptio," which, in other respects also, substantiates the claims of the Upper House, so far from countenancing Atterbury's Erastian notion, that the Archbishop became, by the Act of 25th Henry, a mere officer of the king, as regards the Convocation, professes, in the Introduction, to be the "forma convocationis celebrandæ prout ab antiquo observari consuevit," and presently introduces the phrases, "ex more," "ex laudabili et antiquâ ordinatione," and "solet observari."

But the Lower House considered they had another ground of civil right, which might avail them in their contest. It had been usual, since Edward the First's reign, to introduce into the writ, summoning the bishops to Parliament, a clause (called, from the first word, the {366} "Præmunientes,") in which each Bishop was required to bring with him certain of his clergy. This clause was very distasteful and insulting to the Church, when first inserted, and had scarcely been obeyed from Edward's time. It was now almost obsolete, though formally continued in the parliamentary writ; but it now was turned to account by the lower clergy in their contest against their rulers. The latter answered, with justice, that this supposed right of the clergy had nothing to do with the Convocation; that the writ came from the king, and the return was made to him; that those select clergymen might proceed with their respective Bishops to the king in Parliament, if they would, and take the place he chose to give them. Meanwhile, the Archbishop surely might be allowed to preside over his own provincial Council, according to custom. However, this alleged claim, though thus successfully disposed of, seems to have had some influence in inducing the court to allow the meeting of the Convocation. Some of the Bishops, urged by the clamour, had summoned their clergy to Parliament by virtue of it; and a source of embarrassment and annoyance was thus opened upon the government.

Lastly, the Lower House argued that, from the nature of the case, it was absurd to allow them to sit separate from the Bishops, if they were not allowed to sit at pleasure—the very notion of a House implying a right of separate debate, a right of separate judgment, and a right of sitting at discretion; to which the Upper answered, that points of privilege and jurisdiction were determined by usage, not by the nature of things; and, moreover, that there was much more of incongruity in the idea that the lower clergy had a power which, in its full exercise, was contrary to all episcopal government {367} and the Metropolitan's rights, and tended to overthrow the Church.


This is an account of the main points in dispute and main arguments employed. If, however, we inspect the history of the Session of 1700 itself, we shall find the above to be a very inadequate representation of the actual course of the controversy. So many are the little annoyances offered by the Lower to the Upper House, so marvellous their encroachments on precedent and breaches of order, that we can only account for their conduct by supposing the body of the clergy at that period thoroughly dissatisfied; dissatisfied with their condition, with their prospects, and, above all, with themselves; suspicious not only of their new king and his Bishops, but of their own straightforwardness in the course of late events; feeling that somehow things had got wrong, and not seeing how they could be righted, yet without the consciousness that they were altogether free from blame themselves.

For instance, on the 25th of February, they prejudged the question in dispute, by continuing to sit after the receipt of the Archbishop's schedule, and then adjourning to a place different from that specified in it. When called to account for this irregularity, they did not answer in that respectful and obedient manner which superiors had a right to expect from them. The Archbishop had put to the Prolocutor these two questions: "Whether the Lower House of Convocation did sit, after they were prorogued by his grace, on February 25th?"—And "Whether they did meet that present morning (February 28th) without attending on their Lordships in the place to which they were prorogued?" An answer {368} as to the matter of fact was required, first by common decency, next because their exercise of a right actually under dispute was itself an important measure, and called for the attention of the Upper House, whatever became the question of right itself. However, instead of answering, they merely sent in a paper of precedents, in defence of their side of the argument. Nor was this all; for they entitled it, the "Report of the committee of the Lower House;" thus ruling in their own favour, and in the very presence of the Bishops, another point in controversy: the Upper House maintaining that the Lower House itself was but a committee of the Convocation, and that all power of separating off portions of its members lay with them.

Again, they renewed the attempt which they had made, against all precedent, in 1689, to communicate with the Upper House through other members besides the Prolocutor; the only defence they were able to offer for this conduct being, the inconvenience resulting to them by the frequent absence of their chairman in his attendance on their lordships; whereas the very inconvenience was itself a token, if they would take it rightly, that such continued and independent discussion was not part of their rights or business. Their own mode of stating their complaint (which they published) provokes a smile in the reader of after times. The then Warden of All Souls was sent up to the Upper House, instead of the Prolocutor, on which "his grace was pleased to return this answer, 'Dr. Finch, since the Prolocutor is not with you, I say nothing.'" "Admit," they argue, "the Prolocutor, as the os et organum vocis of the House, to be in most cases the properest person to report their sense, this does not hinder but a message in scriptis, such as this was, especially when brought up by a person of {369} the honourable Dr. Finch's quality, might be fit to be received."

Further, they maintained they might take the first step in censuring irreligious publications of the day, such as Toland's "Christianity not Mysterious," and proceeded to submit certain resolutions, drawn up by a committee of themselves, to the Upper House; though it was as yet undecided, first, whether they themselves had such a right of origination, whether they might appoint a committee, and receive its report, and further, whether the Convocation might, as the Law then stood, enter upon judicial proceedings at all.

Further still, the Bishops had given to their paper of precedents a distinct and careful answer in writing, which I do not know where to find, though I am pretty sure I have seen it among the pamphlets of the day. "A Narrative of the proceedings of the Lower House, in 1700-1, drawn up by the order of the House," (supposed to be written by the Prolocutor Hooper, afterwards Bishop of Bath and Wells,) instead of furnishing this paper, says, "It cannot be expected we should here insert a copy of their lordships' papers, which make up many sheets, … but possibly the reader may be curious to know, at least, the substance, etc.," and then it proceeds to give its own version of it. This is surely unfair and disrespectful to the Upper House. But the conduct in Convocation of the same party, on receipt of the Bishops' paper, was actually offensive. Without prosecuting the argument which they themselves had begun, they voted, first in committee, then in the House, that they had a right to adjourn themselves; then they sent the Prolocutor with a message to the Bishops, signifying that they considered their lordships' reply unsatisfactory, and praying for a free conference on the matter in debate. {370} Here was a fresh assumption of a privilege enjoyed by the Lower House of Parliament; for, in Convocation, such conferences had ever been held at the invitation of the Bishops, not to mention their general claim to direct the proceedings of the Lower House in all matters. This was urged by the advocates of the Upper House;—also, that written statements, specific quotations, etc., were more to the purpose in such a matter than speeches, and, besides, that the dispute had hitherto been conducted on paper.

Lastly, when the Bishops, with the hope of smoothing matters, appointed a committee of five of their number to meet ten of the clergy to inspect the acts of both Houses during the then Convocation, and report judgment upon them, the Lower House, by a new and unprecedented disobedience, declined to act with them for such a purpose.

The reader may be curious to know whether such factious conduct was supported by a large majority of the Lower House. The resolution that it had power to adjourn itself, was carried by 66 against 24, proxies included; the neuter members (taking the whole number to be 145) being 55. Of this minority of 24, only 13 were present, and these seem to have offered a determined opposition to the course pursued by their brethren. Two months afterwards, a protest was presented to the Archbishop, from 13 members of the Lower House, against its proceedings, who probably were about the same who voted in the minority on this occasion. I will here insert it, as it contains fresh argument against the candour of their brethren:

"To his Grace, etc. We, whose names are underwritten, do humbly beg leave to represent to your Grace, that, whereas we did move in the Lower House of Convocation that we might enter our {371} protestation against all intermediate Sessions of the Lower House betwixt your Grace's ordinary prorogations, the question being put upon the said motion, it passed against us in the negative; and a further motion being made, and the question put, whether the said vote should be registered, it likewise passed against us, that it should not be registered at [as] yet. Wherefore we humbly beg leave that we may be admitted to enter our protestations against all such intermediate Sessions. (Signed.) Wm. Sherlock, Dean St. Paul's; G. Verney, Proct. Linc.; J. Wichart, Dean Winton; S. Freeman, Dean Peterbor.; G. Bull, Archd. Landaff; W. Stanley, Archd. London; J. Jeffery, Archd. Norwich; C. Trimnell, Archd. Norfolk; R. Bourchier, Archd. Lewis; J. Evans, Proct. Bang.; J. Whitefoot, Proct. Norwich; G. Pooley, Proct. Bath and Wells; T. Littel, Proct. Norwich."

In May, in the same year, another list of 13, almost the same, (W. Beverege and W. Hayley being substituted for Wichart and Bull,) addressed the Archbishop, by way of protest, on another innovation made by the Lower House. On the 8th, the Prolocutor had refused to read the Archbishop's schedule of prorogation to the Lower House, though urged by some of the members to do so. These members, in consequence, did not consider they could attend on the 16th, which had been fixed for the next Session, without (as far as the form went) obeying the notice of it given by the Prolocutor, instead of the order of the Archbishop, and, in consequence, addressed a letter to the latter to explain their absence.

So much concerning the friends of order in the Lower House, to whom, in 1705, we find added the names, among others, of Gibson, (afterwards Bishop of London, to one of whose tracts I am much indebted in the foregoing account,) Green, Prideaux, Bentley, and Hody. On the other side, besides Spratt, Bishop of Rochester, Trelawney, of Exeter, and Compton, of London, there were Atterbury, Aldrich, Smalridge, Jane, and Hooper. {372}

Here, then, I stop for the present; and, to avoid all mistake, I will just observe that I am far from pretending to have mastered the history of this controversy, though I have attempted to give its outlines correctly, as far as I have gone. I have before me a list of as many as 69 books and pamphlets, written before 1708, on the subject, as affixed to one of them by a publisher [Note]. Wake's work on English Councils, published in 1703, in answer to Atterbury, is itself a thick folio of 850 pages, not to mention the fourth volume of Wilkin's Concilia, a work of a later date. Therefore no one need be surprised if he happens to pitch on narratives giving him fuller information than I have collected.

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The reader will find a history of the principal works in the controversy, in the Biographia Britannica; article, Atterbury.
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