Tolerable and intolerable local practices of religion during the English Interregnum

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


One of the most striking consequences of the English Civil Wars was the emergence of religious pluralism. Because of this, many have associated the period which followed with the birth of religious toleration. Yet the interregnum also has a contrary reputation as a joyless period of repression, particularly of refractory groups resistant to Godly religion, with the apparatus of the state and the military used to control religious practice and to enforce rigid ideas of personal morality. The key to understanding this paradox lies in moving beyond over-simplistic assessments towards a closer examination of the patterns of prosecution of religious divergence and an understanding of the relative ability or willingness of those in authority in the localities to enforce the types behaviours desired. With the church hierarchy abolished, an expanded role emerged for secular judges and justices in interpreting religious policy. This paper considers the relative tolerance of local justice with regard to religion from the end of the first Civil War to the Restoration, using evidence from legal records for several counties. It finds that interregnum authorities were hardly tolerationist in their outlook, prosecuting many types of contraventions of Godly religious order, including Catholics, Quakers and Prayer Book Anglicans, along with non-church attenders, profaners of the Sabbath and blasphemers. But patterns were not consistent across the country; prosecution much depended on the enthusiasm of individuals and groups for instigating cases with the authorities, and was quite frequently linked to other concerns. Although the Godly never lost sight of their mission to correct behaviour and maintain their version of order, prosecuting sabbath-breakers and swearers right up to the Restoration, and Catholics and non-attenders more rigorously in the late 1650s, they faced frequent challenges, which must have discouraged any inclination to pursue a more draconian religious policy. Their most active efforts at enforcement focused on offences related to outward public order backed by parliamentary statute, or behaviours offence to the majority of people, with more limited or variable efforts against many other types of religious divergence, within an atmosphere not so much of toleration, as of tense personal relations and reluctant co-existence.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationToleration and Religious Freedom in the Early Modern and Contemporary World
EditorsMariëtta van der Tol, John Adenitire, Carys Brown, E. S. Kempson
PublisherPeter Lang International Academic Publishers
Number of pages30
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-80079-137-4, 978-1-80079-136-7
ISBN (Print)978-1-78997-576-5
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2021

Publication series

NameHistories of Religious Pluralism
PublisherPeter Lang


  • religious toleration
  • Interregnum
  • legal records
  • seventeenth-century history
  • English republic
  • British history
  • religious history


Dive into the research topics of 'Tolerable and intolerable local practices of religion during the English Interregnum'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this