Test Acts

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Test Act 1673
Coat of Arms of England (1660-1689).svg
Long title An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants
Citation 25 Car. II. c. 2
Territorial extent Flag of England.svg  Kingdom of England (Today's borders Flag of England.svg  England and Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg  Wales)
Royal assent 1673
Commencement 1673
Other legislation
Amended by Test Act 1678
Status: Repealed

The Test Acts were a series of English penal laws that served as a religious test for public office and imposed various civil disabilities on Roman Catholics and nonconformists. The underlying principle was that only people taking communion in the established Church of England were eligible for public employment, and the severe penalties pronounced against recusants, whether Catholic or nonconformist, were affirmations of this principle. [1] Similar laws were introduced in Scotland with respect to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. In practice nonconformists were often exempted from some of these laws through the regular passage of Acts of Indemnity: in particular, the Indemnity Act 1727 relieved Nonconformists from the requirements in the Test Act 1673 and the Corporation Act 1661 that public office holders must have taken the sacrament of the Lord's Supper in an Anglican church. [2] Except at Oxbridge, where nonconformists and Catholics could not matriculate (Oxford) or graduate (Cambridge) until 1871, they were seldom enforced after 1800 and the Tory government repealed them in 1828 with little controversy.


Corporation Act 1661

The Naturalisation and Restoration of Blood Act (7 Jac. I. c. 2) provided that all such as were naturalized or restored in blood should receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It was not, however, until the reign of Charles II that actually receiving communion in the Church of England was made a precondition for holding public office. The earliest imposition of this test was by the Corporation Act 1661 requiring that, besides taking the Oath of Supremacy, all members of corporations were, within one year after election, to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the rites of the Church of England. [1]

Test Act of 1673

This Act was followed by the Test Act of 1673 [3] (25 Car. II. c. 2) (the long title of which is "An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants"). [4] This act enforced upon all persons filling any office, civil, military or religious, the obligation of taking the oaths of supremacy and allegiance and subscribing to a declaration against transubstantiation and also of receiving the sacrament within three months after admittance to office. [1] The oath for the Test Act of 1673 was:

I, N, do declare that I do believe that there is not any transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or in the elements of the bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.

The act was passed in the parliamentary session that began on 4 February 1673 (Gregorian calendar). The act is, however, dated 1672 in some accounts due to the Julian calendar then in force in England. [5]

1678 Act

Initially, the Act did not extend to peers, but in 1678 the Act was extended by a further Act (30 Car. II. st. 2) [6] which required that all peers and members of the House of Commons should make a declaration against transubstantiation, invocation of saints, and the sacrificial nature of the Mass. [1] The effect of this was to exclude Catholics from both houses, and in particular the "Five Popish Lords" from the House of Lords, a change motivated largely by the alleged Popish Plot. The Lords deeply resented this interference with their membership; they delayed passage of the Act as long as possible, and managed to greatly weaken it by including an exemption for the future James II, effective head of the Catholic nobility, at whom it was largely aimed. [7]


In Scotland, a religious test was imposed immediately after the Reformation, and by a 1567 law no one was to be appointed to a public office or to be a notary who did not profess Calvinism. The Scottish Test Act was passed in 1681 but rescinded in 1690. Later attempts to exclude Scotland from the English Test Acts were rejected by the Parliament of Scotland. In 1707, anyone bearing office in any university, college or school in Scotland was to profess and subscribe to the Confession of Faith. All persons were to be free of any oath or test contrary to or inconsistent with the Protestant religion and Presbyterian Church government. The reception of the Eucharist was never a part of the test in Scotland as it was in England and Ireland. The necessity for subscription to the Confession of Faith by persons holding a university office was removed in an act of 1853. The act provided that in place of subscription every person appointed to a university office was to subscribe a declaration according to the form in the act, promising not to teach any opinions opposed to the divine authority of Scripture or to the Confession of Faith, and to do nothing to the prejudice of the Church of Scotland or its doctrines and privileges. [8] All tests were finally abolished by an act of 1889. [9] [1]

A 1790 cartoon satirizing the efforts of Charles James Fox to get the acts repealed. Theologian Joseph Priestley preaches from atop a pile of his own works, in a pulpit inscribed "FANATICISM", to Fox seated in a box pew. Fox asks, "Pray, Doctor is there such a thing as a Devil?" Priestley responds "No", However the devil himself announces, "If you had eyes behind, you'd know better my dear Doctor". A Word of Comfort2.jpg
A 1790 cartoon satirizing the efforts of Charles James Fox to get the acts repealed. Theologian Joseph Priestley preaches from atop a pile of his own works, in a pulpit inscribed "FANATICISM", to Fox seated in a box pew. Fox asks, "Pray, Doctor is there such a thing as a Devil?" Priestley responds "No", However the devil himself announces, "If you had eyes behind, you'd know better my dear Doctor".


The necessity of receiving the sacrament as a qualification for office was repealed in Ireland in 1780 [10] [11] and in 1828 in England and Wales. Provisions requiring the taking of oaths and declarations against transubstantiation were repealed by the Catholic Relief Act 1829. [1] Sir Robert Peel took the lead for the government in the repeal and collaborated with Anglican Church leaders. [12] The application of the 1828 and 1829 acts to Irish acts was uncertain and so the Test Abolition Act 1867 repeated the 1829 repeal more explicitly. [13]

The 1661, 1672 and 1678 acts were repealed by the Promissory Oaths Act 1871, Statute Law Revision Act 1863, and the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866 respectively. [1] Religious tests for officers of the ancient universities were repealed by the Universities Tests Act 1871 for England, the University of Dublin Tests Act 1873, and the Universities (Scotland) Act 1889. [1]

Related Research Articles

Abjuration is the solemn repudiation, abandonment, or renunciation by or upon oath, often the renunciation of citizenship or some other right or privilege. The term comes from the Latin abjurare, "to forswear".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Recusancy</span> Religious nonconformism in Britain, 16th–19th centuries

Recusancy was the state of those who remained loyal to the Catholic Church and refused to attend Church of England services after the English Reformation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nonconformist (Protestantism)</span> Protestant Christians in Wales and England who did not follow the Church of England

In English church history, the Nonconformists, also known as a Free Church person, are Protestant Christians who did not "conform" to the governance and usages of the established church, the Church of England. Use of the term in England was precipitated after the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, when the Act of Uniformity 1662 renewed opposition to reforms within the established church. By the late 19th century the term specifically included other Reformed Christians, plus the Baptists, Brethren, Methodists, and Quakers. The English Dissenters such as the Puritans who violated the Act of Uniformity 1559 – typically by practising radical, sometimes separatist, dissent – were retrospectively labelled as Nonconformists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Act of Uniformity 1662</span> United Kingdom law of religion and the Church of England

The Act of Uniformity 1662 is an Act of the Parliament of England. It prescribed the form of public prayers, administration of sacraments, and other rites of the Established Church of England, according to the rites and ceremonies prescribed in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Adherence to this was required in order to hold any office in government or the church, although the new version of the Book of Common Prayer prescribed by the Act was so new that most people had never even seen a copy. The Act also required that the Book of Common Prayer 'be truly and exactly Translated into the British or Welsh Tongue'. It also explicitly required episcopal ordination for all ministers, i.e. deacons, priests and bishops, which had to be reintroduced since the Puritans had abolished many features of the Church during the Civil War.

In English history, the penal laws were a series of laws that sought to uphold the establishment of the Church of England against Catholicism and Protestant nonconformists by imposing various forfeitures, civil penalties, and civil disabilities upon these dissenters. The penal laws in general were repealed in the early 19th century during the process of Catholic Emancipation. Penal actions are civil in nature and were not English common law.

The Royal Declaration of Indulgence was Charles II of England's attempt to extend religious liberty to Protestant nonconformists and Roman Catholics in his realms, by suspending the execution of the Penal Laws that punished recusants from the Church of England. Charles issued the Declaration on 15 March 1672.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cavalier Parliament</span> Parliament of England (1661–1679)

The Cavalier Parliament of England lasted from 8 May 1661 until 24 January 1679. It was the longest English Parliament, and longer than any Great British or UK Parliament to date, enduring for nearly 18 years of the quarter-century reign of Charles II of England. Like its predecessor, the Convention Parliament, it was overwhelmingly Royalist and is also known as the Pensioner Parliament for the many pensions it granted to adherents of the King.

Catholic emancipation or Catholic relief was a process in the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland, and later the combined United Kingdom in the late 18th century and early 19th century, that involved reducing and removing many of the restrictions on Roman Catholics introduced by the Act of Uniformity, the Test Acts and the penal laws. Requirements to abjure (renounce) the temporal and spiritual authority of the pope and transubstantiation placed major burdens on Roman Catholics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Occasional Conformity Act 1711</span> Former United Kingdom law of religion and the Church of England

The Occasional Conformity Act, also known as the Occasional Conformity Act 1711 or the Toleration Act 1711, was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain which passed on 20 December 1711. Previous Occasional Conformity bills had been debated in 1702 and 1704, the latter causing the 'Tackers' controversy. It was passed by the Tories to undermine the Whig party, and to ensure that elections to Parliament were under the control of Tories, with non-conformists locked out. It applied to any national or local official in England or Wales who was required to attend Church of England services and take the Lord's Supper. If such a person attended "any conventicle, assembly or meeting" of any other religion, they would be subject to a penalty of £40 and permanently barred from government employment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Popery Act</span> United Kingdom legislation

An Act to prevent the further Growth of Popery, commonly known as the Popery Act or the Gavelkind Act, was an Act of the Parliament of Ireland that was passed in 1703 and amended in 1709. One of a series of Penal Laws against Roman Catholics, the law enforced Irish farm subdivision as a rule of inheritance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Seven Bishops</span> English bishops tried for seditious libel in 1688

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Corporation Act 1661</span> United Kingdom legislation

The Corporation Act of 1661 was an Act of the Parliament of England. It belonged to the general category of test acts, designed for the express purpose of restricting public offices in England to members of the Church of England.

A religious test is a legal requirement to swear faith to a specific religion or sect, or to renounce the same.

The English Protestant Reformation was imposed by the English Crown, and submission to its essential points was exacted by the State with post-Reformation oaths. With some solemnity, by oath, test, or formal declaration, English churchmen and others were required to assent to the religious changes, starting in the sixteenth century and continuing for more than 250 years.

The Roman Catholic Relief Bills were a series of measures introduced over time in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries before the Parliaments of Great Britain and the United Kingdom to remove the restrictions and prohibitions imposed on British and Irish Catholics during the English Reformation. These restrictions had been introduced to enforce the separation of the English church from the Catholic Church which began in 1529 under Henry VIII.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Accession Declaration Act 1910</span> United Kingdom legislation

The Accession Declaration Act 1910 is an Act which was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom to alter the declaration that the Sovereign is required to make at their accession to the throne as first required by the Bill of Rights of 1689. In it, they solemnly declare themself to be faithful to the Protestant faith. The altered declaration is as follows:

"I [here insert the name of the Sovereign] do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare that I am a faithful Protestant, and that I will, according to the true intent of the enactments which secure the Protestant succession to the Throne of my Realm, uphold and maintain the said enactments to the best of my powers according to law."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Popish Recusants Act 1605</span> United Kingdom legislation

The Popish Recusants Act 1605 was an act of the Parliament of England which quickly followed the Gunpowder Plot of the same year, an attempt by English Roman Catholics to assassinate King James I and many of the Parliament.

The Sacramental Test Act 1828 was an Act passed by the British Parliament. It repealed the requirement that government officials take communion in the Church of England. Sir Robert Peel took the lead for the Tory government in the repeal and collaborated with Anglican Church leaders.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Toleration Act 1688</span> United Kingdom legislation

The Toleration Act 1688, also referred to as the Act of Toleration, was an Act of the Parliament of England. Passed in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution, it received royal assent on 24 May 1689.

The Recusancy referred to those who refused to attend services of the established Church of Ireland. The individuals were known as "recusants". The term, which derives ultimately from the Latin recusare, was first used in England to refer to those who remained within the Roman Catholic Church and did not attend services of the Church of England, with a 1593 statute determining the penalties against "Popish recusants".


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Test Acts". Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 665–666.
  2. E. Neville Williams, The Eighteenth-Century Constitution, 1688–1815: Documents and Commentary (Cambridge University Press, 1965), pp. 341–343.
  3. University of London & History of Parliament Trust
  4. 'Charles II, 1672: An Act for preventing Dangers which may happen from Popish Recusants.', Statutes of the Realm: volume 5: 1628–80 (1819), pp. 782–85. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=47451. Date accessed: 6 March 2007.
  5. Plunknett, Theodore, Studies in English Legal History Hambledon Press 1983 p. 323
  6. 'Charles II, 1678: (Stat. 2.) An Act for the more effectuall preserving the Kings Person and Government by disableing Papists from sitting in either House of Parlyament.', Statutes of the Realm: volume 5: 1628–80 (1819), pp. 894–96. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=47482. Date accessed: 6 March 2007.
  7. Kenyon, J.P. The Popish Plot 2nd Edition Phoenix Press 2000 pp. 104–5
  8. Universities (Scotland) Act 1853 16 & 17 Vict. c. 89, ss. 2, 4, 5
  9. Universities (Scotland) Act 1889, 52 & 53 Vict. c. 55, s. 17.
  10. 19 & 20 George III c.6 [Ir.]
  11. Moody, T. W.; Martin, F. X., eds. (1967). The Course of Irish History. Cork: Mercier Press. p. 373.
  12. Norman Gash, Mr Secretary Peel (1961) pp: 460–65; Richard A. Gaunt, "Peel's Other Repeal: The Test and Corporation Acts, 1828," Parliamentary History (2014) 33#1 pp 243–262.
  13. 30 & 31 Vict. c. 62

Further reading