Info

movement which sought large-scale conversions to Protestantism, but bore very limited fruit, although reinforcing further the trend to sectarian polari-sation.15 In Britain meanwhile there was also a revival in Catholicism, assisted by growing immigration from Ireland (see chapter 16).

These tensions came to a head from 1828 onwards with changes that have been perceived as 'revolutionary'16 in their implications for the relations of church, state and society. These developments and their aftermath will first be examined. The remainder of the chapter will then provide a survey of continuing potent interactions between religious and national identities in the various countries of the United Kingdom.

In the spring of 1828 parliament somewhat unexpectedly voted to repeal the Test and Corporation Acts that had hitherto theoretically excluded Protestant Dissenters from sitting in parliament or holding other civil office. At one level this decision looked like an uncontroversial adjustment of a constitutional anomaly, as in practice the provisions of this seventeenth-century legislation had long since been relaxed, but at a symbolic level it substantially weakened the principle of identification between Anglicanism and the state.17 Then, at the end of June 1828, Daniel O'Connell's victory at the County Clare by-election served notice to the duke of Wellington's Tory government that the Catholic Association and its campaign for political equality in Ireland was now irresistible. It was probable that at the next general election the Clare result would be replicated across southern Ireland, with Catholic electors returning a large cohort of Catholic MPs precluded from taking their seats at Westminster and hence likely to lead a movement to civil war and secession. Rather than risk such outcomes, the government decided that it had to reverse its previous stance and concede Catholic Emancipation, which was duly enacted in April 1829. Although the measure was passed primarily in order to resolve a crisis in Ireland, its implications for Britain were also profound, as it compromised the 'Protestant constitution', seen as a cornerstone of the settlement following the 1688 Revolution and as a defining feature of national identity throughout the eighteenth century. It was a decisive step towards a more religiously pluralist concept of the British state.

After the fall in November 1830 of the Wellington government, deserted by many of its own diehard backbenchers who could never forgive it for Catholic Emancipation, the Whigs, led by Earl Grey, came to power with a clear reforming agenda. The struggle for parliamentary reform heightened

15 Bowen, The Protestant crusade; Brown, The national churches, pp. 93-136.

16 Cf. Clark, English society, pp. 393-408.

17 Brown, The national churches, pp. 138-9.

0 0

Post a comment