The Church of England stood from that moment isolated and alone among all the Churches of the Christian world. The Reformation had severed it irretrievably from those which still clung to the obedience of the Papacy. By its rejection of all but episcopal orders, the Act of Uniformity severed it as irretrievably from the general body of the Protestant Churches, whether Lutheran or Reformed. And while thus cut off from all healthy religious communion with the world without, it sank into immobility within. With the expulsion of the Puritan clergy, all change, all efforts after reform, all national developement, suddenly stopped. From that time to this the Episcopal Church has been unable to meet the varying spiritual needs of its adherents by any modification of its government or its worship. It stands alone among all the religious bodies of Western Christendom in its failure through two hundred years to devise a single new service of prayer or of praise. But if the issues of St. Bartholomew's day have been harmful to the spiritual life of the English Church, they have been in the highest degree advantageous to the cause of religious liberty. At the Restoration religious freedom seemed again to have been lost.
Only the Independents and a few despised sects, such as the Quakers, upheld the right of every man to worship God according to the bidding of his own conscience. The bulk of the Puritan party, with the Presbyterians at its head, was at one with its opponents in desiring a uniformity of worship, if not of belief, throughout the land; and, had the two great parties within the Church held together, their weight would have been almost irresistible. Fortunately the great severance of St. Bartholomew's day drove out the Presbyterians from the Church to which they clung, and forced them into a general union with sects which they had hated till then almost as bitterly as the bishops themselves. A common suffering soon blended the Nonconformists into one. Persecution broke down before the numbers, the wealth, and the political weight of the new sectarians; and the Church, for the first time in its history, found itself confronted with an organized body of Dissenters without its pale. The impossibility of crushing such a body as this wrested from English statesmen the first legal recognition of freedom of worship in the Toleration Act; their rapid growth in later times has by degrees stripped the Church of almost all the exclusive privileges which it enjoyed as a religious body, and now threatens what remains of its official connexion with the State. With these remoter consequences however we are not as yet concerned.
It is enough to note here that with the Act of Uniformity and the expulsion of the Puritan clergy a new element in our religious and political history, the element of Dissent, the influence of the Nonconformist churches, comes first into play.
The sudden outbreak and violence of the persecution turned the disappointment of the Presbyterians into despair. Many were for retiring to Holland others proposed flight to New England and the American colonies. Charles however was anxious to use the strife between the two great bodies of Protestants so as to secure toleration for the Catholics, and revive at the same time his prerogative of dispensing with the execution of laws; and fresh hopes of protection were raised by a royal proclamation, which expressed the King's resolve to exempt from the penalties of the Act, "those who, living peaceably, do not conform themselves thereunto, through scruple and tenderness of misguided conscience, but modestly and without scandal perform their devotions in their own way." A bill introduced in 1663, in redemption of a pledge in the declaration itself, gave Charles the power to dispense, not only with the provisions of the Act of Uniformity, but with the penalties provided by all laws which enforced religious conformity, or which imposed religious tests.
But if the Presbyterian leaders in the council had stooped to accept the aid of the declaration, the bulk of the Dissidents had no mind to have their grievances used as a means of procuring by a side wind toleration for Roman Catholics, or of building up again that dispensing power which the civil wars had thrown down. The Churchmen, too, whose hatred for the Dissidents had been embittered by suspicions of a secret league between the Dissidents and the Catholics in which the King was taking part, were resolute in opposition. The Houses therefore struck simultaneously at both their opponents. They forced Charles by an address to withdraw his pledge of toleration. They then extorted from him a proclamation for the banishment of all Catholic priests, and followed this up by a Conventicle Act, which punished with fine, imprisonment, and transportation on a third offence all persons who met in greater number than five for any religious worship save that of the Common Prayer; while return, or escape from banishment was punished by death. The Five Mile Act, a year later, completed the code of persecution.
By its provisions, every clergyman who had been driven out by the Act of Uniformity was called on to swear that he held it unlawful under any pretext to take up arms against the King, and that he would at no time " endeavour any alteration of government in Church and State." In case of refusal, he was forbidden to go within five miles of any borough, or of any place where he had been wont to minister. As the main body of the Nonconformists belonged to the city and trading classes, the effect of this measure was to rob them of any religious teaching at all. A motion to impose the oath of the Five Mile Act on every person in the nation was rejected in the same session by a majority of only six. The sufferings of the Nonconformists indeed could hardly fail to tell on the sympathies of the people. The thirst for revenge, which had been roused by the violence of the Presbyterians in their hour of triumph, was satisfied by their humiliation in the hour of defeat. The sight of pious and learned clergymen driven from their homes and their flocks, of religious meetings broken up by the constables, of preachers set side by side with thieves and outcasts in the dock, of gaols crammed with honest enthusiasts whose piety was their only crime, pleaded more eloquently for toleration than all the reasoning in the world.