It was plain that the attempt to divide the forces of Protestantism had utterly failed, and that the only mode of securing his end was to procure a repeal of the Test Act from Parliament itself.
The temper of the existing Houses however remained absolutely opposed to the King's project. He therefore dissolved the Parliament, and summoned a new one. But no free Parliament could be brought, as he knew, to consent to the repeal. The Lords indeed could be swamped by lavish creations of new peers. "Your troop of horse," his minister, Lord Sunderland, told Churchill, "shall be called up into the House of Lords." But it was a harder matter to secure a compliant House of Commons. The Lord-Lieutenants were directed to bring about such a "regulation" of the governing body in boroughs as would ensure the return of candidates pledged to the repeal of the Test, and to question every magistrate in their county as to his vote. Half of them at once refused, and a long list of great nobles - the Earls of Oxford, Shrewsbury, Dorset, Derby, Pembroke, Rutland, Abergavenny, Thanet, Northampton, and Abingdon - were dismissed from their Lord-Lieutenancies. The justices when questioned simply replied that they would vote according to their consciences, and send members to Parliament who would protect the Protestant religion. After repeated "regulations " it was found impossible to form a corporate body which would return representatives willing to comply with the royal will.
All thought of a Parliament had to be abandoned; and even the most bigoted courtiers counselled moderation at this proof of the stubborn opposition which James must prepare to encounter from the peers, the gentry, and the trading classes. The clergy alone still hesitated in any open act of resistance. Even the tyranny of the Commission failed to rouse into open disaffection men who had been preaching Sunday after Sunday the doctrine of passive obedience to the worst of kings. But James cared little for passive obedience. He looked on the refusal of the clergy to support his plans as freeing him from his pledge to maintain the Church as established by law; and he resolved to attack it in the great institutions which had till now been its strongholds. To secure the Universities for Catholicism was to seize the only training schools which the clergy possessed. Cambridge indeed escaped easily. A Benedictine monk who presented himself with royal letters recommending him for the degree of a Master of Arts was rejected on his refusal to sign the Articles: and the Vice-Chancellor paid for the rejection by dismissal from his office.
But a violent and obstinate attack was directed against Oxford. The Master of University College, who declared himself a convert, was authorized to retain his post in defiance of the law. Massey, a Roman Catholic, was presented by the Crown to the Deanery of Christ Church. Magdalen was the wealthiest Oxford College, and James in 1687 recommended one Farmer, a Catholic of infamous life and not even qualified by statute for the office, to its vacant headship. The Fellows remonstrated, and on the rejection of their remonstrance chose Hough, one of their own number, as their President. The Ecclesiastical Commission declared the election void; and James, shamed out of his first candidate, recommended a second, Parker, Bishop of Oxford, a Catholic in heart and the meanest of his courtiers. But the Fellows held stubbornly to their legal head. It was in vain that the King visited Oxford, summoned them to his presence, and rated them as they knelt before him like schoolboys. "I am King," he said, " I will be obeyed! Go to your chapel this instant, and elect the Bishop! Let those who refuse look to it, for they shall feel the whole weight of my hand!" It was seen that to give Magdalen as well as Christ Church into Catholic hands was to turn Oxford into a Catholic seminary, and the King's threats were disregarded.
But they were soon carried out. A special Commission visited the University, pronounced Hough an intruder, set aside his appeal to the law, burst open the door of his President's house to install Parker in his place, and on their refusal to submit deprived the Fellows of their fellowships. The expulsion of the Fellows was followed on a like refusal by that of the Demies. Parker, who died immediately after his installation, was succeeded by a Roman Catholic bishop in partibus, Bonaventure Giffard, and twelve Catholics were admitted to fellowships in a single day.
Meanwhile James clung to the hope of finding a compliant Parliament, from which he might win a repeal of the Test Act. In face of the dogged opposition of the country the elections had been adjourned; and a renewed Declaration of Indulgence was intended as an appeal to the nation at large. At its close he promised to summon a Parliament in November, and he called on the electors to choose such members as would bring to a successful end the policy he had begun. His resolve, he said, was to establish universal liberty of conscience for all future time. It was in this character of a royal appeal that he ordered every clergyman to read the declaration during divine service on two successive Sundays. Little time was given for deliberation, but little time was needed. The clergy refused almost to a man to be the instruments of their own humiliation. The Declaration was read in only four of the London churches, and in these the congregation flocked out of church at the first words of it. Nearly all of the country clergy refused to obey the royal orders. The Bishops went with the rest of the clergy.
A few days before the appointed Sunday Archbishop Sancroft called his suffragans together, and the six who were able to appear at Lambeth signed a temperate protest to the King, in which they declined to publish an illegal Declaration. " It is a standard of rebellion," James exclaimed as the Primate presented the paper; and the resistance of the clergy was no sooner announced to him than he determined to wreak his vengeance on the prelates who had signed the protest. He ordered the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to deprive them of their sees, but in this matter even the Commissioners shrank from obeying him. The Chancellor, Lord Jeffreys, advised a prosecution for libel as an easier mode of punishment; and the bishops, who refused to give bail, were committed on this charge to the Tower. They passed to their prison amidst the shouts of a great multitude, the sentinels knelt for their blessing as they entered its gates, and the soldiers of the garrison drank their healths. So threatening was the temper of the nation that his ministers pressed James to give way.
But his obstinacy grew with the danger. "Indulgence," he said, "ruined my father;" and on the 29th of June the bishops appeared as criminals at the bar of the King's Bench. The jury had been packed, the judges were mere tools of the Crown, but judges and jury were alike overawed by the indignation of the people at large. No sooner had the foreman of the jury uttered the words " Not guilty" than a roar of applause burst from the crowd, and horsemen spurred along every road to carry over the country the news of the acquittal.