Nonconformists, a name sometimes given to dissenters from the church of England, but more particularly applied to the clergymen who gave up their livings on the passage of the act of uniformity in 1G62. An act of uniformity was passed in 1558, but was only partially enforced for seven years, most of those who refused to conform to the ceremonies of the church still remaining within it. At the first convocation of the clergy in 15G1, a motion to do away with the ceremonies objectionable to the Puritans was lost by a majority of one only; and this rejection was due to the strong influence of Queen Elizabeth and the primate, and to the fear that the change would relieve Roman Catholic nonconformists as well as Protestants. In 1565 the law began to be more rigidly enforced, and many nonconformists were deprived of their preferments, and many were imprisoned. In 1593 an act was passed to enforce conformity of the laity, requiring attendance at the parish church of all persons over 10 years of age, upon pain of banishment, and of death for continued disobedience.
James I., though educated a Presbyterian, enforced the laws against nonconformity with great severity, and his policy was adhered to by Charles I. Under the protectorate the nonconformists enjoyed the right of worship without molestation, and Episcopacy in its turn was proscribed. The restoration witnessed the reestablishment of the old church polity, and the revival of the penal laws against the dissenters. A new act of uniformity was passed in 1662, restoring all the ancient forms and ceremonies of the established church, and requiring that every beneficed minister, every fellow of a college, and even every schoolmaster, should declare his assent to all and everything contained in the "Book of Common Prayer," and that no one should hold any preferment without episcopal ordination. For their unwillingness to conform to the requirements of this act, 2,000 clergymen were obliged to give up their livings, and it was at this time that the title of nonconformists came into use. The "Declaration of Indulgence " of James II. afforded a temporary relief to the nonconformists; but it was not until the reign of William and Mary that they enjoyed real toleration, and even from this those who denied the Trinity were excepted. (See Dissenters).