The Oxford History of Anglicanism, Volume II

Establishment and Empire, 1662-1829

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Jeremy Gregory
Oxford History of Anglicanism
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , December
     560 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The Church of England of the 18th century has been depicted as a lifeless and negligent communion. Much of the critique originated in the 19th century, initiated by Tractarians, Evangelicals, and Methodists. Much of that critique has been challenged in recent decades, especially as studies of local communities and dioceses have demonstrated a keen interest in the well-being and reform of a church that was established by law. Yet, this period remains, as Jeremy Gregory writes in his introduction to Volume Two of The Oxford History of Anglicanism, the period under consideration has not had the same level of attention as the periods covered in Volumes One and Three until very recently. Gregory notes, “The general picture was of a Church which had failed to live up to the ideals and energy of both its predecessor and successor” (p. 2). The essays that make up this scholarly but accessible introduction to the Church of England during the Long Eighteenth Century should help address this imbalance.

The volume covers the period that begins shortly after the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy, as episcopacy is restored to the Church of England after the Interregnum and runs through the Glorious Revolution and accession of the Hanoverians to the eve of Emancipation. Although it is a larger volume than that one undertaken a quarter-century earlier under the editors John Walsh, Colin Haydon, and Stephen Taylor (The Church of England, c.1689-c.1833: From Toleration to Tractarianism, Cambridge University Press, 1993), this volume builds upon its predecessor. It does so by expanding its reach back to the Restoration, and by addressing regional differences and the geographical expansion of the church. This should prove to be a worthy successor to that earlier volume, which still retains much of value.  

The subtitle of this multi-authored volume lifts up two trajectories of the history of the Church of England during this period. The first word is establishment, and during this period, though there would be a loosening of the church’s grip on the nation, the Church of England remained firmly established. Bishops continued to be political figures. Conformity to the church was a requirement for office-holding. Although there was some relief given to Dissenters, as time passed, they remained excluded from the universities and positions of power. It was also the age of Empire. In addition to the American colonies, the British were expanding across the globe, including India and Australia. With this colonial expansion went the church.

The book’s twenty-four chapters are organized under three parts. The three chapters in Part I help define the nature of Anglicanism in this period. It should be noted that while the term “Anglican” is anachronistic, the editors of the series view it as useful in defining a specific religious identity that goes back to the Reformation and continues to the present. In chapter 1, Grant Tapsell sets the tone for the book by introducing us to the restoration of the church under the Stuarts, an effort that included the ejection of the Puritans and the establishment of a purely episcopal church. Attempts would be made to accommodate Nonconformists, but this would be difficult. Part 2 of the book explores “Regional Anglicanism.” Chapters are devoted to England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, North America, the Caribbean and West Indies, India, Africa, and finally Austria and New Zealand. This expansion of Empire gave birth to interest in missions, leading to such organizations as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. The final eleven chapters form Part III: “Anglican Identities.” These chapters, which cover liturgy, sermons, politics, relationships with other European churches, architecture, art, music, theology, religious societies, and missions, as well as Evangelicalism and Methodism, are firmly rooted in the picture painted by the authors of the previous thirteen chapters. As a result of the efforts of the authors, we are given a nuanced picture of a church navigating a period of great change.

As with any effort to offer a comprehensive interpretation of a movement or period, there will be differences in expectation on the part of readers. For my part, I look for how the authors treat the Nonjurors, a small but influential movement that separated from the established church at the time of the Glorious Revolution. Some of the authors did acknowledge them, while others did not. I confess my surprise that Grant Tapsell’s opening chapter failed to mention the Seven Bishops Trial that helped precipitate the Glorious Revolution but also contributed to the birth of the Nonjuror movement. Other readers, with other areas of interest, may find areas to critique as well. I also found interesting that the book concludes with a chapter on the Methodists. The author helpfully reminds us that John Wesley and Charles Wesley tried to keep the movement within the established church, though John Wesley laid the foundation for separation. This chapter is a reminder that as the 19th century rolled in, the Church of England, though remaining established, had much more competition for the hearts and minds of the people of England. Some of these competitors would lay the groundwork for the negative portrayal of the 18th-century church.

Overall the authors treated their subjects even-handedly and took the conversation as deep as possible considering the constraints of space. This volume should prove invaluable to anyone seeking to understand the complexities of the Church of England in the Long Eighteenth Century Church, and should go a long way toward overturning the charge that the church of this period was lifeless and uninteresting. These chapters suggest otherwise.      

About the Reviewer(s): 

Robert D. Cornwall is an Independent Scholar and Senior Minister, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Troy, Michigan.

Date of Review: 
January 28, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jeremy Gregory is Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Faculty of Arts and Professor of the History of Christianity, Faculty of Executive Office at the University of Nottingham. His research and publications have shaped and contributed to the debates concerning the role of the Church of England in particular, and religion in general, in English social, cultural, political, and intellectual history from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. Gregory's publications include The Routledge Companion to Britain in the Eighteenth Century(Routledge, 2007) and The Longman Companion to Britain in the Eighteenth Century, 1688-1820 (Longman, 1999) both with John Stevenson, as well as Restoration, Reformation, and Reform, 1660-1828: Archbishops of Canterbury and their Diocese (OUP, 2000) in the Oxford Historical Monographs series.


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