James' Proclamation for the Use
of the Book of Common Prayer
Gee, Henry, and William John Hardy, ed.,
Documents Illustrative of English Church History
(New York: Macmillan, 1896), 512-5.
Hanover Historical Texts Project
Scanned and proofread by Heather Haralson, May 1998.
Posted by Raluca Preotu, July 1999.
Proofread and pages added by Jonathan Perry, March 2001.
THE changes agreed to by king and bishops at Hampton Court in January, 1604, were referred to a committee of the bishops and Privy Council. They made a report to the king, who then issued his letters patent on February 9, specifying the alterations and ordering the publication and exclusive use of the amended book. The authority is discussed in Procter, Hist. B. C. P., p. 91. On March 5 the letters patent were supplemented by the following publication.
[S. P. Dom., James I, vol.73, p. 64.]
A proclamation for the authorizing and uniformity of the Book of Common Prayer to be used throughout the realm.
Although it cannot be unknown to our subjects by the former declarations we have published, what our purposes and proceedings have been in matters of religion since our coming to this crown; yet the same being now by us reduced to a settled form, we have occasion to repeat somewhat of that which has passed; and how at our very first entry into the realm being entertained and importuned with informations of sundry ministers, complaining of the errors and imperfections of the Church here, as well in matter of doctrine as of discipline; although we had no reason to presume that things were so far amiss, as was pretended, because we had seen the kingdom under that form of religion which by law was established in the days of the late queen of famous memory, blessed with a peace and prosperity both extraordinary and of many years continuance (a strong evidence that God was therewith pleased), yet because the importunity of the complainers was great, their affirmations vehement, and the zeal wherewith the [Page 513] same did seem to be accompanied, very specious: we were moved thereby to make it our occasion to discharge that duty which is the chiefest of all kingly duties, that is, to settle the affairs of religion, and the service of God before their own. Which while were in hand to do (sic), as the contagion of the sickness reigning in our city of London and other places would permit an assembly of persons meet for that purpose, some of those who misliked the state of religion here established, presuming more of our intents than ever we gave them cause to do, and transported with humour, began such proceedings as did rather raise a scandal in the Church, than take offence away. For both they used forms of public serving of God not here allowed, held assemblies without authority, and did other things, carrying a very apparent show of sedition more than of zeal: whom we restrained by a former proclamation in the month of October last, and gave intimation of the conference we intended to be had with as much speed as conveniently could be, for the ordering of those things of the Church which accordingly followed in the month of January last at our honour of Hampton Court, where before ourself and our Privy Council were assembled many of the gravest bishops and prelates of the realm, and many other learned men as well of those that are conformable to the state of the Church established, as of those that dissented, among whom, what our pains were, what our patience in hearing and replying, and what the indifferency and uprightness of our judgment in determining we leave to the report of those who heard the same, contenting ourself with the sincerity of our own heart therein. But we cannot conceal, that the success of that conference was such as happens to many other things, which moving great expectation before they be entered into, in their issue produce small effects. For we found mighty and vehement informations supported with so weak and slender proofs, as it appeared unto us and our council, that there was no [Page 514] cause why any change should have been at all in that which was most impugned, the Book of Common Prayer, containing the form of the public service of God here established, neither in the doctrine which appeared to be sincere, nor in the forms and rites which were justified out of the practice of the primitive Church. Notwithstanding we thought meet, with consent of the bishops and other learned men there present, that some small things might rather be explained than changed; not that the same might not very well have been borne with by men who would have made a reasonable construction of them: but for that in a matter concerning the service of God we were very nice, or rather jealous, that the public form thereof should be free not only from blame but from suspicion, so as neither the common adversary should have advantage to wrest aught therein contained to other sense than the Church of England intendeth, nor any troublesome or ignorant person of this Church be able to take the least occasion of cavil against it. And for that purpose gave forth our commission under our great seal of England to the Archbishop of Canterbury and others according to the form which the laws of this realm in like case prescribe to be used to make the said explanation, and to cause the whole Book of Common Prayer with the same explanations to be newly printed. Which being now done, and established anew, after so serious a deliberation; although we doubt not but all our subjects, both ministers and others, will receive the same with such reverence as appertaineth, and conform themselves thereunto, every man in that which him concerneth. Yet have we thought it necessary to make known by proclamation our authorizing of the same, and to require and enjoin all men, as well ecclesiastical as temporal, to conform themselves unto it and to the practice thereof, as the only public form of serving God established and allowed to be in this realm. And the rather for that all the learned [Page 515] men who were there present, as well of the bishops as others, promised their conformity in the practice of it, only making suit to us, that some few might be borne with for a time.
Wherefore, we require all archbishops, bishops, and all other public ministers, as well ecclesiastical as civil, to do their duties in causing the same to be obeyed, and in punishing the offenders according to the laws of the realm heretofore established for the authorizing of the said Book of Common Prayer. And we think it also necessary that the said archbishops and bishops do each of them in his province and diocese, take order, that every parish do procure to themselves, within such time as they shall think good to limit, one of the said books so explained. And last of all we do admonish all men that hereafter they shall not expect nor attempt any further alteration in the common and public form of God's service, from this which is now established, for that neither will we give way to any to presume, that our own judgment having determined in a matter of this weight shall be swayed to alteration by the frivolous suggestion of any light spirit; neither are we ignorant of the inconveniences that do arise in government, by admitting innovation in things once settled by mature deliberation. And how necessary it is to use constancy in the upholding of the public determinations of States, for that such is the unquietness and unsteadfastness of some dispositions affecting every year new forms of things as if they should be followed in their inconsistency, would make all actions of States ridiculous and contemptible, whereas the steadfast maintaining of things by good advice established, is the weal of all Commonwealths.
Given at our Palace of Westminster the fifth day of March, in the first year of our reign of England, France and Ireland, and of Scotland the seven-and-thirtieth, A.D. 1603.
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