Treaty of Breda 

 Background to the Civil Wars: 
When Solemn League and Covenant sought to replace the Church of England for a Presbyterian polity, Independents and Radicals blocked its advent by gaining control the Army. In 1649 the Army would march on Parliament, expelling the majority-Presbyterian Party. Independents feared not only a ban against Congregationalism but also felt Presbyterians would likely usher a restoration of King Charles, i.e. royalism. In the hands of the Army who feared a secret alliance with Scots, King Charles was soon executed. This would be the first regicide in European Christendom, and, almost as a foretaste of the French Revolution, Radicals and Congregationalists would then declare England a “Free State” ruled under Republican government.

Solemn League was an alliance between England’s Parliament and Scotland. The origin of Solemn League began when Archbishop William Laud ‘imposed’ 1549 Prayer Book rubrics onto the Church of Scotland. The growing conservativism of Canterbury caused Presbyterians to resist, leading to the signing of a National Covenant. The National Scottish Covenant justified armed resistance against the King’s Church and Uniformity on the grounds of Regulative Principle (RPW). Fearing eminent occupation by a Catholic-Irish army which Charles I was in the process mustering, in 1940 the Scottish Kirk launched a pre-emptive invasion into north England, defeating royalist troops at the border, forcing the King to ratify the National Covenant for Scotland. When Charles I summoned the Long Parliament to settle reparations with Scotland, Puritans made common cause with Covenanters, expelling Royalists, launching the English Civil War.

The English Civil War, 1643-49, had two tragic ramifications: 1. Introduced religious pluralism, effectively rendering meaningless all previous acts of Subscription and Uniformity, institutionalizing and rendering permanent the great disorder within the church which began (in England) with the Presbyterian (RPW) Vestment Controversy (and in Scotland over the Prayer Book). 2. Ended divine right, introducing the Presbyterian notion of constitutional monarchy if not the Independent demand for modern Republicanism. Regardless, Parliament (and the rights of the People) would emerge supreme over the Crown and Orders. The combination of constitutionalism and religious pluralism would ultimately unleash an wild democratic impulse and individualism upon Anglo society and culture, reaching an appex in late 17th century.

In 1654 Cromwell exchanged permanent Reformation for social stability imposing a Bonpartist rule over England, gradually reintroducing the moderates into the Parliament. Otherwise known as the ‘Protectorate’, Cromwell’s England would reign until 1659, until the Presbyterian Party was invited back. For the most part Independency and Radicalism had burned itself out. The public wanted their King and English Presbyterians had hopes for a Kirk. Charles II (Son of the beheaded Charles I) could return on the condition Parliament consented to Breda.

The Breda Declaration: What was the Treaty of Breda? Breda was the Solemn League and Covenant but especially committed the King and his household to it. Independents in the English Parliament had rejected Solemn League, favoring instead an open Christian pluralism under the Articles of Religion 1648. The 1643 Westminster Confession was never adopted as a standard. Instead, it was modified to say little about church polity, giving room to Radicals, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians alike. Banned, however, was episcopacy. Breda was the Scottish Kirk’s final bid for Presbyterian supremacy throughout the three realms. Charles II signed it in 1650, and in 1660 the English Parliament followed suit under the restoration of the Long MP’s. 

When King Charles II returned to England in 1660, Parliament had an election. Royalists were swept into power by the public, and Puritanism—both in its Presbyterian and Independent forms— was gradually ejected. Charles II proposed a phased settlement and was somewhat committed to mediating two hardened factions, initiating talks between Presbyterians and Anglicans over polity, liturgy, ceremonies. Presbyterians lost moral ground when Fifth Monarchy Men and other Radicals (the Derwentdale Plot) sporadically attempted insurrection between 1661-1664. and though Charles II offered exemptions and indulgences to Presbyterian ministers, the Parliament nullified the King’s clemencies fearing a restoration of divine right. In the end Parliament’s Acts of Uniformity, Test Acts, etc. aka. Clarendon Codes, slowly purged the Presbyterian Party from Church and State. The sentiment was summed on St. George’s Day, 1661, when Parliament ordered a public burning of the SLC.  Charles and James II had Catholic leanings (James was a roman catholic convert), so Puritans were surely not missed. Presbyterianism had been marginalized, and in the public’s eye it was synomynous with Revolution. Thus, Engagers ultimately followed Congregationalists into the ‘free church’. Puritans would not substantially return to government until 1689 when the Toleration Acts of Cromwell, as expressed in the 1648 Articles of Religion (SLC), were restored.  

Oath Breaker? Did Charles II have a right to break the Solemn Covenant he signed in 1650?  I want to avoid arguing divine right vs. constitutionalism. The complaint of Radicals and Puritan alike was the King was bound by His own law? If this be true, then isn’t Parliament also bound? The Scottish Convention which negotiated Solemn League by tradition could not pass a permanent law. Moreover, when Westminster Assembly drafted the Articles/Confession of Faith, this was done without the consent of the King causing the Anglican divines present during the first 15 weeks of negotiations exit the Assembly, concluding the revisions were not only a breach of the 39 Articles but legally ‘null and void’. Even if King Charles II assented to Solemn League, he only did so because his Kingdom was held hostage by wild men, SLC being a document forged by an unlawful, armed rebellion. If Charles II signed a unlawful declaration with no legal authority whatsoever, then can a false or foolish oath bind a magistrate?   

Legitimacy of Public vows: Anabaptists refused all oaths on the grounds of Christ saying, “let your Yes be a Yes and your No be a No. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matt. 5:33-37). Yet the Puritans understood as world as fallen, and oath-taking was a practice carried forward from the OT as a concession for restraining sin, especially permissable upon sundry times where serious or lawful interests were involved and an appeal to the witness of God necessary to secure confidence and end strife.  It was under these circumstances the National Covenant and Solemn League were drawn. Scriptural examples and principles of national covenanting justify such extraordinary occasions: Neh. 9.38; Deut. 29. 10-13; Jonah 1. 16; Rom. 6. 13; Deut. 26. 15-19; and 2 Kings 11. 17. Moreover, public vows are binding. Those who break them are surely cursed, a sin not only due to disobedience but perjury and blasphemy (since the vow is sealed in the Name of God). Jer. 2.4,  11. For more on public oaths and covenants, see:

Breaking Rash Vows: But what if someone swears to perform a duty that is contrary to the Word of God?  According to G.I Williamson,

“an oath is binding only if the thing promised is good and just, that is, agreeable to the Word of God. The reason for this is evident: that which is contrary to the word of God is sin, and it is man’s duty not to sin; therefore, sweraing to sin cannot justify or obligate sin. Thus when one discovers that he has promised a solemn oath to sin, his only recourse is to ask forgiveness for having made such a promise in the first place adn then to renounce the oath (Matt. 14:1-12). It was wrong to take the oath in the first place. It would be doubly wrong to keep it after discovering it was sinful.” p. 229 WCF study. 

Calvin in his Institutes says men are not to vow beyond the measure of grace or vocation given (i.e, beyond their lawful duties or inner capability). Furthermore, vows offend God, especially if for superstitious ends or ficticious worship, and such are “empty and nugatory”. (Institutes, IV.13.7)

Conclusion: We cannot know the heart of Charles II. His moral life was not a paragon of purity. However, at the time of Breda, 1650, did he know the Solemn League and Covenant was unscriptural, contrary to the Word of God, and therefore sinful? We cannot absolutely say. If Charles II signed Breda knowing his oath was to a false, then he committed a detestable act, i.e., perjury (in contrast to his father, Charles I, who died before denying his own convictions, i.e., surrendering the Episocpacy). The SLC was a rash given the extra-biblical and fanatical nature of RPW.  English and Scottish reformers had no right to resist the Laudian Prayer Book (the reason d’etre for civil war). Moreover, the English and Scottish delegations represented ‘bandit parliaments’, sic. a people’s conventions, which had no authority to pass permanent law. If Charles committed perjury then perhaps he stood condemned. Otherwise he had every right to restore the Prayer book, epsicopacy, and even later deprive Presbyterian and Independent ministers, given the Kings vow contradicted his lawful duty. 

Next PostingGoing a little deeper with SLC and its RPW underpinnings, I’d like to discuss ‘the black rubric’ or kneeling at the altar. However, this will require a leave of absence as I not only edit earlier posts (where there is much poor grammer) but give time to understanding the complicated trinitarian and christological arguments behind the mode of Supper.

Future posts might deal with Knoxian ‘active resistance’ vs. Anglican ‘passive obedience’. When the particulars of RPW (anti-vestments and anti-adoration) were combined with Knox’s peculiar “active resistance”, Presbyterianism betrayed its Magesterial orgins embracing the Anabaptist spirit alongside Levellers, Ranters, Lollards, Quakers. The Black Rubric and Active Resistance must be next.  Other subjects related to SLC are: reduced episcopacy, baptismal grace, apocryphra and canon, and aborted synods. 

5 responses to “Treaty of Breda

  1. I continue moving backwards through this, as all the exciting work stuff is going on without me, in Fairfield, and the office here is quiet.

    I know too little about Abp. Laud and the Laudians, the sad consequence of having learned my Anglican history from Bob Jones University and Orthodox Presbyterians. However, this is the first I heard that any Bishop wanted to see the 1549 PB used after 1552. I’ve heard about 16th-century PBs being used for 20th and 21st-century weddings, but not for regular services. One Missal edition (I guess the 1949.) includes the 1549 Canon of the Mass for memorial use at its centennial. None of this is what you suggest. You’re saying Abp. Laud wanted to return to the first, 1549 PB, bypassing not only the 1552 PB and its Black Rubric, but also the more via media Elizabethan PBs. But then you talk about subscription to the 39 Articles. There were 39 under Elizabeth; 42 under Edward. Are you using the 1549 as a stand-in for catholic, as opposed to Puritan, liturgy? Thus you could have been more precise by naming the Elizabethan edition. Or did Abp. Laud really want the 1549 BCP resurrected? Or maybe that’s a pure typo and you meant the 1559.


  2. I don’t feel like a monarchist v. democratic/republic debate today. I will take issue with your suggestion that the system of co-existence of the Established Church with Dissenters and Roman Catholics worked out at the Restoration made the Acts of Uniformity, etc., meaningless, however. Dissenters and Roman Catholics still could not attend Oxbridge. This made for some ironic situations, such as the great hymn writer Isaac Watts’s not being able to attend Oxford, but having his textbook on logic used there for over a century. It also kept out dirty deists, which was a good thing. Certainly persecutions/suppressions of Dissenters continued. That had world-wide consequences as they fled to other continents. I wish I could remember more specific examples before Newman’s having to leave Oxford at his conversion, only to be invited back when they changed the rules. I just know that that period of 1662 to 1862 saw change in the Established Church because it was still the Established Church. Because for the most part we weren’t fighting over the very nature of the Church, we could do things like write the great Anglican hymns and fully develop Anglican Canon Law and rebuild the churches and establish the Empire.


  3. But mostly I just think our attitudes about the/an Established Church are different. I don’t think Establishment is good for the Church or demanded by Scripture. I think it confuses faith and politics. Certainly it kept people from assenting to errors because conversion would have meant loss of reputation and position, but it also made people, makes people misunderstand what it is to be a Christian or an Anglican. Even here in the U.S., where despite our prayers we do not have an established religion, too many people think it’s all of a piece – being a good Republican, good country club member, good Mason, good Anglican. Too often they might distinguish, but have them in that order of priority. If the only way to be a full citizen and a country club member is to be a good Anglican, people get it backwards and think the way to be a good Anglican is to be a good country club member.


  4. Ah, yes, the “yea/yea, nay/nay” passage that good 18th and even 19th century Puritans got enshrined in our law in the form of “I do solemnly swear (OR AFFIRM)…” One of the things I do look forward to about being “sworn in” as an attorney is I’ll take the oath on affirmation, just out respect for the Puritans who gave me the option. I wonder how many people bother. The clerk wasn’t giving the witnesses the option to take their oaths on affirmation when I was in trial last week. I assume witnesses in court do have the option, if new attorneys do. To my knowledge, no President has ever taken the option. As a witness or new attorney you have to know about the option, then care enough to request the less familiar form. I remember wondering about this when I had to swear out something with my passport application several years ago, and being relieved the form given to me was “solemnly declare” or “solemnly affirm” rather than “solemnly swear.”

    My oath-taking ceremony will be private (want to come?), and I can talk to the person administering the oath beforehand, but I have visions of being called to testify and being asked “Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth…?” and responding, “No.” Gasps and confusion throughout the courtroom. “I’d like to take the oath on affirmation, Your Honor.”

    I’ll just make clear that I agree with Calvin and the Articles that sworn oaths are acceptable practice for Christians, like calling clergy “father.” I just think our brothers that got into the Constitution and other civil laws a more literal understanding of that passage had a point, which I’d like to take the opportunity to highlight in practice, if given the opportunity.


  5. Hello RR,

    thanks for the way out on Laud and 1549. For now I will claim a ‘typo’, sic. 1559. It would be hard to say there were any English PB revisions which undermined 1559. However, Laud did produce a 1537 PB for the Scottish church which restored the 1549 prayer for the dead, as well as the first Book’s epiclesis and her words of administration. Rubrics were loosened allowing elevation and kneeling. Laud also moved the tables back into the chancels, and was hated by scottish Presbyterians for enforcing uniformity through Anglican courts. During James I and Elizabeth, worship varied greatly from parish to parish, puritan parsons generally ignored the standards of the PB. It was probably Laud’s discipline more than anything explicitly “catholic” that provoked the reaction. But there certainly was a move away from radical protestantism/nonconformity.

    Regarding “establishment”. I think it an impossibility to keep politics out of the church. After all, the ECUSA was “disestablished”, and did this do any good? Look at the overall American terrain, and tell me if free churches are less ‘politicized’? Disestablishment/establishment doesn’t seem to factor in much. Perhaps it is more an issue of clear distinction between ecclesial vs. civil rule within the church which does not necessarily translate to establishment vs. disestablishment. Erastian/byzantine systems have many variants, and they have changed over time. Yet Establishment characterized “Christendom”, and it seemed to work for well over 1,500 years.

    Personally, I believe the Church of England would have faired fine alongside an Erastian monarchy, but as enfranchisement widened, Parliament became a tool of Radicals Whigs and Liberals who undermined subscription and church discipline. But even this was more of a cultural than legislative problem. I guess I see other factors at work (a modern political economy, new science, Locke, Newton, etc.), and this is worthy of a longer discussion.


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