THE SEVEN BISHOPS
 CHARLES II., who had certainly during his life showed
himself as careless of religion as a man could be,
declared himself on his death-bed to be a Roman
Catholic. His brother, James, Duke of York, who
succeeded him, had for many years belonged to the Roman
Church. There had, indeed, been an attempt to prevent
him from becoming king on this account, but it had
failed. Now, those who professed the Roman Catholic
faith had much to put up with. They could not hold
offices under Government, nor sit in Parliament, nor
were they allowed to have public service in their
churches or chapels. King James was determined to
release them from their "disabilities," as they were
called. In 1687 he published a Declaration, in which he
said that though he would gladly see all his people of
the same faith as himself, he would not use any force
to bring this about. He wished his subjects, whatever
their belief, to have liberty to practise it openly.
 Church should still have her legal rights, but those
who differed from her were not to suffer for it. No
one, in particular, was to be kept out of any office
because he did not belong to the Established Church.
Now all this may have been right, but the King had no
power to do it. He was really trying to repeal, by his
own simple word, a number of Acts of Parliament. The
Declaration was issued a second time on April 27, 1688.
A week afterwards the King made an Order in Council
that it was to be read on two Sundays—May 20th and
27th—in every church and chapel in London, and on two
other Sundays—June 3rd and 10th—in all the other
churches of England and Wales.
The clergy of London held a meeting to decide whether
the Order was to be obeyed. At first the majority were
disposed to obey. But one of their number declared
that, whatever others might do, he would not read it.
Some of the most eminent of the others agreed with him.
In the end it was generally determined that the
Declaration should not be read. The Bishops also held a
meeting, and came to the same conclusion. They
consulted with some of the other clergy, and drew up a
petition to the King. They should be ready, they said,
to do all they could to relieve in the proper way the
consciences of those who differed from them, but they
 advised that the King had no power to issue the
Declaration, and that therefore they could not send it
out for the clergy to read. This paper was signed by
the Archbishop and six Bishops. The six went to the
King to put it before him. No time was to be lost, for
it was Friday, and the next Sunday was the day
appointed for its first reading. Bishop Lloyd, of St.
Asaph, presented it to the King. James, who had not
expected them to resist, was very angry. "I did not
expect this from you. This is a standard of rebellion."
The Bishops were greatly troubled by the word.
Trelawney, Bishop of Bristol, fell on his knees and
said, "For God's sake, sir, do not say so hard a thing
of us. No Trelawney can be a rebel. Remember how my
family has fought for the Crown." "We are ready," said
another, "to die at your feet." The King grew more and
more angry. "I will be obeyed," he said; "go to your
dioceses and see that I am obeyed. This paper I will
keep. I will remember you that have signed it."
On the Sunday the Declaration was read in four only out
of the hundred churches in London. Even in these the
congregation left the place before the reading was
finished. Much the same happened in the country. Not
one clergyman in fifty obeyed the order.
A few days afterwards the Seven were called before
 the Council. The King could do nothing to make them
change their minds, and that evening they were sent to
the Tower. As they were taken down the Thames from
Whitehall, they were greeted by thousands of people
with loud cheers; many even rushed into the water to
ask for their blessing. The very sentinels of the Tower
did the same, and the garrison would drink no other
health. Many people of the highest rank came next day
to pay them their respects. Among their visitors were
ten Nonconformist ministers. The Protestant Dissenters
would not consent to be helped by the King, if this was
to be done against law. The Bishops remained in prison
for a week only; on June 29 they were brought to trial.
Meanwhile the whole country was greatly moved by what
had happened. In Cornwall, the native
 county of Bishop Trelawney, the miners sang a ballad of
which the chorus was—
"And shall Trelaway die, and shall Trelaway die?
Then twenty thousand Cornish boys will know the reason why."
When the 29th came, the lawyers of the Crown did their
best to "pack" the jury, i.e. to let no one be a
member of it who would not be likely to find a verdict
of guilty. But they could not hinder the prisoners'
right to object to a certain number of jurymen. Some
of the forty-eight summoned were Roman Catholics, some
were in the King's service. To these the lawyers
objected. The Crown lawyers, on the other hand,
objected to some whom they believed to be inclined to
the cause of the Bishops. The Chief justice and the
three other Judges of the King's Bench sat to try the
case. The Bishops were accused of publishing a
"libel," i.e. something either false, or, if
true, of such a kind as to do injury to some one.
The first thing was to prove that the petition
presented to the King was written by the Bishops. The
lawyers called witnesses to swear to the handwriting,
but they could get nothing certain from them. Then
they called a Clerk of the Council, who had been
present when the Bishops had been brought before it.
He swore that he had heard them own to
 their signatures. Then it came out that they had done
this at the King's command, and in the belief that
their doing this would not be used against them. The
King had, indeed, made no promise, but the Bishops had
understood that they would be safe in doing what they
did. This was the reason why the lawyers had tried to
prove the writing in other ways. It was not to the
credit of the King that he should have made the
prisoners give evidence against themselves.
Then it became necessary to prove that the libel had
been published. The Bishops had written and signed
the paper, but was this the paper given to the King?
Here also there was a difficulty, but at last this too,
was removed by the Earl of Sunderland, who was
President of the Council.
Lastly came the great question which the jury had to
decide. Was the petition really a libel, false or
malicious? The lawyers on both sides argued this
question, and the judges gave their opinions. The
Chief Justice thought that it was false and malicious;
so did another of the judges. The third, however,
declared that it seemed to him nothing more than what a
subject might lawfully present; and the fourth boldly
affirmed that the Declaration of Indulgence was against
the law, and that therefore the Bishops were quite in
 The jury was locked up to consider their verdict, being
carefully watched to see that no food or drink reached
them. At first nine were for acquitting, and three for
convicting. Then two of the three gave way. The only
one that held out was Michael Arnold, the King's
brewer. He had been very unwilling to serve. It was
reported that he had said, "Whatever I do I am sure to
be half-ruined. If I say Not Guilty, I shall brew no
more for the King; if I say Guilty, I shall brew no
more for any one else." One of the eleven wished to
argue the question with him. Arnold sulkily refused.
His conscience was not satisfied, and he would not
acquit the Bishops. "If it comes to that," said the
other, "look at me. I am the largest and strongest of
the twelve; before I find such a petition as this a
libel, here will I stay till I am no bigger than a
tobacco pipe." It was six in the morning before Arnold
At ten o'clock the court met, and the foreman of the
jury gave in the verdict of Not Guilty. It was met with
a tremendous shout of applause. Everywhere the news was
heard with delight. That day the King visited the camp
at Hounslow. When the news was brought to him, he set
out for London. As soon as his back was turned, the
soldiers broke out into a cheer. He asked the reason.
"Nothing, sire," was the answer. "They are only
 the Bishops are acquitted." "Do you call that nothing?"
he said; "so much the worse for them." Less than five
months afterwards King James fled from England.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics