Project Canterbury

The History of the English Church Union

by the Rev. G. Bayfield Roberts

London: Church Printing, 1895.



BY Mr. Dale's acceptance of the benefice of Sausthorpe, in Lincolnshire, it was hoped that all the proceedings against him as Rector of St. Vedast's had come to an end. Steps were, however, subsequently taken by the prosecutors to recover from Mr. Dale costs which had been incurred in the course of the proceedings against him. An arrangement was made to discharge the balance due under a sequestration issued in 1881; but an application was afterwards made to Lord Penzance on August 5 to declare Mr. Dale in contempt for non-payment of further costs, and the order was accordingly issued, and Mr. Dale again became liable to imprisonment. On August 18 an application was made to the Lord Chancellor (Selborne) for another sequestration to enforce this payment, which his lordship granted, subject, however, to an arrangement being made within a week. After prolonged delay terms were agreed upon, and on Nov. 29 the second sequestration was withdrawn, and the whole case was thus finally brought to a termination.

The rule nisi in the Prestbury case, granted by the Master of the Rolls (Jessel), came on for argument before Mr. Justice Chitty, to whom it had been transferred in consequence of the removal of the Master of the Rolls to the Court of Appeal, on Dec. 6, 1881. The argument was resumed on Dec. 15, and the further hearing then postponed to March 20, 1882. The arguments were concluded on the following day, when Mr. Justice Chitty reserved his judgment.

The Appeal to the House of Lords from the judgment of the Lords Justices of Appeal (April 12, 1880), in the case of Mr. Green, was heard on August 3 and 4, 1881, before the Lord Chancellor (Selborne), Lord Blackburn, and Lord Watson. At the conclusion of the argument on behalf of Mr. Green, the Lord Chancellor, in concurrence with the other two lords, and without hearing Counsel on the other side, affirmed the decision of the Court below, and dismissed the Appeal. On August 4 Mr. Green's household goods were sold by auction to pay the costs of the Church Association. The failure of this application finally exhausted all the available legal means for obtaining Mr. Green's release. A Bill was therefore brought into the House of Lords by Lord Beauchamp, and read a second time on Aug. 9, 1881. On Aug. 12, in its passage through committee, its title of "Ecclesiastical Courts Regulation Bill" was changed into "Discharge of Contumacious Prisoners' Bill," and the Bill itself was considerably modified. It was eventually lost in the House of Commons.

At the second Ordinary Meeting on March 23 it was resolved:--

Appeal to Churchmen to unite with E. C. U. in Vindicating the Rights and Liberties of the Church.

Moved by Mr. J. A. Shaw Stewart, seconded by Mr. James Parker--

That, in view of the persistent attempts which are made to represent the decisions of the Privy Council, and of Lord Penzance's Court, as being the law of the Church of England, and in view of the continued imprisonment of Rev. S. F. Green for refusal to acknowledge the authority of such decisions, and of the Courts which delivered them, this Union appeals earnestly to Churchmen to lay aside all minor differences, and to unite with them in a strong effort to vindicate the spiritual rights and liberties of the Church of England.

A Petition to the Queen was prepared by the President and Council, and issued for signature in August, 1881. It was extensively signed, and in most cases Petitions were sent separately and direct to her Majesty. By the end of September, 145 of the smaller parochial petitions, containing 13,368 signatures, had reached the E. C. U. Office and were duly forwarded by Colonel Hardy.

The Petition ran as follows:--

That the Rev. S. F. Green, Rector of St. John's, Miles Platting has been imprisoned since March 19, 1881, for conscientiously obeying the plain rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, and for refusing to obey the contrary dictates of courts which have no moral or constitutional right to command his obedience.

That your Petitioners are informed that your Majesty's most gracious pardon is the only means by which Mr. Green can be released. Your Petitioners, therefore, humbly pray your Majesty to be pleased to exert your Royal clemency in his behalf.

Memorials to the same effect were sent from many places to the Prime Minister, and to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York.

The following Petition was presented to the Houses of Convocation in Feb., 1882, in the Upper House of the Convocation of Canterbury by the Bishop of Lincoln (Wordsworth), and in the Lower House by Canon Gregory, and in the Convocation of York by the Dean of Durham (Lake):--

Imprisonment of Rev. S. F. Green.

That the Rev. Sidney Faithhorn Green, Rector of St. John, Miles Platting, a Priest of blameless character, earnest in every good work, and entirely possessing the confidence of his people, has now been in prison for nearly twelve months, ostensibly for Contempt of Court, but really because, in common with very many others, having regard to his Ordination Oath, he cannot accept decisions of the Privy Council which override the plain words of the Prayer Book as received by this Church and Realm.

That Mr. Green's case is of the more serious importance because it implies the competence of the Privy Council to adjudicate in the last resort upon the doctrine and spiritual discipline of the Church of England--a competence which was synodically repudiated in the case of "Essays and Reviews," and is of the greater injustice because a large majority of the clergy, including some of the highest dignitaries of the Church, who do not conform to the rulings of the Privy Council, are not even threatened with hostile proceeding's.

That your Petitioners protest against the confusion of the real merits of the case, and the injustice with which Mr. Green is being treated by its being represented that his imprisonment is merely the result of his unwillingness to submit to episcopal authority, whereas his detention in prison is caused by his inability to acknowledge any other than canonical authority in his Bishop, and by the persistent intolerance of a certain section within the Church of England.

That your Petitioners therefore earnestly beg that immediate steps may be taken by your Right Reverend House to procure Mr. Green's unconditional release, and so put an end to a scandal which, in addition to the injustice inflicted on Mr. Green, seriously endangers the existing relations of Church and State.

That experience has justified the representations made by your Petitioners to your Right Reverend House, at the time of the passing of the Public Worship Regulation Act, as to the evils it was calculated to inflict upon the Church, and your Petitioners therefore humbly pray your Right Reverend House to consider what steps can be taken to obviate the mischievous effect of that Act, the passing of which has given so great an impetus to the unhappy prosecutions which at present vex and harass the Church.

On May 9, 1882, the Archbishop of Canterbury (Tait) informed Convocation that the Bishops had agreed to propose a measure to effect Mr. Green's release. The Bill was brought before the Lower House on the same day by Canon Gregory, when the following resolution was carried by 70 to 3:--

That this House accepts with thanks the proposals of the Upper House for introducing into Parliament a Bill for extending the operations of the Act 3rd and 4th Victoria, cap. 93.

The Bill was subsequently brought into the House of Lords by his Grace on May 9, was read a second time on May 16, and passed on June 6.

On Feb. 3, 1882, an Appeal was made to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to reverse the decision of Lord Penzance, given on June 5, 1880, when Ms lordship refused to decree that Mr. Mackonochie be deprived of his ecclesiastical preferment, or be otherwise canonically punished, on the ground that he had already suspended him ab officio et beneficio for three years, and that the promoters of the suit had not chosen to seek the enforcement of his sentence. The Appeal was heard before the Lord President of the Council (Spencer), the Lord Chancellor (Selborne), the Archbishop of York (Thomson), Lord Blackburn, Lord Watson, Sir Barnes Peacock, Sir Robert Collier, and Sir James Hannen, with the Bishop of Durham (Lightfoot), Winchester (Browne), and Lichfield (Maclagan), as Ecclesiastical Assessors. Their lordships intimated that they would "humbly advise her Majesty to reverse the sentence of the 5th of June, 1880, so far as relates to the matter complained of by this Appeal, and to remit the cause to the Court below to decree against the respondent such lawful and canonical censure or punishment as to that Court shall seem just." Amongst other reasons for this decision, their lordships stated that "contempt, or contumacy, in another suit, cannot deprive the Bishop, or a promoter who satisfies the Bishop that there is reason for proceeding in respect of new offences by a new suit, of the remedies given by the Church Discipline Act. If the promoter were a different person, the offender could not plead, by way of defence, his own contempt in a former suit, or the unwillingness of the promoter in that suit to imprison him for it. Their lordships think that the identity of the promoter in both suits ought to make no difference, so far as concerns the question now under Appeal." They also stated that they "do not find that any obligation is cast by law upon the promoter of a suit in an Ecclesiastical Court to take proceedings for the imprisonment of a party guilty of contempt." Their lordships had also been asked "to retain the suit, and to advise her Majesty to pronounce against the defendant an immediate sentence of Deprivation," but, inasmuch, as there were "other canonical punishments (degradation and excommunication) which might be inflicted in a proper case," they considered that "it was for the learned Judge in the Court below to determine what particular censure or punishment would be most proper under all the circumstances of the case," the more so, as in the case of Head v. Sanders, Lord Campbell had laid down, that "except under peculiar circumstances, a court of final appeal ought not to decide any cause in the first instance."

The Appeal to the House of Lords from the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Jan., 1881, which had left Mr. Enraght still liable to recommitment to prison (for which application had been made by the Church Association), was heard on April 27 and 28, 1882, before Lord Blackburn, Lord Watson, and Lord Bramwell, and on May 22 the Appeal was dismissed.

Previously to this Mr. Perkins, the promoter of the suit, having ceased to be a churchwarden and a parishioner, an application was made to Lord Penzance on Nov. 16, 1881, to substitute the names of the present churchwardens. Lord Penzance decided that he had no power under the P. W. R. Act to grant the application; but leave to appeal was given.

On Feb. 14, 1882, the following Petition was presented in the Upper House of the Convocation of Canterbury by the Bishop of Lichfield (Maclagan), and in the Lower House by the Rev. W. J. Butler, Canon of Worcester--

Deceased Wife's Sister Bill.

The humble Petition of the English Church Union sheweth--That the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England as to holy matrimony have ever regarded the oneness of husband and wife as being of such nature as to place on an equality the several corresponding degrees of relationship by consanguinity and by affinity in everything relating to the lawfulness or unlawfulness of marriage by either of the parties after the decease of the other; so that, for example, a widower is no more free to many his sister by marriage than his sister by blood.

That this doctrine and discipline are expressly maintained by the Church of England in the Table of Prohibited Degrees ordered by the Canons of 1604 to be hung up openly in every church which table declares that all those related as herein set forth (including a man and his wife's sister) are forbidden in Scripture to marry together.

That, notwithstanding this, attempts have been for many years past persistently made, and arc about to be renewed in this present session of Parliament, to legalize the union of a man with his deceased wife's sister, in contravention of the law of God, as maintained by the Church, thus seeking to place the law of the Church and the law of the realm iu open opposition, which attempt moreover, if successful, would make precarious the whole law and principle of affinity in respect of marriage, and would secretly strike at the truth of the oneness of husband and wife, as declared in the Word of God.

Your Memorialists, therefore, humbly pray your Right Rev. (or Rev.) House to oppose to the utmost any change in the marriage laws of the realm involving any relaxation of the existing prohibitions, as expressed in the aforesaid Table of Prohibited Degrees.

At the Third Ordinary Meeting on April 27, 1882, the following resolutions were adopted:--

I. Deceased Wife's Sister Bill.

Moved by Rev. Dr. Badenoch, of the Scotch Reformation Society, seconded by the Eight Hon. A. J. B. Beresford-Hope, M.P.--

That this meeting of the English Church Union adopts, on behalf of the Society, the Petition presented by the President and Council to the Convocation of the Clergy at their recent sessions, praying their Right Rev. and Rev. Houses "to oppose to the utmost any change in the marriage laws of the realm involving any relaxation of the existing prohibitions as expressed in the Table of Prohibited Degrees."

II. Moved by Mr. James Parker, seconded by Rev. G. Greenwood--

That this meeting requests the President and Council to send a copy of this Petition to the Secretary of every Branch of the Union, directing him to convene a meeting of his Branch for the purpose of considering, and taking action in regard to, this attack on the marriage laws of the Church of God.

III. Moved by Mr. Henry Longden (President of the Sheffield and Botherhann. U.), seconded by Vice-Admiral D. Robertson Macdonald--

That this meeting further suggests to all Incumbents of Parishes who belong to the Union, the importance of bringing the subject before their parishioners, with a view to their adopting a Petition to the Bishop of the diocese, praying him to use all his influence and authority against the threatened alteration of the marriage law.

Several Bills, affecting the Church, which were introduced during the session, received careful attention at the hands of the President and Council. Mr. Reed's Public Worship Regulation Act (1874) Amendment Bill proposed to place a veto on the institution of legal proceedings, by providing three weeks' public notice prior to any representation to the Bishop, and by enabling the ratepayers to meet and decide by a majority of votes that the Bishop should not entertain such representation. Inasmuch as the Bill proposed to violate an essential spiritual principle, by making ratepayers, irrespective of Church-membership, arbiters of ecclesiastical discipline, the President and Council could only urge Churchmen to oppose it. The Contumacious Clerks Bill was introduced by Mr. Morgan Lloyd at the instance of the Church Association, with the avowed object of increasing the powers of the P. W. R. Act, and of facilitating the deprivation of the Catholic clergy. It provided that a clerk already suspended ab officio et beneficio, or pronounced contumacious in resisting suspension or inhibition, might be deprived at once, or at the expiration of three calendar months; limited imprisonment for Contempt of Court to six months, but left the liberated prisoner still liable for costs incurred, and to deprivation; cancelled the Bishop's veto; and made any "deposed" clerk incapable of holding-preferment for four years after deprivation.

At the Annual Meeting on June 13, 1882, the following-resolutions were adopted:--

I. The Imprisonment of the Rev. S. F. Green.

Moved by Rev. John Eddowes, seconded by Lord Forbes (President of the Scottish Church Union)--

That this Union, having regard to the fact that one of its own Members (a priest of blameless character, and entirely devoted to his flock) has now been in prison for fifteen months for refusing to acknowledge the authority of secular courts in spiritual matters. declares--That the Rev. S. F. Green, and those who have been called to suffer with him, are the representatives of a large body of Clergy and laity who believe that the time has come when such Buffering must, if necessary, be willingly endured on behalf of the doctrine and discipline, the rights and liberties, of the Church of England.

Moved by the Rev. Canon Green, of Adelaide, seconded by Rev. C. J. E. Smith--

That this Union rejects now, as heretofore, the claim made by the Privy Council, and by the courts subject to its jurisdiction, to exercise authority in spiritual matters; and invoking the support and protection of the Episcopate, as the guardians of the rights and liberties of the Church, it claims that its members be neither deprived nor imprisoned for refusing to acknowledge the authority of those courts, and for using those ceremonies and ornaments in the conduct of Divine Service which the Prayer Book allows, and with which the Catholic Church has been accustomed to celebrate the Holy Sacrament.

At the Evening Meeting it was resolved:--

I. The Intervention of Secular Authority in Spiritual Matters,

Moved by Mr. J. A. Shaw Stewart, seconded by Dr. Walter Phillimore--

That this Union, while it is grateful for any effort to obtain the release of the Rev. S. F. Green without sacrifice of principle on his part, feels that nothing can really restore peace to the Church as long as the Public Worship Regulation Act, and other Acts involving the intervention of the Privy Council in Spiritual matters, remain unrepealed.

II. Deceased Wife's Sister's Sill.

Moved by Rev. H. E. Baker, seconded by Rev. E. T. West--

That this Union hereby pledges itself to oppose, with all the strength of its organization, the Bill for legalizing marriage with a deceased wife's sister.

The sums promised, or paid, to the Sustentation Fund increased during the year to £7,146, and grants were made to the Revs. S. F. Green, T. P. Dale, E. W. Enraght and A. H. Mackonochie. So far, only one call of 10 per cent, had been made on the Guarantors.

During the year 1,912 persons joined the Union bringing up the total to 20,530. One new District Union, and twelve Local Branches were formed. Total: District Unions, 46; Branches, 274.

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