348 years on, the declaration of Breda can still help us.

This day in 1660 the man who would be King Charles II issued a most important Statement at Breda in Holland. He explained how England’s wounds had “so many years together been kept bleeding”, and how they needed to be bound up. He wanted to bring an end to Royalist against Republican, Puritan against Anglican, old landowner against new. He realised that to restore the monarchy he needed to be the peace and unity candidate.
Most importantly, he decided with his advisers that in an age of religious intolerance, England had to take a bold step towards religious toleration.
“And because the passion and uncharitableness of the times have produced several opinions in religion, by which men are engaged in parties and animosities against each other (which, when they shall hereafter unite in a freedom of conversation, will be composed or better understood), we do declare a liberty to tender consciences, and that no man shall be disquieted or called in question for differences of opinion in matter of religion, which do not disturb the peace of the kingdom; and that we shall be ready to consent to such an Act of Parliament, as, upon mature deliberation, shall be offered to us, for the full granting that indulgence.”
Today we would do well to remember just how the dreadful wounds of our war torn country were healed in 1660. We live in another age of civil wars in some Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries, where religious intolerance is part of the problem. England, with Holland, pioneered the idea of not making windows into men’s souls, and developed it into the Restoration doctrine of allowing different religious practises to co-exist alongside a state sponsored Church.
England also needed a ruling on who was to own the land – the old landowners who had been dispossessed, or the new landowners, many of whom had paid good money for their estates. There Charles wisely left the final settlement to Parliament, knowing how complex it would prove to be.
“And because, in the continued distractions of so many years, and so many and great revolutions, many grants and purchases of estates have been made to and by many officers, soldiers and others, who are now possessed of the same, and who may be liable to actions at law upon several titles, we are likewise willing that all such differences, and all things relating to such grants, sales and purchases, shall be determined in Parliament, which can best provide for the just satisfaction of all men who are concerned.”
We know, with the benefit of hindsight, that this largely worked. When the next King, James II, pushed too far in a Catholic direction, he was deposed peacefully, and the religious and democratic revolution of the seventeenth century was completed.
When we see today strong religious opinions as part of civil wars and clashes between movements and military powers, it often seems impossible to picture peaceful co-existence. So it must have seemed to the soldiers and revolutionaries of the 1640s and 1650s in England, yet a few years later a new King, the son of the one they had executed, was allowed to take the crown on the basis of this simple and far reaching declaration. Whilst the battle for full Catholic emancipation was to take many years, Cromwell himself had helped the Jewish community, and the declaration of Breda moved the position on in a fundamental way. Englishmen began to see there were many values and ways of life that brought them together, even if they did worship in different ways and in different Churches. It should be a lesson for our own times.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted April 4, 2008 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    The knowledge that you can come to this blog and read about the declaration of Breda (thereby giving historical perspective to modern events) makes it my absolute favourite of all the political blogs out there.

    Reply: THANKS!

  2. Tony Makara
    Posted April 4, 2008 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    A very interesting analysis. I enjoy reading and learning from these examples of 'our' history. Keep them coming!

  3. Freeborn John
    Posted April 4, 2008 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    It has always struck me that tolerance (religious or otherwise) is the very hallmark of our civilisation. We cannot defeat radicalised sections of the Islamic world by mirroring their intolerance of us without simultaneously destroying in ourselves that which we most cherish. Indeed that would be the only way that radicalised Islam could subvert western culture. Better that we display confidence in the values we hold dear and through good example encourage majorities in the Muslim countries to isolate and marginalise the religious bigots there. This example should be to hold true to multi-culturism within Britain. Only by tolerating racial, ethnic and religious diversity in our own communities can we claim a moral authority to ask others elsewhere to do the same.

  4. Robert Lobell
    Posted April 20, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Dear John,
    I'm afraid that although I agree with the general tenure of your argument I cannot agree with your statement : "We know, with the benefit of hindsight, that this largely worked. When the next King, James II, pushed too far in a Catholic direction, he was deposed peacefully, and the religious and democratic revolution of the seventeenth century was completed." Your later comment on the battle of Culloden demonstrated conclusively that James could not have been deposed peacefully etc. etc. if people were still fighting in his and his sucessor's names over 50 years later.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, He graduated from Magdalen College Oxford, has a DPhil and is a fellow of All Souls College. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.

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