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The Test Acts were a series of English penal laws that served as a religious test for public office and imposed various civil disabilities on Roman Catholics and Nonconformists. The principle that none but persons professing the Established Church were eligible for public employment and the severe penalties pronounced against recusants, whether Roman Catholic or Nonconformist, were affirmations of this principle.
The Act of James I of England provided that all such as were naturalized or restored in blood should receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It was not, however, until the reign of Charles II of England that actually receiving of the communion of the Church of England was made a precondition for holding public office. The earliest imposition of this test was by the Corporation Act of 1661 requiring that, besides taking the Oath of Supremacy, all members of corporations were within one year after election to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the rites of the Church of England.
This act was followed by the Test Act of 1673 (25 Car. II. c. 2) (the long title of which is "An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants"). This act enforced upon all persons filling any office, civil or military, the obligation of taking the oaths of supremacy and allegiance and subscribing to a declaration against transubstantiation and also of receiving the sacrament within three months after admittance to office. The oath for the Test Act of 1672 was:
- "I, N, do declare that I do believe that there is not any transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or in the elements of the bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever."
The act did not extend to peers; but in 1678 the act was extended by a further act (30 Car. II. st. 2) which required that all peers and members of the House of Commons should make a declaration against transubstantiation, invocation of saints, and the sacrifice of the mass.
The necessity of receiving the sacrament as a qualification for office was abolished by George IV and all acts requiring the taking of oaths and declarations against transubstantiation etc. were repealed by the Catholic Relief Act 1829.
- . 'Charles II, 1672: An Act for preventing Dangers which may happen from Popish Recusants.', Statutes of the Realm: volume 5: 1628-80 (1819), pp. 782-85. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=47451. Date accessed: 6 March 2007.
- . 'Charles II, 1678: (Stat. 2.) An Act for the more effectuall preserving the Kings Person and Government by disableing Papists from sitting in either House of Parlyament.', Statutes of the Realm: volume 5: 1628-80 (1819), pp. 894-96. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=47482. Date accessed: 6 March 2007.
- . 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, Test Acts
- Committees for the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts: the minutes of two committees for the repeal of the Act. First published by the London Record Society, available as part of British History Online.
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