Book of Common Riots


This week 470 years ago, there were riots in Devon and Cornwall. The rest of the country wasn’t very happy either. The Act of Uniformity had been passed by Parliament, requiring sole use of Thomas Cranmer’s new prayer book in all of England and Wales’ churches. The men of the southwest were fond of the popish superstitions it had sought to replace. No more were Englishmen to invoke saints at times of need, no longer was the communion wafer to be held aloft that those present might ‘adore’ it and no more would the priest heard mumbling in Latin. ‘With a loud voice’ he would now pray in English.

It wasn’t just those inclined to Rome who were aggrieved at the Book of Common Prayer’s grand entrance. Some keen protestants, later called puritans, felt the book was still too Catholic and hadn’t gone far enough. Some saints’ days were retained, the minister was sometimes designated ‘priest’ and worshippers were expected to bow their heads at the mention of Jesus.

Cranmer had tried the via media, a middle way, between the hotter sort of both sides. By having a protestant prayer book that retained some of the previous, Roman Catholic characteristics, it was hoped that it would be more palatable to traditionalists who sincerely wanted to obey the government. Within a century, a Puritan Parliament had banned the book and in 1662, 2000 ministers chose poverty and unemployment over being forced to read from it once it was reintroduced.

The Book of Common Prayer is a wonderful piece of literature and religious devotion. Cranmer was a real man of God and his words are delicious. Yet his great contribution to our culture and national church was anathema to many a Christian. I’ve just bought a copy and look forward to reading it and even praying through its pages. This is not to betray our puritan heritage, for the Acts of Uniformity are no longer in force, and those bits I deem unscriptural I shall ignore- an option denied the ejected ministers in 1662.