A bishops costume by HollarEpiscopacy is the government of the Church by a hierarchy of bishops. It was regarded with suspicion by many Protestants after the Reformation but was sanctioned in the Anglican church during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It became a cornerstone of the religious policy of King James I, who declared "No Bishop, No King", and was taken up by King Charles I and Archbishop Laud.

In defiance of the King's authority, bishops were abolished by the Scottish Kirk at the Glasgow Assembly of 1638, which was dominated by the anti-episcopalian Covenanters, leading to the Bishops' Wars of 1639-40.

In England, a bill for the abolition of episcopacy was drafted by Oliver St John and introduced to the Long Parliament in May 1641. Episcopacy was finally abolished by a parliamentary ordinance of 9 October 1646.

The Independent sects regarded episcopacy as corrupt and "popish". It was also vehemently opposed by the Presbyterians, who advocated a non-hierarchical system of Church government. Despite the hostility of these two main Parliamentarian factions, King Charles refused to compromise his adherence to Episcopacy and was still arguing for its retention at the Treaty of Newport in 1648 — the final attempt at a negotiated settlement between King and Parliament.

During the Commonwealth and Protectorate years, deposed bishops tended to live quietly in retirement. Many former Episcopalian clergymen were prepared to serve the new order to gain a church benefice, but others refused to acknowledge the Interregnum church and sought refuge with Royalist gentry as private chaplains, schoolmasters or tutors. There was support amongst all classes of society for the old liturgy; Episcopalian tracts continued to be published and the Prayer Book continued to be used in private services. The Protectorate government made stringent efforts to drive out former Royalist clergy, particularly during the Rule of the Major-Generals, but to limited effect.

Episcopacy was restored to the Anglican Church with the return of Charles II in 1660.


S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War vols. iii & iv, (London 1889)

John Morrill (ed), Revolution and Restoration: England in the 1650s (London 1992)

David Stevenson, The Scottish Revolution 1637-44, (Newton Abbott 1973)