There was change in the Church, too. Religion and politics were inseparably intertwined. Parliament was strongly Puritan, and wanted every trace of the reforms which Charles and Archbishop Laud had put in place removed. In 1643 it passed a law calling for ‘the utter demolishing, removing and taking away of all monuments of superstition or idolatry’ in churches, by which it meant crucifixes, railed altars, images, pictures of the Trinity, the Virgin and the saints, and any suspect stained glass windows. At Canterbury Cathedral, the ‘great idolatrous window’ showing the Trinity was smashed and the altar rails broken and used for firewood. Pieces of ancient coloured glass have been found during building works at St Leonard’s Church in Hythe, and may date from this time.
Parliament disliked the Book of Common prayer, used in every church, as being too popish, and a large section of parliament’s members, the Presbyterians, wanted bishops to be abolished as they were unbiblical. Parliament wanted Puritan clergy in every parish, and was also very much against the practice of pluralism, where ministers held more than one benefice. The church on the other hand argued that most parishes were so poor, it had to use pluralism in order to attract well-educated men into Holy Orders.
In 1643, parliament set up another committee, the Committee for Plundered Ministers to replace and effectively silence those ministers who were not Puritan, or not Puritan enough. It met in London, but it delegated much of its work to its sub-committees, one for each county. The sub-committee would hear evidence, often from local parishioners, of the errors in doctrine of the parish minister. If the allegations were proved, the man was replaced and his property seized so that he could only recover it by buying it back. Inevitably, parishioners sometimes used the committee’s activities as an opportunity to get rid of clergy they did not like.
The long-standing curate of Hythe, Thomas Kingsmill, died in 1640, and was replaced by another series of short-term curates. Wiiliam Kingsley, the Rector of Saltwood, remained in overall charge. He was also Rector of Great Chart, and of Ickham and archdeacon of Canterbury, in other words a thorough-going pluralist. He had also been one of Archbishop Laud’s right-hand men in carrying out his reforms, and so was a prime target for the Committee.
He was removed from his benefices at Ickham almost immediately, and then from Saltwood and Great Chart in April 1644 and from Canterbury cathedral in August that year. Usually the Committee offered the minister a choice of one or the other living, but Kingsley was not given this option. In 1646, yet another parliamentary innovation, the Committee for the Advance of Money, which extracted forced loans from rich Royalists, ordered him to pay them £300. When he did not, he was arrested, but seems to have been released and died the following year.
It would probably have been no comfort to him at all to know that he was not alone. Many of his near neighbours at Hythe suffered the same fate. It was open season on the clergy. The Vicar of Lyminge was removed because he would not move the altar back into the body of the church; the Vicars of Lympne and Elham were denounced by their parishioners for drunkenness and removed; the parishioners of Folkestone complained that their minister was too ‘aged and sickly’ and asked for someone better; and the Vicar of Lydd did not wait to be removed, but raised a troop of horse for the king at his own cost and rode to join Charles at Oxford.
In February 1644, the entire adult male population of Hythe, in common with the rest of Kent, had to take a solemn oath in church. The Sacred Vow and Covenant required them to swear to assist the forces of parliament against the forces of the king. A special sermon was delivered and the full text of the covenant was read while the men stood, hats removed, until the time came for them to pronounce the crucial words. Then they had to lift their right hands – bare, with no glove to shield the flesh from God’s sight and their neighbour’s gaze. Having declared the oath, they were to subscribe to it by writing their names on a roll or in a book, or making their mark next to their names. Clergy were to report the names of those who would not swear.
The next year, Parliament replaced the Book of Common Prayer, which had been used in all churches for nearly a hundred years, with the Directory of Public Worship. All bishops were deprived of their sees, deans of their deaneries, and cathedral canons of their prebends. The Church of England was effectively disestablished. The celebration of Christmas was forbidden as a superstitious feast with no warrant in the bible. although this was far from universally popular and there were riots in 1647 when the Mayor of Canterbury tried to enforce Parliament’s orders.
Hythe had a new minster to direct its spiritual journey, William Wallace. Wallace was a long way from home: he hailed from Aberdeen, and had not lost his marked Scottish accent. One of his detractors remarked that he ’spake English very ill, which was a disadvantage to himself and his hearers’. The people of Hythe, however, understood him perfectly well, and he was made welcome. He was a Calvinist Presbyterian of particularly radical views.
The Church now recognised baptism and holy communion as the only sacraments. William Wallace continued, at least for the time being, to baptise the children of Hythe, including his own offspring, although he would, according to the Directory, have been clear that this was not strictly necessary, as the children of the faithful were already Christians. There were no godparents and no set form of prayer for the event. Marriage, though not a sacrament, still had to take place in a church, and Hythe couples continued to be married in St Leonard’s. There were no longer any ceremonies at burials. These were seen as superstitious, but ‘civil respects or deferences’ could be paid at the graveside, ‘appropriate to the rank and condition of the party deceased’. The church bells which had tolled to mark the passing of a soul fell silent.
For those of even more radical views than William Wallace could cater for, various non-conformist sects were starting to flourish in the vicinity of Hythe. By 1646 Samuel Fisher had established himself as a Baptist preacher with a considerable following at Lydd, only a short distance away and easily reached on horseback. At the same time, John Durant and John Davis were respectively acting as pastors of the Congregational churches at Canterbury and Dover and there was an Independent congregation in Sandwich.