Rivista di Massoneria - Revue de Franc-Maçonnerie - Revista de Masonerìa - Revista de Maçonaria
History Literature Music Art Architecture Documents Rituals Symbolism

PS Logo



Approaches to the History of Secularism and Laïcité in Great Britain

First published in French as 'Laïcité et secularisation en Grande-Bretagne' in Laïcité et secularisation dans l'Union européene', ed. Alain Dierkens and Jean-Philippe Schreiber (Brussels: Editions de l'Université de Bruxelles, 2006), pp. 137-149.

‘Thought is prison-bound, with massive chains of old church-welding; human capacity for progress is hindered, grated in by prison bars, priest-wrought and law-protected; the good wide field of common humanity is over-crowded with the trunks of vast creed frauds, the outgrowth of ancient mythologies … Atheist, without God, I look to humankind for sympathy, for love, for hope, for effort, for aid’.[i]

Charles Bradlaugh (1833-91)


The most secret part of the proceedings of the British parliament takes place at the beginning of each day’s session. It is the only parliamentary business which is not televised, and it is not reported in Hansard, the official record of the proceedings of parliament. No members of the public are admitted while this ceremony is performed. This mysterious event consists of the Christian prayers which, since at least the end of the sixteenth century, have been recited before the members of each house take their seats. In the House of Lords, the prayers are recited by a bishop of the Church of England. In the House of Commons, the prayers are usually said by the chaplain of the Speaker, the member who presides over proceedings of the house.  The form of prayer used in the House of Commons seeks the guidance of the Holy Spirit for the Queen, her government and members of parliament, and asks that ‘they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals’.[ii]

The daily parliamentary prayers are a surprisingly uncontroversial aspect of British parliamentary procedure. Indeed, the fact that they are a private proceeding seems to be valued by members of both Houses of Parliament.[iii] There is apparently little support for the view that religion should not feature in the work of the governing body of the nation. Rather, the consensus appears to be that there should be more, not less, religion. A recent proposal by a Muslim Labour MP that a multi-faith prayer room should be provided in the House of Commons was sympathetically considered by the Commons Administration Committee.[iv] The first debate of the Scottish Parliament after its revival in 1999 was on a motion that its sessions should also begin with prayers. The motion was carried by a large majority.[v]

It is perhaps not surprising that prayers intrude themselves into government in a country where, since the sixteenth century, the monarch has been the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith. The Church of England continues to form a prominent aspect of what the nineteenth-century commentator Walter Bagehot called the ‘dignified section’ of the British constitution. 26 bishops of the Church of England sit in the House of Lords, while the government still exercises considerable control over the Church of England. The appointment of bishops is a function of government. For episcopal vacancies, a Crown Nominations Commission produces a shortlist of two names. The Prime Minister chooses one of these names, which is forwarded to the monarch who ratifies the appointment.[vi] Church property and assets are controlled by an independent commission which ultimately reports to parliament.[vii] The authority for the form of services used in church ultimately resides in parliament and as recently as 1927-8 parliament rejected detailed proposals by the Church of England for the revision of the prayer book, parliament preferring to retain the historic 1662 prayer book.[viii]

However, despite the close relationship between church and state, most commentators would see Britain as a modern secular society; the distinguished historian A. J. P. Taylor commented of the 1928 prayer book crisis that it was an ‘echo of dead themes’ in an England which had already by then ‘ceased to be, in any real sense, a Christian nation’.[ix]  Taylor’s view that the relationship between church and state in England is now an issue of minor political significance was apparently confirmed by an event in 1983, when the prominent Socialist leader Tony Benn made a speech in a London church calling for the denationalisation of the church. Benn’s argument was not that the establishment of the church compromised the secular character of the state but rather that it introduced a ‘subtle corruption’ which prevented the church from campaigning on social issues. Benn’s attempt to launch a campaign on this subject created little interest. A leader in The Times declared that the issue was ‘of marginal importance to the life of the church and nation’.[x]

The apathetic reaction to Tony Benn’s speech contrasts with the furore caused by the comment of Prince Charles in 1994 that the monarch should be a ‘Defender of Faith’ rather than ‘Defender of the Faith’. Prince Charles was reported as saying that the most important need was that people believed in something, even if it was not the established church: ‘I happen to believe that the Catholic subjects of the sovereign are as important (as Protestants), not to mention the Islamic, Hindu and Zoroastrian’.[xi] The Prince quickly denied that he supported the disestablishment of the Church of England,[xii] but he has subsequently stressed his belief that all types of religion provide a means of healing social division and fracture, commenting for example that ‘In an age of secularism and cynicism it seems to me essential that all men of faith - those who acknowledge the existence of a higher dimension beyond the narrow, destructive confines of the egocentric world view - should come together in recognition of a common understanding of what is sacred and enduring in the human experience’.[xiii]

The contrasting reactions to the speeches of Tony Benn and Prince Charles suggest that the most pressing concern in contemporary British society is not the separation of church and state but rather how a modern state can even-handedly protect and nurture different forms of religious belief. The liberal commentator Hugo Young noted that Prince Charles’s comments in 1994 coincided with an announcement by the Department for Education that religious instruction in schools would no longer be restricted to Christian doctrine but would also pay equal attention to other religions. Approving this change, Young stated that ‘A sense of the religious is more appropriate for inculcation by state decree than the doctrine of a particular religion’. A similar outlook is evident in many recent government statements and actions. In November 2003, the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw opposed the inclusion of any reference to a European Christian heritage in the proposed European constitution, not on the grounds that the constitution was a lay document in which religion was irrelevant, but rather ‘because countries have different views about the nature of that heritage’. He noted that many European countries contained significant Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist populations, and argued that this made such a reference in any constitution inappropriate.[xiv] In a recent speech, Straw, who represents a parliamentary constituency with a large Muslim population, declared that a primary responsibility of government is ‘to provide a space in which the rights and diversity of people of all faiths are protected and, at the same time, set a clear framework – through its domestic laws – of acceptable behaviour for all its citizens regardless of creed’. He concluded that ‘the story of Europe is not a simple, linear one of secular values steadily pushing out and eroding religious ones. Rather the European experience is one of an accommodation between faith and modernity’.[xv]

Secularity, for contemporary British politicians, thus both safeguards, and is safeguarded by, religious plurality. In such a context, does the French tradition of laïcité, and the model established by the 1905 law separating church and state, have any relevance? A leader in The Times in 1906, commenting on the struggle over the separation of church and state in France, saw the controversies in France at that time as echoing more ancient events in England: ‘The struggle which is now going on in France is largely analogous’, it declared, ‘to that which was fought out in this country nearly 400 years ago. It would be well for Englishmen to bear this fact constantly in mind. When the cry is raised that religion is in danger, we may all remember that the vindication of the right to manage our own affairs has made this country more, not less religious, than it was before…’[xvi] In suggesting that the French were now crossing a bridge over which the English had passed at the time of the Reformation, however, The Times was ignoring the fact that the period since 1800 had seen the gradual destruction of many of the most important legal privileges of the established church in England. Many of the concerns which produced these legislative reforms in England were similar to those which underpinned parallel developments in France, namely free access to such basic human needs as education, health care and burial regardless of religious conviction.

By contrast with France, the nineteenth-century legislative process by which the monopoly of the Church of England was dismantled was piecemeal and spasmodic. This is illustrated by the statutes governing the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.[xvii] In the 1830s, protestant nonconformists could study at Cambridge but not receive degrees; in Oxford, they were not admitted at all. In 1854, protestants of other denominations were permitted to study at Oxford and receive degrees. Two years later, the statutes of Cambridge University were reformed so that nonconformists who had studied there could receive degrees. However, many of the senior positions in both universities continued to be reserved to Church of England clergymen. This anomaly was not resolved until 1871. The ad hoc nature of these legislative changes often created rather than resolved anomalies in the constitutional role of the church. While the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 reduced protests against one form of payment to the clergy of the established church, all house owners were still required to pay a tax to the church known as the church rate.[xviii] This was administered by the vestry – named after the room where the clergy put on their vestments – which since the sixteenth century had also accrued many important functions in local government. The Church of England insisted that the church rate was a hallmark of its position as a national church, and the tax was only finally abolished in 1868. However, despite the abolition of church rates, the vestry, chaired by the local clergyman, retained significant local government functions. Even when these were replaced by parish councils, that the parish was finally secularised as a unit of local government until 1894, when local clergymen were relieved of the chairmanship. Even then, as Edward Norman has pointed out, ‘in practice the association with the Church lingered on in many places, especially as the Church had usually built the village halls where the council met’.[xix]

The nineteenth century thus saw a legislative process in England by which church and state were disentangled, but this was implemented in a pragmatic and fragmented fashion. Moreover, this process was driven not so much by a lay reaction against the power of the church, but rather by the demands of nonconformist and other religious groups for equal legislative treatment. It was the consequence of tension between church and chapel. In parts of Britain the Church of England eventually lost its position as the established church, but this was because the majority of the population in those areas subscribed to other churches. In Ireland, disestablishment was an attempt to pacify the catholic population, while in Wales the demand for disestablishment reflected the prominent role of protestant nonconformity in Welsh life. The disestablishment of the Welsh church was bitterly resisted by the Church of England, and delayed until the outbreak of the First World War.[xx] The Welsh example is a reflection of the way in which the federal character of the British nation means that no single religious model can be applied across the country. In Scotland, while Presbyterianism cast a grim shadow over Scottish life until the 1950s, it was less formally integrated into Scottish government than was the case with the church in England.[xxi]

While nonconformists opposed the legislative privileges of the Church of England, they were anxious to retain the generally Christian character of Britain. Although they campaigned against the payment of church rates, they were opposed to the growth of leisure and other activities on Sundays.[xxii] The act of 1880 permitting the use of non-conformist burial rites allowed Christian services of all types in burial grounds but prohibited the use of anti-Christian services or words.[xxiii]  As Edward Norman has observed, ‘For all their appeals to a secular state, the Nonconformists were really only out to end the legal ascendancy of one denomination over another’.[xxiv] The paradoxes created by a process of secularisation driven by religious pluralism are particularly evident in the controversies surrounding state support for education. As in continental Europe, the role of religion figured prominently in debates about state education, but in a different way to the European situation. Nonconformists on the whole did not advocate a purely secular system of education in state schools, but objected to using public money to support schools run by the Church of England. The compromise struck in 1870 was a dual system whereby state schools would teach a ‘common Christianity’, while state support for Church of England schools was dependent on a ‘conscience clause’ which allowed non-conformist parents attending Church of England schools to withdraw their children from religious instruction.[xxv]

If the appearance of legislative provisions characteristic of a modern secular state in Britain during the nineteenth century was chiefly a response to the demands of religious equality and pluralism, is it appropriate to talk about a process of secularisation at this time? Callum Brown has recently argued that the assumption that the growth of an industrial society in Britain saw a decline of religious belief is based on excessively rigid measures of religious belief, such as church attendance, and reflects the anxieties of Victorian churchmen rather than the cultural reality.[xxvi] He argues that Victorian Britain was a profoundly religious society, and that Britain was not truly secularised until the 1960s. Other scholars, such as Hugh McLeod, have argued that there was a distinct secularisation of British society between 1870 and 1914, mirroring the process in other European countries such as France, Belgium and Germany.[xxvii] For McLeod, however, this secularisation of British life from 1880 was not so much a product of laïcité but of lifestyle. He identifies a number of social changes which helped drive these changes. One was the decline of paternalism - not only in towns and cities with the rise of new professional classes, but also in the countryside, where the impact of cheap imported grain led to radical changes in the organisation of agricultural labour. At the same time, new leisure activities were developing which offered powerful competition to the churches – McLeod suggests that the comments by enthusiasts of the new organised sports that they were like a religion should be interpreted literally. Alongside these social and economic changes was the intellectual challenge posed by the impact of new scientific discoveries and the criticism of the bible. This did not necessarily lead to outright freethinking, but, as a number of contemporary commentators observed, there was an increasing unwillingness to accept the dogmatic view of earlier generations and the emergence of a broader and more relativistic view of religion.

While the extent and character of any secularisation in Britain in the late nineteenth century remains controversial, there is one point on which all scholars seem agreed, namely that freethinkers and anti-clerical secularists had a limited impact on the British situation. Although Victorian commentators saw the secularist movement in Britain as a serious threat, and some ascribed the alleged growth of religious apathy among the working classes directly to the influence of freethinkers, subsequent research has suggested that the freethought movement in Britain was relatively small and had limited political impact. Edward Royle has undertaken a detailed analysis of the membership of British freethought organisations.[xxviii] The leading body, the National Secular Society (NSS), never published membership figures, but Royle calculated from subscription income that its maximum membership in 1883-4 was 3,792.[xxix] This was, however, an exceptional year. For the next ten years, membership fluctuated between two and three thousand. By 1900, membership of the society had dropped below one thousand and in 1915 the NSS had 860 members. Local freethought organisations were also quite small. Even the most active rarely had more than a hundred members. In 1878, the secular union for the major industrial city of Manchester had just 190 members, while in 1884 the umbrella organisation for secularists in the north of England had 498 members.[xxx]

The period of the greatest success of the NSS coincided with the dramatic battle waged by its president Charles Bradlaugh to be allowed to take a seat in parliament.[xxxi] Bradlaugh was the most influential and controversial advocate of freethought in Victorian Britain. He was born in humble circumstances in the East End of London. He became a Sunday School teacher, but when he asked his local clergyman to explain discrepancies in the bible, he was accused of atheism. Suspended from his Sunday duties, he attended radical meetings and became confirmed in his opposition to Christianity. He was sacked from his job and thrown out by his family. After a spell of military service, he became a solicitor’s clerk and in his spare time wrote and campaigned against organised religion. In 1860, Bradlaugh became editor of the National Reformer, which he quickly established as the leading journal of secular anti-religious views. Bradlaugh was the first President of the National Secular Society and by his barnstorming speaking tours in the provinces was chiefly responsible for turning it into a national organisation. From 1874, Bradlaugh formed a close alliance with Annie Besant and together they energetically lectured, wrote and campaigned to establish in Britain a secular republican society, free of established religion and hereditary privilege. Bradlaugh and Besant achieved national notoriety when they were prosecuted for obscenity for reprinting a manual describing methods of birth control. After a dramatic trial, they were eventually found not guilty.

Bradlaugh's anti-religious views were throughout his career accompanied by political radicalism. He supported nationalist movements in Ireland and India. He was a tireless advocate of republicanism in Britain and a prominent member of the Reform League, which campaigned for an extension of the parliamentary suffrage. Bradlaugh became a political cause célèbre when he was elected as MP for the nonconformist and liberal town of Northampton in 1880. Bradlaugh was under the impression that earlier legislation allowed him to affirm on taking his seat in parliament, rather than swearing an oath on the bible. It was ruled that new members of parliament should take an oath on the bible. Bradlaugh expressed his willingness to do so, but the idea that a notorious atheist should take a sacred oath created outrage and it was ruled that Bradlaugh should not be allowed to take the oath. This precipitated one of the most virulent political controversies of the period. Bradlaugh was repeatedly re-elected by his constituency. Attempts by him to enter the House of Commons were forcibly prevented and at one point he was imprisoned in the tower beneath Big Ben. The controversy convulsed the nation and at various points it became virtually impossible to get any business through parliament. Eventually in 1885, a new speaker allowed Bradlaugh to take an oath, followed by legislation the following year which allowed MPs to affirm.

It has been suggested that the Bradlaugh case was a political side-show, which resulted merely in the removal of a minor constitutional anomaly, ‘a footnote in constitutional history’,[xxxii] but this underestimates the impact of the public controversy at the time. The Bradlaugh case triggered a widespread public debate about the role of religious belief in British political life which was no less impassioned than those which were then convulsing other countries in western Europe. Indeed, it is clear that both Bradlaugh and his opponents saw the controversy over his admission to parliament as analogous to the debates in France about laïcité. One of Bradlaugh’s opponents pointed to the history of France as a warning of the dangers of godless government, protested against the proposal to build a Channel Tunnel (which Bradlaugh supported), and argued that to admit Bradlaugh to parliament would ‘destroy the distinctions between the basis of government in the two countries’.[xxxiii] Correspondingly, Bradlaugh insisted that religion had no place in a political assembly – that parliament should be laïque: ‘This is a political assembly, met to decide upon the policy of the nation, and not upon the religious opinions of the citizens’.[xxxiv]

Bradlaugh was well informed about the debates on laïcité in France, Belgium and elsewhere. He had close contacts with the French refugees who fled to Britain after the coup of 1851. His daughter Hypatia fondly recalled the visitors to Bradlaugh’s house in Tottenham in the 1860s: ‘There were Frenchmen like Talandier, Le Blanc, Elisée Reclus, Alphonse Esquiros; Italians and Englishmen working for Mazzini and Garibaldi; Irish politicals like General Cluseret and Kelly; and there was Alexander Herzen, for whom my father had a great admiration, and whom he always counted as a friend’.[xxxv] Bradlaugh was the secretary of a committee which defended the publisher of a pamphlet supporting Count Orsini’s attempt to assassinate Napoleon III, and he organised public meetings in support of the French émigré physician, Simon Bernard, who was tried in London for allegedly supplying guns and explosives to Orsini. Bradlaugh was a critical figure in rallying support in Britain for the establishment of the Third Republic in France. He had been a prominent supporter of Garibaldi, and undertook a hazardous journey to Spain to deliver a message of support for republicans there the time of the Second Carlist uprising in 1873. Above all, through Simon Bernard, Bradlaugh become a member of a lodge of French freemasons meeting in London.[xxxvi] Most of the members of this lodge were French refugees from Napoleon III’s regime who, on arrival in England, had sought to join English lodges and had been horrified by the loyalist and religious character of English freemasonry. They wished to create a form of freemasonry in England which was more like French freemasonry: more socially inclusive, less dominated by the clergy, open to freethinkers and willing to campaign on social and religious issues. They formed close links with like-minded lodges in France, Belgium and elsewhere. Following the breach between the Grand Lodges of England and France over the admission of atheists in 1877-8, Bradlaugh used the pages of the National Reformer to make the position of French freemasons better understood in England.

The controversy over Bradlaugh’s admission to parliament was thus closely connected with the struggle for laïcité in France, Belgium and elsewhere from 1870. Bradlaugh’s European vision and stature were expressed in his work in establishing the International Union of Freethinkers founded in Brussels in 1880.[xxxvii] Moreover, Bradlaugh was not an isolated figure. He was the heir to a tradition of English freethought which had its roots in the works of such figures as Thomas Paine and Robert Owen.[xxxviii] When he was thrown out of his home as a young man, Bradlaugh was taken in by the common law wife of Richard Carlile (1790-1843), the Devon tin worker who had been the populariser of Thomas Paine’s works in England.[xxxix] Carlile was imprisoned in 1819 for reprinting Thomas Paine’s deist tract, The Age of Reason, but in a bravura campaign, conducted from his prison room in Dorchester, he managed to defy the government’s attempts to prevent the publication of Paine’s book and eventually the government gave up trying to ban the work, a key victory in establishing freedom of the press in Britain.

Carlile was also a major influence on George Jacob Holyoake (1817-1906).[xl] Holyoake had first been led to question conventional views of religion by his association with Robert Owen and Holyoake’s Owenite roots are reflected in the fact that his most influential work was in the promotion of the co-operative movement. Holyoake’s writings and lectures against Christianity led to his imprisonment for blasphemy in 1841. Holyoake developed from Owen’s ideas a philosophy which he called secularism. While Holyoake was himself an atheist, he argued that secularism should not be taken as implying the existence or otherwise of God. It was a movement for freedom of expression and belief without interference from church or state. Holyoake’s friendship with intellectuals such as John Stuart Mill and Harriet Martineau enabled him to promote in educated society the view that Victorian religious pluralism should accommodate those who did not believe in a God. The arrival of European political refugees in London after the events of 1848 and 1851 made Holyoake aware of the European dimensions of secularism. Again, Holyoake was secretary of the committee formed to send volunteers in support of Garibaldi and was friendly with many political émigrés ranging from Louis Blanc and Ledru-Rollin to Mazzini’s associate Aurelio Saffi and the Hungarian leader Kossuth.[xli] Holyoake was even involved in testing bombs for use by Orsini (they did not work).[xlii] Holyoake’s emphasis on the need for religious tolerance and his refusal aggressively to press the claims of atheism led him into conflict with Bradlaugh, but they both show how, after 1848, the indigenous British freethought movement developed a European complexion and understanding.

Even if there was no widespread swell of opinion in support of freethinkers like Carlile, Holyoake and Bradlaugh, they nevertheless made, through their campaigns on such issues as the freedom of the press, fundamental contributions to the process by which during the nineteenth century the legislative monopoly of the Church of England was dismantled. The process of secularisation is a complex one, but one component is certainly the establishment of a legislative framework which allows for freedom of religious belief. As far as Britain is concerned, the contribution of freethinkers such as Carlile and Bradlaugh to the creation of such a situation was very significant. Moreover, the careers of Holyoake and Bradlaugh show that British freethinkers were an important conduit by which the struggle for laïcité in countries such as France, Belgium and Italy impinged on reform movements in Britain.

 Discussion of the careers of Holyoake and Bradlaugh has chiefly considered them in a British perspective, but it is essential to place them in the context of European ideas, and particularly the growth of laïcité. This raises questions about the way in which the process of secularisation in the late nineteenth century is viewed. British scholars have tended to consider the extent and character of secularisation in the late nineteenth century in national compartments. For example, Hugh McLeod looks at secularisation in western Europe by comparative studies of the situation in France, England and Germany. However, the careers of Bradlaugh, Holyoake and others show how there was considerable contact and cross-fertilisation between secular movements in these and other countries, facilitated by the movements of political refugees after 1848. In this context, as Benoît Mély has emphasised,[xliii] secularisation cannot simply be considered as a series of disjointed national developments, but rather as a dynamic movement with complex interconnections across national boundaries.

Bradlaugh would have relished the controversy at the beginning of 2006 over the publication of cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed. An illustration of the contrast between the British and European views of secularity is that, while the cartoons were republished in the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium and Scandinavia, in general they were not reproduced by the British media. A curious exception was two Welsh publications. The editor and three journalists from Gair Rhydd (‘Free word’), a English language student newspaper in Cardiff, were dismissed and 20,000 copies of the paper pulped by order of the students’ union after publication of one of the cartoons.[xliv] A cartoon also appeared in the Welsh language publication Y Llan (‘The Church’) illustrating an article by the editor of the magazine, the Archdeacon of Bangor, which was described as a balanced and intelligent discussion of inter-faith relations,. The Archdeacon resigned as editor after the Archbishop of Wales issued an apology to the Muslim community in Wales. The Archbishop wrote to all 400 subscribers to the magazine asking them to return their copies so that they could be destroyed.[xlv] Even the offending number of the journal in the National Library of Wales was returned.[xlvi]

Bradlaugh, Carlile and Holyoake would have appreciated the irony of an archdeacon who stood up for the freedom of the press being disciplined by an archbishop. Although in general most Welsh politicians and commentators agreed with the Welsh Assembly Equality Minister Jane Hutt that publication of the cartoons was ‘extraordinarily inappropriate’ and that she was ‘glad’ that the Archdeacon had resigned, the controversy created concern among some Welsh-speaking commentators. Siôn Jobbins claimed that Jane Hutt’s comments reflected ‘an underlying presumption by some that an article in Welsh, a covert and, by extension, suspect language, would be by definition “anti-cosmopolitan” and “reactionary” in nature’.[xlvii] Jobbins’s remarks reflect unease that, in the debates about the nature of Britishness triggered by incidents like the publication of the cartoons of Mohammed, Britishness is frequently conflated with Englishness and the distinct cultural heritage of other British nations is overlooked.[xlviii] Yet it was Welsh-speaking nonconformists who were in the forefront of the campaign in the nineteenth century to dismantle the constitutional monopoly of the Church of England and who helped forge at that time a new religious establishment in Britain which had religious pluralism as its central tenet. A further irony is that, while this settlement left freethinkers like Bradlaugh beyond the pale, Bradlaugh himself was dependent on nonconformist support in his struggle to take up his seat in parliament.

It is tempting to see the emergence of this religious pluralism in the nineteenth century as distinctive to the British situation. Yet many of the compromises and accommodations made by Bradlaugh were also forced on supporters of laïcite in continental Europe. The contribution of liberal protestants in securing the 1905 law in France has, for example, recently been analysed by Jacqueline Lalouette.[xlix] In denying that modern Europe is secular, contemporary British politicians such as Jack Straw is harking back to the idea that a distinctive form of religious pluralism emerged in Britain in the nineteenth century. This not only over-simplifies the British situation and its European context, but also overlooks the important contribution to the British radical tradition of men like Bradlaugh and their connection with wider European movements. If he had been alive today, Bradlaugh would certainly have argued that, in the light of events such as the July 2005 bomb attacks in London or the controversy over the cartoons, the case for more laïcité in both Britain and Europe should be revisited.

[i] National Reformer, 28 Feb. 1862, cited by David TRIBE, President Charles Bradlaugh MP, London: ELEK, 71, p. 85. I am very grateful to Professor Jeffrey Tyssens for his helpful comments on this paper.

[ii] House of Commons Information Office, Some Traditions and Customs of the House, Factsheet G7, 2004, p. 3; Companion to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords, 2005, pp. 35, 236.

[iii] House of Commons Broadcasting Committee, The Rules of Coverage: First Report of Session 2002-3, 2003, p. 7.

[v] Scottish Parliament Official Report, 1.3, 18 May 1999.

[vii] Geoffrey BEST, Temporal Pillars: Queen Anne’s Bounty, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the Church of England , Cambridge: CUP, 1964; http://www.cofe.anglican.org/about/churchcommissioners/ (accessed 7 Aug. 2006).

[viii] G. I. T. MACHIN, 'Parliament, the Church of England, and the Prayer Book Crisis, 1927-1928', Parliamentary History vol. 19, 2000, p. 131-47.

[ix] A. J. P. TAYLOR, English History, 1914-45, Oxford, CLARENDON, 1965, p. 259.

[x] The Times, 3 Mar. 1983.

[xi] The Times, 26 Jun. 1994.

[xii] The Independent, 27 Jun. 1994.

[xiv] House of Commons Standing Committee on the Intergovernmental Conference, 10 Nov. 2003, cols. 50-51.

[xvi] The Times, 26 Dec. 1906.

[xvii] Edward NORMAN, Church and Society in England 1770-1970, Oxford, CLARENDON, 1976, pp. 116-7, 217; G. I. T. MACHIN, Politics and the Churches in Great Britain 1832 to 1868, Oxford, CLARENDON, 1977, pp. 43-4, 267-9, 275, 337.

[xviii] NORMAN, Church and Society, op. cit., pp. 109-12, 216-7; MACHIN, Politics and the Churches, op. cit.

[xix] NORMAN, Church and Society, op. cit., p. 219.

[xx] Philip BELL, Disestablishment in Ireland and Wales, London, SPCK, 1969.

[xxi] Callum BROWN, Religion and Society in Scotland since 1707, Edinburgh, EUP, 1997.

[xxii] John WIGLEY, The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Sunday, Manchester, MUP, 1980.

[xxiii] NORMAN, Church and Society, op. cit., p. 209.

[xxiv] NORMAN, Church and Society, op. cit., p. 219.

[xxv] NORMAN, Church and Society, op. cit ., p. 205-8; G. I. T. MACHIN, Politics and the Churches in Great Britain, Oxford, OUP, 1987, p. 31-9.

[xxvi] Callum BROWN, The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation 1800-2000, London, ROUTLEDGE, 2001.

[xxvii] Hugh McLEOD, Secularisation in Western Europe 1848-1914, London, MACMILLAN, 2000. 

[xxviii] Edward ROYLE, Radicals, Secularists and Republicans: Popular Freethought in Britain, 1866-1915, Manchester, MUP, 1980, p. 126-36.

[xxix] ROYLE, Radicals, Secularists and Republicans, op. cit., p. 134.

[xxx] ROYLE, Radicals, Secularists and Republicans, op. cit., p. 135-6.

[xxxi] On Bradlaugh, see David TRIBE, President Charles Bradlaugh, op. cit., and Walter ARNSTEIN, The Bradlaugh Case: Atheism, Sex, and Politics among the Late Victorians, 2nd ed., Columbia, UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI PRESS, 1983.

[xxxii] TRIBE, President Charles Bradlaugh MP, op. cit., p. 9.

[xxxiii] Hypatia BRADLAUGH BONNER, Charles Bradlaugh: a Record of His Life and Work by His Daughter, 1908 edn., London, UNWIN, vol. 2, p. 295.

[xxxiv] BRADLAUGH BONNER, Charles Bradlaugh, op. cit., vol. 2, p. 268.

[xxxv] BRADLAUGH BONNER, Charles Bradlaugh, op. cit., vol. 1, p. 114-5.

[xxxvi] Andrew PRESCOTT, ‘"The Cause of Humanity": Charles Bradlaugh and Freemasonry’, Ars Quatuor Coronatorum vol. 116, 2003, p. 15-64.

[xxxvii] TRIBE, President Charles Bradlaugh MP, op. cit., p. 211-2, 264. Records of the World Union of Freethinkers are held in the International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, and the British Library of Political and Economic Science, London.

[xxxviii] The definitive studies of this tradition are Edward ROYLE, Victorian Infidels: the Origins of the British Secularist Movement 1791-1866, Manchester, MUP, 1974, and ROYLE, Radicals, Secularists and Republicans, op. cit.

[xxxix] On Carlile, see Joel H. WIENER, Radicalism and Freethought in Nineteenth-century Britain: the Life of  Richard Carlile, Contributions in Labor History no. 13, Westport, Conn, GREENWOOD, 1983.

[xl] On Holyoake, see Lee GRUGEL, George Jacob Holyoake: a Study in the Evolution of a Victorian Radical, Philadelphia, PORCUPINE, 1976.

[xli] George Jacob HOLYOAKE, Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life, 1906 edn., London, UNWIN, vol. 1, pp. 90-9; vol. 2, pp. 19-41.

[xlii] HOLYOAKE, Sixty Years of an Agitator’s Life, op. cit., vol. 2, pp. 19-25.

[xliii] Benoît MELY, La question de la séparation des églises et de l'école dans quelques pays européens : Allemagne, France, Grande-Bretagne, Italie: 1789-1914, Lausanne: PAGE DEUX, 2004.

[xliv] The Times, 8 Feb. 2006.

[xlv] The Times, 22 Mar. 2006.

[xlvi] According to Siôn JOBBINS, ‘Llanistan (or the new Welsh Inquisition)’, Cambria 8.3 (Aug.-Sep. 2006), p. 28. Y Llan is also received by the National Library of Scotland and the Bodleian Library, Oxford. It is not clear if these copies were also returned.

[xlvii] JOBBINS, ‘Llanistan’, op. cit., p. 31.

[xlviii] Cf. Mario Basini, ‘Being British Swings Both Ways’, Western Mail, 3 Dec. 2005: ‘Multi-culturalism is not just about those who come from Asia or Eastern Europe to settle here. The British Isles after all is made up of four nations, each of which has its own culture and language’.

[xlix] Jacqueline LALOUETTE, La séparation des églises et de l'état: genèse et développement d'une idée, 1789-1905, Paris, SEUIL, 2005.