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The Seven Bishops of the Church of England were those imprisoned and tried for seditious libel related to their opposition to the second Declaration of Indulgence, issued by James II in 1688. In a major embarrassment to the Crown, they were found not guilty.
The Declaration granted broad religious freedom in England by suspending penal laws that enforced conformity to the Church of England, by allowing persons to worship in their homes or chapels as they saw fit, and by ending affirming religious oaths as a requirement for employment in government office.
The Declaration of Indulgence had originally been given out on 4 April 1687. The King republished it, with some new prefatory matter, on 25 April 1688. On 4 May the King and his council ordered the bishops that the declaration should be read in all the (Anglican) churches – those of London on 20 May and outside London on 27 May and the two following Sundays. This was the only way to make the document swiftly and generally known, which was James's straightforward object. The Anglican clergy felt it a challenge to themselves, for many of them were opposed to the toleration of Roman Catholics and Nonconformists, as were very many English people.
Nine days passed with no objection; then, on 13 May, at Lambeth Palace, Compton (Bishop of London), Sancroft (Archbishop of Canterbury), Turner (Bishop of Ely) and White (Bishop of Peterborough), resolved to defy James's order. They summoned seven others, of whom four actually came – Lake (Bishop of Chichester), Lloyd (St Asaph), Trelawny (Bristol) and Ken (Bath and Wells) – to a meeting of eight. Compton was under suspension following another dispute with the King. The others, known as the Seven Bishops, signed a petition requesting that they be excused; they claimed that the King did not have the legal right to make exemptions from statutes, the dispensing power having been declared illegal by Parliament. However, the King's power to dispense individuals from the provisions of a statute – that is to declare that the individual need not observe its provisions – had recently been reaffirmed in Godden v Hales after James had dismissed judges he knew to be opposed to his exercise of it. The Lord Chief Justice, Sir Edward Herbert, had ruled in Godden v Hales that : "It is an indispensable prerogative in the Kings of England to dispense with penal laws in particular cases, and upon particular necessary reasons...Of those reasons and those necessities the King himself is the sole judge."
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