A Non-Juror is, in a sense, the ecclesiastical equivalent of what a Jacobite is in politics. King James II was the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and, when he was declared deposed in 1689, a large body of the clergy of the Church of England considered it immoral to take oaths to a new monarch while the old monarch to whom they had taken their original oaths still lived. This group was led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Sancroft, who died ‘deposed’ in 1693 having never taken new oaths. The Bishop of Norwich, William Lloyd, ordained bishops to continue the Apostolic Succession of the Church of England, loyal to the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings.
Clergy who refused to take the new oaths to William of Orange, whether bishops or presbyters, were ejected from their offices and benefices and forbidden to minister. They continued to do so, of course, and set up their own secret chapels for the faithful, in which they prayed for the true King. In 1714 the numbers of the Non-Jurors were swelled by the ‘accession’ of George of Hanover, since clergy who had been able to accept Queen Anne were unable to accept a monarch who succeeded to the throne purely on the grounds of his Protestantism.
While the official Church of England declined into the Erastianism and Socinianism associated with the 18th century church, the Non-Jurors began to consider the history of the Church of England and redefined its identity as a Catholic church purified by returning to the beliefs and practices of the apostolic and patristic period. Some saw the Orthodox Church as the inheritor of this authentic church and attempts were made by some Non-Jurors, such as Jeremy Collier, to unite with the Greek Patriarchate of Constantinople. Non-Jurors became scholars of the early church and were some of the finest minds of the era, such as George Hickes, Thomas Hearne, Humfrey Wanley, Jeremy Collier and William Law. The Non-Jurors preserved high church spirituality into the decadent 18th century and became a major inspiration for John and Charles Wesley’s spiritual revival.
Unfortunately, the Non-Jurors themselves were split by internal differences and steadily dwindled in numbers. Furthermore, many returned to the official Church of England after the death of Charles III in 1788, partly because the Hanoverian King George III was ecclesiastically and politically more conservative than his predecessors. However, the Non-Juring movement remained alive in Scotland where the Episcopal Church had never been established. Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church passed the Apostolic Succession to the bishops of the newly created American hierarchy in 1784.
The Non-Jurors accepted the Supreme Governorship of the later Stuart monarchs, even though they were Roman Catholic, and the Stuart monarchs themselves continued to appoint the Non-Juring Bishops. The Stuart Kings in exile were careful to ensure that at least some of their advisors at court were Non-Jurors in an effort to convince the English people that their intention was not to convert England to Catholicism. In 1753, Prince Charles Edward Stuart was received into the Non-Juring Church of England in a last effort to regain the throne. However, the Non-Jurors were never really an alternative Church of England in waiting and they quickly developed a new style of episcopacy which was non-territorial and far removed from the increasingly secular lordship of the official Church of England bishops. The Non-Jurors’ dissenting spirit, combined with high church theology, was best exemplified by a man who was never a Non-Juror at all – John Wesley.