Court of High Commission

The Court of High Commission was the supreme ecclesiastic court in England. One of its powers was to license plays for publication.[1] It was instituted by the crown in 1559 to enforce the Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy. John Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury, obtained increased powers for the Court by the 1580s. He proposed and had passed the Seditious Sectaries Act 1593, thus making Puritanism an offence.[2][3] The Court reached the height of its powers during the Reformation and was finally dissolved by the Long Parliament in 1641. The court was convened at will by the sovereign, and had near unlimited power over civil as well as church matters. There were also Scottish Courts of High Commission which vied with the General Assembly and lower church courts for authority.[4]

One such court was created by King James II on 27 July 1686, which lasted until 26 August 1688.

Dissolution by the Triennial Act

The Court of High Commission was dissolved by the Triennial Act, passed by Parliament in 1641. The Triennial Act held that the Crown summon Parliament every three years. It also impeached archbishop William Laud, who had been supported by Charles I. Laud's new ideas and prayers had upset the Scots, and when Charles was refused an army from Parliament, which did not trust him, he created his own. This led in part to the English Civil War.


  1. Dutton, p. 149
  2. "The Act Against Puritans (1593)". Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  3. Long title: An Act For the preventing and avoiding of such great inconveniencies and perils as might happen and grow by the wicked and dangerous practices of seditious sectaries and disloyal persons (35 Eliz., c. 1)
  4. McMahon, George I. R. (1965). The Scottish Courts of High Commission, 1620-1638. Edinburgh: Scottish Church History Society.


  • 'High Commission, Court of' , retrieved 4 August 2005
  • The Glorious Revolution of 1688 , retrieved 4 August 2005
  • ' A History of the Woodforde Family from 1300' , retrieved 4 August 2005
  • Dutton, Richard (1991). Mastering the Revels: The Regulation and Censorship of English Renaissance Drama, London: Palgrave Macmillan ISBN 0-87745-335-7