William Laud

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The Most Revd William Laud
Archbishop William Laud
The Most Revd William Laud
Born (1573-10-07)7 October 1573
Reading, Berkshire
Died 10 January 1645(1645-01-10) (aged 71)
Tower Hill, London
Honored in
Anglican Communion
Feast January 10

The Most Reverend William Laud (1573–1645) was an English churchman and academic, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633, during the personal rule of Charles I. Arrested in 1640, he was executed in 1645.

In matters of church polity, Laud was autocratic. Laudianism refers to a collection of rules on matters of ritual, in particular, that were enforced by Laud in order to maintain uniform worship in England and Wales, in line with the king's preferences. They were precursors to later High Church views. In theology, Laud was accused of being an Arminian and opponent of Calvinism, as well as covertly favouring Roman Catholic doctrines: see Arminianism in the Church of England. On all three grounds, he was regarded by Puritan clerics and laymen as a formidable and dangerous opponent.

Laud favoured scholars, and was a major collector of manuscripts. He pursued ecumenical contacts with the Greek Orthodox Church. The pun "give great praise to the Lord, and little Laud to the devil" is a warning to King Charles attributed to Archibald Armstrong, the official court jester. Laud was known to be touchy about his diminutive stature.

Early life[edit]

He was born at Reading, Berkshire on 7 October 1573, the only son of William Laud, a clothier, and Lucy, née Webbe, widow of John Robinson, another clothier of the town, and sister of William Webbe, Lord Mayor of London. He was educated at Reading grammar school, and went in 1589 to St John's College, Oxford, matriculating on 17 October. In 1593 he became a fellow of the college. He graduated B.A. in 1594, M.A. in 1598, and D.D. in 1608. As an undergraduate Laud had for his tutor John Buckeridge, who became president of St John's in 1605.[1]

Laud was ordained deacon on 4 January 1601, and priest on 5 April in the same year. On 4 May 1603 he was one of the proctors for the year.[1]

Under James I[edit]

When Buckeridge left St John's in 1611, Laud succeeded him as President, but only after a hard patronage struggle reaching high court circles. The rival candidate John Rawlinson was chaplain to Lord Ellesmere, who was both Chancellor of the university, and Lord Chancellor of England. Laud was chaplain to Richard Neile, who was Clerk of the Closet. Eventually King James brushed aside irregularities in the election, settling matters in Laud's favour.[2]

Laud became Dean of Gloucester in 1616. At Gloucester Cathedral he then began ceremonial innovations with the communion table.[3] By local custom it stood in the middle of the choir, as was then usual in a parish church, rather than at the east end as was typical of cathedrals. Laud believed he had the king's blessing to renovate and improve the run-down building, but he offended his bishop, Miles Smith.[1]

Neile was Laud's consistent patron. He could not manage Laud's appointment as Dean of Westminster, a post that John Williams wished to retain. But in the face of hostility from the king, who found Laud's character to be that of a troublemaker, a see however marginal was obtained for Laud, who became Bishop of St David's at the end of 1621.[2]

Laud became a confidant of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham at the end of the reign. The Buckingham household employed John Percy (alias Fisher), a Jesuit, as chaplain, and the king wished to counter well-founded rumours that Percy was making Catholic converts there. In a three-day series of private debates with Percy in 1622, Laud was brought in to argue the Protestant case on the final day; pamphlets followed.[4] He then displaced John Preston in the capacity of religious adviser to the Duke, a change that became clear around December 1624.[5] Laud managed homosexual leanings discreetly, but confided his erotic dreams about Buckingham and others to a private diary.[6]

Under Charles I[edit]

1625 to 1628[edit]

Laud ascended rapidly to a position of influence in the period 1626 to 1628, advancing not alone but with a group of like-minded clerics who obtained bishoprics.[7] In September 1626 he took the court position of Dean of the Chapel Royal, vacant by the death of Lancelot Andrewes. A few days later, Buckingham told him outright that he was to succeed as Archbishop of Canterbury, when George Abbot died.[1] He immediately changed the Chapel services to privilege prayer over preaching, since King Charles's views were the opposite of his father's.[8]

Bishop of London, and "Thorough"[edit]

In July 1628 Laud was translated from Bath and Wells to become Bishop of London, in moves that followed on from the death of Andrewes. After this breakthrough in church politics, it becomes meaningful to define "Laudians" as his followers.[9]

On the political stage, the personal rule of Charles I began in 1629 and Laud shortly became a key part of it, in alliance with Thomas Wentworth. When Wentworth was posted to Ireland in 1632, Laud brought his personal correspondence from him rapidly to the king's attention.[10] It is in this correspondence, in 1633, that the term "Thorough" appears.[11] In practical terms it meant the pursuit of ambitious policy objectives, on behalf of the king, disregarding special interests, and, particularly, legalistic prevarications.[12] There were opponents at court: Richard Weston, 1st Earl of Portland, Francis Cottington, 1st Baron Cottington and Queen Henrietta Maria.[13] Cottington observed that Laud could not keep his temper in Council meetings, and by 1637 Laud found he could not follow Wentworth in imagining their push for rigid policies would succeed.[14]

Archbishop of Canterbury[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Laudianism.
Altar, c. 1635, the centre of dispute between Puritans and Laudians, possibly consecrated by Laud himself. St. Peter's Collegiate Church, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, England. Parish of Central Wolverhampton WV1 1TS.

Laud was almost 60 years old when he became Archbishop, and having waited for a decade to replace George Abbot, was no longer prepared to compromise on any aspect of his policy.[15] Abbot's chaplains had licensed Histriomastix for publication, in 1630; the book had caused scandal when it appeared in late 1632, and one of Laud's early moves was to bring in his own men as censors: Samuel Baker (who was chaplain to William Juxon), William Bray and Matthew Weeks.[16][17] The operations of the censors, including William Haywood who joined them, were a focus of the Long Parliament as soon as it was convened, and Laud had to answer for Haywood at his own trial.[18][19]

Whereas Wentworth saw the political dangers of Puritanism, Laud saw the threat to the episcopacy. But the Puritans themselves felt threatened: the Counter-Reformation was succeeding abroad and the Thirty Years' War was not progressing to the advantage of the Protestants. In this climate, Laud's high church policy was seen as a sinister development. A year after Laud's appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury, the ship Griffin left for America, carrying religious dissidents such as Anne Hutchinson, the Reverend John Lothropp and the Reverend Zechariah Symmes.

Laud's policy was influenced by his desire to impose uniformity on the Church of England, which was driven by a belief that this was the duty of his office but, to those of differing views, it came as persecution. Perhaps this had the unintended consequence of garnering support for the most implacable opponents of the Anglican compromise. In 1637, William Prynne, John Bastwick and Henry Burton were convicted of seditious libel and had their ears cropped and their cheeks branded. Prynne reinterpreted the "SL" ("Seditious Libeller") branded on his forehead as "Stigmata Laudis". Laud moved to silence his principal episcopal critic John Williams who was convicted of various offences in Star Chamber; but contrary to Laud's expectation, Williams refused to resign as Bishop of Lincoln, and waited patiently until 1641 when he moved to bring about Laud's downfall.

Charles I towards the end of his life admitted that he had put too much trust in Laud, and allowed his "peevish humours ", and obsession with points of ritual, to inflame divisions within the Church: he warned his son not to rely entirely on anyone else's judgement in such matters. Laud, on his side, could not forgive the King for allowing the execution of Strafford (as Wentworth became), and dismissed him as "a mild and gracious Prince, that knows not how to be or be made great".[20]

Trial and execution[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Trial of Archbishop Laud.
Etching by Wenceslaus Hollar, Laud being tried for treason, with several people present labelled


Stained glass windows in the Chapter House, Canterbury Cathedral, depicting Henry IV, Henry VIII, Thomas Cranmer and Laud.

Laud is remembered in the Anglican Communion with a Commemoration on 10 January. His collected works in seven volumes were published between 1847 and 1860 in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology.

The historian Patrick Collinson in 1980 condemned Laud as "the greatest calamity ever visited upon the English Church".[21]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1892). "Laud, William". Dictionary of National Biography 32. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  2. ^ a b  Milton, Anthony (1885–1900). "Laud, William (1573–1645)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help);
  3. ^ Stephen Platten; Christopher Woods (2012). Comfortable Words: Polity, Piety and the Book of Common Prayer. Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-334-04670-7. 
  4. ^ Wadkins, Timothy. "Percy, John". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/9499.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Jonathan D. Moore (2007). English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 146. ISBN 978-0-8028-2057-0. 
  6. ^ Diarmaid MacCulloch (2004). Reformation. Penguin Books. p. 517. ISBN 0 140 28534 2. 
  7. ^ Suellen Mutchow Towers (2003). Control of Religious Printing in Early Stuart England. Boydell Press. p. 190. ISBN 978-0-85115-939-3. 
  8. ^ David Colclough (2003). John Donne's Professional Lives. DS Brewer. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-85991-775-9. 
  9. ^ Barry Coward (15 April 2008). A Companion to Stuart Britain. John Wiley & Sons. p. 259. ISBN 978-0-470-99889-2. 
  10. ^ J. F. Merritt (13 November 2003). The Political World of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, 1621-1641. Cambridge University Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-521-52199-4. 
  11. ^ David Masson (1859). The life of John Milton: narrated in connexion with the political, ecclesiastical, and literary history of his time. Macmillan and co. p. 527. 
  12. ^ Joseph Robson Tanner (January 1928). English Constitutional Conflicts of the Seventeenth Century, 1603-1689. CUP Archive. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-521-06598-6. 
  13. ^ Christopher Hill (2002). The Century of Revolution, 1603-1714. Psychology Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-415-26739-7. 
  14. ^ Kevin Sharpe (1992). The Personal Rule of Charles I. Yale University Press. p. 142. ISBN 0 300 05688 5. 
  15. ^ Trevor-Roper p.42
  16. ^ Kevin Sharpe (1992). The Personal Rule of Charles I. Yale University Prees. p. 648. ISBN 0 300 05688 5. 
  17. ^  Stephen, Leslie, ed. (1885). "Baker, Samuel". Dictionary of National Biography 3. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  18. ^ Dagmar Freist (15 June 1997). Governed By Opinion: Politics, Religion and the Dynamics of Communication in Stuart London. I. B. Tauris. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-86064-110-7. 
  19. ^  Stephen, Leslie; Lee, Sidney, eds. (1891). "Haywood, William". Dictionary of National Biography 25. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  20. ^ Trevor-Roper p.409
  21. ^ Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants: The Church in English Society 1559–1625 (Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 90.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Portland
as Lord High Treasurer
First Lord of the Treasury
Succeeded by
William Juxon
as Lord High Treasurer
Church of England titles
Preceded by
Richard Milbourne
Bishop of St David's
Succeeded by
Theophilus Feild
Preceded by
Arthur Lake
Bishop of Bath and Wells
Succeeded by
Leonard Mawe
Preceded by
George Montaigne
Bishop of London
Succeeded by
William Juxon
Preceded by
George Abbot
Archbishop of Canterbury
Title next held by
William Juxon
Academic offices
Preceded by
The 3rd Earl of Pembroke
Chancellor of the University of Oxford
Succeeded by
The 4th Earl of Pembroke
Preceded by
John Buckeridge
President of St John's College, Oxford
Succeeded by
William Juxon