Laud, William (1573–1645)

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LAUD, WILLIAM (15731645)

LAUD, WILLIAM (15731645), English clergyman and archbishop of Canterbury. The only son of a master tailor in Reading, Laud was educated at St. John's College, Oxford, of which he became a fellow in 1593. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1601 and rapidly became controversial, being criticized by the vice chancellor of Oxford, Henry Airay (d. 1616), in 1606 for preaching sermons that were regarded as containing popish opinions. He was strongly opposed to the prevailing Calvinist trend in the Church of England and hoped to restore some of the pre-Reformation liturgy. Laud was closely associated with the Arminian tendency within the Church of England. Arminianism, an anti-Calvinist doctrine that attacked the rigid Calvinist views on predestination, was prevalent both in the Church of England and among its Puritan critics in the 1610s, and gained even more influence in the 1620s when Richard Neile, bishop of Durham, became principal church adviser to James I (ruled 16031625). A protégé of Neile, whose chaplain he became in 1608, Laud advanced rapidly. He was elected president of St. John's College, Oxford, in 1611, and became dean of Gloucester in 1616 and bishop of St. David's in 1621. His influence grew under Charles I (ruled 16251649), and he was promoted to the bishopric of Bath and Wells in 1626 and to that of London in 1628. He also became dean of the Chapel Royal and, in 1629, chancellor of the University of Oxford. In 1633 he became archbishop of Canterbury.

Once he became archbishop, the preaching of Calvinist doctrine in England was limited, as Laud sought to enforce uniformity on a church that had been, in many respects, diverse for decades. In 1633, at Laud's prompting, Charles I wrote to the bishops instructing them to restrict ordination to those who intended to undertake the cure of souls, an action that resulted in the suppression of Puritan lecturers. He was unwilling to offer to Puritan clerics the possibility of only occasional compliance with the regulations, and he insisted that parish churches should match the more regulated practice of cathedrals.

This authoritarianism compounded what was regarded by the Puritans as the offensive nature of Laudian ceremonial and doctrinenot least its stress on the sacraments and church services that emphasized the cleric, not the congregation, and made the altar rather than the pulpit the center of the service. As dean of Gloucester, Laud had moved the communion table to the east end of the choir, a measure seen as crypto-Catholic. He also bowed whenever the name of Jesus was pronounced and bowed toward the east on entering a church. Arminianism was seen as crypto-Catholic (and thus conducive to tyranny) by its Puritan critics. Although Laud rejected claims that he was a crypto-Catholic, he was widely referred to by Puritans as the "pope of Canterbury."

Laud was an active opponent of Puritan views, opposing, for example, Puritan strictures on the staging of plays and on activities on Sundays. He responded harshly to Puritan criticisms and writings. Laud was also active in government and was added to the Commission of the Treasury and to the Committee of the Privy Council for Foreign Affairs in 1635. He supported the promotion of clerics in the government and was delighted in 1636 when his friend Bishop William Juxon of London was made Lord Treasurer. Laud's attitude toward the Scottish church played a major role in the breakdown of Charles I's position in Scotland, and thus in the eventual collapse of royal authority. Laud actively backed a new prayer book and new canons for the Scottish church, and, when opposition was voiced in 1637, he persisted in enforcing his reforms. In 16391640, he was also a supporter of war with Scotland, a war that was to prove disastrous.

Laud, who had introduced new canons proclaiming divine right kingship in 1640, was to be a victim of the reaction against Charles I. He was impeached by the Long Parliament in December 1640 and committed to the Tower of London the following March. His trial for treason did not begin until March 1644; members of the House of Lords were hesitant about the charge, which they felt had been forced on them by the Commons. As a result, proceedings were brought against Laud alleging that he had tried to subvert the fundamental laws, to alter religion as by law established, and to subvert the rights of Parliament. After his request that the harsh character of the execution for treason be commuted was finally accepted, Laud was beheaded on Tower Hill on 10 January 1645.

An obstinate and difficult man, Laud bore part of the responsibility for his own downfall; he failed to comprehend the growing trend toward Puritanism and the intense hostility aroused by his treatment of those who disagreed with him, both of which contributed to the crisis of trust that led to the outbreak of the Civil War. He became a martyr figure for the "high" tradition of the Church of England.

See also Bible ; Charles I (England) ; Church of England ; English Civil War and Interregnum ; Puritanism .


Carlton, Charles. Archbishop William Laud. London and New York, 1987.

Duncan-Jones, A. S. Archbishop Laud. London, 1927.

Trevor-Roper, Hugh. Archbishop Laud, 15731645. 3rd ed. Basingstoke, U.K., 1988.

Tyacke, Nicholas. Aspects of English Protestantism c. 15301700. Manchester, U.K., and New York, 2001.

Jeremy Black

William Laud

views updated May 23 2018

William Laud

The English prelate William Laud (1573-1645) was archbishop of Canterbury and architect of Charles I's personal government. He was executed by the Long Parliament.

William Laud was the son of a Reading clothier. He was educated in the town grammar school and received a scholarship to St. John's College, Oxford. He became a fellow and then was president of the college from 1611 to 1621. As an undergraduate, he had become aligned with the anti-Puritans, or Arminians, who opposed the doctrines of predestination and Presbyterianism. Instead, they believed in the continued manifestation of divine will in the historical development of the Church and therefore in the divine basis of episcopacy. Laud subscribed in theory to Arminian tolerance of doctrinal differences, but in action he was a believer in rigid enforcement of outward uniformity in worship, and he found strength in institutional authority.

Laud's beliefs about theology and church government were not popular at Oxford, and he was spurred to achieve higher authority in the Church. In 1616 he was appointed dean of Gloucester Cathedral. Five years later he was made bishop of St. David's in Wales. But he was denied further advance in the Church, ultimately by King James I, who believed that Laud's precise reforms endangered the hard-won authority then exercised by the bishops.

Favor from court flowed in Laud's direction with the accession of Charles I, who sympathized with Laud's goals. He became bishop of Bath and Wells and dean of the Chapel Royal in 1626, privy councilor in 1627, and bishop of London and chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1628. He at once set about dignifying the church buildings and conduct of worship in the diocese of London, enforced uniformity of academic dress at Oxford, and, as a member of the Star Chamber, began his persecution of Puritans. On Archbishop Abbot's death in 1633, Laud was appointed to the see of Canterbury, and from then until 1637 he carried out a rigorous program of decorousness, uniformity, and adherence to the Book of Common Prayer in the conduct of church services. The program was epitomized in the reconstruction of the facade of St. Paul's Cathedral according to the classical design of Inigo Jones. In the Star Chamber and High Commission many Puritans lost their church livings or were forbidden to preach, and laymen like William Prynne and John Lilburne were mutilated and whipped. Laud so emphasized religious discipline as the business of the Star Chamber that a court which had been popular for its expeditious settlement of civil suits now became the dreaded instrument of religious repression and arbitrary government.

Laud also sought to restore church lands held by laymen since the Reformation. This further led to anxiety among the laity, even among those who might have supported a hierarchical episcopacy. Finally, Laud strove to reintroduce churchmen into the seats of political power. His martinet's mind was constantly frustrated by the corruption and dilatoriness of many privy councilors. In 1636 Bishop Juxon was made lord treasurer to the delight of Laud but to the increased consternation of lay politicians.

Laud was in correspondence with Thomas Wentworth (later the 1st Earl of Strafford), the King's deputy lieutenant of Ireland. They shared the ideal of a strong and efficient royal government, an ideal policy they referred to as "Thorough." Wentworth was already realizing the program in the secular government of Ireland, which had been notoriously weak and inefficient. In 1637 Laud proposed to implement the program in religious terms within Scotland, the bastion of Presbyterian Church government and aristocratic power. But Laud failed, and a unified Scots aristocracy and Church brought down the whole edifice constructed by Laud, Straf-ford, and Charles.

A month after the Long Parliament met in order to cope with the Scottish crisis, a gigantic petition was presented calling for an end of episopacy, root and branch. A week later Laud was impeached of treason. In 1641 the High Commission and Star Chamber were abolished. But Laud was not immediately proceeded against. He could be a bargaining counter with the King; furthermore, Parliament did not as yet wish to define a church system. With the Scots alliance of 1643, however, the trial of the enemy of Presbyterianism became a necessity. The long trial began on March 12, 1644. Laud successfully proved that he had not committed treason under known law. Therefore, as with Strafford, his total conduct of government was held to have subverted the constitution, and he was condemned by bill of attainder. He was executed on Jan, 10, 1645.

The now powerless old man became a martyr to his religion. His blood and that of his royal master watered the restored Episcopal Church, and the disciples of Laud dominated the church settlement of 1660-1662.

Further Reading

Laud's diary, The Autobiography of Dr. William Laud, was published in 1839. H. R. Trevor-Roper, Archbishop Laud, 1573-1645 (1940; 2d ed. 1962), is the best study, although it is mainly a political biography and unsympathetic. See also A. S. Duncan-Jones, Archbishop Laud (1927). For background consult J. E. Christopher Hill, Economic Problems of the Church from Archbishop Whitgift to the Long Parliament (1956).

Additional Sources

Carlton, Charles, Archbishop William Laud, London; New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987.

Trevor-Roper, H. R. (Hugh Redwald), Archbishop Laud, 1573-1645, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press, 1988. □

Laud, William

views updated Jun 27 2018

William Laud


Anglican Archbishop

Early Career.

Born to prosperous parents in 1573, William Laud attended Oxford and pursued a career in the church and the university until his middle age. In 1608, Laud entered the service of the bishop of Rochester and from this point onward he received a number of church offices. As a priest in a royal chapel, he was noticed by James I, and soon became the confidant of the king's close friend, George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham. He also served as Buckingham's priest. In these years his influence at court steadily rose, and his opposition to Puritanism came to be reflected increasingly in James I's policies. Following the king's death, his rise continued during the reign of Charles I. By 1627, he had been appointed to the privy council, the king's private administrative body, and soon he rose to become the bishop of London. In this capacity he pursued a policy directly aimed at countering Puritanism. He aimed to limit the use of sermons in Anglican worship, to reinstate communion rails, and to require forms of vestments like the surplice that fit with his formalism. He also enforced a strict adherence to the prescriptions of the Book of Common Prayer. In his years as London's bishop, though, he had not yet acquired the completely uncompromising nature that was to prove fatal in the years ahead. Realizing the strength of his opposition, he sometimes temporized and allowed Puritan elements of worship and piety to exist in the capital.

Archbishop of Canterbury.

In 1633, Laud became archbishop of Canterbury, and from this point onward he exercised the dominant voice at court concerning religious matters. In the next few years he ordered that all English diocese undertake a Visitation—that is, an official inspection—to determine the state of church property and religious knowledge. He aimed successive measures to combat Puritanism, legislating against sermons, opposing the Puritan custom of Sabbath-keeping, censoring the press, and even undertaking a very public battle against the Puritan propagandist William Prynne. Prynne, an outspoken opponent of religious formalism and ceremony and an avowed opponent of the theater, had published an enormous work critical of the king, the queen, and Laud's religious policy. As part of his punishment, Laud insisted that Prynne be maimed. Actions like these further alienated Puritans and moderates alike, and Laud found few ready allies, even in those court circles that were friendly to his ambitions. At the same time, Laud undertook to solve certain problems of church finance and raise the level of benefices, that is, the incomes that Anglican priests relied upon to support themselves. During the previous generations the economic ills of the church had grown to grave proportions, and although his efforts were well intentioned, they attracted criticism as proof of his rapaciousness. By 1639, Laud's and King Charles's plans to make the English Book of Common Prayer obligatory in Presbyterian Scotland precipitated the "Bishop's War," as English troops were sent to the country to try to enforce the book's liturgy against widespread and frequently violent resistance.

Civil War and Condemnation.

The convening of Parliament in 1640, a body that had not met since 1629, brought issues with Laud's control of the church to the boiling point in England as well. By 1643, King Charles had left the capital to rally an army in support of his cause. Soon Parliament moved against Laud, accusing him of high treason in 1644. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London before finally being tried before the body in proceedings that were managed by his one-time opponent, William Prynne. Although the House of Lords resisted attempts to sentence Laud for a time, the Commons eventually succeeded in obtaining his death sentence, and on 10 January 1645, Laud was beheaded. Since that time, the ill-fated archbishop has only rarely been seen as a sympathetic figure. His attempts to establish a rigorous formalism in the Church of England arose from his own deeply felt piety. He saw elaborate ritual, in other words, as the only fitting vehicle for the common worship of God. Like the Puritans, his own religious convictions were serious, uncompromising, and arose from reasoned thought, but they proved to be out-of-step with the more austere Protestant sentiments of many English men and women at the time.


Edward C. E. Bourne, The Anglicanism of William Laud (London: Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, 1947).

Charles Carlton, Archbishop William Laud (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987).

Christopher Hill, Economic Problems of the Church from Archbishop Whitgift to the Long Parliament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956).

H. R. Trevor Roper, Archbishop Laud (Hamdon, Conn.: Archon Books, 1962).

Laud, William

views updated May 18 2018


Archbishop of Canterbury; b. Reading, England, Oct. 7, 1573; d. London, Jan. 10, 1645. Laud, the only son of a clothier, matriculated at Oxford in 1589 and was ordained in 1601. He held modest chaplaincies and was vicar of Stanford for one year. In 1608 he was awarded his doctorate in divinity, cultivated his interest in Arabic, and preached before James I. Laud abhorred extremism. He regarded Puritans with disfavor and disliked Roman Catholicism. He believed strongly in episcopacy, order, and uniformity in religious worship. He wanted a strong and united national church, energetic and resolute, purged of sects, schisms, and slackness, and decorous and disciplined. Laud was short, red-faced, tactless, testy, and profoundly convinced of the rectitude of his own reform policies. He had an authoritarian temper and, unfortunately, he tried to force upon the puritans the religion of tradition-minded Anglicans. He believed in the full exercise of the royal prerogative and was accordingly rewarded by a series of promotionsfrom the deanery of Gloucester to the bishopric of St. David's. When James died in 1625, Laud was 52. His real predominance in the Church of England was only beginning.

The new king, Charles I, admired and respected the much older prelate. Laud became bishop of Bath and Wells, and then dean of the chapel royal, privy councilor, bishop of London, and chancellor of Oxford. Again, by the King's good grace, he was elevated to the archbishopric of Canterbury, the highest ecclesiastical office in the realm. The new archbishop was insensitive to the many diverse elements that made up the disorderly and deteriorating ecclesiastical establishment. In trying to enforce ceremonial uniformity he incurred the wrath of the Puritans because he submerged their religious practices and violated their most cherished prejudices. The English dispute over ceremonial and ritualbowing, surplices, the position of the communion tablewas sharply intensified when Laud accompanied the King to Scotland in 1633 and the fateful decision was made to ask for the acceptance of the English Prayer Book and official liturgy in that Presbyterian country. The request was regarded as an outrageous foreign interference in Scottish affairs. Scottish resistance was immediate and was followed by a futile English invasion to compel obedience.

After 11 years of personal rule, Charles summoned Parliament. As soon as it convened in 1640, the 3-week Short Parliament complained bitterly about Laud's religious despotism and the King's illegal taxation. It was

dismissed. The Scots successfully invaded England and the Long Parliament (164060) had to be called into session. Angry and vindictive, it proceeded against the King's principal political adviser, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, and imprisoned Archbishop Laud under a charge of treason. Strafford was summarily executed (1641), but several years passed before Laud, then an old man of 72, was brought to trial. While it was alleged that the archbishop had sought to subvert the foundations of Church and State, the charge could not be sustained and Commons proceeded against Laud by an ordinance of attainder. He was brought to the scaffold on Tower Hill, protesting that he was guilty of no offense that deserved the death penalty, rejecting the muddled accusation that he tried to bring in popery, and affirming his loyalty to English Protestantism.

Bibliography: h. r. trevor-roper, Archbishop Laud, 15731645 (London 1940). r. p. t. coffin, Laud, Storm Center of Stuart England (New York 1930). s. r. gardiner, The First Two Stuarts and the Puritan Revolution, 16031660 (New York 1928d. mathew, The Age of Charles I (London 1951). c. v. wedg-wood, The King's Peace, 16371641 (New York 1956); The King's War, 16411647 (New York 1958). m. j. havran, The Catholics in Caroline England (Stanford, Calif. 1962).

[j. j. o'connor]

Laud, William

views updated May 09 2018

Laud, William (1573–1645). Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud has always been a controversial character. Born at Reading, a graduate of St John's College, Oxford (1594), he was successively chaplain to the earl of Devonshire (1603), president of St John's (1611–21), dean of Gloucester (1616), bishop of St Davids (1621–6), Bath and Wells (1626–8), and London (1628–33), and archbishop (1633–45). Historians have regarded his use of the Court of High Commission and especially his supposed attempt to enforce the English Prayer Book on Scotland (1637) as the watershed of the reign. Impeached by the Long Parliament (December 1640), committed to the Tower (1641), and tried (1644), Laud was beheaded on 10 January 1645. Past historians evaluated him either as a secret papist who corrupted the church or as the martyr of true Anglicanism. One recent historian described him as ‘the greatest calamity ever visited upon the Church of England’, and another as ‘an ayatollah of rigid theological views and liturgical preferences’, who intensified suspicions that Arminianism was popish so powerfully that civil war was inevitable. Modern research, however, reveals a different picture; Laud aimed not to provoke, but to heal, controversy. Not a theologian, he was unconcerned by doctrinal minutiae; far from encouraging popery his one known theological work was a stout defence of the church against catholicism. His diary (17 August 1633) records that he ‘would not suffer [reconciliation] till Rome were other than it is’. The church was the community of the ‘commonweal’, within whose compromises Calvinism and Arminianism could coexist without schism. Thus he aimed to promote unity and uniformity of worship, as enshrined in the Elizabethan settlement (1559), requesting decency of worship and restoration of decayed churches. This required reactivation of episcopal authority, a return to the 1559 situation which seemed so novel in 1630 that it was vilified by puritans. Charles's use of the royal prerogative to impose new canons and the Prayer Book on Scotland was unwise and probably unconstitutional; Laud saw the dangers. The Scottish Prayer Book, revised without ambiguities, was not the work of Laud, but of the Scottish bishops, backed by Charles. Laud enforced Arminianism neither through the High Commission nor through influencing Oxford to create an Arminian clergy. He stoutly supported the Anglican church as the purified form of traditional catholicism. If the altar controversy bulked large to Charles, to Laud it was a matter of ‘indifference’. Though tolerant himself over doctrine, his rigorous drive for liturgical uniformity was his undoing. At Oxford he is gratefully remembered for establishing chairs of Hebrew and Arabic, for university reform, and for his large MS donation to the Bodleian library.

Revd Dr William M. Marshall

Laud, William

views updated May 14 2018

Laud, William (1573–1645) English cleric, Archbishop of Canterbury (1633–45). As religious adviser to King Charles I, whom he supported during his period of non-parliamentary rule (1629–40), Laud imposed press censorship, enforced a policy regulating wages and prices, and sought to remove Puritans from important positions in the Church. His attempt to impose the English Prayer Book upon the Scots was one of the immediate causes of the English Civil Wars. Laud was impeached (1640) by the Long Parliament.

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