WILLIAM LAUD

 

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Introduction:

LAUD, William, Archbishop of Canterbury, was the son of a clothier in good circumstances, and was born at Heading, in Berkshire, October 7, 1573. He entered St John's College, Oxford, in 1589, became a Fellow in 1593, and took his degree of M.A. in 1598. Ordained a priest in 1601, he soon made himself conspicuous at the university by his antipathy to Puritanism; but being then a person of very little consequence, he only succeeded in exciting displeasure against himself. Yet his learning, his persistent and definite ecclesiasticism, and the genuine unselfishness of his devotion to the church, soon won him both friends and patrons. In 1607, he was preferred to the vicarage of Stanford in Northamptonshire, and in 1608 obtained the advowson of North Kilworth in Leicestershire. In both of these livings he shewed himself an exemplary clergyman according to the High-church pattern - zealous in repairing the parsonage-houses, and liberal in maintaining the poor. In 1609, he was appointed Rector of West Tilbury, in Essex; in 1611 - in spite of strong opposition - President of St John's College; in 1614, Prebendary of Lincoln; and in 1615, Archdeacon of Huntingdon. King James now began to recognise what sort of a man L. was, and to see that he might rely on him as a valuable ally in carrying out his notions of the 'divine right.' Not that their aims were quite identical - James was chiefly anxious to maintain the absolute authority of the sovereign, and L. the absolute authority of episcopacy. In 1617, L. accompanied his majesty to Scotland, with the view of introducing episcopacy into the church-government of that country; but the attempt failed. In 1651, he was consecrated Bishop of St Davids. After the accession of Charles I., he was translated from the see of St Davids to that of Bath and Wells, became high in favour at court, was more than ever hated by the Puritans, and was denounced in parliament. In 1628, he was made Bishop of London. After the assassination of Buckingham (q. v.), L. became virtually the chief minister of Charles, and acted in a manner so utterly opposed to the spirit of the times and to the opinions of the great body of Puritans in England, that one might have foreseen his ruin to be inevitable, in spite of the royal favour. In 1630, he was chosen chancellor of the university of Oxford, the centre of High-church loyalty. From this period he was for several years busily but fruitlessly employed in repressing Puritanism. The means adopted were not only unchristian, but even detestable. Cropping the ears, slitting the nose, branding the forehead, fines, imprisonments, are not at any time satisfactory methods of defending a religious system, but in the then temper of the English nation they were in the last degree weak and foolish. In the High-commission and Star-chamber Courts, the influence of L. was supreme; but the penalty he paid for this influence was the hatred of the English parliament and of the people generally. In 1633, he was raised to the archbishopric of Canterbury, and in the same year made chancellor of the university of Dublin. The famous ordinance regarding Sunday sports, which was published about this time by royal command, was believed to be drawn up by L., and greatly increased the dislike felt towards him by the Puritans. His minute alterations in public worship, his regulations about the proper position of the altar and the fencing of it with decent rails, his forcing Dutch and Walloon congregations to use the English Liturgy, and all Englishmen to attend the parish churches where they resided, display a petty intellect and an intolerant spirit; as other of his actions indicate that there lurked iu his small obstinate nature no inconsiderable amount of cruelty and malice. Still, it must be confessed that in the long-run, L.'s ritualism has triumphed, The Church of England was gradually penetrated with his spirit, and the high value which she has come to put on religious ceremonies is partly owing to the pertinacious efforts of the archbishop. This influence, in short, has hindered her from becoming as doctrinal and Calvinistic as her articles would logically necessitate. During 1635-1637, another effort was made by him to establish episcopacy in Scotland; but the first attempt to read the liturgy in St Giles's Church, Edinburgh, excited a dangerous tumult. Proceedings were finally taken against him, and on the 1st of March 1640-1641, he was, by order of the House of Commons, conveyed to the Tower. After being stripped of his honours, and exposed to many indignities and much injustice, he was finally brought to trial before the House of Lords, November 13, 1643, on a charge of treason and other crimes. The Lords, however, did not find him guilty; but the Commons had previously resolved on his death, and passed an ordinance for his execution. To this the Upper House gave its assent; and in spite of L.'s producing a royal pardon, he was - undoubtedly in violation of express statute, and by the exercise of a prerogative of parliament as arbitrary as any king had ever exhibited - beheaded, 10th January 1644-1645. L. had a genuine regard for learning - at least ecclesiastical learning - and enriched the university of Oxford, in the course of his life, with 1300 MSS. in different European and Oriental languages; but his exclusive sacerdotalism, his inability to understand his fellow-creatures, and his consequent disregard for their rights, forbid us to admire his character, though we pity his fate. His writings arc few. Wharton published his Diary in 1694; and during 1857-1860, Parker, the Oxford publisher, issued The Works of the Most Reverend Father in God, William Laud, D.D., sometime Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, containing, among other things, his letters and miscellaneous papers, some of them not before published, and, like his Diary, of great value in helping us to form an adequate conception of the man and his time.

 

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UPDATED: 18 April 2014

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