William Laud

William Laud

William Laud, the son of a prosperous merchant, was born in Reading on 7th October 1573. He was educated at Reading Grammar School and St. John's College, Oxford. Laud was ordained in 1601 and soon made it clear he was sympathetic to Roman Catholics and hostile to the growing Puritan movement.

With the support of a rich patron, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, Laud made steady progress in the Church and was appointed archdeacon of Huntingdon (1615), dean of Gloucester (1616), Bishop of St. Davids (1621), Bishop of Bath and Wells (1626), Bishop of London (1628) and finally Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633.

When James I died in 1625, his son Charles II became king. Over the next few years Laud became the king's main political adviser. Laud argued that the king ruled by Divine Right. He claimed that the king had been appointed by God and people who disagreed with him were bad Christians.

Laud believed that Church reforms had gone too far. Anglicans tended to support the policies of Laud but the Puritans strongly disagreed with him. When Laud gave instructions that the wooden communion tables in churches should be replaced by stone altars. Puritans accused Laud of trying to reintroduce Catholicism.

The Puritans claimed that Laud was trying to make English churches look like those in Catholic countries. When Puritans complained about these reforms. Laud had them arrested. In 1637 John Bastwick, Henry Burton and William Prynne had their ears cut off for writing pamphlets attacking Laud's views.

Sybil Margaret Thomas
Archbishop William Laud by Anthony van Dyck (c. 1638)

Laud also upset the Puritans (Presbyterians) in Scotland when he insisted they had to use the English Prayer Book. Scottish Presbyterians were furious and made it clear they were willing to fight to protect their religion. In 1639 the Scottish army marched on England. Charles, unable to raise a strong army, was forced to agree not to interfere with religion in Scotland. Charles also agreed to pay the Scottish war expenses.

Charles did not have the money to pay the Scots and so he had to ask Parliament for help. The Parliament summoned in 1640 lasted for twenty years and is therefore usually known as The Long Parliament. This time Parliament was determined to restrict the powers of the king.

Under the leadership of John Pym, a law was passed which stated that Parliament should in future meet every three years. It was also decided to take away the king's right to dissolve Parliament. Other laws were passed making it illegal for the king to impose his own taxes. Parliament then passed a law that gave members control over the king's ministers.

Laud was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. He was eventually found guilty of "endeavouring to subvert the laws, to overthrow the Protestant religion" and was beheaded on Tower Hill on 10th January 1645.

Primary Sources

(1) Archbishop William Laud, diary entry (11th May, 1640)

Monday night, at midnight my house at Lambeth was beset with 500 of these rascal routers. I had notice, and strengthened the house as well as I could; and God be thanked, I had no harm; they continued there full two hours. Since I have fortified my house as well as I can; and hope all may be safe. But yet libels are continually set up in all places of note in the city.