1902 Encyclopedia > William Laud

William Laud
English prelate
(1573-1644)




WILLIAM LAUD, (1573-1644), archbishop of Canter-bury, was born at Reading on October 7, 1573. In 1590 he became a scholar of St John's, Oxford, and a fellow in 1593. In 1601 he entered the ministry of the church. In 1605 he married the earl of Devonshire to the divorced Lady Rich, an act which he never ceased to regret. In 1611 he became president of St John's. His career at Oxford brought him into collision with the authori-ties of the university. He was one of those who were revolted by the Calvinistic Puritanism which prevailed, and he upheld in a sharp irritating way the doctrines on the divine right of Episcopacy, and of the permanent existence of the church during the Middle Ages, which was regarded as rank heresy by the Puritans. In 1616 he was appointed to the deanery of Gloucester, and, with the king's approbation, removed the communion table in the cathedral to the east end. In 1621 James made him bishop of St David's, though, if a commonly received story is to be believed, he entertained grave doubts whether Laud would exercise the episcopal authority with wisdom. In 1622 the new bishop took part in a controversy with Fisher the Jesuit, on the claims of the Papal Church. His argument, which was afterwards published, was not only a serious contribution to controversial literature, but marks a distinct advance in the direction which was after-wards taken by Chillingworth.

The controversy with Fisher had been entered on in order to save Buckingham's mother from conversion to the Church of Rome. It failed in this object, bnt it gained for Laud considerable influence over Buckingham himself, and through Buckingham over Prince Charles, who when he became king in 1625 was attracted to an ecclesiastical adviser whose opinions so closely resembled his own, and whose firmness of character supplied a contrast to the irresoluteness of which he could scarcely be unconscious. During the first years of the reign Laud was frequently consulted in matters relating to the church. He is found favouring the promotion of anti-Puritan divines, approving Montague's Appello Caesarem, and generally throwing his weight into the scale against the assumption of the House of Commons to lay down the law in politics and religion.

In 1628 Laud was made bishop of London, and when the ecclesiastical controversy came to a head in the session of 1629, his biography became identified, till the meeting of the Long Parliament, with the history of the Church of England.

Intellectually Laud's position was that of a man opposed to the dogmatism of the Calvinists. "The wisdom of the church," he wrote, " hath been in all ages, or the most, to require consent to articles in general as much as may be, because that is the way of unity, and the church in high points requiring assent to particulars hath been rent." Laud's love of peace unhappily led him to shrink from the free exuberance of spiritual life. Perhaps it could hardly be expected, in an age when each ecclesiastical party was longing to persecute all others, that any man placed in authority should think it possible to allow the struggling parties to grow up side by side, in what must have seemed the vain hope that liberty would bring a larger harmony. Laud, at least, had no conception of the kind. He was by nature a lover of order and discipline, devoid of the higher spiritual enthusiasm or breadth of judgment which charac-terizes the highest order of intellect. He spoke of Aristotle, the philosopher who lays such stress on the formation of habits, as his great master in humanis. All Laud's work in life was to attempt to form habits, to make men learn to be decent by acting decently, and to be religious by acting religiously. " Since I came to this place," he said of himself, " I laboured nothing more than that the external public worship of God—too much slighted in most parts of this kingdom—might be preserved, and that with as much decency and uniformity as might be, being still of opinion that unity cannot long continue in the church when uniformity is shut out at the church doors. And I evidently saw that the public neglect of God's service in the outward face of it, and the nasty lying of many places dedicated to that service, had almost cast a damp upon the true and inward worship of God,—which, while we live in the body, needs external helps, and all little enough to keep it in any vigour."





Upon these principles he acted, more especially after his promotion in 1633 to the archbishopric of Canterbury. His metrppolitical visitation of the province enforced his system of uniformity in every parish contained in it. He had no sympathy with the special doctrines of the Papal Church, still less with its ceremonial; but he held that conformity to the prayer book was to be the universal rule. He gave great offence to the Puritans by insisting upon the removal of the communion table to the east end of the church, while the communicants were to receive the sacra-ment on their knees. For this and for the enforcement of other observances he was stigmatized as an innovator, but he repelled the charge in the speech which he delivered at the trial in the Star Chamber of Prynne, Bastwick, and Burton in 1637, declaring that the Puritan usages were themselves innovations on the practice inculcated at the Reformation.

Nor did Laud confine himself to imposing ceremonies upon the clergy. The church courts undertook in those days io reform the morals of the laity, and Laud excited much, ill-feeling by insisting that the powerful and the wealthy should submit to punishment as well as the poor. As a privy councillor he took part in affairs of state, and upon the death of Portland in 1635 he became a commissioner of the treasury till he procured for Bishop Juxon the appointment of lord treasurer in 1637. The advice which he gave to the king with respect to the introduction of a new prayer book into Scotland proved ultimately fatal to him. Of this prayer book, in the amendment of which he had had a considerable share, he was not unnaturally regarded as the author; and, when in 1640 the Scots triumphantly occupied the northern counties, and sent commissioners to London to negotiate a peace, they called for the punishment of the archbishop as the great incendiary. One of the first acts of the Commons after the meeting of the Long Parliament was to impeach him. .For some time he remained in prison, apparently overlooked. But in 1643 there was fresh need of concili-ating the Scots, and his impeachment was proceeded with. He made an able and in many respects a satisfactory defence, but his condemnation was a foregone conclusion, and he was executed on January 10, 1644, at the age of seventy-two.

The best source of the biography of Laud is to be found in his own Works, edited by Dr Bliss, in the Anglo-Catholic Library. The adverse view of his character will be found in Prynne's Canterbury's Doom. (S. B. G.)








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