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History of William Laud (1573-1645) – The Archbishop of Canterbury Essay

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Updated: Nov 23rd, 2021

William Laud was born in1573 in Reading from a comparatively rich family. His father William was a cloth trader. Laud got a white scholarship allowing him to study in Reading School. He got baptized at St Laurence’s church in Reading. In 1601, he got ordained. His advocate for Arminianism, elevated church tendencies, and hostility to Puritanism together with his academic and organizational radiance gained him a status. During this period, the Calvinist party was well established in the Church of England and his pronouncement of apostolic progression was unpopular to most of the people. In 1605, he unwillingly forced his supporter Charles Blount to have a marriage with a divorcee. He continued rising through the hierarchy of clergy to become the president of St John’s College in the year 1611. He was sanctified bishop of St David’s in 1621 and later declared as bishop of bath and wells in 1626. As the archbishop of Canterbury, he was well-known in the government. He could play the role of the king as well as that of Thomas Wentworth in all crucial matters. It is believed that the contentious sports assertion issued by King Charles in 1633 had been drafted by Laud.

In 1630, Laud was nominated as Chancellor of the University of Oxford which gave him a chance of getting more involved in managing the University affairs than any of his forerunners. He played a vital role in coming up with Oxford’s Arabic chair and also in developing Arabic holographs for the Bodleian Library. His greatest contribution was in drafting a new set of laws for the university. He worked as the fifth chancellor of the University of Dublin between 1633 and 1645.

Whereas Strafford sensed the political risks of Puritanism, Laud saw intimidation of the episcopate. Puritans themselves felt endangered as counter-reformation took charge. The thirty years’ war was not yielding any fruits to the Protestants. In this environment, Laud’s high church policies were perceived as creepy intentions. His policies were charmed by his urge to force complete homogeny on the church. This was further accelerated by his belief that it was the responsibility of his office to ensure that uniformity has been achieved. To those who differed with his perception, they saw his intentions as discriminating. Through his participation in religious issues, he managed to bring to an end reclaims within the church which according to him had been so rampant by the early 1630s. This annoyed the puritans who saw him as being too much inclined to Catholicism in his attempt to end these reforms. They wanted reforms to run the church in a manner that contradicted Laud’s opinions. His commands that wooden alter tables to be replaced with stone tables made the puritans furious saying that it was a deliberate intention of trying to induce them to catholic doctrines. Their leaders candidly criticized Laud leading to the arrest of John Bastwick, William Prynne, and Henry Burton in 1637 following orders from Laud. He ordered that their years be chopped off and cheeks branded for publishing pamphlets that picked apart his way of life and his responsibility within the church (Marshall 134-147).

Charles 1 was a determined Arminian who through influence from Andrews and Laud, resolved to reinstate the Church of England by adopting more of the catholic doctrines. He was greatly believed in the doctrine of the right of Kings, which he acknowledged as preeminently preserved by the High Church Party in the Church of England. With help from William Laud; who had been appointed as the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, Arminians were elevated and became the most dominant faction in the Church. Most of the church’s affairs were greatly controlled by Charles and Laud. Laud became hated by the Calvinists who perceived him and the King as an asset to ensure that they have broken the Calvinists’ practices within the Church. In his attempt to restore catholicity in the church, Laud emphasized the need to correctly use the Book of Common Prayer which most of the churches had not familiarized with. He restricted the practice of preaching which he saw as secondary to prayer and the sacraments. This was aimed at evening out what he termed as inequity in support of the sermon. Charles 1 unconditionally welcomed the idea. By doing this, Charles did not aim at getting a political favor from Laud and the Arminians in response. While the high churchmen remained supportive of King Charles, they differed in their faithfulness and divine service way of life.

Religious society life was later revived by Nicholas Ferrar at Little Gidding and later commemorated by Eliot. Their contributions saw the church through the hard days of the commonwealth and were acknowledged in afterward generations as the golden age of Anglicanism. All this was promoted by Charles whose personal holiness was greatly acknowledged. After Laud’s execution and loss of civil war, Charles was subjected to the parliamentarian’s and puritans manipulation. They promised to offer him the throne if he would relinquish the episcopate and the prayer book and accept to adapt Presbyterianism. Charles 1 rejected their offer leading to his execution in 1649 (The Society of King Charles the martyr Par. 4-7).

Charles was egotistical, pride and a strong believer in the great powers of Kings. Having seen the spoiled rapport between his father and the legislature, he held that the parliament was wrong. He failed to understand how a King could be wrong. As a result, he refused to let the parliament hold meetings. In 1629, the members of parliament met were surprised to gather at Westminster only to discover that the doors were locked. The parliament remained suspended for eleven years a period that was referred to as the eleven years of Tyranny. Charles ruled through the Court of Star Chamber where he heavily fined those brought before the court as a way of raising money to support his leadership. People who were perceived to be rich were swayed to buying titles. For those who failed to comply, they were arrested and charged the same amount that it could have cost them in buying those titles. In 1635, King Charles ordered for every citizen to contribute to Ship funds. This was initially being paid by people who resided in coastal towns and villages to facilitate the maintenance of the navy. He asserted that everyone in the country benefited from the services rendered by the navy and hence was entitled to funding them. One of the parliamentarians; John Hampden refused to pay this tax as it had not been approved by the parliament. This led to his arrest and detention.

Charles also collided with the Scots. His authorization that the Scots use the prayer book when conducting their services annoyed them. This led to Scots attacking the English in the year 1639. Having no money to counter this, Charles recalled the parliament in 1640 to get money to fight the Scots. In return, the parliament ordered him to do away with the Court of Star Chamber. In 1642, his relationship with the parliament became sour as he was supposed to comply with all that the parliament demanded. Being a firm believer in the great powers that were bestowed on the King, he was not willing to continue with this relationship. In the same year, Charles went to parliament with 300 soldiers in a bid to arrest five parliamentarians whom he termed as his great critics. However, these parliamentarians had been informed of his intention by one of his allies leading to their fleeing. This angered the members of parliament who represented the English. Six days after trying to arrest the parliamentarians, Charles knew that his relationship with the parliamentarian had deteriorated. He resolved to go to Oxford in a bid to organize an army to assist in fighting parliament for control of England. Consequently, it resulted in the eruption of civil war (Trueman Par. 3-7).

Kenyon J P claims that Archbishop Laud introduced an influential and violent type of leadership to the English church as soon as he was chosen to be the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was this violent approach that distressed and annoyed the majority. Laud compared the puritans with a wolf seized by its years and believed that their way of life endangered the church’s stability. He got the opportunity to create a church of his choice out of the eleven years of private rule of Charles and the dissolving of the parliament. In 1629, Charles introduced laws that banned the practice of preaching without curing souls. To him, he termed this practice as lecturing. He imposed the use of prayer books and ecclesiastical vestments which had wide sleeves. Laud was also able to impose his men to be leaders within the church in the early 1630s.This lead to several unanticipated deaths. The high Commission and the Star Chamber exploited their authority by invading the puritans and imposing conventionality within the church and temporalty. This eventually led to the arrest and detention of Laud.

Some of the charges leveled against Laud included that he deliberately intended to sabotage the primary laws and government of the English kingdom. They claimed that he intended to come up with an arbitrary and dictatorial administration that was contravening the English laws. They accused him of scheming, advising, and acquiring sermons and another preaching without approval from the parliament. The parliament claimed that Laud was determined to alter and challenge the true God’s religious conviction. They argued that he intended to establish popish fallacy and idol worship. They supposed that he had done this by giving speeches and printing books which was against articles provided by the law on matters to do with religion. He was also accused of brutally punishing people who went against his opinions by detaining them. He aimed at bringing together the Church of England and the Church of Rome by associating and uniting varied popish clergies and Jesuits. He had even gone to an extent of sharing secrets with the pope of Rome. They charged him with conspiring to establish a popish chain of command or clerical government within their kingdom subjecting it to vulnerabilities of falling under the oppression of the Romans (Rushworth pp. 1365-1381). These allegations lead to Laud’s beheading at Tower Hill.

Works cited

Marshall, Peter. Mother Leakey and Bishop: A Ghost story. Oxford: Oxford university press, 2007.

Rushworth, John. “Historical Collections: The trial of William Laud.” Historical Collections of Private Passages of State 3 (1640):1365-1381. Web.

The society of King Charles the martyr. “S.Charles and the Church of England.” 1894. Web.

Trueman, Chris. “The causes of the English civil war.” 2008. Web.

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