10 January 2022

With the Saints through Christmas (16):
10 January 2022, Archbishop William Laud

Archbishop William Laud, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck, ca 1636

Patrick Comerford

A busy week begins this morning, with meetings in Askeaton, Limerick and Dublin throughout this week. But, before this day gets busy, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

I have been continuing my Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during the Season of Christmas, which continues until Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation (2 February);

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Saint John’s College Oxford … William Laud was an undergraduate here, and later President (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today, the calendars of many member churches of the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England and the Episcopal Church, commemorate William Laud (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 to 1645.

William Laud was one of the Caroline Divines, and opposed radical forms of Puritanism. He was successively Archdeacon of Huntingdon (1615), Dean of Gloucester (1616), Bishop of St Davids (1621), Bishop of Bath and Wells (1626), Bishop of London (1628) and Archbishop of Canterbury (1633). He was also Chancellor of the University of Oxford and the University of Dublin.

Laud was one of the senior advisers to King Charles I, and paid for this loyalty with his life when he was executed on Tower Hill at the height of the English Civil War. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper describes him as the heir of Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes, and many see him as the first martyr among the Caroline Divines.

William Laud was born on 7 October 1573 in a house on Broad Street, Reading, Berkshire, was baptised at Saint Laurence’s Church, Reading, and was educated at Reading Free School (Reading Grammar School), before going to Saint John’s College, Oxford.

Saint John’s was a Catholic foundation of the reign of Mary Tudor and had stood out against the dominant Puritanism in Oxford. At Saint John’s, Laud’s tutor was John Buckeridge, one of a group of theologians who led a reaction against Calvinism and who influenced Laud’s later policies for the reform of church liturgy.

Laud gained a scholarship in Saint John’s in 1590, and was elected to a fellowship in 1593. He graduated BA on 1 July 1594, and later proceeded MA (1598), BD (1604) and DD (1608).

Laud was ordained in 1601, and he was soon associated with the small clerical group, followers of the patristic scholar Lancelot Andrewes, who, in opposition to Puritanism, stressed the continuity of the visible church and the necessity for true inward worship, of outward uniformity, order, and ceremony.

He also took an early stand against the Calvinistic party in the Church of England. In 1604, was reproved for his affirmation of apostolic succession by maintaining in his BD thesis ‘that there could be no true church without bishops,’ and again for advocating ‘popish’ opinions in a sermon he preached in Saint Mary’s University Church, Oxford on 21 October 1606.

He was appointed the king’s chaplain in 1611, and became president of Saint John’s College, Oxford, that year. His tutor and friend, John Buckeridge, had been President of Saint John’s until becoming Bishop of Rochester in 1611, and nominated Laud as his successor.

Edward Wightman, the last person burned at the stake for heresy in England, was executed in the Market Place, Lichfield, on 11 April 1612. He had spent several months in prison and interrogated at intervals by William Laud, the Bishop of Lichfield, Richard Neile, and others. Laud, who was then Neile’s chaplain, was one of the eight clerics who preached in Lichfield Cathedral against Wightman on the final day of his trial.

Meanwhile, in quick succession, Laud was appointed Prebendary of Buckden in Lincoln Cathedral (1614), Archdeacon of Huntingdon (1615), Dean of Gloucester (1616), and a canon of Westminster Abbey (1621-1628). As Dean of Gloucester, he repaired the fabric of the cathedral, and aroused great religious controversy when he moved the communion table from the centre of the choir to the east end. This was a characteristic tactless exercise of power that offended the bishop, Miles Smith, who refused to enter the cathedral from then on.

In 1617, Laud accompanied King James I on a visit to Scotland, and aroused hostility by wearing the surplice. After the visit to Scotland. King James I distrusted him, predicting that he would in time cause great trouble in the Church, and held him back for several years, despite the urgings of the future Charles I, who admired Laud.

Laud was consecrated Bishop of St Davids in 1621 and resigned as President of Saint John’s College. In debates in 1622, Laud refused to acknowledge the Roman Catholic Church as the true church, but he accepted it as a true church and a branch of the Catholic body, at the same time emphasising the perils of knowingly associating with error. With regard to the Church of England, Laud denied that it was necessary to accept all 39 of the Articles of Religion.’

With the death of James I in 1625, Laud prepared for Charles I a list of the clergy in which each name was labelled ‘O’ or ‘P’, distinguishing the Orthodox to be promoted from the Puritans to be suppressed. In 1626, he was translated to Bath and Wells and in that same year he received the degree DD at the University of Cambridge by incorporation.

Laud officiated at the coronation of King Charles in place of Bishop Williams, the Dean of Westminster Abbey, and regularly preached that King Charles ruled by Divine Right. When Lancelot Andrewes died in September 1626, Laud succeeded him as the Dean of the Chapel Royal.

Laud became Bishop of London in July 1628. As Bishop of London, he now effectively ran the Church of England owing to the sequestration of the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot, who had been injured while hunting. In London, he pursued a policy to silence Calvinist preaching at Saint Paul’s Cross, beside Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

He became the Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 1629. He founded or endowed the office of public orator and the Chair of Hebrew, was instrumental in establishing the Laudian Chair of Arabic at Oxford, founded the university printing press, procured the royal patent for Oxford, he acquired two Arabic script printing sets for Oxford, and obtained over 1,300 manuscripts for the Bodleian Library.

When George Abbott died in 1633, Laud succeeded him as Archbishop of Canterbury. In that office, he was prominent in government on the side of the King and Lord Wentworth. In the same year as he became Archbishop of Canterbury, Laud also became the fifth Chancellor of the University of Dublin, and continued to hold that office until his execution in 1645.

The Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher (1581-1656), deliberately obstructed plans by Laud and Strafford to replace the 1615 Articles of the Church of Ireland with the 39 Articles of the Church of England, recently republished in support of Laud’s policies. In 1635, Bishop John Bramhall of Derry, later Archbishop of Armagh, blocked Ussher’s attempts to confirm the Irish canons. In the dispute between Laud and Ussher at TCD, Laud relied on the saintly William Bedell, Provost of TCD.

The Backs at King’s College, Cambridge … in 1636, the Privy Council ruled in favour of Laud’s claims as visitor at both Cambridge and Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Laud had become all-powerful in both church and state, taking the opportunity to reshape the Church of England and bringing to an end reforms he believed had already gone too far. The pulpit was no longer to be the chief feature in the church, but the communion table, and rails should be put before the altar, ‘so thick with pillars that dogs may not get in.’ However, rails also implied that Holy Communion should be received kneeling, and this too provoked Puritan reaction.

The pun ‘give great praise to the Lord, and little Laud to the devil’ is a warning to King Charles attributed to the court jester, Archibald Armstrong. Laud was known to be touchy about his diminutive stature. He was almost 60 when he became archbishop, and having waited with increasing impatience for a decade to replace Abbot, was no longer prepared to compromise on any aspect of his policy.

Laud’s main priority was ‘decent order’ and unity within the Church. He dismissed Puritanism as a ‘wolf held by the ears’ and he believed that the very existence of Puritans threatened the stability of the Church. Whereas Strafford saw the political dangers of Puritanism, Laud saw the threat to the episcopacy.

His instruction to replace wooden communion tables with stone altars infuriated Puritans who saw this as being a blatant move towards Catholicism. He sought to have stained glass windows restored in churches and wanted the altar moved from the centre of a church to the east end.

Laud’s enemies accused him of ‘Popery.’ However, it was the broad concept of ‘Laudism’ that most aroused fear and anger. The Long Parliament of 1640 accused him of treason, and, in the Grand Remonstrance of 1641, called for his imprisonment. Laud was arrested imprisoned in the Tower of London on 1 March. On 12 May 1641, at Strafford’s request, the archbishop appeared at the window of his cell to give him his blessing on his way to execution, and fainted as he passed by.

Once of the accusations against him at his trial was that he used incense and wafer bread in his private chapel. He denied both charges, but pointed out that Lancelot Andrewes and John Cosin had practised both.
His trial began on 12 March 1644. However, the charge of high treason was not proved, and the trial ended without a verdict. An Act of Attainder was substituted and sent to the House of Lords on 22 November. On 4 January 1645, the Lords yielded to the Commons, and he was sentenced to death.

With some reluctance, his petition to be executed with the axe, instead of undergoing the ordinary brutal punishment for high treason, was granted. He was beheaded on Tower Hill on 10 January 1645.

Laud died with courage and with dignity, unwavering in his religious beliefs. In his last words on the scaffold he alludes to the dangers and slanders he had endured labouring to keep uniformity in the Church in the external service of God. Before the final blow was struck, he asserted his innocence of any offence known to the law. He died repudiating the charge of ‘Popery’ and declaring that he had always lived in the Protestant Church of England. His final prayer was: ‘The Lord receive my soul, and have mercy on me, and bless this kingdom with peace and charity, that there may not be this effusion of Christian blood amongst them.’

He was buried in the chancel of All Hallows’ Church, Barking, but his body was removed on 24 July 1663 to the chapel of Saint John’s College, Oxford.

William Laud is remembered in the calendars of both the Church of England and the Episcopal Church on 10 January.

During the English Civil War and interregnum, royalists and peacemakers generally preferred to forget him. At the Restoration, in 1660, outward Laudian forms were accepted, but by then the Church of England had become less significant.

In the 1840s, the Oxford Movement sought to re-establish him as a religious leader, and High Anglicans ever since have remained his principal supporters.

Because of the bitter religious conflicts with which he is associated, Laud has rarely been judged impartially. However, his life was marked by uprightness, piety, devotion to duty, courage and consistency. He held fast to the great idea of the catholicity of the Church of England, regarding it as a branch of the whole Christian Church, and emphasising its historical continuity and identity from the Apostolic times.

Laud’s College is a fictitious Cambridge College in Susan Howatch’s Glittering Images

Laud’s College is a fictitious Cambridge College in Susan Howatch’s Starbridge novels, and contains the (fictitious) Cambridge Cathedral. In Glittering Images Canon Charles Ashworth is a Fellow of Laud’s College, a Lecturer in the Theology and a canon of the cathedral. There is a Laud House, named after Archbishop Laud, at the King’s School, Gloucester.

Archbishop Laud’s Prayer:

O Gracious Father,
we humbly beseech thee for thy Holy Catholic Church;
fill it with all truth in all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purge it;
where it is in error, direct it;
where in anything it is amiss, reform it.
Where it is right, strengthen and confirm it;
where it is in want, furnish it;
where it is divided and rent asunder, make up the breaches of it,
O thou Holy One of Israel, Amen.

Laud’s final prayer

The Lord receive my soul,
and have mercy on me,
and bless this kingdom with peace and charity,
that there may not be this effusion of Christian blood amongst them.


Keep us, O Lord,
constant in faith and zealous in witness,
That, like your servant William Laud,
we may live in your fear, die in your favour, and rest in your peace;
for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

The Divinity Schools, Oxford … as Chancellor of Oxford University, Laud insisted on examinations as a requirement for degrees (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 1: 14-20 (NRSVA):

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

The prayer in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) invites us to pray this morning (10 January 2022):

Let us pray for the Anglican Church of Tanzania, comprised of 27 dioceses in Tanzania and the Diocese of Zanzibar.

Yesterday: the ‘Black Nazarene’ of Manila

Tomorrow: Saint Eithne and Saint Fidelma

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Trinity College Dublin … Archbishop Laud was Chancellor of the University of Dublin from 1633 until his death in 1645 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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