Archbishop William Laud was one of the senior advisors to Charles I. William Laud was a loyal supporter of the king but Laud was to pay for this loyalty with his life.


William Laud was born in 1573 in Reading, Berkshire. His father was a wealthy clothing merchant. Laud was educated at Reading Grammar School and St. John’s College at Oxford University. Laud was ordained in April 1601 and he made it clear that he did not favour Puritanism. Laud was swiftly promoted within the Church as a result of his patron – George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, the favourite of both James I and Charles I. Laud 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.


Laud’s real political power started to develop when Charles came to the throne in 1625. Laud preached that Charles had the God-given right to rule by Divine Right – a view strongly held by Charles himself. The assassination of  the favoured Buckingham in 1628 further extended the influence of Laud who stated that those who failed to support the king were simply bad Christians.


On the religious front, Laud brought an end to reforms within the Church which he believed had already gone too far by the early 1630’s. This approach angered the Puritans who believed that Laud was too-Catholic in his approach. The Puritans wanted reforms to push the Church into a form that was all-but the opposite to what Laud wanted. Laud’s instruction that wooden communion tables should be replaced with stone altars infuriated Puritans who say this as being a blatant move towards Catholicism. Puritan leaders openly criticised Laud and in 1637 three Puritans, John Bastwick, Henry Burton and William Prynne were arrested on the orders of Laud and had their ears cut off and were branded on the cheeks for writing pamphlets that criticised Laud’s beliefs and what Laud was doing within the Church. Laud wanted strict uniformity within the Church and no deviation from what he wanted. Such an approach was bound to cause friction.


J P Kenyon asserts that Archbishop Laud gave the English Church a decisive and aggressive leadership after he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. However, it was this aggressive approach that upset and angered many. Laud’s main priority was “decent order” and unity within the Church. He described Puritanism as a “wolf held by the ears” and he believed that their very existence threatened the stability of the Church. The Eleven Years Personal Rule of Charles and the suspension of Parliament gave Laud the opportunity to create a church that he wanted. In 1629, Charles introduced the “Instructions”. These forbade preaching “without cure of souls”, so-called lecturers, and enforced the use of the Prayer Book and surplice. Laud was also able to put his own men in positions of authority within the church in the late 1620’s and early 1630’s –the result of, from Laud’s point of view, a number of fortuitous deaths. The Star Chamber and High Commission used its powers to attack the Puritans and enforce conformity within the church and laity. Such a move was not popular with many and the work of the Star Chamber and High Commission was one of the reasons why Laud was eventually imprisoned.


Laud was accused of ‘popery’ by his enemies. He did attempt to get stained glass windows back in churches and he wanted the altar moved from the centre of a church to the east end. However, it was the broad concept of ‘Laudism’ that most aroused fear and anger. It does seem that Laud most angered the older generation of the era. Research has shown that in the Long Parliament, the opponents of Laud were about ten years older than those who supported the King. Therefore, it may be concluded that those older MP’s had memories of the state of the Church during the time of Elizabeth and the early years of James while the younger MP’s did not. Possibly to the younger MP’s, there seemed to be bigger issues than whether the inside of a church looked Catholic or not. It was the older generation of MP’s that led the campaign against Laud and his policies.


The Presbyterians in Scotland were angered by Laud when he ordered that they had to use the English Prayer Book for their services. The Scots made it clear that they were willing to fight to preserve their rights and in 1639 an army crossed the border and attacked north-eastern England where they occupied the valuable coal fields near Newcastle. Unable to muster an army capable of countering this invading army, Charles had to re-call Parliament to get funds to either fight the Scots or buy them off.


After eleven years in which Parliament had effectively ceased to exist, MP’s were in an unforgiving mood when they reassembled. Charles got the finance he needed and bought off the Scots who left England satisfied with what they had. But MP’s handed over the necessary finance at a cost to Charles.


MP’s used the obvious financial weakness of the king to extend their own political power over him. One of the laws introduced had a direct bearing on Laud. MP’s wanted control over the king’s ministers. Charles had little choice but to agree. Laud was the first target of Parliament. He was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. Laud was put on trial for trying to subvert the laws of England and endangering the Protestant faith. These charges were never proved so Parliament introduced a Bill of Attainder to prosecute Laud. He was beheaded at Tower Hill on January 10th, 1645.