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William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury 1573 - 1645

Updated Sunday, 7th January 2001

Lowly-born, rising to be Archbishop, but ultimately executed.

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William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Wark Clements

Born into modest surroundings in Reading, William Laud became a leading hate figure for Puritans during the 1630s and 1640s. His determination to promote and enforce a 'high church' style of worship created many enemies and contributed to his downfall. Laud was executed following an Act of Attainder in January 1645.

Although he had served James VI/I as chaplain on his visit to Scotland, Laud's career took off following Charles' ascension in 1625. Appointed Bishop of London in 1628, he was also elected Chancellor of Oxford in 1630 and used his influence to turn the city into a Royalist stronghold.

However, it was in his role as Archbishop of Canterbury- England's senior churchman- that Laud really incurred the Puritans' wrath. Laud saw the Anglican Church as part of the Universal church and preferred forms of worship which emphasised the priest's special intermediary role, a view which brought him into conflict with those who believed in a priesthood of all believers and rejected anything which lacked biblical justification.

Using the Courts of High Commission and Star Chamber to enforce his beliefs, Laud removed theological opponents from church posts and persecuted those who encouraged nonconformity. It was on Laud's orders that Prynne, Burton and Bastwick were mutilated for publishing Puritan attacks on the Laudian church.

Laud's episcopalianism was viewed by critics as an essential complement to Charles' political absolutism, so Laud was opposed by critics on both political and religious grounds. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, his enemies went on the offensive.

In December 1640, he was impeached on a charge of treason and detained in the Tower of London. The Lords acquitted him in 1644 but, in the midst of war, the Commons moved an Act of Attainder which they forced the Lords to pass. Laud was beheaded on 10th January, 1645.

English Civil War: The key players

 

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