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William Laud
Archbishop of Canterbury

William Laud
Enthroned 1633
Reign ended 10 January 1645
Predecessor George Abbot
Successor William Juxon
Personal details
Born 7 October 1573(1573-10-07)
Reading, Berkshire
Died 10 January 1645 (aged 71)
Tower Hill, London
Signature William Laud's signature

William Laud (7 October 1573 – 10 January 1645) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 to 1645. One of the High Church Caroline divines, he opposed radical forms of Puritanism. This and his support for King Charles I resulted in his beheading in the midst of the English Civil War.


Laud was born in a house on Broad Street in Reading, of comparatively low origins, his father, also William, having been a cloth merchant (a fact about which he was to remain sensitive throughout his career). He was educated at Reading School and, through a White Scholarship, St John's College, Oxford. He was baptized at St Laurence's Church in Reading.[1]

Laud was ordained on 5 April 1601 and his Arminian, High Church tendencies and antipathy to Puritanism, combined with his intellectual and organisational brilliance, soon gained him a reputation. At that time the Calvinist party was strong in the Church of England and Laud's affirmation of apostolic succession was unpopular in many quarters. In 1605, somewhat against his will, he obliged his patron, Charles Blount, 1st Earl of Devon, by conducting his marriage to a divorcée, Penelope Rich, Lady Rich. In 1609 he became rector of West Tilbury in Essex.

Laud continued to rise through the ranks of the clergy, becoming the President of St John's College in 1611; a Prebendary of Lincoln in 1614 and Archdeacon of Huntingdon in 1615. He was consecrated Bishop of St David's in 1621 and was translated as the Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1626 and the Bishop of London in 1628. Thanks to patrons, who included the king and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, he reached the highest position in the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and with it the episcopal primacy of All England in 1633. As Archbishop of Canterbury he was prominent in government, taking the king's line and that of Thomas Wentworth, 5th baron Wentworth in all important matters. It is believed that he wrote the controversial Declaration of Sports issued by King Charles in 1633.

In 1630, Laud was elected as Chancellor of the University of Oxford and became much more closely involved in the running of the university than many of his predecessors had been. Laud was instrumental in establishing Oxford's Chair of Arabic and took an interest in acquiring Arabic manuscripts for the Bodleian Library. He also acquired, at some expense, two Arabic script printing sets from the Netherlands, first publishing in Oxford in 1639.[2] His most significant contribution was the creation of a new set of statutes for the university, a task completed in 1636.[3] Laud served as the fifth Chancellor of the University of Dublin between 1633 and 1645.

Etching by Wenceslaus Hollar, Laud being tried for treason, with several people present labelled.

High Church policy

The famous pun "give great praise to the Lord, and little laud to the devil" is a warning to King Charles attributed to the official court jester Archie Armstrong. Laud was known to be touchy about his diminutive stature.

Whereas Strafford saw the political dangers of Puritanism, Laud saw the threat to the episcopacy. But the Puritans themselves felt threatened: the Counter-Reformation was succeeding abroad and the Thirty Years' War was not progressing to the advantage of the Protestants. In this climate, Laud's high church policy was seen as a sinister development. A year after Laud's appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury, the ship Griffin left for America, carrying religious dissidents such as Anne Hutchinson, the Reverend John Lothropp and the Reverend Zechariah Symmes.

Laud's policy was influenced by his desire to impose total uniformity on the Church of England. This was also driven by a sincere belief that this was the duty of his office but, to those of even slightly differing views, it came as persecution. Perhaps this had the unintended consequence of garnering support for the most implacable opponents of the Anglican compromise. In 1637, William Prynne, John Bastwick and Henry Burton were convicted of seditious libel and had their ears cropped and their cheeks branded. Prynne reinterpreted the "SL" ("Seditious Libeller") branded on his forehead as "Stigmata Laudis".

The Long Parliament of 1640 accused him of treason and named him as a chief culprit in the Grand Remonstrance of 1641. Laud was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he remained throughout the early stages of the English Civil War. In the spring of 1644 he was brought to trial which, however, ended without a verdict. The parliament took up the issue and eventually passed a bill of attainder under which he was beheaded on 10 January, 1645 on Tower Hill, notwithstanding being granted a royal pardon.

Laud is remembered in both the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States of America with a Commemoration on 10 January. He is buried at St. John's College, Oxford.



  1. Phillips, Daphne (1980). The Story of Reading. Countryside Books. p. 47. ISBN 0-905392-07-8. 
  2. British Society for Middle Eastern Studies Bulletin 12/1 1985 Arabic Printing and Publishing in England before 1820 - essay by Geoffrey Roper pp14-15
  3. Anthony Milton, "Laud, William (1573–1645)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. (Accessed 5 October 2006.)
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Political offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Portland
as Lord High Treasurer
First Lord of the Treasury
Succeeded by
William Juxon
as Lord High Treasurer
Church of England titles
Preceded by
Arthur Lake
Bishop of Bath and Wells
Succeeded by
Leonard Mawe
Preceded by
Richard Milbourne
Bishop of St David's
Succeeded by
Theophilus Feild
Preceded by
George Montaigne
Bishop of London
Succeeded by
William Juxon
Preceded by
George Abbot
Archbishop of Canterbury
Title next held by
William Juxon
Academic offices
Preceded by
The 3rd Earl of Pembroke
Chancellor of the University of Oxford
Succeeded by
The 4th Earl of Pembroke

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