To What Extent and Why Was Archbishop William Laud such A Hated Figure From the Period 1640 to 1645?

Marianna Rapsomanakis 

Chapter 1

Nicholas Tyacke describes Archbishop Laud as one of the ‘greatest archbishops of Canterbury since the reformation,’[1] comparing him, not to the infamous Cardinal Richelieu as many have since done but to Thomas Cramner. Similarly Kevin Sharpe and Sheila Lambert, see the Laudian authorities as having been very ‘moderate and even-handed.’[2] This is not however the way in which he was viewed by many of his contemporaries and since by the numerous historians of the Civil War. Tyacke, however, continues to argue that Laud made a ‘major contribution to the future of the English church.’[3] Is it only in hindsight that a historian can come to such a conclusion or was it perhaps evident even in the seventeenth century, to some, that Laud was not such an appallingly innovative yet papist man subverting the establishment of the kingdom? With this fundamental question at the forefront, this dissertation will examine and investigate the reasons for such seemingly intense hatred being placed onto one man and indeed, to what extent this was the case.

The aim of this dissertation is to examine Archbishop William Laud, his beliefs, behaviour and actions. From this it may be possible to determine when exactly people’s perspective of him turned into disapproval, hatred and then condemnation. I consider it necessary also to determine a form of judgment of his character, and from this look at his attributes and failings. It will be necessary also, to look at the differences between what he aimed to do and what he actually achieved. This in turn will all enable me to asses the question of why laud was such a hated figure and to what extent. These two focus points are rather intertwined. Of course, one must look at who disliked him and who did not but in terms of why; the reasons are far more intricate and multifaceted. Factors such as propaganda, persuasion and fear all contributed to people’s outward ideas, attitudes and judgments in the seventeenth century. One must consider subsequently, to what extent these people who said that they disliked him really firstly understood what they were a part of, secondly to what extent propaganda influenced them, and thirdly how many people merely ‘jumped on the band wagon’ out of fear.

I would consider the subject of Archbishop Laud to be highly important in understanding many issues about the Civil War. I chose to study Laud because I would consider events that happened to him to be a crucial part in the Cause and outbreak of tension that led to the Civil war. Religion was an intricate part of the events that occurred from 1640 and Laud, as the archbishop of Canterbury was at the centre of such events. I would also consider it very important to determine when and why members of Parliament developed such disdain for one man. His role is important as a religious leader, a minister and as a councillor. For example, was it perhaps the positions he held rather than the policies that made him an easy target for disapproval and blame? That is to say, people of this period would never have dared to blame the King for bad policy so they tended to place all the blame on those around him. Perhaps the Earl of Strafford would also be an apt study for such a question. I do not aim to take all blame away from Archbishop Laud and place it on the King merely because I in hindsight am able to do so. However, in this study I consider it a necessary aspect to take into account.

The Civil War and all its aspects has always been a subject for debate, and one of great controversy among historians, as perhaps one may expect of such an immense and significant event. It is important to examine the historiography of the Revolution and to understand the causes, in order to see where Laud fits in and how much impact he had or did not have. This may in turn draw more light on how hated he was and why. I think that it is quite evident, from the perspective of a historian, that in reality Laud was only a minor cause for the civil war. Many historians do label it a ‘War of Religion’ but often the focus is on the British Context, which included largely, the Irish Rebellion. This certainly is the argument of Revisionists in the 1970s and 1980s.[4] The ‘four nation’s idea’ was also a revisionist, or ‘New British History’ argument emphasising the difficulty and inevitable troubles of one monarch in the seventeenth century trying to govern, control and unify several Kingdoms.

Most recent theories actually suggest that the Civil War was an ideological conflict, and that the divisions between Absolutism and Constitutionalism were ideological and not necessarily religious.[5] It is really only Tyacke, a revisionist, who names Laud specifically. He sees Puritanism as a movement, which became so conservative as reaction against the innovations of King Charles I and Laud. They wanted to protect and defend the Elizabethan and Jacobean church from change such as Arminianism. The confusing and I would argue ironic thing about the way in which different schools of theology viewed each other, is that Laud would most likely, never have labelled himself an innovator. Quite to the contrary, I imagine that he too saw what he was doing as trying to uphold the old order, albeit from a slightly different angle.

In addition, many historians also argue, that when considering Laud, he should not be regarded as a theologian. Sharpe states that this is because on such theological issues Laud preferred to write and speak little.[6] Charles in fact promoted him not because of his passion for, and skill in theology, but because they had similar ideas for the church and because Laud was a superior administrator. Trevor Roper argues that he was not a theologian but a politician, as politics and religion were so closely linked in this period.[7] He argues in fact that it would be ridiculous to say that Laud ‘interfered’ in politics, because he was already in politics, that is to say, it was essentially his field as Archbishop. Tyacke contradicts these views as rather than seeing Laud as an administrator or a bureaucrat, he would suggest that he was actually firstly and primarily a controversial theologian.[8] I would suggest that this was perhaps not by choice but due to the fact that his beliefs and ideas were contentious, and his position made them and him controversial. I would also question those theories, which suggest that it was unlikely for Laud to be a theologian because he never spoke of such theories. It is possible that he did indeed have a keen interest in theology but was perhaps either too astute to discuss it in public or that such records have simply been lost in time. I would also argue that Laud should perhaps be considered to be a politician and an administrator, however, I would propose that he was possibly all these things, and perhaps that led to his undoing, for very few men could be successful and interlink so many occupations.

Peter Heylyn, a contemporary of Laud, twenty-seven years his junior wrote about his life after his death, and similarly depicted him as more of a revolutionary theologian than an ecclesiastical administrator[9]. I would argue that one must consider the fact that Laud, his ideas and indeed his actions became such a source of contention and evidently a basis for hatred, that surely such reactions could not have been stirred if he was merely and principally an administrator. I would consider the fact that theology had to come into it at some point, as it was largely a man’s beliefs, which identified him and made him agreeable to another man, the church and the state, or not.

Regarding such a substantial, prominent and debatable subject, it is of course from primary sources that a historian must look to try to find the most objective and interpretative evidence. However, although this is possible to a certain extent, one must firstly be aware of the limitations of such evidence available from the seventeenth century. Obviously, there were extremely limited media outlets and historians find themselves relying heavily on diaries, letters, newspapers and sources from Parliament records. This can of course be highly informative and useful and many regard it as an adversity that people of this present generation no longer or rarely record information in this way and rarely write letters to one another. Having said that other media development will, needless to say, make up for such a loss. Furthermore, it is important to note the restriction of access to such archaic and valid information. The British library holds many important accounts, which unfortunately are unavailable to undergraduates such as myself.

Similarly one must be aware that when news paper articles, personal artefacts and even Parliament records are found and examined that there is a certain amount of biased information to look for, and be aware of. That is to say, that as with secondary sources, one must regard them with a certain amount of criticism. Censorship and propaganda are definitely issues to consider. Explicitly, in letters and possibly even in diaries, at dangerous times, when thoughts of conspiracy was rife, people would often be far too weary of writing exactly what they wanted to for fear of interception. Also when reading parliamentary records it must be with the knowledge of the principles and preferences of those recording the information and those being written about. I would also argue that it is important to be aware of restrictions on secondary sources, that is to say there is also the problem of other people’s interpretation of evidence. A lot of historians may present their findings as fact when it is not always the case. It is always going to be based on a subjective view of the evidence available. It is therefore important for me to compare several sources in order to try and get the best possible outlook. Obviously a lot of interpretation is opinion, which is a very valuable aspect, as long as I ensure that I am aware of the differences.

I would argue that propaganda is also an incredibly important aspect to consider as it has always been a most lethal weapon in times of war and instability. It can sway even the most sturdy of minds and in this period religion was the most obvious form of propaganda to use. An example of this is the Member of Parliament John Hampden who, along with Pym deliberately used religion as a tool and as a basis for controversy, knowing that it was a topic that would invoke the passions of the House of Commons.[10] In this way, while Members were incensed about Charles’ policies and objectives regarding the Church, they were presumably easy to excite about Charles’ other policies. Regarding the masses, at a time when media methods were simple and much of the population were fairly undereducated in such matters it is easy to see how biased information and conspiracy theories could have passed as fact. In addition, in times of tension, propaganda thrives and with it, scapegoats can be created. I would argue that fear; assumption and rumour were huge influences in the undoing of Archbishop Laud. 

The Civil War and revolution is frequently described as a ‘War of Religion,’ and how accurate an analysis this is has been a contended issue. What is undeniably apparent is the fact that the events of the 1640s occurred in a society where religion was the centre of men’s lives. That is to say, it was largely their religion, which defined men. Church and state were so closely related in the seventeenth century that it would have been nearly impossible and definitely, naïve to think that they did not affect one another and that religion by default did not become part of politics. H R Trevor Roper argues from this point of view suggesting that religion was an ‘expression of a particular social and political organisation.’[11] It then follows, according to Trevor Roper that one can understand why all men were prepared to fight for religion in the seventeenth century but many may not be willing to do so in modern times. This then is due to the fact that religion is not so much an aspect of politics now, save perhaps in Rome. However, there are other, equally as consuming and important aspects within politics, which cause men to go to war with one another. These reasons though are often money, or most frequently in the twentieth century, and even recently, the beliefs not in religious theology but in political. That is to say the unwillingness to tolerate violent fascism and the desire to spread capitalism.

Religious toleration to the twentieth century member of British society seems to be something that is prearranged, and of no high contention. It may seem absurd that a man may be so hated, persecuted and executed under suspicion of Catholicism. Burning people at the stake for Protestantism during the reign of Mary I may seem equally as outrageous and regarded by many as an error in thinking of those people of the sixteenth century. However, to regard history in this way is I would consider, to miss the point slightly. That is to say, instead of trying to learn from the mistakes of the past and label them as such, surely it is important to understand actions and examine why men thought and acted in such ways, drawing on comparisons. Religious intolerance was, perhaps not such an unthinkable stance to take in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, just as the belief in witches and magic was a plausible one. To a large proportion of the population in the 1640s, the mere idea of the return of Catholicism was as daunting and terrifying as the possibility of Hitler ruling Britain to members of the British population of the 1940s. Although it may seem somewhat difficult to see at first why exactly Laud was such a hated figure, by looking at the situation from a sixteenth century puritan’s point of view, it may become more obvious, though of course to what extent and whether justifiable or not is another issue.

Archbishop Laud rose to eminence in a period during which it was apparent that the Church of England meant one of two different things to different men. This was a period where theological debates existed between Calvinists, who believed in predestination, and those who believed in a possibility of salvation for all good men. That is to say that God was good and full of grace, and that all men had free will, being able to change their destiny. The latter of these theologians mentioned were usually known as Arminians, though I would certainly argue that it would be difficult to group these anti-Calvinists definitively at any point in this period. These arguments also extended over the issue of whether or not to eliminate or accentuate ceremonies and sacraments within the Church of England. It is on this subject that Laud became such a controversial figure as he saw ceremony as necessary to preserve a unity within the church. Indeed his life, career and death echoed as well as influenced the course of these debates.

Chapter 2

When Archbishop Laud was finally brought to trial, after more than three years in the Tower of London, he was charged with subverting the Law, religious innovation, Arminianism and Popery. Since his trial people have often been undecided on whether they should approve these charges or not. It is considered quite a difficult decision because Laud himself never really took a stance about his fundamental beliefs and I would argue followed his own rules rather than conforming to one particular sector. That in itself is possibly why historians have named his take on Arminianism, Laudianism, and why in his trial he denied that he was or had been an Arminian.

It seems concievable that he was most likely a devoted member of the Church of England and believed that his policies were contributing to uphold it. However, perhaps the problem was that he saw the Church of England as an extended version of the Catholic Church in Rome. That is to say, England had evolved the Catholic religion by getting rid of superstition, idolatry, corruption and hypocrisy. Henry VIII then had taken the established church, reformed, and built upon it. Perhaps his explanation of the Church of England is what confused and angered many people, particularly Parliamentarians and Puritans, who most likely saw this explanation and dogma as far too familiar, and as they were quite the opposite extreme of Rome even an idea that was on the wrong side of the middle ground would seem far too Catholic. This then led to conspiracies of a papist plot, treason and fraud.

The fundamental distinction between Puritanism, the earlier Calvinists, and Arminianism is the idea of predestination. Calvinists believed that certain people were elected ‘Saints’ which meant that there was little need to talk about sins and forgiveness because everything was already predestined. In contrast to this, anti-Calvinists believed that all men were sinners and then talked about their sins and repentance for them. Only doing ‘good works’ and being a good Christian could enable you be rewarded with eternal life. Laud specifically, also put a lot of emphasis on the Eucharist, which was of course a ceremony commemorating the last supper. The Eucharist prayer in Lauds ‘Works’ shows his belief that man had been enveloped in ‘habitual sin’[12] over time, and that every Christian needed to repent of their sins in order to achieve forgiveness. The only way to attain this is through the Eucharist sacrifice. When one considers the great emphasis that the Catholic Church put on the ceremony, (this also included the belief in transubstantiation) it is perhaps more evident as to why those who were very anti-Catholicism saw this stress of such a ceremony as a step backward to Rome.

Consequently, some of Laud’s ideas and desires, that were undeniably evident, were his controversial designs to change aspects of the church. His revival of ceremonies was perhaps the most divisive. Laud, and Charles I himself, throughout the 1630s, believed that it was through ceremonies that external worship could be manifested. Although they were not absolutely the essence of religion Laud believed them to be crucial. Similarly Laud encouraged the custom of bowing towards the Alter and making sure that communion tables were placed alter wise. These changes pushed people to see Laud as an innovator and to believe conspiracies of papist plots. Similarly, the introduction and embellishment of the pictures in the churches led to accusations of idolatry. Archbishop Laud of course saw no such resemblance of his introductions to the old Catholic churches. The ultimate aim, which he endorsed, was that of Unity. Laud was incredibly focused on creating order and unity within the Church, which included all types of ceremony. This in turn would, it seems, enhance spirituality and enable all citizens in all four Kingdoms to worship in the correct way and achieve forgiveness and eternal life.

Changes in the English Church and the intense desire for unity of both Laud and Charles ultimately led to the desire for a change in the Scottish church, and most significantly the Prayer Book. Laud was held responsible for the Prayer Book, which seems rather an obvious assumption, as he was Archbishop of Canterbury. However, he denied direct responsibility for it, claiming that, although he approved strongly of the content, he would have well preferred the Scottish Church to adopt the English Prayer book. This supports his belief in unity as such an event would have brought the Kingdom closer to religious consistency. Having said this, what Laud may or may not have ‘preferred’ does not change the fact that he approved of the content and was willing to enforce the new Scottish Prayer Book, that being cause enough for Puritans and Parliamentarians to dislike and disapprove of the Archbishop.

It can be argued that Laud’s main beliefs and aims were unity, order and discipline. He considered that good and effective authority was needed with in the church and stressed that this discipline and authority should come from the Bishops and the Clergy. This was because he had previously felt that non-clerical persons had been encroaching on the territory of clerical jurisdiction. This, according to Laud should never have been the case as the only people who should be able to enforce unity; order and discipline were the clergy and episcopacy.  I would argue that the stress put on episcopacy was what greatly angered Puritans and Parliamentarians. Priests were of Catholic origin, and emphasised an old hierarchical system that they believed was not necessary or desirable any more. It symbolised corruption, hypocrisy and the old order, instead of empowering them, they should be abolished.

So accordingly, I would argue that many disliked Laud for his fundamental beliefs and associated him with Arminianism, whether or not his core beliefs fell in to this doctrine well or not. Peter White argues in his book, ‘The Rise of Arminianism reconsidered’ that there actually was no such ‘Rise’ and that historians who continue to argue that there was, are merely themselves, victims of Puritan propaganda.[13] Whether or not there was a ‘rise’ in Arminianism, it is still easy to see why people associated Laud’s views with that theology, as predestination was an important part of what many saw as the English Church. Laud challenged this, and other aspects, which fundamentally made him unpopular.

Perhaps an equally important question to the rise of Arminianism is when and to what extent Puritanism came about. It has been argued that the origins of Puritanism come from the Thirty Years War but they did not start to have major influence in Parliament until the 1630s and 40s. I would argue that it was from the beginning of the Long Parliament that one can start to see divisions between what would become the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. For those who were to become Royalists, their attacks of Laud tended to be about issues that they felt infringed upon existing laws. For example, unlike John Pym, the Royalists did not object to the 1640 Canons because of their content so much as the fact that the continuation of the Convocation after the dissolution of Parliament was breaking existing Laws.

Smith remarks how people’s reactions to an event like the Canons illustrate their exact political views and shows under which group they will eventually fall.[14] That is to say, that future Royalist Seymour was primarily more concerned with illegal behaviour than with the ‘wickedness’ of the Canons. His reaction makes sense in his context and shows us his religious and governmental preferences to an extent. His character had a distinct lack of godly zeal but he had a long-standing attachment to the law. In terms of the relation that this has with the Archbishop Laud, it shows us that men like Seymour, most likely did not ‘hate’ Laud because he was a supposed papist and he saw himself as ‘Godly.’ In fact men such as he may not have hated the Archbishop at all (at least not at this point). If they disliked or disapproved of him in this instance it was because he was at the centre of the Convocation which in essence had been carried out illegally.

An example of what could be called ‘Constitutional Parliamentarianism’ according to David Smith is one Sir Benjamin Rudyerd. When the Long Parliament commenced he is said to have commented, ‘Let Religion be our primum quaerite, for all things else are but etcaeteras to it.’[15] As mentioned before, this belief that religion was the main issue for all men in the seventeenth century is highlighted here. In this particular instance Rudyerd suggests that religion is the cause of all secular grievances, and this, as Smith suggests also, was a very typical trait of a Parliamentarian. Most politicians who were to become Parliamentarians then disliked Laud because they specifically associated episcopacy with being a major cause for political troubles, and the Archbishop, as the central figure of Episcopacy, was the one to place the blame on.

As the title to Smith’s book suggests, the search for a religious settlement at this time was just as big a question as who was to blame for religion being unsettled. Men such as Benjamin Rudyerd and Jon Pym would have supported some form of ‘Godly Reformation’. However, constitutional Royalists differed here because they firstly did not give full support of abolishing episcopacy and of a decisive non-Laudian policy. These were men such as Culpepper, Hyde and Falkland, who were equally as unsure about the exact nature of the religious crisis as well. Perhaps where some men, probably mainly the Parliamentarians, thought that religion was definitely the cause of all problems, other more moderate members of parliament believed that there were several areas in which Charles had breached the rule of law. Smith argues that because the defined the question differently they arrived at different answers.[16] So some had a more tolerable view of Laud and episcopacy and were happy to sustain some form of the existing system but perhaps with less power being awarded to episcopacy, where as more Puritan members of parliament aimed for, as early as 1640, for the abolition of bishops.

In a way Laud was the obvious and easiest person to blame as he and Laudianism, as a religious influence, could be seen to be the cause for the King’s behaviour and catholic sympathies (rather than blaming the Queen which would be treachery), also for bad policies and most specifically the Scottish war. Parliamentarians, reasoned, as I understand it, that firstly, the root of all deficient outcome was religious influence. Therefore if the outcome was bad, for example war with part of the Kingdome, the religious input must be equally as bad. Therefore Laud, as Archbishop of Canterbury and an important advisor to the King, must be fraudulent and unprincipled, and most likely a Catholic because Catholicism was equally deceitful and corrupt. That is to say, Laud’s unscrupulous and papist religious influences were blamed for the King’s mistakes, as well as his own. In this there is perhaps an element of rejection of respect for authority, only, people dare not directly disrespect the King, but could do so to his closest ministers, and so blamed them. John Walter would argue that a popular culture has expectations about how a Monarch should rule and how Charles should have been a valuable and virtuous King.[17] When Charles embarked upon his era of Personal Rule, he challenged traditional loyalty and many lost respect for his authority and in turn he lost their loyalty, not only to him but to his court, ministers and church.

I would continue to argue that events from the late 1630s then caused a continued rise in the hatred of the Archbishop. This was then due to several reasons such as Episcopacy, that is ton say that Laud represented everything that the ‘godly’ and others hated about it, conspiracies of a Catholic Plot and idea that he was secretly a papist, fear, for many people started to go back to the Tudor ideas of conspiracy and treason at court and by the Kings ministers. In addition, fear of him having power, and as mentions, a rejection of respect for the authority. People opposed change like that which Laud was proposing. He was reactionary from their perspective. In addition there was the huge problem of the Scottish problem, that is to say the Prayer Book and the first war. Furthermore, and importantly, from the end of the short Parliament there was the problem of the Canons.

Traditionally, the government could be considered in terms of three estates. The first being the House of Lords and the second being the House of Commons. The third estate was the ecclesiastical estate, which met in Convocation when Parliament was called, and was, similarly dissolved when Parliament was, by the Monarch. However, in may 1640, this what not the cases, and Charles did not dissolve Convocation. When in the Tower Laud is said to have commented that he was ‘a little troubled’ and had reservations about the continuation of the Convocations. However, he managed to justify it by saying that it could continue because it had been called by a different set of writs than those used for parliament. He did though it seems come round to the idea as he drafted instructions from the King telling the Convocation what to do next.

Even before the canons had actually passed any legislation, members of Parliament were quite understandable angered, as however, the King and his councillors justified it, it was essentially, from their view, breaking the Law. It seemed equally unfair and unjustified for the king to have dismissed Parliament after such a short time, without answering or dealing with any of their complaints or suggestions, and yet to keep the Convocation open. It was obviously because within the Convocation the King had more of a say. Although parliament could not essentially blame Laud for the continuation, they equally could not blame the King so, when the items had all been passed, it was then that the blame felon to the ministers such as the Archbishop. Because it was Archbishop Laud, who seemed to be at the front of this event it is easy to se why even more people blamed him, disliked him and thought that he was responsible for the poor policies and seemingly illegal Laws like the Canons. By the end of May, Convocation had passed six Canons. The King confirmed them and ordered that ministers must preach, promoting them. I would consider that because they were so innovative and controversial, Laud was blamed even more so as people believed him to be a intransigent papist.

Obviously in 1640 the person to blame was never going to be the King, it was his ‘malevolent’ ministers and in religious matters the ‘evil’ Archbishop, who influenced him and was therefore responsible for things like the Canons. The ‘wicked’ canons were in fact, mentioned in article five that the House of Commons created and used to impeach Laud.[18] Parliament then held Laud fully responsible for the Canons, or I would argue even if they had not fully blamed him originally, were able to use them to their advantage in the case against him.

The actual context of the Canons is quite interesting, as three out of the six passed addressed the current political situation.[19] The first then was that the King had the right to call and dismiss parliament, the second that any subject taking up arms against the King would be dammed and would suffer an eternal hell. The third was that it was the duty of all subjects to pay taxes to their king. This third one was obviously a source of irritation for those in parliament who had suspected that a major reason for the Convocation was money. It is interesting however, that there was a Canon, influenced by Laud that said that all those who advocated popery or democracy were guilty of treason against God and King. Laud, most likely as a way of getting good publicity for himself, acquired a hangman to publicly burn about 200 books that were seized from a Papist. This canon however, did not seem to have the desired effect as many people believed or suspected that maybe the creation of this canon was too obvious, and that the public advertising of it made the content slightly phony and exaggerated.

In addition, Laud was also responsible for the most controversial piece of legislation of the canons, that is, what came to be known as the ‘etcetera oath.’[20] This was that, all bishops, priests, students and graduates must take an oath accepting the ‘Doctrines and Disciplines and Government of the Church’ and promising not to change them. Even though this became known as the etcetera oath because it was really rather vague, it was obvious that the one thing that this oath was clear on was the promise to maintain Episcopacy.[21] This was the main cause of anger and worry, especially for men such as Sir Simonds D’Ewes who believed that such legislation would drive out the ‘Godly.’[22] Carlton argues that Laud ‘naively’ believed that by putting people on their word he could root out his enemies properly.

I would argue that what people found to be the worrying aspect of the Canons, was the implication that the church was seemingly trying to reassert its power as an institution. In addition, this and all other efforts were a way in which the church could support the King who wanted and did, for the second time, go to war with Scotland. Many Parliamentarians did not want war with Scotland and as the Prayer book was a main cause of it and the Canons then helped this cause, it seemed obvious to hate the Archbishop who had had a hand in both of these events. It seems that at the time Laud believed that the Convocation had done a good job in passing the canons, or at least that is what he advocated, as he wrote in his diary, ‘I hope that they will be useful to the church.’ However, when in the Tower he actually suggested that the Canons may not have been the best idea and requested that they may be forgotten and ‘die quietly, without blemishing the church.’ This was the first time that Laud had ceased to defend the canons and the Convocation and suggested that he could understand why they had been so disliked.[23]

The canons, like the Scottish Prayer book are a specifically interesting aspect when looking at the causes of hatred for Archbishop Laud. That is to say, at the time Laud was at the centre of this disapproval and blame however, historians have since suggested that the King was the driving force behind the policies and that laud was merely the employee carrying out orders of the King. The political situation by 1641 angered so many people that they certainly needed someone to blame and it is possible for historians to see Laud as a type of Scapegoat. That is to say that in the 1640s men could hardly blame the king and label him inept, as he was ordained by God. They equally did not want to blame the Scots because many Englishmen had more in common with them than with the Royalists, and definitely more than with the Catholics.

With this knowledge historians often argue that people blamed Archbishop Laud as he was an easy target. However, there was of course a reason for this as well, he was, I would suggest often by choice, at the centre of these policies that were so disliked, so surely one cannot take all blame off him. Having said this, like many societies and people of the past and probably as many will do in the future, England bowed to theories of conspiracies for explanation and justification. Laud was then one of the people at the centre of these conspiracies and so he was targeted, perhaps more so than was the case. I would insist, as Charles Carlton argues also, that during this period, ‘bishops were made first rate villains.’ People believed that they had ‘popish connections’, unpopular secular factions and were connected with unpopular and failed royal policies.[24]

Priests and bishops were also selected for their academic abilities in a period and society when people were rewarded for their birthrights, connections and kin. John Pym certainly believed that they used religion to further their own ambitions. Sir Simonds D’Ewes writes in his diary on the 24th February 1641 that Laud was compared to Wentworth in a speech by Pym regarding the charge of high treason against the Archbishop of Canterbury. In it he said that “they are both; ambitious, proud and insolent (men).”[25] D’Ewes is not specific about how these allegations were justified but it seems that Pym specifically and most likely others believed and campaigned that Laud was putting himself above his station, subverting the Law, and was far too ambitious. In general, he appeared to be a huge threat to the Kingdom.

All reasons and justifications for the impeachment and hatred of Laud are set out technically and formally in the fourteen articles drawn up by Parliament and presented to the House of Lords with a conclusion by John Pym. This is a very useful piece of evidence when deciphering the reasons why Laud was reviled and executed. However, there were of course bound to be other reasons that were not put into the articles for, and causes put in that may not have been founded on any evidence. 

When the articles were presented to the House of Commons as maintenance of the charge of impeachment against him, all articles were supported without even one ‘no.’[26] The first and possibly most significant article for accusation suggested that Laud himself ‘subverted the fundamental Laws and government of this kingdom of England.’[27] It also accused the Archbishop of wickedly advising the King and influencing Royal policy. One significant point is the point of ‘jure divino,’ that is to say that Laud considered that bishops had God given power and supposedly encouraged the King to exert the principle of Divine Right. This then gave both Laud and his bishops, and the King unlimited power. This first article also held Laud responsible for the levying of money that did not have consent of Parliament, for example, the levying of ship money. I would argue that the point of Divine Right and the power that came from that idea was a major reason for Laud being such a hated figure. He was seen as an ambitious man who wanted to elevate himself above the law and above parliament and this rather old idea of God given supremacy was perhaps seen as the perfect farce for created an episcopacy and monarch who could over ride Parliament.

Similarly Laud was also accused of giving and authorizing sermons, and printing and publishing works that denied the authority of Parliament and Laws of the Kingdom. In this accusation is also the implication that works published that had Popish connotations and content were the responsibility of the Archbishop thus going against the established Doctrine of the Church of England and the laws of the land. Laud was also accused of taking bribes and gifts in article four.

I would argue that two other significant accusations against Laud, which help a lot in understanding why he was so disliked is article five, which discusses how he contrived and introduced the wicked Canons, and article thirteen which suggests that he maliciously and traitorously plotted and endeavored to stir up war and ‘enmity’ between his majesty’s two Kingdoms of England and Scotland.[28] As mentioned before the Canons and relations with Scotland contributed greatly to the animosity against Archbishop Laud and not surprisingly they are two of the longest and most elaborate articles.

Among the fourteen articles I believe that one can see how some points have foundation and were genuine reasons for which many disliked Archbishop Laud. That is to say Parliamentarians believed these points to be true and it is obvious that they stemmed from fact, for example the unlawfulness of the canons and the offensiveness of some of their content. However, several points have quite evidently stemmed from conspiracy and are not based on factual evidence. For example, that Laud was responsible for all or at least most papist publication seems a ridiculous thing to present as fact when there is also evidence that he ordered Catholic books to be burned and ordered that those who advocated Catholicism be arrested for treason. Similarly, in 1637 Laud also persuaded the King to issue a proclamation forbidding missionary activity because he feared the activities and influences occurring in court around the Queen and her French Catholic courtiers.[29] However, like so many other similar incidences it seems that the proclamation did more harm to Laud than good. This is because there had already been suspicion and concern among English men who blamed Laud for any Catholic conversion, and the proclamation confirmed the suspicions of what was going on at court, for which Laud was then blamed rather than the Queen.

One can see then how Laud was placed into this role of Catholicism from an early point, and where as it seems that the Queen of course had many allies, Laud had few. From these articles we can see how much emphasis was put on Laud as, firstly a Papist, and secondly as the main iniquitous and fiendish influence on the King. This is shown in that after Mr. Pym had had a conference with the House of Lords, he made the request that the Archbishop of Canterbury be ‘sequestered’ from the King.[30] I would argue that Pym was the driving force behind the articles, as he seemed to have a passionate dislike for the Archbishop, adding his ‘touching’ speech about his spiritual wickedness, injustice and corrupt ways. With Pym giving such zealous and convincing speeches, it is hard to know who and how much people disliked Laud and actually agreed with Pym. Some may have felt that they could not counteract ‘King Pym’[31] for fear of his overruling power, and perhaps fear of being labeled a papist themselves. It is conceivably human nature that few would want to stand up for some one charged of treason lest they be accused of it themselves. That is to say that unless they really favored the one accused and ardently believed in his cause. I believe that unfortunately for Laud this was not the case. Perhaps many were indifferent or undecided about him but I am afraid to say that it is most likely that few had feelings enough to speak out or risk their careers or indeed lives over the seemingly withdrawn and suspicious Archbishop.

Similarly in his diary, I perceived that Sir Simonds D’Ewes suggests that most were against Laud and it was not such a terribly debated matter. Mr. Grimstone added to Pym’s speech that the Archbishop was the cause of all problems, both in the Church and within the Kingdom. He further commented that he preferred every other bishop in England. So whether or not everyone actually had the same view as men such as Pym, D’Ewes, Grimstone and Harrison, it seems that most appeared to be in agreement that he was guilty of treason.[32]

Chapter 3

It is important to consider the issue of the extent of which Laud was actually a ‘hated’ figure throughout England and indeed the rest of the Kingdom. It is easy to think about and analyze views and debates in Parliament because in many ways this was the centre focus of the Revolution and Civil War. That is to say that in a way it started and ended with Parliament. However, by definition the event could not have been a ‘Civil War’ if it did not involve parts of the whole country and population fighting against another part. It was not merely all in London. Therefore it is important to look at the ‘popular role’ in the English Civil War, in order to determined some sort of conclusion as to how hated a figure Archbishop Laud really was.

David Underdown has suggested that there a three ways in which one can look at the popular politics and opinion and by which we can examine the role in the English Revolution.[33] The first is deference meaning that many people may have been some what in difference and shown polite respect to which ever side it appeared safest to do so with. This argument has often been used to explain Royalist success in acquiring an army because it would seem that at least in the early days of the War, many people would have been afraid to argue against their King and would have politely agreed to fight for him out of fear or traditional respect for the monarchy. The second model is that of localism, that is to say that certain areas had an affinity with a specific group, had certain customs and a devotion of some sort to these customs and focused on mainly local interests rather than national ones. This idea could be relevant to certain areas when considering religion as some places in the country and indeed all Kingdoms were more strictly Calvinist or Puritan than other places. Many areas, often on the south coasts were far more sympathetic to changes in religion, Laudianism and even Catholicism.

The third idea was that of class, and is this model that has often been used to explain popular Parliamentarianism. That is to say that such an ideas has been suggested to be the cause of such events as the violence in Essex and Suffolk in 1642. David Underdown calls it ‘class hatred of the gentry’[34] that is to say it was dislike and frustration with the upper classes that caused violence and rebels to occur in local communities. Perhaps such a theory could be used to explain the hatred of Laud, and even bishops in general. That is to say that many people hated the hierarchy of the church, namely episcopacy. They became so frustrated, perhaps in the same way that many did so with the gentry, that they exerted this feeling of exploitation or injustice with violence. This can be seen towards Laud when Lambeth palace was stormed by rebels. From the perspective of ‘class’ one could argue that Laud was a generally disliked figure, but perhaps a second way to view this is that it was not so much the Archbishop himself that was hated but it was what he represented. That is to say that as the Archbishop of Canterbury he represented the head of the Episcopalian Church which was viewed as hierarchical and had connotations with the corrupt Catholic Church.

Walters comments that when regarding protests that occurred during the Personal Rule of Charles I and those which extended into the Revolution, historians have said that the riots were nearly always, essentially defensive and conservative. Walters argues that while protestors probably did draw on the image of the past to defend, and as cause to defend, their rights, the interpretation that the majority were Conservative is “unnecessarily constraining.” He goes on to argue then that people drawing on the past as they imagine it to have been could actually produce radical, and not conservative protestation when used to confront change. [35] In relation to those who protested against laud, I would argue that they opposed change on grounds that what he was doing was too similar to an awful past of Catholicism. The result for many people was to react in a radical way. While they were defending their present, they were willing to revolutionize in a different, more radical way in order to avoid Laudian type changes. So from the perspective of those who rebelled against episcopacy and those who tried to invade Lambeth Palace, Laud was the reactionary one.

The purpose of Walter’s study is to try and explain the outbreak of popular violence, and popular political violence. He also tries to reflect upon and asses the roles of the language of class, religion and anti popery with regard to how this affected their role in the English Revolution.[36] When considering to what extent Laud was a hated figure among the masses, it is interesting to consider the rather general attack on bishops and ministers in the summer of 1642. These people, along with the Archbishop were attacked because they condoned the hierarchical church system and supported the silencing and departure of godly ministers that had occurred prior to 1642.[37] Colchester is a particularly interesting study due to the fact that as Harbottle Grimston said, ‘it hath been the honor of this towne to be famous for religion.’ The aspiration of most in Colchester was to build a ‘godly’ community and as a town they were very rife in the Laudian counter-revolution, attempting to ensure that as much godly preaching and behavior could occur as necessary.

I would not argue that most of the country felt so strongly about a ‘godly’ reformation, but Colchester was by no means an isolated case. When one studies Laud it would be rather easy to assume that most people disliked him and saw him as a threat but I would argue that there was a religious divide, that is to say that there were those who did identify with Laudianism and the reforms of the 1630s. When considering the hostility towards ministers and specifically Laud, I would agree with what Walters suggests, which is that although the ‘godly’ where no doubt at the forefront of attacks they were probably able to encourage others to accept their views and actions who were either quite anti-clerical or afraid of a return of the Roman catholic Church. Therefore it is quite possible that in many cases it was not so much the case that Laud was a central figure for disdain for the majority of people, but that Laudianism became a theology to attack, by the ‘godly’ and that subsequently other not so fervent people were persuaded to that way of thinking because it was the most prominent in their region, and amongst people of reputation.

It is perhaps easier to examine who it was that disliked Laud and who did not but in terms of why; the reasons are far more intricate and multifaceted. There are many restrictions on information on and about people in the seventeenth, especially within certain local areas which can make it difficult to examine exactly to what extent Laud and Laudianism was unpopular. There are ways to guess and estimate his popularity for example, through case studies such as Colchester. However, the most amount of evidence is invariably going to have origionated from London, which limits a historian when they desire to gain an interpretation from the entire Kingdom. Factors such as propaganda, persuasion and fear also all contributed to people’s outward ideas, attitudes and judgments in the seventeenth century. It would often have been difficult to judge the opinion of some people, who were afraid to do the wrong thing in such a time of conspiracy theories, ideas of treachery and suspicion.  

I would argue that the reaction to the eventual death of Archbishop Laud says a lot about the extent to which he was a hated figure. It seems that not many people were really very interested, at least only those who vehemently hated him were[38]. It also seems that not only did his Puritan enemies rejoice, but Rome did also, as they had disliked Laud just as much, thus proving, albeit too late, that he was indeed no Papist. I would consider the fact that one of the main problems was that people either hated or were indifferent to Laud. When assessing the question of to what extent laud was hated, it was not so much that everyone hated him, but that those who did, did so incredibly viciously. Many others may have been indifferent to him, or perhaps never even made up their minds. However, it is hard to say who these people were as they may have been the members of Parliament who agreed that he was indeed guilty out of fear. They may also have been members of the clergy who said nothing for the same reason. In addition, many of them were probably civilians whose opinion were not so important and left no record of their opinions at any rate, for the historian to interpret.

Chapter 4
Through examination of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury I have sought to discover why and to what extent he was such an ostracized man, focusing on the last section of his life. Laud has often been labeled an innovator and a disliked figure, often on behalf of his theological beliefs. To an extent I would agree that many people initially disapproved of the new Archbishop due to his new and unwelcome Arminian changes to the church. It would have obviously seemed to many Calvinist, and Puritan men that he was trying to change the foundations of the Church, that people had been quite happy with since the Elizabethan and Jacobean settlements. In this way then, Laud and also Charles were seen as the ‘revolutionaries’[39] because it was they who were trying to change the Church as the contemporary generation, their parents and grandparents had always known it.

Laud was officially accused of many immoral and wicked things, but an important point to conclude upon is exactly what his main crime was, and this I would argue was religion. The accusations of his subverting the laws of justice, taking bribes and assuming an arrogant position were possibly embellished in order to increase the accounts on which he was accused, making it easier to impeach him, and persuade the House of Lords. It may be easy to see why some, especially politicians may have seen him as an evil man, as he is reported to have had a temper when provoked, and to have taken personal insults perhaps a little too far. Carlton, for example reports on how he fined Lambert Osbaldeston £5,000 by the Star Chamber for calling him ‘the little meddling hocus pocus.’[40] This was indeed taking the power that he had too far. Other accounts of him however are very favorable and Peter Heylyn described him as having, ‘a very sociable wit and pleasant humour.’[41] Laud then, although appealing and nice to friends was probably as easy man to dislike if you came across him under the wrong circumstances or new very little of him.

Regarding accusations against him, I consider that the threat of Catholicism is also an unsubstantiated accusation. To the historian, in hindsight, it seems evident that there never really was a huge threat of a return to Rome so is it possible that those in charge really did believe that there was a threat or was the conspiracy theory merely a tool that was used to influence people’s opinion of Laud, and certainly of Charles’ court an ministers. It is of course difficult to know exactly who and to what extent people believed that the revival of Catholicism would take place, because one can understand that after the reign of Mary I and so much conflict over religion, people would fear going backwards on all that had been achieved. However I would argue that is was largely a tactic used to frighten the population and entice them into Puritanism.

Laud was possibly disliked so much because of his beliefs and ideology; however, as mentioned, I would conceive that it is highly important to consider his personality, position and circumstances when looking at how people saw him. Charles Carlton, in his biography of Laud, evaluates Laud from a rather psychological perspective and concludes that Laud was a very insecure man, who was not at all particularly social or charismatic. Carlton also argues that he appeared to many, as an supercilious and arrogant man.[42] This was heightened by the fact that he advocated his belief in jure divino  He then, saw himself as answerable only to God, and not to any man, this not only appeared arrogant but also meant that he rarely felt the need to defend himself, leaving many to assume his guilt. His enemies were also then far more convinced that what he said was blasphemous to God and treacherous to the King as he was seemingly trying to set himself up above the Monarchy. Carlton also interestingly claims that Laud had decisive limits as an individual and that he exceeded them, he was then, never going to succeed as the Archbishop and following this argument if would seem obvious and inevitable for him to become a figure of hatred.

Although Carlton’s theory is credible, I would further suggest that to a large extent Laud was used as a scapegoat. That is to say, in a large way I believe that the government used Laud’s changes and new theology as a tool to create fear among the people of England. Timing also played a huge role in the cause of why he was so hated, or at least appeared to be so hated. To be precise, had he advocated his ideas several years earlier or in a time less intent on pursuing Protestantism, (for example, prior to the Thirty Years War) he would never have been such a target. Of course it is evident that there is little point in suggesting the ‘ifs’ when a conclusion has been forgone for over three hundred years, yet it is interesting to consider the fact that, there were so many external influences causing Laud to be so seemingly detested, other than of course him himself. From looking at the Civil War as a whole, it seems that many, especially in Parliament were intent on disliking the King, firstly because of his era of Personal Rule and secondly because it seemed that he desired, to not only change aspects of religion, but increase the role of the Monarchy as a whole. Therefore some one in the position of Laud was inevitably a target.

When exactly it was that Laud became so disliked has also been an interesting idea for me to consider, as I would argue that it was the Prayer book, which initiated suspicion of the Archbishop’s motives and plans, however, it seems to have been the Canons that decidedly labeled him as the embodiment of everything that any truly good and religious man should hate. Even though it is recorded in Sir Simonds D’Ewes’ diary that Mr. Cage, in respect of the Archbishop, stated that it was unfair to blame only him for the Canons when there were quite clearly others involved, it seems obvious to me that those members of Parliament were neither interested in or aware of any one else who may have been party to the event. This is particularly evident when D’Ewes avoids the argument by stating that by impeaching some one they were not really ‘accusing’ him and so left none that were in the wrong excused. [43]  I would suggest that altogether they seemed solely content to place all the blame on the Archbishop.

To come to an underlying conclusion as to who hated Archbishop William Laud is perhaps a slightly easier task than to asses to what extent he was actually hated. I would suggest that Laud was not as detested as many believed him to be but that an extremely good case had been made against him. In the seventeenth century it was extremely easy for politicians to inject fear into people, especially regarding sensitive issues. I would argue that Laud, in a similar way to the Earl of Stafford, was used as an instrument to criticize the King, and any religious changes that he may have been endorsing. I would further suggest that a fear of power was also present, for example Strafford had seemingly too much isolated influence in Ireland, and Laud within the Church. Perhaps in essence the case of both Laud and Strafford rested on the same grounds but the Earl of Strafford seemed to genuinely concern many members of Parliament, perhaps because many had been led to believe that he could raise a Catholic Irish army against them, and perhaps that is why his trial happened rather quickly while it appeared that Laud was harmless enough to leave to perish in the Tower. At least perhaps they realized that he would never try to escape for fear of condoning his charges. For whatever reason, he was deemed unimportant enough to be left in the Tower until his trial in 1644. When inevitably executed on the 10th January 1645, he died a detested man in Parliament but a figure of insignificance to the wider general public.


General reading

Conrad Russell, The Causes of the Civil War, London, 1990

Conrad Russell, The Fall of the British Monarchies. Oxford, 1991

Norah Carlin, The Causes of the English Civil War, Massachusetts, 1999

Barry Coward, The Stuart Age, England 1603 – 1714, third edition 2003

J. H. Hexter, The reign of King Pym, 1941

J. Sommerville, Royalists and Patriots:Politics and ideology in England,1603-40, 1999

 Secondary Reading

Aspects of English Protestanitsm c 1530-1700, Manchester 2001

Charles Carlton, Archbishop Laud, London 1987

H R Trevor Roper, Archbishop Laud, 1573-1645, Oxford 1962

John Walter, Understanding Popular Violence in the English Revolution, The Colchester Plunderers, Cambridge 1999

D. Underdown, Revel, Riot and Rebellion 1603 – 60 1985, and A Free born people: Popular politics and the nation in the 17th century.

David L Smith, Constitutional Royalism and the search for settlement, Cambridge, 1994


Kevin Sharpe, History today, Volume 33, issue 8 August 1983

History Today, September 2004, volume 54, issue 9, page 60

David R Como, Stanford University, Predestination and Political Conflict in Laud’s London, The Historical journal, volume 46, issue 2, 2003, pages 263-294

Alexandra Walsham, The Parochial Roots of Laudianism Revisited: Catholics, Anti-Calvinists and ‘Parish Anglicans’ in Early Stuart England, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, volume 49, issue 4, October 1998.

Fiona Pogson, Making and Maintaining Political Alliances during the Personal Rule of Charles I: Wentworth’s Associations with Laud and Cottington.

 Primary Sources

The Journal of Sir Simonds D’Ewes, from the beginning of the Long Parliament to the opening of the trial of the Earl of Strafford, edited by Wallace Notestein, New Haven, 1923

The Journal of Sir Simonds D’Ewes, from the first recess of the Long Parliament to the withdrawal of King Charles from London, edited by Wilson Havelock Coates, New Haven, 1970

John Rushworth, Historical Collections of Private Passages of State, 1680-1701, 6 volumes.

The Letters of John Chamberlain, edited by N.E. McClure, 1939, 2 volumes.

[1] Nicholas Tyacke, Aspects of English Protestanism c. 1530 to 1700, Chapter 8 page 203

[2] David R Como, Predestination and Political Conflict in Laud’s London, The Historical Journal 2003

[3] Nicholas Tyacke, Aspects of English Protestantism c. 1530 to 1700,  Chapter 8 page 203

[4] Conrad Russell, The Causes of the English Civil War, chapter 2 1988

[5] J. Sommerville, Royalists and Patriots:Politics and ideology in England,1603-40, 1999

[6] History Today, August 1983, volume 33 issue 8. ‘Archbishop Laud’ by Kevin Sharpe

[7] H R Trevor Roper, Archbishop Laud, chapter 1 page 5, 1965

[8] Nicholas Tyacke, English protestantism, chapter 8

[9] Charles Carlton, Archbishop Laud, chapter 15, page 228

[10] History Today, sept 2004, vol. 54, issue 9 page 60, ‘John Hapden’ (1595-1643)

[11] HR Trevor Roper, ‘Archbishop Laud’ page 2

[12] Nicholas Tyacke, Aspects of English Protestantism, chapter 8 section 2 page 212

[13] Nicholas Tyacke, Aspects of English protestantism chapter 6

[14] D. L. Smith, Constituional Royalism and the search for settlement, 1640–1649, chapter 4, pages 102 -105

[15] D. L Smith Constitutional Royalism, chapter 4 page 104

[16]D.L Smith, Constituional Royalism, chapters 4 and 5

[17]John Walter, Understanding popular Violence in the English Revolution, The Colchester Plunderes 1999, chapter 1

[18] Rushworth, Part III page 196, articles against Laud 1640

[19] Charles Carlton, Archbishop Laud, chapter 11 page 190

[20] Charles Carlton, Archbishop Laud, Chapter 12, page 189-190

[21] Charles Carlton, Archbishop Laud, Chapter 12, page 190

[22] The Diary of Sir Simonds D’Ewes

[23] H R Trevor-Roper, Archbishop Laud, chapter 12 page 402

[24] Charles Carlton, Archbishop Laud, chapter 12 page 195

[25] The journal of Sir Simonds D’Ewes,  page 394 entry Feb 24th edited by Wallace Notestein, 1923

[26] The Journal of Sir Simonds D’Ewes, 1923, page 395

[27] John Rushworth, Historical Collections of Private Passages of State, 1680-1701, volume IV page 196

[28] John Rushworth, Historical Collections of Private Passages of State, 1680-1701, volume IV page 197

[29] Charles Carlton, Archbishop Laud, chapter 11, page 171 - 173

[30] The Journal of Sir Simonds D’ewes, 1923, entry of Tuesday December 17th 1640, page 169

[31] JH Hexter, The Reign of King Pym, 1941

[32] The Journal of Sir Simonds D’Ewes, December 17th 1640, page 169

[33] D, Underdown, Revel, riot and rebellion: Politics in the Puritan Revolution

[34] John Walter, Understanding Popular Violence in the Enlgish Revolution, The Colcehster Plunderers, chapter 1, page 3 1999

[35] John Walter, Understanding Popular violence, page 4 1999

[36] John Walter, Understanding popular violence, 1999 chapter 1, introduction

[37] John Walters, Understanding popular violence, 1999, chapter 5 page 161

[38] Charles Carlton, Archbishop Laud, chapter 14

[39] Norah Carline, The causes of the Enlgish Civil War, chapter 3, page 52, 1999

[40] Charles Carlton, Archbishop Laud, chapter 9 page 147.

[41] Peter Heylyn, the History of the Life and death of William Laud, 1668, in Charles Carlton, chapter 9 page 146

[42] Charles Carlton, Archbishop Laud, 1987

[43] The Journal of Sir Simonds D’Ewes, entry Feb 24th 1641