Archbishop Laud

  • Nicholas Tyacke
Part of the Problems in Focus Series book series (PFS)


William Laud deserves to rank among the greatest archbishops of Canterbury since the Reformation. Indeed one is hard pressed to think of others in the same league, save the obvious Thomas Cranmer. But to say this does not necessarily imply approval. Rather it acknowledges the fact that both men made a major contribution to the future of the English Church. Although Cranmer was burnt to death as a heretic and Laud was executed for treason, their respective legacies lived on. In the case of Laud the time lag was greater, yet just as the Elizabethan Church owed much to Cranmer so did the Restoration Church to Laud. Thus commentators in the 1660s were clear that it was the religious supporters of Laud and not his opponents who had won through. Whereas in the early seventeenth century ‘the current of the Church of England ran the Calvinist way’ now ‘Arminianism’ is ‘received amongst our clergy’, as are similar innovations: ‘the communion table set altarwise’, when ‘it ought to be in the body of the church’, and ‘bowing’ practised towards it.1 This hostile evaluation, made by Sir Thomas Littleton during a parliamentary debate in March 1668, serves to indicate, albeit in shorthand form, some of the longer-term consequences of the ‘Laudian’ movement for both doctrine and worship. Our concern in this essay, however, is with the beginnings of that story and more specifically the contribution made by Laud himself.


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  1. There is no modern full-length study of Archbishop Laud. Still useful, however, is H. R. Trevor-Roper, Archbishop Laud, 1573–1645 (3rd edn 1988), which should be supplemented by the essay ‘Laudianism and Political Power’ in his Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans: Seventeenth-Century Essays (1987), ch. 2. Another valuable essay is J. S. McGee, ‘William Laud and the Outward Face of Religion’, in R. L. DeMolen (ed.), Leaders of the Reformation (1984), ch. 11. A more general overview of the subject is provided by C. Carlton, Archbishop William Laud (1987). K. Sharpe, ‘Archbishop Laud’, History Today, 33 (August 1983), 26-30, stresses the ordinariness of Laud, but compare A. Foster, ‘Church Policies of the 1630s’, in R. Cust and A. Hughes (eds), Conflict in Early Stuart England: Studies in Religion and Politics, 1603–1642 (Harlow, 1989), ch. 7. For a Marxist restatement, readers may consult C. Hill, ‘Archbishop Laud’s Place in History’, in his A Nation of Change and Novelty: Radical Politics, Religion and Literature in Seventeenth-Century England (1990), ch. 4.Google Scholar
  2. The doctrinal context is analysed by N. Tyacke, Anti-Calvinists: the Rise of English Arminianism, c.1590–1640 (Oxford, 1990). For a different view see P. White, ‘The Rise of Arminianism Reconsidered’, P and P, 101(1983), 34–54, and the subsequent debate in the same journal, especially nos 114 (1987), 32-76, and 115 (1987), 201-29, as well as J. E. Davies, ‘The Growth and Implementation of “Laudianism” with special reference to the Southern Province’, Oxford D. Phil, thesis (1987).Google Scholar
  3. Attitudes towards stipendiary lectureships and Sabbatarianism are discussed separately by P. Seaver, The Puritan Lectureships: the Politics of Religious Dissent, 1560’1662 (Stanford, 1970) and K. L. Parker, The English Sabbath: a Study of Doctrine and Discipline from the Reformation to the Civil War (Cambridge, 1988). The socio-economic problems of the English Church are treated by C. Hill, Economic Problems of the Church from Archbishop Whitgift to the Long Parliament (Oxford, 1956), and more recently by R. O’Day and F. Heal (eds), Princes and Paupers in the English Church, 1500–1800 (Leicester, 1981).Google Scholar

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© Nicholas Tyacke 1993

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  • Nicholas Tyacke

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