Britannia Biographies: William Laud Part 8
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Biography of William Laud (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury

Part 8: Bishop of Bath & Wells

By the time laud became Bishop of Bath & Wells, he had already made himself unpopular by his apparent preference for ceremonies to spiritual religion and his severe, not to say violent measures, against Puritanism, as well as by his intimate connections with Buckingham. It is not surprising, therefore, that when the House of Commons fell upon the Duke, in March 1628, and voted him to be the great cause of all the grievances in the Kingdom, they also drew up a remonstrance to the King against Laud. Both he and his friend, Neile, were denounced as unsound in their theological opinions and declared the authors or principal promoters of sundry innovations of a Romish character in the services of the Church. To this admonition, however, he paid no heed. The parliament rose on 26th June and, on 23rd August, Buckingham was assassinated. In April 1636, Laud was chosen their Chancellor by the University of Oxford. A few months later occurred the first of several notorious cases of Laud's ferocity of procedure in the High Commission Court. That of Dr. Alexander Leighton, "a Scot by birth, a doctor of physic by profession, a fiery Puritan in faction" is Heylin's description of him. He was brought before the court for publishing a tract entitled 'An Appeal to the Parliament or Zion's Plea against Prelacy'; and was sentenced to pay a fine of 10,000, to be twice set in the pillory and whipped, to have his ears cut off and his nose slit, to be branded in the face with the letters SS (for Sower of Sedition) and to be imprisoned in the Fleet Prison (London) for the remainder of his life. This barbarous sentence was executed in all its parts and Leighton (who was father of the learned, eloquent and admirable Archbishop Leighton, who held the see of Glasgow in the next age) lay in prison for ten years. On Sunday 16th January of the next year, 1630, took place Laud's famous consecration of the Church of St. Catherine Cree, London, on the north side of Leadenhall Street. Prynne's satirical, and probably somewhat exaggerated, account of which, in his 'Canterbury's Doom ' (1646), has been in substance incorporated by Hume in his History and is well known. As a sample, both of Laud and of Prynne, we will quote the concluding paragraph in the original words. "When the Bishop approached near the communion-table, he bowed with his nose very near the ground six or seven times. Then he came to one of the corners of the table and there bowed himself three times. Then to the second and third, bowing at each three times. But when he came to the side of the table where the bread and wine were, he bowed himself seven times, and then, after the reading of many prayers by himself, and his two fat chaplains which were with him, and all this while upon their knees by him in their surplices, hoods and tippets, he himself came near the bread, which was laid in a fine napkin. And then he gently lifted up one of the corners of the napkin, like a boy that peeped into a bird's nest in a bush, and presentIy clapped it down again and flew back a step or two, and then bowed very low three times towards it and the table. When he beheld the bread, then he came near and opened the napkin again, and bowed as before. Then he laid his hand upon the gilt cup, which was full of wine, with a cover open it. So soon as he had pulled the cup a little nearer to him, he let the cup go, flew back and bowed again three times towards it. Then he came near again and, lifting up the cover of the cup, peeped into it. And, seeing the wine, he let fall the cover on it again, flew nimbly back and bowed as before. After these, and many other apish antic gestures, he himself receded and then gave the sacrament to some principal men only, they devoutly kneeling near the table. After which, more prayers being said, this scene and interlude ended." Impossible as it may be for most modern readers to enter fully into the spirit of the kind of devotion practised on this and other occasions by Laud, and discordant with the reigning popular feeling as it was even in his own day, so that his attempt to revive it was a great miscalculation and blunder, it is to our taste, we confess, at least as respectable as Prynne's wit.

Part 9: Friends & Enemies      Copyright ©2000, LLC