Britannia Biographies: William Laud Part 11
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Biography of William Laud (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury

Part 11: Imprisonment & Execution

Increasing opposition to the King and the Church in Scotland led to open rebellion. In a desperate bid to for money to suppress the insurrection, Charles broke his eleven year rule without a parliament and the summoned the body he hated so. Some of the first proceedings of the ever-memorable Long Parliament, which assembled on 3rd November 1640, included moves against Archbishop Laud; and on 18th December, Denzil Hollis, by order of the House of Commons, impeached him for high treason and other high crimes and misdemeanours, at the bar of the House of Lords. On 26th February 1641, the articles of impeachment, twenty-six in number, were brought up by Sir Harry Vane the younger. Laud was specially charged with having advised his Majesty that he might levy money on his subjects without consent of parliament; with attempting to establish absolute power not only in the King, but in himself and other bishops, above and against the laws; with perverting the course of justice by bribes and promises to the judges; with the imposition of divers new ecclesiastical canons, containing matters contrary both to the laws and the Royal prerogative; with assuming a papal and tyrannical power in matters both ecclesiastical and temporal; with endeavouring to subvert the true religion and to introduce popish superstition; and with being the principal adviser and author of the late war against the Scots. On 23rd October, at the instigation of his old enemy Williams, now become a great man again, Laud's archiepiscopal jurisdiction was sequestered by the House of Lords and made over to his inferior officers. About a year after, all the rents and profits of his Archbishopric, in common with those of all other archbishoprics, bishoprics, deaneries and cathedral offices, were sequestered for the use of the Commonwealth. By November 1642, Civil War had broken out between the King and parliament and Laud's fate seemed to have been sealed. On 9th May 1643, all his goods in Lambeth Palace, his books included, were seized. Soon after, his room and person were searched by Prynne, under the authority of a warrant from the House of Commons and his Diary and all his other papers taken from him. All this while, with the exception of a few months at first, during which he was left in the custody of Mr. Maxwell, Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, he had been confined in the Tower. At last, on 12th March 1644, he was brought to trial before the House of Lords assembled, as usual, in Westminster Hall. Prynne says in his 'History of the Trial,' that "he made as full, as gallant, as pithy a defence of so bad a cause and spake as much for himself as was possible for the wit of man to invent. And that with much art, sophistry, vivacity, oratory, audacity and confidence, without the least blush or acknowledgement of guilt in anything." It seemed very doubtful if the Lords, overawed as they were, would have consented to condemn him. At the end of the trial, which lasted twenty days, they adjourned without coming to a vote on the question of his guilt or innocence; and in this state matters remained till the Commons, abandoning their impeachment, resorted to another method of effecting their object. An ordinance, or bill, for his attainder was brought into the House on 13th November and, two days after, was passed and immediately sent up to the Lords. They too, at last, passed it, in a very thin house, on 4th January, and, on 10th, Laud was, in conformity with this law over riding all law, beheaded on Tower Hill. He met his death with great firmness.

Part 12: Reflections      Copyright ©2000, LLC