of William Laud (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury
W I L L I A M
L A U D
Curiously enough, Laud, in his own Diary, has not included details of his parentage, though it is well known from other records. The Diary begins by telling us merely that he was born on the 7th October 1573, at Reading in Berkshire, as if he had been literally an autochthon, terrae filius, or "gum of the earth," as one of his brother bishops, Field of Llandaff, calls himself in a begging letter to the universal patron, the Duke of Buckingham. This is preserved in the Cabala and is one of the greatest curiosities which have come down to us from that age. "Myself, a gum of the earth," says Field insinuatingly, "whom some eight years ago you raised out of the dust for raising but a thought so high as to serve your highness." But Laud was not of this self-abasing temper. He had no pleasure in looking back from his elevated fortunes upon the comparative humility of his origin. His biographer Heylin tells us that the libellers, who no doubt knew what would sting him, used frequently to upbraid him in the days of his greatness with his mean birth. Once Heylin found him walking in his garden at Lambeth "with more than ordinary trouble in his countenance," "of which," continues our author, "not having confidence enough to inquire the reason, he showed me a paper in his hand, and told me it was a printed sheet of a scandalous libel which had been stopped at the press, in which he found himself reproached with so base a parentage as if he had been raked out of the dunghill. Adding withal, that though he had not the good fortune to be born a gentleman, yet he thanked God he had been born of honest parents who lived in a plentiful condition, employed many poor people in their way and left a good report behind them." After some little time, seeing his countenance beginning to clear up, ready Heylin told him the story of Pope Sixtus the Fifth who used to say that he was domo natus illustri, "because the sunbeams, passing through the broken walls and ragged roof, illustrated every corner of that homely cottage in which he was born." The Latin words, which would be naturally translated born of an illustrious house or family, will also bear this other interpretation, however strange it may sound to the English reader. And the facetious anecdote, thus aptly applied, quite succeeded, we are assured, in restoring the equanimity of the ruffled prelate.
Laud's father, William Laud Senior, was a master cloth-worker and is described as having been well to do in the World. "He kept," says Heylin, "not only many looms in his house," a building in Broad Street, Reading, long pulled down, "but many weavers, spinners and fullers at continual work; living in good esteem and reputation amongst his neighbours to the very last." He was active in public life and held every office in the prosperous Berkshire town except that of mayor. Laud Senior's son, named William after him, was his only child; but his wife had been married before to another Reading clothier, John Robinson, by whom she had had a family. She was one Lucy Webb, sister to Sir William Webb, who was Lord Mayor of London in 1591. Of her children by Robinson, half-brothers and half-sisters of the Archbishop, his biographer mentions a William, the youngest son, who became a doctor of divinity, prebend of Westminster and Archdeacon of Nottingham; and two daughters, married, the one to a Dr. Cotsford, the other to a Dr. Layfield. It is possible that these relations of Laud's may have prospered the better in the World for their connection with him; but his uncle, at least, the Lord Mayor, had made his way to eminence long before the great churchman had got upon the ladder of preferment. It is more likely that he may have been of service to some later Webbs and Robinsons: Heylin speaks of a grandson of the Lord Mayor, also a Sir William Webb, as having died not long before he wrote, that is to say, perhaps, about the time of the Restoration; and his book, published posthumously, in 1671, is dedicated by his son to a Sir John Robinson, Bart., his Majesty's Lieutenant of the Tower of London, who is addressed as nearly related to the subject of it and who may therefore be presumed to have been a descendant of Laud's mother's first husband.
3: Popish Notoriety