Britannia Biographies: William Laud Part 6
Welcome to Britannia's Award-Winning History Department

Search Britannia

History | Travel | British Life | Shop Britannia

History Quicklist

Pitkin Guides

Family Background
Popish Notoriety
Earl of Devon's Marriage
Rise through the Church
Bishop of St. David's
Buckingham's Associate
Bishop of Bath & Wells
Friends & Enemies
Reforming Archbishop
Imprisonment & Execution

Biography of William Laud (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury

Part 6: Bishop of St. David's

He then rested as he was, for some time. At last, in January 1621, he came into the enjoyment of the prebendal stall in Westminster, of which he had secured the reversion ten years before. And greater things followed fast. His own statement is that, on 3rd June, his Majesty made a gracious speech to him concerning his long service, being pleased to say that he had given him nothing but Gloucester, which he well knew was a shell without a kernel. The sequel was his receiving a grant of the Bishopric of St. David's on 29th of the same month. But the most particular and curious account of the way in which the affair was managed is given in Bishop Hacket's 'Life of Archbishop Williams'. Williams, who was Dean of Westminster, had recentIy been made Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and had soon after been raised to the Bishopric of Lincoln. He held the deanery in commendam and also retained his other preferments of a prebend and residentiary canonship in the Cathedral of Lincoln and the Rectory of Walgrave in Northamptonshire. "So that," as Heylin puts it, "he was a perfect diocese within himself; as being Bishop, Dean, Prebend residentiary and Parson, and all these at once. Williams, in this the height of his court favour (for it was the King himself who had selected him for the great seal), was earnestly applied to by the Marquis of Buckingham, to whom Laud, like everybody else, had paid court, to commend the latter to his Majesty. Buckingham's instructions to Williams were that he should not fear giving offence by urging this suit and not desist despite a stormy reception. Having watched his opportunity, "when the King's affections," says Hacker, "were most still and pacificous," Williams besought his majesty to think considerately of his chap lain, the doctor, whose merits he urged with much earnestness. "Well," said the King, "I perceive whose attorney you are. Stenie [Buckingham] hath set you on. You have pleaded the man a good Protestant and I believe it. Neither did that stick in my breast when I stopped his promotion. But was there not a certain lady that forsook her husband and married a Lord that was her paramour? Who tied that knot? Shall I make a man a prelate, one of the angels of my church, who hath a flagrant crime upon him?"" Williams declared that the doctor was heartily penitent for his share in this transaction. Besides, he asked James, who would dare to serve him, good master as he was, if he would not pardon one fault, even if it should be of a scandalous magnitude? "You press well," replied his Majesty, "and I hear you with patience. Neither will I revive a trespass any more which repentance hath mortified and buried; and because I see I shall not be rid of you unless I tell you my unpublished cogitations, the plain truth is, that I keep Laud back from all place of rule and authority be cause I find he hath a restless spirit, and cannot see when matters are well, but loves to toss and change, and to bring things to a pitch of reformation floating in his own brain, which may endanger the steadfastness of that which is in a good pass, God be praised. I speak not at random. He hath made himself known to me to be such a one. For three years since, I had obtained of the Assembly of Perth to consent to five articles of order and decency in correspondence with this Church of England. I gave them promise, by attestation of faith made, that I would try their obedience no farther in ecclesiastic affairs nor put them out of their own way, which custom has made pleasing unto them, with any new encroachments. Yet this man hath pressed me to invite them to a nearer conjunction with the liturgy and canons of this nation; but I sent him back again with the frivolous draught he had drawn....For all this, he feared not mine anger, but assaulted me again with another ill-fangled platform to make that stubborn kirk stoop more to the English pattern. But I durst not play fast and loose with my word. He knows not the stomach of that people; but I ken the story of my grandmother, the Queen-Regent, that, after she was inveigled to break her promise made to some mutineers at a Perth meeting, she never saw a good day. But, from thence, being much beloved before, was despised of all the people. And now your importunity hath compelled me to shrive myself thus unto you. I think you are at your farthest and have no more to say for your client." Williams, however, as he had been instructed, did not allow this characteristic oration to put him down. He still urged that Laud, notwithstanding "the very audacious and very unbecoming attempt" mentioned by his Majesty, was "of a great and tractable wit" and, if he fell into an error, would, at least as soon as any man, find a way to get out of it. And his pertinacity was successful. James, impatiently asking if there was nothing he could say that was not to have its answer, exclaimed, "Here, take him to you, but on my soul you will repent it." "And so," concludes Hacket, "went away in anger, using other fierce and ominous words, which were divulged in the court and are too tart to be repeated."

Thus was Laud at last made a bishop. He was formally elected by the Chapter on 10th October 1621, a few days after entering his forty-ninth year. The King had given him leave to hold the Presidentship of St. John's in commendam with his bishopric. "But by reason," he writes in his Diary, "of the strictness of that statute, which I will not violate, nor my oath to it under any colour, I am resolved before my consecration to leave it." And he did resign it accordingly. It is worth noticing that Laud's great enemy, Prynne, in the edition of the Diary which he very unhandsomely published in September 1644 while the archbishop yet lived, had the dishonesty to omit all notice of this resignation. So that even Laud's biographer, Heylin, who wrote before the Diary was published in its integrity by Wharton, in 1695, represents him as retaining his college office with his bishopric. Laud himself, with all his passion, precipitation and short-sightedness, never committed anything so thoroughly base as this suppression of the truth by the great Puritan lawyer and patriot.

Part 7: Associations with Buckingham      Copyright ©2000, LLC