Saturday, October 7, 2023

My picture fallen

Today marks the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury and an adviser to Charles I. However, he became so unpopular for his persecution of Puritans that he was eventually beheaded. His diary - several decades before Pepys - is surprisingly interesting and personal. In one entry he fears that a picture of himself fallen from the wall might be an omen since Parliament is ‘almost every day’ threatening his ruin.  

Laud was born on 7 October 1573 in Reading, Berkshire, the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. He was educated at Reading School and St. John’s College, Oxford. Thereafter he entered the church and became involved in a small group whose members opposed Puritanism. After holding a series of appointments, he became a royal chaplain in 1611. Supported by Charles I, he exercised an important influence over church policy. This only increased when he was appointed to the Privy Council in 1627 and made Bishop of London in 1628.

In 1633, Laud was made Archbishop of Canterbury, a position which allowed him to pursue his persecution of Puritans even more rigorously than hitherto. When he tried to impose the Anglican liturgy in the Presbyterian churches of Scotland, armed revolt broke out - the Bishops’ War ensued. Subsequently, Laud’s influence waned rapidly. In 1640, the so-called Long Parliament accused him of treason, and he was imprisoned in the Tower. He was tried in 1644-1645, but Parliament needed to pass a special bill before he was finally found guilty and beheaded. Further information is available from Wikipedia, Berkshire History, or the online edition of the out-of-copyright Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

A substantial diary kept by Laud was first made public by William Pryme in 1644, before Laud’s execution, in A Breviate of the Life of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury: extracted (for the most part) verbatim out of his owne Diary, and other writings, under his owne hand. The diary, which is more interesting than many of the confessional diaries of the period (see Longing after damsens for example), has since been published more fully in collections such as The Works of the Most Reverend Father in God William Laud, D.D., sometime Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (Parker, 1853), which is freely available at Internet Archive.

5 February 1622
‘Wednesday, I came to London. I went that night to his Majesty, hearing he had sent for me. He delivered me a book to read and observe. It was a tract of a Capuchin, that had once been a Protestant. He was now with the French ambassador. The tract was to prove that Christ’s body was in two places at once, in the apparition to St. Paul.’

9 February 1622
‘I gave the King an account of this book.’

6 July 1622
‘I preached at Westminster.’

15 July 1622
‘St Swithin. A very fair day till towards five at night. Then great extremity of thunder and lightning. Much hurt done. The lantern at St. James’s house blasted. The Prince then in Spain.’

14 December 1622
‘Sunday night, I did dream that the Lord Keeper was dead: that I passed by one of his men, that was about a monument for him; that I heard him say, his lower lip was infinitely swelled and fallen, and he rotten already. This dream did trouble me.’

23 March 1623
‘Tuesday, The censure of Morley, Waterhouse and the printer, about the petition against my Lord Keep. That afternoon the K. declared to the committee, that he would send a messenger presently into Spain, to signify to that king that his Parliament advised him to break off the treaties of the match and the Palatinate, and to give his reasons of it; and so proceed to recover the Palatinate as he might. Bonfires made in the city by the forwardness of the people, for joy that we should break with Spain.’ (See Wikipedia for more on the English involvement in the Palatinate campaign.)

26 August 1624
‘Thursday, My horse trod on my foot, and lamed me: which stayed me in the country a week longer than I intended.’

20 October 1628
‘Monday, I was forced to put on a truss for a rupture. I know not how occasioned, unless it were with swinging of a book for my exercise in private.’

29 March 1629
‘Sunday, Two papers were found in the Dean of Paul’s yard before his house. The one was to this effect concerning myself: Laud, look to thyself; be assured thy life is sought. As thou art the fountain of all wickedness, repent thee of thy monstrous sins, before thou be taken out of the world &c. And assure thyself, neither God nor the world can endure such a vile counsellor to live, or such a whisperer; or to this effect. The other was as bad as this, against the Lord Treasurer. Mr. Dean delivered both papers to the King that night. Lord, I am a grievous sinner; but I beseech Thee, deliver my soul from them that hate me without a cause.’

27 October 1640
‘Tuesday, Simon and Jude’s eve, I went into my upper study, to see some manuscripts, which I was sending to Oxford. In that study hung my picture, taken by the life. And coming in, I found it fallen down upon the face, and lying on the floor. The string being broken, by which it was hanged against the wall. I am almost every day threatened with my ruin in Parliament. God grant this be no omen.’

This article is a slightly revised version of one first published on 7 October 2013.

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