363 Laud Unleashed


With Parliament banished, there was little restraint on Laud and Charles to implement the reforms they felt were needed to improve the quality of religious observations and the spiritual wealth of all English. Not everyone would approve their efforts.

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The image shows Laud and the altar rails installed by a confused minister at the time, in Lyddington. Yes, he installed rails as required, but he also made sure there was space all the way round the rails, so that the congregation could gather round, a little as they had done for decades. A compromise.


Well, we ended on a bit of a high last time with the trial of John Hampden and ship money, and you may have felt that you have come to the edge of revolution, the banner is in your hand, or your hand is on your heart to stand by your king. But it is not time yet to step over the precipice. We have some things to do first. We need to talk about religion – seriously, I know, you have been staring around you, wild eyed, wondering where on earth the topic of religion has gone to. Well – it’s back, this week, it’s here. But then we have some other things to discuss. We need to talk about Ireland and Scotland; these are after all, the wars of Three Kingdoms as well as the English Revolution. We need to talk about the control of the public sphere during the personal rule. And of course we need to get to the long, long delayed subject to the Great Migration, the growth of colonisation across the Atlantic. So just to set expectations for those of you desperate to hear the roar of cannon, the crack of muskets, the cry of ‘ooh I’ve just broken a fingernail’, I must advise there’ll be a delay. This week it’s Laud and religion. Then there are 4 on colonisation in the Caribbean and North America – yes I know, I planned for 1, you’re getting 4, oz and all. Then we’ll be back with Scotland Ireland, the affair of William Prynne – and then into the Bishops wars at last. OK? Managing expectations, that’s what we are about here.

Anyway religion; before I start can I please clear something up which might be causing confusion – might not, but might be. I went for a boys weekend, and Pot said he was really confused about why I was talking about religion in Armenia so much. Now Pat’s usually a bright lad and all so let me just emphasise. Armenia, as I am sure you know, is a country in the Caucasus region. Jacob Arminius was a Dutch theologian, with ideas we might call High church – salvation not simply by predestination, kneeling for communion, the importance of the beauty of holiness, that sort of thing; and his followers were called Arminians – with an I rather than an e. ArmiINian rather than ArmEnian. Pot suggested I make it easier for him by using something more colloquial and contemporary; sadly I think many puritans might have used quote ‘ungodly language’ when talking about Arminians, but as we’ll hear later they often called them things like ‘ceremony-mongers’ and ‘Cathedralists’. Shall I call them Ceremony Mongers? Seems unduly biased though, as though I am taking sides. Anyway, any ideas about how I make it easier – answers on a postcard.

First up then – let us talk of the Dream Team – Charlie and Bill, the King and Archbishop, Stuart and Laud. Sounds like a music hall act – Stuuuuarrrrt and LAUD!

Now then, in certain circles – quite niche circles I suspect – Laud is still something of a controversial figure; I saw some article recently extolling the virtues of his ceremonialism, and then other laments that here was the man that started the destruction of the church that Cranmer built. There has also been some debate about who was really responsible for the church policies of the 1630s – was it really Laud who drove the changes in the church, or was he simply the willing servant of his master’s wishes; or it might be quite the other way round – a picture of a King who was too busy with his art, wife and hunting to really be aware, while Laud got on with it and remodelled the English church under his king’s feet?

There is a via media, a middle Way just like Elizabeth’s church; which is of course the one I’m going to go for. It would seem a little odd for me to argue that Charles was a passenger in what followed, given the strength of his views that have already emerged from the start of his realm. Equally, there were times where Charles held a view about what he wanted, without really understanding what that meant in practical terms, and relied on Laud to tell him. One example given for this is Charles’ desire to see his church following the practice of the early church – the early church I mean, in Roman times and all that. Now ironically that had been an objective of English Reformers from the days of Good King Hal; what it meant in practice was anybody’s guess really; certainly though Laud chose to interpret it in ways a strict Calvinist would definitively not have done. For Laud it was all about the beauty of holiness; for the Calvinist about simplicity and a direct relationship with God. Sp Laud interpreted the objective for his king in his own idiom, and in this way then, King and Archbishop progressed together, partners, walking hand in hand down the beach towards the sunlight of reform while the waves lapped at their feet.

I’m putting a lot of emphasis on William Laud, and yet I’ve not yet told you that George Abbot has died, or I don’t think I have. Oops. So here’s goes, George Abbot has died. Ok a bit George Abbot, who’d been ABC since 1612, went to meet his maker in 1633. He’s still a big name to this day in his home town of Guildford I understand; he had been reassuringly Calvinst, something which reassured not only the English, bit also the Scots as it happens. He was replaced in 1633 by one William Laud who of course was no reassuringly Calvinist; and the previous year, incidentally, Charles had made Richard Neile, who held similar views,  the ABY. Both these eminent clerics had been censured by the representatives of Charles’ subjects in Parliament as enemies of the state. We have talked before I think about how the puritan Peers Saye and Sele and their colleagues in the Commons had pinned their hopes on parliament to restrain Charles’s lurch Arminian-wards; well now parliament was gone, and so was the last anti-lurching device. Charles was off the leash.

Not that Laud and Charles were twins; they worked in very different ways. As we have seen in more than one arena, Charles did not see his role as one of appeasing or reconciling opposing interests to arrive at a solution all could live with; his role was to lay down clear principles and make sure they were adhered to. He was admirably direct about what he expected. Now your William Laud was more of a political animal, in the sense he had a feeling that sometimes progress should go more slowly or compromise made for the moment. Which is interesting, because in a personal sense he was not clever at influencing and persuading. Here’s Clarendon:

he did court persons too little, nor cared to make his designs and purposes appear as candid as they were, by showing them in any other dress than their own natural beauty and roughness, and did not consider enough what men said or were like to say of him.

So Laud was something of a lonely figure at court. He had a surprisingly fierce temper and was well capable of losing it; on occasion carpeting his enemies openly in Privy Council, which makes nobody your friend. He came from a relatively lowly background, which in those days was not seen as a positive thing, and so although not quite Norman No Mates, he would find it difficult to put a table of 4 together for a game of bridge. But he was aware that there was something out there called public opinion, the English church was a mansion of many rooms, and it didn’t do to set them all on fire at once; and care was needed not to be too overt. So for example, Laud would put pressure on Calvinist behind the scenes to prevent them writing or preaching on pro Calvinist themes, while letting Arminians proceed; and so it seemed as though there was an even handed policy – but said policy was not being applied evenly.

At the same time he remained wary of his King’s ability to surprise him; Charles was perfectly capable of stepping from behind Laud’s skirts; an example was where laud and Neile had been forced by their king to kneel in submission in the privy Council and swear they rejected the teachings of Arminius, just when everything seemed to be going their way. So Laud feared being held to account if he misinterpreted his king. One way round this was to encourage those who came forward for his favour to produce proposals that met with his own desire to advance Arminian reform; thus he could progress schemes without being directly associated with them. Which is as tricksy as a hobbit with a stolen magic ring in his pocket.

Let us not suppose, however, that Laud was insincere or simply politically ambitious, hungry for power for its own sake; that would be most unfair, and by and large his royal master agreed with his aims. Laud wanted to strengthen the church in England, make it powerful and capable of supporting all her people. To achieve that he wanted to rebuild the wealth of the church, reclaiming land and influence from lay patrons, and improving the education, pay and status of the clergy. This was incidentally very much an aim shared by the Calvinist and puritans too. Much had already been done through the universities, but much more was needed. Laud was determined to promote uniformity and the proper orders and compliance in churches services and worship. He fully believed that the importance of preaching and the bible had been overemphasised to the detriment of the central role of the sacraments, and the proper balance must be restored for everyone’s good. Laud was a reforming Archbishop, through and through, with the energy and vision to see it through, and go a long way down the road to ensure compliance at a local level. Indeed this would be part of the problem – under Abbot there had been leeway, flexibility, local preference that allowed a variety of actual practices to be followed, from the fiercely Godly East Anglia, to the lovers of tradition and ceremony in the north. Laud wasn’t ‘aving any of that, not on your nelly – there was a right way and a wrong way, a straight and narrow. And woe betide you if you chose the wrong one, the jump would be high.

No, norman no mates or not, Laud was blessed with having a dream team around him, because as the gates of the winter pens of parliamentary supervision were thrown open, Charles had gaily galloped out, kicking his heels like a young heifer into the green, sunlight spring pastures of clerical appointments, and James’ policy of maintaining a careful balance of Calvinist and Anti Calvinist bishops had entered its final death throws. Matthew Wren, a notorious Arminian, was given successive promotions – to Bishop of Hereford in 1634, Norwich in 1635, Ely in 1638, a poster boy of the ‘ceremony-mongers’ and ‘Cathedralists’ as the Godly were won’t to call them, in control of the most Godly parts of the country. It would not be a comfortable fit. Episcopal offices were now dominated by anti Calvinists; and behind them, the roles that tended to supply the bishops of the future were also stuffed with their fellow – royal chaplains, deans and headships of Oxford and Cambridge, so if you were a Calvinist there looked to be little hope for the future.

And meanwhile if you were just starting to climb the greasy pole of a clerical career, looking up at the bottoms of Neile and Laud at the top, it was quite clear that the way to get there was not to take a Calvinist stand on matters of ceremony or theology; so there is what one historian describes as a sort of ‘Laudian moment’, where everyone’s falling over themselves to out Laud Laud; the group think thing increasingly took over in the hierarchy. The nature of sermons at St Paul’s Cross, for example were transformed; before 1628, all the sermons published from there took a Calvinist line, were now abruptly replaced by dominance of anti Calvinist thereafter.

So with all that preamble, what actually happened, then, how did religious practice and administration change in the 30s, what were these Laudian reforms? Well, let us start with ceremonial stuff then, the most emotive of which was probably the siting of the altar, or Communion Table as the Elizabethan church would have had it. Under Elizabeth, these should be put at the East end of the church and brought into the body of the chancel for communion; after all, communion was to them simply a ceremony of remembrance to be shared by the community. For the Arminians, this was all way too rough and ready; Laud was horrified at going into churches where the communion table was covered with school boys’ satchels and hats, or parishioners using them for a business meeting – there was nothing there about the beauty of holiness. Laud therefore convinced Charles that this was not the way the early church would have carried on, certainly not; and increasingly from the late 1620’s more ceremonial and formal arrangements began to be enforced, and from 1633 it seems to have become a national policy; Altars were to be placed at the East of the church, and stay there, not go wondering around the church; they should be arranged North to South and then should be surrounded by altar rails to keep the oiks out – this was once more priestly territory only. Oh, and communion couldn’t be taken standing up like grabbing a sandwich in the fields at harvest time; communion must be taken kneeling down, head bowed. Order, Order was the thing.

There’s a lovely tale from Cambridgeshire on Christmas Day 1638, when a dog mooched in during the sermon and while everyone was wondering what on earth the preacher was talking about, he sneaked up, flapped his ears a bit – and whipped the communion loaf which had been prepared and headed for the door. I can see Dylan MacDog in action as I speak, he’s partial to a bit of bread too, and it tastes so much better when stolen. So of course, the congregation hared after the hound, which no doubt added deeply to its enjoyment, and astoundingly they actually managed to catch said hound repatriate the loaf. The priest decided that dog saliva probably didn’t add to the beauty of holiness and the communion had to be cancelled for the year.

This is a specific example of the Laudian policy of introducing formality, order and ceremony into the order of service, and it was one of many. Enthusiastic clergy started replacing their wooden communion tables with grand stone altars; ornaments, sparkly candlesticks, crucifixes and plates and things started to be found proudly adorning the altar – I am put in mind of a scene in the lovely 1970 Cromwell film, where Richard Harris sweeps all such ornaments from the altar of his parish church sending them clattering to the floor, muttering something about baubles, growling ‘that damn Archbishop’ and gazing grumpily into the camera. He’s one of the Godly you see, doesn’t do sparkly on altars.

You might think this is very petty. But the poet of the Godly, John Milton gives some idea of what this meant

The table of communion, now became a table of separation, stands like an exalted platform upon the brow of the quire, fortified with bulwark and barricado, to keep off the profane touch of the laity…which is what the prelates desire, that when they have brought us back to popish blindness, we might commit to their disposal the whole management of our salvation[1]

Altar rails offended the core belief of Calvinists in England, Scotland and all over Europe that the relationship with God was personal, not subject to the intermission of the clergy. The clergy were simply experts, to teach give guidance in reading and interpreting the scripture through preaching. All of these ‘gestural displays’ as they have been called, smacked to the Godly of a return to Catholicism and the mass, and the impression was re-inforced by a change in the balance between the emphasis on preaching, beloved of Calvinists, and Ceremony as favoured by Arminians. Laudian policy was to crack down on unlicensed preaching, reduce the privately and community funded lectureships that had sprung up around the country to supplement the local minister, and the sacraments instead were re-emphasised. Part of this was to enforce the strict use of the Book of Common Prayer and the Canons of 1604. Where local, Calvinist oriented ministers might have skipped a bit of the liturgy in favour of a bit of additional preaching, wherever they could this kind of latitude was now repressed – the liturgy of the book was the priority.

It is important to note that none of this was strictly innovatory; examples of all of these changes could have been found before Charles came to the throne, such was the width and flexibility of the English church. The difference now was how widely the same approach was being demanded, and how rigorously they were being enforced. It was hard in a country the size of England with the tools at their disposal to make everyone dance to the same tune; for Laud and his bishops often did a very good job though, in making them so boogie.

Now, we’ll talk generally about the response to all the reforms, but to a large number of the Calvinists not just the more radical, all of this was, in the words of one dour Suffolk gent, ‘but a dance before popery’. Church Music was also much more encouraged, with organs and choirs, which does sound nice, and actually by the 1630s Calvinist opposition to music had much softened, but many objected to the condemnation by some Laudians of psalm singing as the ‘tuneless babbling of the ignorant and irreligious’. Just as an aside, this is a factoid gathered from Tim Harris’ fantastic book Rebellion, and if it was an original quote I would expect quotation marks. There are none, so, I wonder, does this represent the state of psalm singing in the good Professor’s own church maybe? I am intrigued to know.



Anyway, Laud’s reforms were not just about order and worship, they were also about structure and governance. Most would agree that too many clergymen were underpaid, and the church underfunded. Over half the benefices in England and Wales were worth less than £10 a year and the vast majority under the level expected for a tolerable standard of living – which was £40 a year. Meanwhile, much of the fabric of parish churches was in desperate need of investment and rebuilding too. There was little Laud could do – much church land and tithes were under the control of the laity, who therefore also had the right to set the stipend for the minister. It was too late to re-appropriate church land but pressure was applied to lay patrons to pay higher stipends; and income from church lands were raised by implementing shorter rents, rather than the 3 lifetime terms which left income seriously reduced by inflation. This is without doubt stuff that needed doing – but if your local bishop is insisting on renegotiating your rental terms, it’s easy as a tenant not to see the bigger picture and instead see your church as focussing on money rather than the salvation of your immortal soul.

Despite the money problems, Laud and his bishops did manage to push forward with much church refurbishment, and it’s surely impossible to find fault with that. Though you know people being what they are…many of the high profile projects were very much in the style of bling; Like St Giles in the Field, with painted and decorated Chancel screens to keep the oiks in the nave in their place from the priests and deacons in the Chancel, painted cloths, multiple cherubim, virgin and Child pictures. I mean I am partial to the odd cherub myself, but if you were a whitewash person or suspicious of anything that might look like idolatory these paintings might not square with you well. Even smaller developments, like Scudamore’s Abbey Dore in Herefordshire saw a grand marble altar, cloths, painted walls, screens and stained glass. A sign of the new times at very least. Another, surely laudable development, no pun intended, was insisting that very high sided box pews of the grandest of the parish be shaved down to get out of the way of everyone’s line of sight to the altar. As I say, surely sensible; but also likely to ruffle a few grand gentry feathers, who rather looked their little comforts and privileges to be shown off in church in front of the whole community.

Ok, Let us take a moment’s break for any sponsor messages, if there are any lovely enough to have sponsored me this week.


Ok, sit up straight, back to the grindstone. So…

Alongside reforms in the financing, doctrine, fabric and ceremonial of the church there was also something about behaviour and society. Of course, religion wasn’t just about your immortal soul but about how you lived your life now and indeed the one informed the other and vice versa; some of those firmly in the predestination camp, managed to get round the worry about whether not they were saved, by assuming that how they behaved now was sign of whether God had or had not marked them for the eternal naughty step, and so it was still important to live a good life according to the good Book; others believed the doctrine that no soul would be denied paradise if they truly deserved it – and so a well ordered and Godly society was essential.

The Book of Sports was therefore a very contentious document when Charles issued it in 1633. Now this was very much not new – Charles was re-issuing a proclamation made by his father back in 1618, with just a few tweaks. It had caused a fuss then, and in the increasingly tense atmosphere of the personal rule, it caused a fuss now. The words of the Books of Sports are probably written on your heart after the last time we talked about it, but if not, it is available on the inestimable history of England website. Essentially, James says that having fun in a proper, Godly way on God’s day is fine as long as you have also done the Godly church like things, and the activities are proper godly too. So into the Godly box went things like dancing, leaping, vaulting, May-games, Whitsun-ales, and, against the run of play I have to say, Morris-dances; into the ungodly box went bear and bull-baitings; and interludes because ordinary folk tended to poke fun at the knobs in interludes and would never never do; and, marked out especially – that greatest and rootiest of all evils – I speak of course, as you will already have guessed, of bowling.

Now to those who believed firmly in the sanctity of the lord’s day, the Sabbatarian types – who might often be puritans but not necessarily restricted to them, let it be noted – this was not the way a Godly and well ordered society worked; the lords day was for the lord and that was that. For Charles, this was partly about a proper society, partly about not repelling people from the church – but mainly about keeping Puritans in their box. Because by prohibiting such things, Puritans were arrogating to themselves an authority about ordering society that was not in their gift in Charles’ view – it was in the King’s gift, and in his only.

Sabbatarians were once more outraged – and particularly puritans who had their names specifically mentioned in the text as the wrong doers in this case. As in Jacobean days not every priest rigorously enforced the requirement to read it out in church and publish it; quite a lot ducked, even more weaved and a minority even shimmied – but this time around, Charles was determined to see that it was implemented, and more to the point his Bishops were too – because his bishops now included very few of the more Calvinist. It is a feature of the Book of Sports of 1633 they were much more rigorously and firmly enforced than such things had been before. Once again de facto toleration appeared to be at an end. This was also a bit confusing. Because now in many cases, clergy and their parishioners were being berated in the ecclesiastical courts, or in the bishops’ visitations – for things they’d always done, and been told were perfectly acceptable in the past. Many would have been used to bringing the communion table down for decades – now suddenly they were malignants for doing so. Even the most conformist now felt not quite sure whether they were or were not doing the right thing.

Which does however bring us to the point that it is almost inevitably the case that plenty of people were perfectly happy with these reforms,. But what they did was to make people choose. A parish priest who fervently believed the sabbath should be rigorously observed, and had always told his congregation so, was now forced to choose – did he obey his conscience, or his bishop and king?

One historian very wisely observed – for historians can on occasion be wise I have found – one of the problems with historical sources is that the big mouths, the gobby of mind and spirt, the moaners, the baddies, the fractious and generally arsey, make much more impact on the historical record than the compliant, the happy, the content. After all, no one gets hauled in front of the judges for spending a quiet evening in with your Mum playing tiddly winks. No-one mass produces incendiary pamphlets on the value of relaxing quietly and doing what you’re told and that while everything sort of matters, nothing matters terribly. Nope, by and large it’s the activist, the whiner, the malcontent, the passionately opinionated that produces the pamphlets, shouts at you while you’re doing your shopping, waves the banner and glues themselves to items of civil engineering, drapes the banner of cultural revolution around your neck.

So, when looking back in time it’s a bit difficult to know exactly what most ordinary people thought. I feel a bit the same way about history telling actually; everyone’s out to tell the latest story of outrage or horror…’the untold story of the great injustice that was x’, ‘come and see the violence in the system y’, you know? The headline ‘Come and hear the untold story of how communities rub along together pretty well for hundreds of years’ or ‘Wow, the history they don’t want you to know about how nothing notable happened for decades’ – doesn’t sell copy. Ah well.

Anyway, rant over, it’s difficult to know, basically, how widespread support might have been for what Charles and Laud were doing. They were not unprincipled, heartless beasts imposing an alien religion on a hapless people; they were firstly, doing what they thought was right for Charles’ people; secondly, they probably really imagined that they were simply returning the church to its origins. This meant to the Elizabethan settlement but more than that to the early church as she was originally practised, so although I have spoken of Laud as a reformer of the church, don’t let him hear you say it, otherwise this fiery little son of the fair city of Reading would give you the sharp end of this tongue – it was the puritans who were the innovators he would thunder almost to the point of chunder.

And there would have been plenty who liked either some of these changes or if not necessarily all of them; it’s not a binary thing, on or off, black or white, Tigers or Saints, County or Forest. For some, the return of choral music would have been a boon; or a bit of grandeur in the paints. Maybe a bit of ceremony and formality was your thing, and surely it’s churlish to object to a tadge of stained glass on a Sunday morning? And a bit of leaping and Dancing on a Sunday afternoon, and especially dancing the Morris – well, we work every other day of the week to keep body and soul together, and not with much margin either, so surely the Lord wouldn’t begrudge us time for a few hours off? One of the features of the civil wars, incidentally, without wanting to offer up any plot spoilers, is the quiet love of the words and forms and cadence of Cranmer’s masterpiece, the Book of Common Prayer, that will run like a mighty hidden stream under the bedrock of English society, and burst out like a clear spring on the hill side on the Restoration. I’d like to bet also that there were more than a few sniggers in church seeing the disappointed and out of joint noses of the parish big wigs as they arrived at their much reduced box pews; always good to see the favoured cut down to size a bit.

On the same grounds though, just as many people would find something to enjoy in the reforms, so pretty much everyone would find something irritating. There were the gentry and their pews; having your lease renegotiated, the annoyance of intervention from the outside – visitations coming in enforcing the rules of outsiders, by passing the local churchwardens, wiping out local compromises and customs that had helped lubricate the turning of the wheels of the parish, all arrogantly banished by the establishment.

Also, there was just a divisive thing going on here too, which changes exacerbated. This was particularly true of puritan areas, where puritan townsmen and clergy had worked together to enforce rules on things like social behaviour, drunkenness and the like, and obviously sometimes people objected to this kind of tyranny – one bright spark for example took it onto himself to sneak out in the middle of the night and release people from the stocks. One of the things puritans were particularly good at was raising money for the maintenance of the poor – we don’t often hear a good word about the much reviled puritan, but theier concern and energy to raise poor funding was often impressive. But of course, there’s a level at which people begin to object to being pressured into dipping into their pockets. Into these already conflicted worlds, then, might come a sense of support for those that disliked such an environment, disliked yet another round of change and enforcement.

And make no mistake Laudians were every bit as aggressive and demanding as any puritan. So let me take you to Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire; and as some of you will know, to walk the streets of Rickmansworth to this day is to feel the fire of revolution in your bones. Just Kiddin’ yah. Anyway in 1638 they got a new churchwarden, Mr Olden a lover of Laud and his altar rails who boasted that

He would make the puritans to come up the middle alley on their knees up to the rails

In Essex, a minister Richard Drake refused to let a hundred of his parishioners take communion

‘because they would not come up to the rail

Meanwhile, objectors would fight back with small acts of rebellion against the rules; keeping hats on in church, or sitting down when supposed to stand; childish, but deeply satisfying.

The message I am sort of subliminally trying to give you, just to make it, um, liminal, is that you didn’t have to be a puritan to object to the new rules, Laudians could be every bit as cussed and in yer face as the fiercest puritan, and the reforms introduced conflict and division into many, maybe most communities.

So that’s all very well, and I hope you are sagely nodding your head at my most worthy sagacity, but look – there’s no getting round it, it’s your Calvinist, and particularly the radical wing of the Calvinist party, the puritan, that is most inflamed. Obviously, they would be the most upset by all the changes I have outlined – Charles and Laud might have gaily imagined they were the conservatives – for the Calvinist this was utter tripe, and they knew that, because just a few years ago they were doing things which everyone seemed to agree with for which they were now being persecuted.

But there is an elephant in the room, and the elephant wears a mitre. As I have frequently explained, and will try not to belabour the point, Charles’ head would explode if you said he was anything other than a staunch defence of the church of England. William Laud the same. But much as they may say this, do what I say not what I do, Calvinists of many colours found the evidence a bit difficult to believe. All this ceremonial stuff – well, it’s all just a bit catholic lite isn’t it? Creeping popery, a softening up process. And the Arminians it has to be said had a different, more sympathetic approach to the catholic church to your average Calvinists. For the latter, the Pope was the anti christ – not just any old anti christ, not just against the proper church and a bit naughty and all that – the actual living breathing anti christ whose job it was to drag you to hell. That Anti Crist. Arminians didn’t believe that; I mean they thought the Pope was an abomination, don’t get me wrong, no one would give him so much as a bag of pork scratchings let alone the rough end of a pineapple, but he wasn’t the actual anti-christ. And the catholic church – again, it was a real religion; it was wrong, obviously, deeply inferior to the beauty and purity of the reformed English church; but it was on the right field. To the modern ear, this is all a lot more pleasant sounding than the violent detestation of the English and Scottish Calvinist; but to most of English it was terrifying. Catholicism was not just poorly advised, it was drag me to hell time, and the architect of tyranny that sought to destroy their society and tear it up by the very roots and water the soil with their blood. I don’t think I’m overdoing it, but do say if I am.

For Laud and Charles, sensibly you have to think, they remained as concerned as was Elizabeth to bring as many English catholics back into the church, and so were concerned to make their language more conciliatory, and the church attractive. It’s a worthy aim, especially given that Catholics couldn’t be much more than 1-2% of the population by this stage. But like many worthy aims, the road to hell was paved with good intentions, and anyway it was an absolute epic fail. Because as a result, English Catholics simply patted each other on the back and celebrated that the English church was coming back to the true church. One catholic was delighted at Laud’s elevation to Canterbury predicting that things would

Every day grow better and better for catholics

The Pope even offered Laud a cardinal’s hat – twice, which is delightful. But it didn’t make Arminian claims to be good protestants very convincing. When a Catholic priest could write that the English were doing all the right things – exalting ‘the cult of the holy virgins and of the saints’ and decking out ‘their temples with images’ and ‘use ceremonies not very different from ours’. I mean I ask you, if catholics were thinking this, what surprise that Calvinists were absolutely besides themselves that their own leaders appeared to be destroying their church from the ground up? Or the Lambeth palace down as it were I suppose.

Nor did the king’s personal life help. As it happens, Charles was in no way averse to a bit of good, honest Catholic persecution, – recusancy fines steadily increased until they reached about £20,000, religious persecution if done right could be a nice little earner. But from the outside, the Court looked like something of a hotbed of Catholic sympathy. Charles of course had a Catholic Queen, and HM wasn’t shy about promoting her Catholicism, she flaunted it. Catholic services at Somerset house were widely attended by people both within and without her household, in a way of which Charles disapproved and periodically restricted but somehow kept going. And people noticed.

The king himself has a wife recusant, why then could he not be one?

Said an Alderman of the town of Appleby which was once the county town of which ancient county? That’s a quick, quiz question, answers on  a postcard.

There were a number of high profile conversions at court, a number of privy counsellors suspected with some justice of being crypto catholics. And despite all Charles’ words about defending the church of England even to his death, genuinely felt words at that – the unusual extremity of Charles views about what the practice and doctrine of Church of England was, made his words appear dishonest. And then there was the fact that Charles clearly thoroughly enjoyed the style of the Catholics who surrounded his wife.

He was something of a fan of Father George Con, for example, the current papal agent. Con gave the king paintings and sculptures, he was a cultured intelligent conversationalist, made himself pleasant to all – what’s not to like? Even Laud gave him a friendly tour round the Bodleian. Court society wooed his company, he was seen around town in a carriage with the papal insignia, once carrying Charles in it. Charles opened negotiations with the Papal Curia. Again, to the modern ear all this toleration and talking seems rather welcome – but we are in the 1630’s here, Charles needed to be super careful about his actions in this area and consider how it would look to the outside world. In his own mind he was content that his commitment to the Church was firm – he expected that to be enough for his subjects and for them to blindly accept it and not ask questions. It is another aspect of his political stone deafness, and he would continue to be amazed that people saw him as an innovator. I have a image of Charles as a premiership footballer protesting his innocence when giving a booking – arms wide, incredulous expression – what me?

The very clear impression, then, to many of his subjects, was that Charles and his bishops were much more concerned with the threat of puritanism than they were about the dangers of popery. And Charles and Laud’s definition of who the term puritan included was now wildly broad; Henry Parker would write in 1641 that

By an enlargement of the name, [the world was] full of nothing but puritans, for besides the puritan in church policy there are now added puritans in religion, puritans in state and puritans in morality

How all of this would play out in detail will be complicated and difficult to judge. As I say there were very probably many who were either happy to conform, or were in sympathy with the changes. But there can have been relatively few who didn’t find something to trouble them. Across the country, religious tensions and social friction was heightened and sensitivities made raw.

[1] Hunt, T ‘The English Civil War at First hand’, p12-13

2 thoughts on “363 Laud Unleashed

  1. Hello Mr. Crowther! I find it hard to believe, but after a year or so of listening I see there is no a next episode to click to. The History of England has infected my vocabulary and kept me company through a great deal of data entry, housework and car trips over the past year, and I now wait eagerly (yet patiently) for more!

    I must confess, I come to write this comment in sackcloth. Despite the good graces of academic history recently imparted upon me in my undergrad that there is no such thing as boring history, I had something of an immature prejudice towards English history prior to listening. That prejudice being that it was dull, and between the Norman Conquest & Protestant Reformation comprising mostly of the nobility beating one another, the French and the odd Welsh/Scot/Irishman over the head for castles and advantageous marriages. I’ve been suitably chastened thanks to your podcast– and even moreso having listened to some of the history of Scotland, where I find my preconceptions even more puddle-like in their depth.

    While the odd beating may still form a good chunk of my understanding, you have broadened my horizons on England’s past and made even those aristocratic bun-fights thoroughly entertaining and educational. You effectively combine wit and learning in a way that makes me feel like I’ve learned something while also making me laugh and not leaving me feel like I’ve just read a textbook chapter, something I can’t say to have found in the same way with any other history podcast. While you have your biases you seem to me very forthcoming and honest about them, and truth be told those, in addition to your passion and unapologetic tangents, are essential parts of your charm.

    Well, hope you can excuse the gushing! It’s been a pleasure listening, and I have a fair few shedcasts to get through before I am devoid of content. Thank you for your hard work and for all to come in the future!

    1. Hi Conor, and what a lovely message – thank you! And to be fair between the conquest and the Reformation a fair amount of the history is indeed about aristocrats beating each other over the head! Amd honestly – you can gush as much as you like, there is no limit for my ability to receive and absorb gush!

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