William Laud, an English prelate, archbishop of Canterbury, born in Reading, Berkshire, Oct. 7, 1573, executed on Tower hill, London, Jan. 10, 1645. The son of a wealthy clothier, he was educated in the grammar school of his native town, till in his 16th year he entered St. John's college, Oxford, where he obtained a scholarship in 1590 and a fellowship in 1593. He received clerical orders in 1601, became chaplain to Charles Lord Mountjoy, earl of Devonshire, in 1605, and, though holding marriage to be an indissoluble sacrament, performed the rites of matrimony between that nobleman and Lady Rich, whose first husband was still living. He was appointed chaplain to Bishop Nene in 1608, and had held several minor livings when in 1611 he was elected president of St. John's college, Oxford, and became one of the royal chaplains. In 1616 he was presented to the deanery of Gloucester, accompanied King James to Scotland in 1617, became prebendary of Westminster in 1620. and was raised to the see of St. David's in 1621, when he resigned his presidentship. In 1622 took place his famous conference with the Jesuit Fisher, in presence of the duke of Buckingham. The result was, according to his diary, that he became "C." to Buckingham; the initial is usually believed to stand for confessor.
Under the patronage of this nobleman his rise was rapid. In 1624 he was made a member of the court of high commission, in 1626 bishop of Bath and Wells, in 1627 a privy councillor, and in 1628 bishop of London. He became the confidential adviser of Charles I. in ecclesiastical affairs, succeeded Buckingham in the royal favor, and began to play a foremost part in politics. His first object was to force the Puritans and other dissenters to conformity. "Under his direction," says Mac-aulay, "every corner of the realm was subjected to a constant and minute inspection. Every little congregation of separatists was tracked out and broken up. Even the devotions of private families could not escape the vigilance of his spies. Such fear did his rigor inspire, that the deadly hatred of the church, which festered in innumerable bosoms, was generally disguised under an outward show of conformity." In 1628 Dr. Leighton, a Scottish theologian, published a book entitled "Sion's Plea against the Prelacy." At the instigation of Laud he was brought before the star chamber in 1630, was condemned to pay a fine of £10,000, was twice publicly whipped and pilloried in Cheapside, had his ears cut off, his nostrils slit open, and his cheeks branded with the letters S. S. (sower of sedition), and was imprisoned 10 years in the Fleet. Laud was now intimately associated with the earl of Strafford, of whose principle of "thorough" he approved.
He became chancellor of Oxford in 1030, of which university he was a liberal benefactor, and was present in 1033 at the coronation of the king in Scotland, urging the forced establishment of episcopacy and uniformity in that country, which resulted in revolt and the adoption of the national covenant. On his return he was promoted to the see of Canterbury, began his administration by the republication of the "Lawful Sunday Sports," and enforced an exact observance of the rubric and a uniform discipline in the cathedral churches. He indicated his preference in the bestowment of benefices for single over married men. His diary records that a cardinal's hat was offered to him, which he declined with the answer that " something dwelt within me which would not suffer that till Rome was other than it is." He became one of the committee of trade and the king's revenue in 1634, a commissioner of the treasury soon after, and a censor of the press under a decree of the star chamber in 1637. The clergy at that time held probably a larger share in the government of England than at any subsequent period.
The public odium against Laud caused by his principles and his overbearing temper was greatly increased when the star chamber sentenced Prynne, Burton, and Bastwick to be fined and maimed for libels " against the hierarchy of the church." Immediately after the meeting of the long parliament in 1640 he was impeached for high treason and committed to the tower. After an imprisonment of more than three years, he was brought to trial, defended himself with ability and often with success through a long and wearisome process, and was condemned and executed by a sentence that is now admitted to have been unjust and illegal. His diary was published by Wharton in 1694. The first edition of his complete works is in the " Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology " (6 vols., Oxford, 1847-'9), and a complete edition, including his letters and miscellaneous papers, was published in Oxford in 1857-'60. His principal biographers are Prynne (1644), Hey-lin (1671), Lawrence (1829), Le Bas (1836), and Baines (1855).