Thursday, October 25, 2012

16: William Bedell (1571-1642), Caroline Divine and translator of the Bible into Irish

Bishop William Bedell of Kilmore (right) with Archbishop William Sancroft of Canterbury (left) in a window in the chapel of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

William Bedell (1571-1642) is an oft-neglected bishop of the Church of Ireland among the Caroline divines, yet he is remembered in Ireland for his insistence while he was the fifth Provost of Trinity College Dublin that divinity students there should learn the Irish language to enhance their ministry to all the people, and for his commitment at Trinity and as Bishop of Kilmore to undertaking the translation of the Bible into Irish.

William Bedell was born at Black Notley, a mile outside Braintree in Essex, on 29 September, or about 25 December, 1571, the second of three sons and six children of John Bedell, a yeoman, and his wife Elizabeth (née Aliston or Elliston). His grandfather and father were both men of strong religious convictions, and the grandfather was known as a stern disciplinarian. William’s maternal family had Puritan sympathies.

William Bedell and his elder brother John were educated by a Mr Denman of Braintree, who was violent with his pupils and a blow he inflicted on William left him permanently deaf in one ear.

Emmanuel College, Cambridge ... William Bedell was an undergraduate and later a fellow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

At the age of 12, William was sent to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, a new foundation that had become a centre of Puritan influence. There he became a student of Laurence Chaderton (1536-1640), the first Master of Emmanuel, and found a mentor in the Puritan theologian, William Perkins (1558-1602) of Christ’s College, a prominent and vigorous anti-Roman polemicist. Bedell was admitted a pensioner at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in Michaelmas Term, 1 November 1584, and he matriculated in Lent 1585. On 12 March 1585, he was elected a scholar, the nineteenth scholar on the list from the foundation of Emmanuel College.
.
Bedell graduated BA in 1589, proceeded MA in 1592, and in 1593 he was elected a fellow of his college, the fourteenth fellow on the list from the foundation, including the first three fellows nominated by the founder, Sir Walter Mildmay.

Mildmay had designed Emmanuel College as a place of education for the ordained ministry. As a fellow, Bedell became the catechist of the students in the doctrines of the Christian faith, a task similar to the early offices held by Lancelot Andrewes at Pembroke, William Perkins at Christ’s, and John Preston at Queens’.

Bedell was ordained priest by John Sterne, the Suffragan Bishop of Colchester, on 10 January 1597. He received the degree BD in 1599, acted as Burar of Emmanuel College in 1601. In 1602, he was appointed Vicar of Saint Mary’s in Bury St Edmunds, one of the largest parish churches in England.

Punters in summer sunshine on the Backs in Cambridge ... there are no university records of Bedell receiving the degree DD in 1602 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

When Perkins, died in 1602, Bedell bought his library. By then he was known for his scholarship in theology, the Bible and the classics, and was proficient in Arabic, Chaldean, Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Syriac. His reputation as a linguist led Italian friends in Venice to ask him to compile an English grammar.

His son William, along with other biographers, including Gilbert Burnet, HJ Monck, ES Shuckburgh and other biographers say Bedell received the degree DD at the University of Cambridge in 1602, and Aidan Clarke suggests that receiving this doctorate terminated his fellowship of Emmanuel College. However, this last degree is not recorded by Venn or in other university sources, and it is not mentioned in his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by Bottigheimer and Larminie, by Gamble or in his biographical entry by Crooks.

William Bedell was chaplain to Sir Henry Wooton, the English ambassador in Venice, from 1607 to 1610 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bedell left England in 1607 when he was appointed chaplain to Sir Henry Wooton (1568-1639), then the English ambassador in Venice. He stayed in Venice for almost four years, acquiring a reputation as a scholar and a theologian. He studied Hebrew there with the rabbi of the synagogue in the ghetto, Leon da Modena, added Italian to his repertore of languages, and acted as a theological mentor to the leaders of the anti-papal party in Venice.

At the time, Venice was in conflict with the Papacy under Paul V and was resisting the Papal claims to ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the city. The Senate of Venice asserted its right to veto clerical appointments, to control church building, and to put the clergy on trial in civic court. In response, the Pope had placed Venice under an interdict in April 1606, and ordered the Jesuits and other religious orders to leave.

Bedell arrived in Venice at the closing stages of the dispute and after the interdict had been lifted. In common with other Englishmen in Venice at the time, he had expectations of converting the Venetians to the Reformation, and became a close friend of the reformer Paolo Sarpi, a Servite friar. After an the attempt to assassinate Sarpi, Bedell wrote a few days later to his friend, Dr Samuel Ward, later Master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, saying: “I hope this accident will awake him a little more and put some more spirit into him, which is his only want.”

Bedell wrote a series of sermons with Sarpi’s disciple, Fulgenzio Micanzo, circulated a translation of the Bible in Italian, and translated The Book of Common Prayer into Italian, published posthumously as Il libro delle preghiere publiche ed administrazione de sacramenti ... secundo l’uso della chiesa Anglicana (London, 1685). However, by the time he returned to England in 1610, the Pope and the Doge had been reconciled through the mediation of Henry IV of France, Venice had returned to the Papal fold, and Sarpi’s influence in the city had waned.

Bedell returned to England through Constantinople in 1610, accompanied by Dr Jasper Despotine, a Venetian Protestant, who settled as a medical practitioner in Bury St Edmunds. Bedell too settled in Bury St Edmunds, and there he married Leah Mawe (née L’Estrange, or Bowles), widow of the town’s Recorder, Robert Mawe, who died in 1609, on 29 January 1612 and the mother of two sons and a daughter. They had four more children: William (born 14 February 1613); Grace (born 29 May 1614); John (born 9 August 1616); and Ambrose (born 21 March 1618). Grace and John died young while William and Ambrose survived to adulthood.

In England, Bedell assisted in the publication of a translation of Sarpi’s histories of the Council of Trent, the Interdict, and the Inquisition. In 1615, he was presented by Sir Thomas Jermyn as Rector of Horningsheath in Suffolk, near Bury St Edmunds, then in the Diocese of Norwich. He successfully resisted an exorbitant demand by the Bishop of Norwich, John Jegon, a former master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, for induction fees.

Bedell remained rector of the parish for 12 years, and might have been happy to continue living in comparative obscurity but for a chance encounter in Cheapside with a Venetian friend, Giovanni Diodati, when they were both visiting London. Diodati introduced Bedell to Thomas Morton, Bishop of Lichfield, and that chance encounter and introduction led to Bedell’s name being suggested for the position of Provost of Trinity College Dublin, which became vacant in 1627 after Sir William Temple died in office on 15 January.

William Bedell became Provost of Trinity College Dublin in 1627 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The candidates for provost favoured by the Vice-Chancellor of Dublin University and Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher, included the Puritan Richard Sibbes of Gray’s Inn and the millenarian Joseph Mede of Cambridge. Neither was acceptable to the future Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, who would become the Chancellor of the university in 1633, and neither could secure the support of the majority senior fellows and junior fellows.

Eventually, Laud and Ussher agreed on William Bedell, who had no prior connections with Ireland. Wooton brought Bedell’s name to the attention of Laud, and wrote to King Charles I in praise of Bedell’s learning, life and Christian temper: “I think hardly a fitter man for that charge could have been propounded unto your Majesty in your whole kingdom, for singular erudition and piety, conformity to the rites of your Church and zeal to advance the cause of God.”

Sidney Sussex College Cambridge … Bedell wrote to Samuel Ward expressing his sense of uncertainty about moving to Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

At first, Bedell was not interested in moving to Ireland with his family. He was happy in his Suffolk parish, and thought it would be hazardous to take his wife and children to a strange land. On 15 March 1627, he wrote to his friend Samuel Ward of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, repeating his sense of uncertainty, expressing his contentment with his present situation and explaining how ignorant he was of the situation in Dublin.

However, he told Ward he was prepared to overlook his own convenience in order to obey the will of God. On the nomination of King Charles and the Archbishop of Canterbury, and on the advice of Ussher, the Fellows of Trinity College Dublin voted for Bedell as Provost, although Bedell later reported in England that vote had not been unanimous.

After much consideration, Bedell gave up his “competent living of above £100 a year, in a good air and seat, with a very convenient house, near to my friends, a little parish, not exceeding the compass of my weak voice.” He left his parish in Horningsheath on 23 July 1627, arrived in Dublin on 13 August, and was sworn in as Provost on 20 August.

He returned briefly to England, and felt his plans for reforming the college were being undermined by Ussher and his allies. He confided to Ward that he was thinking of resigning as Provost. However, Ussher refused to accept Bedell’s resignation, and eventually, but with some hesitance and apprehension, he resigned his parish and returned to Dublin in July 1628. He lived the rest of his days in Ireland.

The chapel of Trinity College Dublin … as Provost, Bedell restored discipline to chapel observances (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Once in office in as Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Bedell set to work vigorously and conscientiously. He restored discipline among the fellows and students, especially in regard to chapel observances. He produced a complete and ordered version of the statutes. He instituted the reading of a chapter of the New Testament during Commons by a native Irish speaker, introduced prayers in Irish in the chapel, composed the college’s Latin graces, prescribed that no married man should be admitted a Fellow or Scholar, and formalised Sir William Temple’s distinction between Senior and Junior Fellows by explicitly excluding Junior Fellows from the government of the college and the election of a Provost.

King Charles later observed that by Bedell’s “care and good government there hath been wrought great reformation to our singular contentment.”

Bedell is often regarded as most forward-looking as Provost when it comes to fostering Irish studies in Trinity College Dublin. However, he was motivated less by literary or historical considerations than by his desire to give ordinands in the Church of Ireland the ability to preach to the native Irish in their own language.

Half a century earlier, in April 1576, the Chief Governor of Ireland, Henry Sydney (1529-1586), had commended to Queen Elizabeth a proactive mission strategy that included seeking out university-trained preachers in England who were competent in Irish or, in their absence, Gaelic-speaking preachers from Scotland. Sydney also urged the appointment of Irish-speaking bishops so that “thousands would be gained for Christ.”

Things had changed little in Ireland 25 years later, however, and in 1602 Francis Bacon wrote to William Cecil in similar vein, pointing to the need for “Bibles, catechisms, and other books of instruction [in] the Irish language.”

Bedell employed Murtagh King (Muircheartach Ó Cionga) to teach Irish at Trinity. Ó Cíonga was a member of a bardic family from Kilcoursey in Co Offaly, known as poets and scribes, and drafted legal documents for their patrons, the Fox and Mageoghegan families.

King first appears are as Murtagh O Kinge of Kilcolly and Murtho O King of Fox’s County in legal documents the 1590s. In the 1610s, he was an agent and receiver to Lord Lambert’s lands near Athlone, Co Westmeath. From 1627 he was employed by Bedell to teach Irish to himself and students in Trinity College, and under Bedell’s influence he conformed to the Church of Ireland.

He insisted as little as possible on the differences with respect to doctrine between Catholic and Protestant, bringing him into conflict with the Puritan party in the college, especially with Dr Joshua Hoyle, Professor of Divinity.

A plaque at Kilmore Cathedral recalls the former bishop (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

In 1629, probably on the nomination of William Laud, then Bishop of London and later Archbishop of Canterbury, Bedell was appointed Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh. Archbishop Ussher of Armagh was warned by his agent in London that a plot was being mounted by Laud and others to have Ussher removed as Vice-Chancellor of the university of Dublin, but Laud sought to pacify him, denying that he was trying to remove him and claiming “I heartily love” the freedom granted in Trinity’s charter.

Bedell was consecrated bishop on 13 September 1629 in Saint Peter’s Church, Drogheda, by Ussher, assisted by Robert Echlin, Bishop of Down, Theophilus Buckworth, Bishop of Dromore, and James Spottiswood, Bishop of Clogher. However, Bedell found the amalgamated dioceses in a deplorable state. Shortly after arriving in Kilmore, he wrote to Laud telling him that “the plantations are raw and the churches ruined.” He told Laud that his cathedral was “without Bell or Steeple, Font or Chalice.”

He devoted much of his energies to repairing the cathedral and to refurbishing other churches in the diocese, often with the assistance of his Roman Catholic friends and neighbours. In the face of much opposition he devoted himself to relieving the great hardship and poverty among his people.

He was asked by the court of the Plantation Commission to “lay out” the town of Virginia, Co Cavan, after complaints from the residents about the landlords’ failure to build the town and to provide a church for worship.

“He observed with much regret that the English had all along neglected the Irish, as a nation not only conquered but undisciplinable, and that the clergy had scarce considered them as part of their charge, but had left them wholly in the hands of their own priests, without taking any other care of them, but the making them pay their tithes.”

He started to reform the abuses he found in the diocese, and as a first step towards a remedy he took action against pluralists. This thrust him into immediate conflict with the Dean of Kilmore, Nicholas Bernard, a former chaplain to Ussher, and to sharp exchanges between Bedell and Ussher.

On the day of Bedell’s consecration, Ussher asked the new bishop to grant a benefice to Bernard, which would have been the dean’s fourth preferment. Bernard too had been educated at Cambridge, and later became Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain. Bedell refused Ussher’s request on the grounds that Bernard could not minister to a parish where the people spoke Irish. However, Bernard circumvented the bishop and obtained the appointment to the parish through a a decree issued by the Primate’s Prerogative Court.

Bedell complained to Ussher, telling the archbishop that Bernard could not preach without using the services of an interpreter and was interested not in the pastoral care of his parishioners but only in the stipend that allowed him “to fat himself with the blood of God’s people.”

He sided with the Roman Catholics of Kilmore against the excesses of Alan Cooke, the chancellor of the diocese. He suspended Cook in 1629 on the pretext that were flaws in his patent of appointment, and sat in his own diocesan court and acted as judge himself. He told Ussher: “So long as the officers of our court prey on them [the people], they esteem us no better than publicans and wordlings … if the honestest and best of our Protestants be thus scandalised, what may we think of papists such as are all in a manner that we live among?”

Bedell told Ussher the Primate’s courts were corrupt, and he repeated this accusation in a letter to Laud on 7 August 1630: “This man was more burdensome to that part of the country than the contribution to the soldiers.”

Although Ussher had previously removed Cooke from a similar post in Meath for similar reasons, he was abrupt in his reply to Bedell. He held that Cooke was sufficiently qualified for the position, and the church courts found that Cooke had legally acquired the right as chancellor. Ussher accused Bedell of pulling down houses that others had spent a long time building, and of building castles in the air.

In the end, although he continued to be active in his diocesan court, the bishop was unable to remove his chancellor. Laud went so far as to regret that other bishops had not followed Bedell’s example in putting down abuses.

As a prime means of gaining the hearts of the people, Bedell studied the Irish language and encouraged the use of Irish. His only work in Irish to be published in his lifetime was his Aibgitir i Theaguisg Cheudtosugheadh an Chriostaide or The ABC or the Institution of a Christian was printed in Dublin in 1631. It contains letters, numbers, catechetical staples such as the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, four New Testament passages, and a number of prayers, all in parallel English and Irish texts.

In 1633, he resigned the See of Ardagh, where he had encountered opposition from Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike for reaching out to the Irish. However, he retained the See of Kilmore so he could concentrate on developing that diocese further and oversaw the renovation of neglected church buildings.

In very petulant terms, Ussher censured Bedell for learning Irish and for preaching to the people of his diocese in the only language they knew. In this, Ussher showed how he shared the prejudices of his class, in direct opposition to the principle of the Reformation which supported the translation of the Scriptures and the Liturgy into the vernacular.

But Bedell believed that the Irish too had souls which ought not to be neglected until such time as they should learn Irish. Undaunted by Ussher’s words of censure, Bedell commissioned the translation of the whole Bible into the language.

The translation was undertaken by the Church of Ireland Rector of Templeport, the Revd Murtagh King of Templeport, Co Cavan, who had been employed by Bedell to teach Irish at Trinity College Dublin and who was ordained priest by Bedell on 23 September 1633. However, Ussher had King removed and replaced by the Revd William Bayly, claiming King was ill and unfit. Bayly had been ordained without Bedell’s consent by Cooke’s father-in-law, the Bishop of Kilfenora, and his standard of Latin “caused much merryment.”

Bedell excommunicated Bayly as an intruder, but the Primate’s Court overruled Bedell; Bedell refused to recognise the court’s competence, but he found he was unable to restore King to his parish.

Bedell persisted, and in February 1634 he wrote to his friend Ward in Sidney Sussex College telling him: “I am purposed with God’s assistance to set forth the Bible in the Irish tongue, which I have caused to be translated, and am now causing to be written out fair … I purpose, if God sends me life, to add some Homilies chosen out of the Fathers.”

Bedell revised the whole work himself, comparing it with the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin so he could correct the errors in the English. He made preparations to print the work at his own house, and also translated into Irish and printed and circulated some of his sermons and homilies, and a catechism in English and Irish.

The bishop led a simple life and travelled for miles on foot or on horse, travelling the dangerous byways to visit distant parts of his diocese. He provided assistance to those who conformed to the Church of Ireland, enabling them to study for the ministry.

Bedell complained to Laud that that Ussher on his visitations to the Diocese of Kilmore usurped “all episcopal rights … every three years.” In 1638, he called a synod of all the priests in the Diocese of Kilmore to discuss lax discipline and to draft canons for his and their guidance.

Cooke and Bayly secured an order from Ussher forbidding Bedell to do anything to the prejudice of Dr Cook and ordering him to reverse the order of excommunication against Bayly. They also used the opportunity to claim that Bedell had contravened the constitution of the Church of Ireland by calling the synod and enacting canons. Bedell confided his troubles to Laud in a letter on 24 May 1639. In his reply on 28 June, Laud regretted that the bishops had not supported Bedell and agreed that the canons were not exceptional. However, he suggested that the times might not be congenial for experiments like this.

Cooke and Bayly took their case against Bedell to the King in Chancery in 1639, but their case were probably not resolved before the rebellion of 1641 broke out.

With the outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, the local warlords, led by the O’Reillys, took control of the area. Bedell refused to flee to England and decided to remain with his people. As the war unfolded, he continued to minister in his church and refused many offers of refuge, including those of his Roman Catholic counterpart, Bishop Eugene Sweeney. The O’Reillys “gave comfortable words to the bishop” and Bedell’s house at Kilmore, Co Cavan, was left untouched, becoming a place of refuge for people seeking shelter from the rebels.

The respect he shows for Roman Catholics in his writings and discussions was reflected in the way which he and the many fugitives who crowded his house and out-offices were treated initially by the rebel leaders. He was joined by the Bishop of Elphin, Henry Tilson. They exercised their religion freely, services were held frequently, and the Bread and Wine for the Holy Communion were specially supplied for them.

His memoirs describe with emotion and feeling about the personal sufferings and outrages the English settlers endured as they were driven off their plantations, but there is nothing in his writings about the massacre so often discussed by historians. It is moving to read his account of preaching to his people from the words: “But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me, my glory, and the lifter up of my head. I laid me down and slept; I awaked, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me, round about.”

In the end, though, the rebels insisted upon the dismissal of all who had taken shelter in his house, and when the bishop refused he was seized and imprisoned with some others in the nearby island castle of Lough Oughter, Cloughoughter Castle. After about two months his sufferings increased. He and his sons, with others, were removed on 18 December to Loughoughter castle, a little tower in the middle of a lake, and his own house and library were spoiled by the insurgents.

He was held there for several weeks and was released only after drawing up for the insurgents their Remonstrance and Statement of Grievances for presentation to the Lords Justices, “pleading on their behalf for graces from King Charles.”

Bedell was now in the house of his friend, the Revd Denis Sheridan. But he continued to suffer from the effects from being in the draughty and damp castle, and never recovered from his hardships. He died of typhus on 7 February 1642. His last words were: “Be of good cheer, be of good cheer; whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.”

Willaim Bedell’s grave in the churchyard of Kilmore Cathedral, Co Cavan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

His captors acceded to Bedell’s wish to be buried in a corner of the churchyard in Kilmore, Co Cavan, beside his son, and his wife Leah, whose death in 1638 had brought him terrible grief. His funeral took place in the presence of his O’Reilly captors, the Confederate forces provided a military guard of honour at his funeral and among his pallbearers was the rebel leader Myles the Slasher. A large military force fired a volley over his grave, crying, according to some accounts: “Requiescat in pace, ultimus Anglorum.” Father Edmund Farrely, a Roman Catholic priest who was present, was heard to exclaim: “O sit anima mea cum Bedello!, May my soul be with Beddell’s.” His grave is shaded by a sycamore tree, said to have been planted by his own hands.

His Irish neighbours called him optimus Anglorum – the best of the English – and his nobility, charity and ecumenism were renowned in an age of tyranny, injustice and bitter division. In true Laudian fashion, Bedell, according to his son, was “disposed rather to contract the differences between Protestants and Papists than to widen them.”

Bedell’s legacy and writings:

In his time in Venice, Bedell had moved from the Puritanism of his Cambridge education to a more accomodating and tolerant Anglicanism. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called Bedell “the most faultless character in all ecclesiastical history.” He is seen today by many as a pioneer of toleration and “a hero of liberal, cosmpolitan Protestantism.”

Bedell was concerned mainly with nurturing a well-organised and well-instructed community in his diocese, able to commend their faith to the people among whom they lived. To do this, they needed a reputable, resident clergy in their parishes who could speak and preach in the Irish language. He believed the failures of the Reformation in Ireland were due to the dark blemishes of the Church of Ireland and its failure to offer a just system of administration and the liturgy ion the language of the people.

Michael Kennedy and others would argue that the failure to provide The Book of Common Prayer in Irish for two full generations between 1549 and 1608 was a contributing factor in the comparative lack of success of the Reformation in Ireland. A similar argument could be advanced when it comes to the failure to advance the printing of an Irish-language Bible. A printing font of Irish type was provided in 1571, but it still took another generation before an Irish-language version of The Book of Common Prayer was actually printed, and when the New Testament was published in Irish in 1602, only a limited edition of 500 copies was printed.

Due to the unstable political situation in Ireland in the years that followed Bedell’s death, his translation of the Old Testament into Irish was not published until 1685, when it was published in London, accompanied by an earlier translation of the New Testament completed by William Daniel (died 1628), Church of Ireland Archbishop of Tuam. Archbishop Francis Marsh of Dublin and the Lismore-born physicist and philosopher, Robert Boyle (1626-1691), a son of the Earl of Cork, were instrumental in its publication. This Bible was also used in the Gaelic-speaking parts of Scotland, especially Argyll.

Bedell’s writings show a depth of character that was in advance of his time in many respects.

According to Ian Hazlett, Bedell’s enlightened outreach “belies notions of predictable bullying, comprehensive indifference or airy optimism on behalf of the Established Church or imported ministers.”

William Bedell depicted on a corbel on Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

Bedell’s appearance is described in these words: “He was a tall and graceful person; there was something in his looks and carriage that discovered what was within, and created a veneration for him. He had an unaffected gravity in his deportment, and decent simplicity in his dress and apparel.” There is a contemporary portrait of Bedell in the Library of Emmanuel College, and he is commemorated alongside William Sancroft, the later Nonjuring Archbishop of Canterbury, in a window by Heaton, Butler and Bayne (1884) in the College Chapel. He is also depicted on a corbel on Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.

Bedell bequeathed a 13th century Hebrew Bible manuscript to Emmanuel College Cambridge. As for the rest of his books, his biographer writes of the dispersion of Bedell’s library: “And thus what enemies left friends took away … the Bishop’s books went every way but the right; and certain of his sermons were preached in Dublin, and heard there by some of Bishop Bedell’s near relations, that had formerly heard them from his own mouth.”

Bedell’s family

He left his two surviving sons, William and Ambrose, only small legacies of £80 and £60 a year each.
The eldest son, the Revd William Bedell, who was the bishop’s biographer, was born in Bury in 1613. He was ordained by his father in 1634 and became Vicar of Kinawley (Derrylin, Co Fermanagh) in the Diocese of Kilmore. He married Mary Barber from Essex, and after his father’s death, they left Ireland and returned to England. They first lived Black Notley in Essex, and then in Bury, where they stayed with Dr Despotine. William became was the Rector of Rattlesden in 1645, and remained there until he died in March 1671.

William and Mary Bedell had eight children, of whom the eldest, Leah, was baptised at Whepstead in 1643, and the other seven at Rattlesden: William, John, James, Ambrose, Penelope, Agnes and Isabella. The Revd John Bedell succeeded his father as Rector of Rattlesden, but died the following year, 1672.

The second surviving son, Ambrose Bedell, married in Ireland before the 1641 rebellion broke out. His wife Mary was a daughter of Peter Hill, Sheriff of Co Down. After the Restoration, he had a grant of lands in Co Cavan and Co Antrim. He died there in 1683, and had no surviving children.

It appears there are no longer any living descendants of the bishop.

After Bedell

Saint Feithlimidh’s Cathedral, Kilmore, built as a memorial to Bishop William Bedell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

After Bedell’s death, Robert Maxwell was nominated as Bishop of Kilmore on 17 November 1642 and was consecrated on 24 March 1643. Maxwell became Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh when the two sees were united again in 1661, and died in 1672.

Nicholas Bernard, Dean of Kilmore, became Cromwell’s chaplain, while William Bayly, now describing himself as “DD Oxford,” was suggested as Bishop of Kilmore. However, the letters patent for his appointment were revoked and instead Bayly was consecrated Bishop of Clonfert and Kilmaduagh by Ussher in Oxford on 2 May 1644. Bayly died two decades later on 11 August 1664 and is buried at Clonfert Cathedral, Co Galway.

Two centuries after Bedell’s death, Saint Feithlimidh’s Cathedral in Kilmore, about 6 km outside Cavan, was described in 1858 as “decayed, dilapidated and too small to accommodate the parishioners.” Plans were drawn up to demolish the old cathedral and to build a new one as a memorial to Bishop Bedell. Work began that year, when the foundation stone was laid by Lady Farnham in the presence of Bishop Marcus Gervais Beresford and 50 of the clergy.

The new church, designed by the English architect, William Slater, cost £8,000 and was completed in 1860. The cathedral is built in the Early Decorated or Middle Pointed style. Its plan is cruciform, consisting of nave, aisles, transepts, chancel and a central tower that is finished by a four-sided pyramidal roof. The porch was added to the cathedral in 1869.

The Romanesque doorway in Kilmore Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

A carved Hiberno-Romanesque doorway serves as the vestry door. This doorway originally formed part of the Cathedral at Toneymore, was built after the Diocese of Kilmore was first recognised at the Synod of Kells in 1152. When the Church of Saint Fethlimidh became the cathedral in 1454, Toneymore Cathedral fell into disrepair. The Premonstratensian Order salvaged the doorway and inserted it into the western gable of Holy Trinity Abbey on Trinity Island in Lough Oughter. When the abbey was destroyed in 1570, the doorway was taken to the old cathedral in Kilmore, where it was used as the main entrance. It was moved to its present place when the cathedral was built as the Bedell Memorial Church in 1858.

The Bedell Boyle Lecture, organised annually by the National Bible Society of Ireland, is named in honour of Bishop Bedell Robert Boyle, who was involved in printing and publishing Bedell’s Bible. An original copy of Bedell’s Bible is on display in Kilmore Cathedral, the Bedell Memorial Church, outside Cavan.

Bedell’s grace

Front Square in Trinity College Dublin ... Bedell based the grace he wrote for Commons on the graces used in Cambridge colleges (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The grace at Commons in Trinity College Dublin begins in Latin:

Oculi omnium in te sperant Domine.
Tu das iis escam eorum in tempore opportuno.
Aperis tu manum tuam,
et imples omne animal benedictione tua …


The eyes of all hope in thee, O Lord.
Thou givest them meat in due season.
Thou openest thy hand,
and fillest with blessing every living creature ...


This phrase is from Psalm 145: 14-15, and is used in almost all Cambridge colleges, although there are many variations. The version provided by Bedell for use in TCD is exactly as in the Sixto-Clementine Vulgate, the Latin edition of the Bible published by Pope Clement VIII (1592-1602). These verses, with variations, are used at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and other Cambridge colleges, including Sidney Sussex, Christ’s, Clare, Jesus, King’s, Saint Catharine’s, Saint John’s and Trinity and in Oxford at Brasenose, Keble, Merton and New College. Bedell had been a fellow of Emmanuel College and it is likely that he also heard these lines many times in other Cambridge colleges.

The TCD grace then continues with the “before meat” prayer:

Miserere nostri te quaesumus Domine,
tuisque donis, quae de tua benignitate sumus percepturi, benedicito
per Christum Dominum nostrum.

Have mercy on us, we beseech thee, O Lord,
and bless thy gifts, which from thy kindness we are about to receive,
through Christ our Lord.


Similar words – Benedic, Domine, dona tua quae de largitate sumus sumpturi – are recorded as a blessing as early as the eighth century. This phrase – or variations on it – continues to be used as a pre-prandial grace at many Cambridge and Oxford colleges, and the variation found in TCD is almost word-for-word the same as the ante-cibum prayer used in Trinity College Oxford.

It may simply be a coincidence that the grace in Trinity College Dublin is a combination of the graces of Trinity College Cambridge and Trinity College Oxford. But perhaps it is also an acknowledgement by Bedell that these two colleges in Cambridge and Oxford share a name with his college in Dublin.

When the meal ends, the “after meat” grace, most of which is unique to TCD, begins in Latin:

Tibi laus, tibi honor, tibi gloria,
O beata et gloriosa Trinitas.
Sit nomen Domini benedictum et nunc et in perpetuum …

To thee be praise, to thee be honour, to thee be glory,
O blessed and glorious Trinity.
Blessed be the name of the Lord now and forever…


This is very similar to the start of the grace prayed after meals at Clare College, Cambridge, which was founded over 250 years before TCD. The words after the triple praise of the Holy Trinity, “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” are a quote from the first chapter of the Book of Job.

The grace then continues:

Laudamus te, benignissime Pater,
pro serenissimis,
regina Elizabetha hujus Collegii conditrice,
Jacobo ejusdem munificentissimo auctore,
Carolo conservatore,
caeterisque benefactoribus nostris …

We praise thee, most gracious Father,
for the most serene ones,
Queen Elizabeth the founder of this college,
James its most munificent builder,
Charles its preserver,
and our other benefactors.


Queen Elizabeth I founded Trinity College Dublin in 1592; her successor, James I, gave generous grants of land to the college in the 1610s; his son Charles I was king at the time Bedell composed the graces; all three issued charters to the new Trinity College.

The grace then finishes:

rogantes te, ut his tuis donis recte et ad tuam gloriam utentes in hoc saeculo,
te una cum fidelibus in futuro feliciter perfruamur,
per Christum Dominum nostrum.

Asking thee,
as we make use of these thy gifts rightly and for thy glory at this time,
that we might exalt in thee together with the faithful happily in the future,
through Christ our Lord.


Having acknowledged the divine source of all wisdom, all present remain standing as the fellows leave. The undergraduates stay standing as the scholars then leave.

Select Bibliography:

Sarah Bendall, Christopher Brooke, Patrick Collinson, A History of Emmanuel College, Cambridge (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press, 1999).
Karl S. Bottigheimer and Vivienne Larminie, ‘Bedell, William,’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol 4, pp 765-768 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
(Bishop) Gilbert Burnet, Bedell, William, Bishop of Kilmore, Life (Dublin, 1685 and 1736).
Aidan Clarke, ‘Bedell, William,’ Dictionary of Irish Biography, vol 1, pp 411-412 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, for the Royal irish Academy, 2009).
DWT Crooks (ed), Clergy of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation for the Diocesan Council of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh, 2008).
Alan Ford The Protestant Reformation in Ireland, 1590-1641 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1997).
A Ford, J McGuire and K Milne (eds), As by Law Established (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1995).
Peter Galloway, The Cathedrals of Ireland (Belfast: The Institute of Irish Studies, 1992).
W. Gamble, William Bedell, his life and times (n.d., privately printed for the author ca 1953 by Turners’ Printers, Longford).
Ian Hazlett, The Reformation in Britain and Ireland (London: T&T Clark, 2003).
Thomas Wharton Jones (ed), A true relation of the life and death of the Right Reverend father in God William Bedell, Lord Bishop of Kilmore in Ireland by Bishop Gilbert Burnet (London: Camden Society, 1872).
R Buick Knox, James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1967).
JV Luce, Trinity College Dublin, The First 400 Years (Dublin, 1992).
Terence McCaughey, Dr Bedell and Mr King: the making of the Irish Bible (Dublin: Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, School of Celtic Studies, 2001).
HJ Monck Mason, The Life of William Bedell, DD, Lord Bishop of Kilmore (London: RB Seeley and W Burnside, 1843).
Brian Mayne (ed), The Prayer Books of the Church of Ireland, 1551-2004 (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2004).
James Bass Mullinger, ‘Bedell, William,’ Dictionary of National Biography, vol 4 (1885), pp 105-108.
Hugh Trevor-Roper, Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans (London: Fontana, 1989).
E Gordon Rupp, William Bedell, 1571-1642, A commemorative lecture given in the Old Library, Emmanuel College, on 1 December 1971 (Cambridge, 1972).
Evelyn Shirley Shuckburgh (ed), Two biographies of William Bedell, Bishop of Kilmore (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902).
J Venn and JA Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922-1953), part 1, vol 1, 1922, p. 115.
Alfred Webb, ‘Bedell, William,’ in A Compendium of Irish Biography (Dublin: MH Gill & Son).

Updated 17 October 2013, with photographs taken in Kilmore by Patrick Comerford on 13 October 2013.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

15: William Forbes (1585-1634), Scottish Caroline Divine and first Bishop of Edinburgh

William Forbes (1585-1634) became the first Bishop of Edinburgh but died a few months after his consecration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

William Forbes (1585-1634) was the first Bishop of Edinburgh and most of his short life was spent in Scotland. He remains one of the least well-known of the Caroline Divines, probably because he was Scottish and because little of his writing has survived.

The Forbes family includes three bishops in the 17th century: Patrick Forbes (1564-1635), Bishop of Aberdeen; Patrick Forbes (ca 1611-1680), Bishop of Caithness; and William Forbes, first Bishop of Edinburgh.

William Forbes was born in Aberdeen in 1585, the son of Thomas Forbes, a burgess of Aberdeen who was descended from the Corsindac branch of the Forbes family, and his wife, Janet, the sister of Dr James Cargill.

He was educated in the Classics and philosophy at Aberdeen Grammar School, before being admitted to the Marishcal College at the University of Aberdeen), where he was admitted AM (Master of Arts) at 16 in 1601. Immediately he was appointed Professor of Logic applied himself to supporting Aristotle’s logic against the Ramists.

He resigned his chair in Aberdeen in 1606 to pursue his studies on continental Europe, the 17th century academic’s equivalent of the Grand Tour. He travelled through Poland, Germany, and Holland, studying at several universities, including Helmstedt, Heidelberg and Leiden, working assiduously in the libraries, meeting Joseph Justus Scaliger (1540-1609), Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) and Gerhard Vossius (1577-1649), and pursuing further studies in theology, philosophy, Hebrew, and Patristics.

Ill-health prevented him from travelling on to France and Italy, and he returned to England, where the University of Oxford offered him the position of Professor of Hebrew. However, he pleaded ill-health, declined the post, and on medical advice he returned to Scotland.

When he recovered his health, he was ordained – probably by Bishop Peter Blackburn of Aberdeen – and he became minister successively of two rural Aberdeenshire parishes, Alford and Monymusk.

But the people of Aberdeen invited him to return to the city of his birth, and in November 1616, on the nomination of the general assembly, he was appointed one of the ministers of Aberdeen.

At the Perth assembly in 1618, Forbes was selected to defend the lawfulness of the proposed article on kneeling at the Holy Communion. The Five Articles of Perth was an attempt by King James to integrate the practices of the Church of Scotland with those of the Church of England. The articles provided for

● kneeling during communion
● private baptism
● private communion for the sick or infirm
● confirmation by a bishop
● the observance of Holy Days, which “enjoined the ministers to celebrate the festivals of Christmas and Easter.”

The articles were accepted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland at Perth in 1618, although they were not ratified by the Scottish Parliament until 1621.

In a formal dispute that year with Andrew Aidie, Principal of Marischal College since 1615, Forbes maintained the lawfulness of prayers for the dead. Those ideas would not have been tolerated in other parts of Scotland, but were received with favour in Aberdeen.

Forbes was was admitted DD (Doctor of Divinity) when King James restored academic degrees and dignities to the clergy of Scotland, and when Aidie was forced to resign in 1620, Aberdeen’s city council, as patrons of Marischal College, appointed Forbes as the Principal, specifying that he should continue his preaching. He was both Dean of the Faculty of Divinity at Aberdeen, and Rector of Marischal College.

From Aberdeen, Forbes moved to Edinburgh as one of the ministers at the end of 1621, but there he faced opposition to his views on episcopacy. His zeal for the observance of the Perth Articles faced strong opposition in Edinburgh, as did his argument that it was possible to reconcile that the doctrines of Catholics and Reformers could be easily reconciled in many points.

Forbes felt his ministry at Edinburgh was a failure, and he returned to Aberdeen, where in 1626 he resumed his former post.

Saint Giles’ Church, the original parish church of Edinburgh where John Knox launched the Scottish Reformation, became the cathedral of the new Diocese of Edinburgh in 1634 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Some years after he was sent for by Charles I, when he was being crowned in Edinburgh in 1633. Forbes preached before the king at Holyrood with such eloquence and learning that the king declared the preacher was worthy of having a bishopric created for him. Charles I had founded a new Diocese of Edinburgh out of the Archdiocese of St Andrews.

Thew new diocese was formed from those parts of the Archdiocese of Saint Andrews lying south of the Firth and was endowed with the properties, both spiritual and temporal, of the Abbey of Holyrood and of the New Abbey in Dumfrieshire

Charles I nominated Forbes to fill the new see, and he was consecrated bishop in February 1634 with the usual ceremonies. Forbes applied himself with diligence to the tasks of his new office. Edinburgh became a cathedral city, with John Knox’s former church, Saint Giles’ Church, as the cathedral of the new diocese. At the same time, Forbes’s friend Thomas Sydserf (1581-1663), a former Minister of Saint Giles’ Church, was appointed Dean of Edinburgh on 19 February 1634.

At the beginning of March 1634, Forbes sent an injunction to his clergy to celebrate the Eucharist on Easter Day, to receive it themselves on their knees, and to minister it with their own hands to every one of the communicants. When Easter came he was very ill, but he was able to celebrate the Eucharist in Saint Giles’ Cathedral. On returning home, he took to bed, and died on the following Saturday, 12 April 1634. He was only 49 and had been a bishop for a mere two months.

He was buried in his cathedral. His monument was destroyed later, but a copy of the inscription is in William Maitland’s History of Edinburgh.

King Charles I in a memorial in Saint Mary’s Cathedral ... he first formed the Diocese of Edinburgh in 1633 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Forbes was married and had a family. One of his sons, Arthur Forbes, is said to have become Professor of Humanities at St Jean d’Angel, near La Rochelle. Another son, Thomas Forbes, entered the Scots College, a seminary in Rome, and eventually joined the staff of Cardinal Carlo Barberini.

After the death of Bishop Forbes, his friend Thomas Sydserf was made a bishop on the recommendation of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. He was consecrated Bishop of Brechin on 29 July 1634, and a year later, on 30 August 1635, he became Bishop of Galloway.

When the episcopacy was abolished yet again in 1637, Saint Giles’ lost its status as a cathedral. It was restored as a cathedral again when episcopacy was reintroduced in 1661. When the Church of Scotland reverted to Presbyterianism in 1688, Saint Giles’ became the “High Kirk” once again. The last bishop at Saint Giles’, Bishop Alexander Rose of Edinburgh, left the cathedral in 1689 accompanied by much of his congregation, finding a new place of worship in an old wool store in Carrubber’s Close, close to the present site of Old Saint Paul’s Church.

Later Bishops of Edinburgh included Daniel Sandford (1806-1830), who was born in Dublin in 1766, and John Dowden (1886-1910), who was born in Cork in 1840.

Forbes’s publications

Although Forbes was learned and able, he had published nothing before his death and had written very little. He once said: “Lege plura, et scribe pauciora, Read more, and write less.” A treatise he wrote seeking to reconcile controversies was printed in London in 1658 with the cumbersome title Considerationes Modestae et Pacificae Controversiarum de Justificatione, Purgatorio, Invocatione Sanctorum, Christo Mediatore, et Eucharistia (Temperate and peace-making reflections on the controversies regarding justification, purgatory, the invocation of saints, Christ the Mediator, and the Eucharist).

Forbes entrusted the manuscript to his friend Thomas Sydserf, asking him to “macke any use of it that he pleased.” The Civil Wars meant that Sydserf did not have it printed until 1658, more than 20 years after Forbes’s death. It was published from his manuscripts by “TG,” his friend Thomas Sydserf, Bishop of Galloway.

“This posthumous work,” says Sydserf, “is a signal specimen and proof of a pacific temper, and a moderate mind: wherein, like a second Cassander and catholic moderator, he endeavours to compose, or at least to mitigate, the rigid and austere opinions, in certain points of religious controversy, both of the reformed and of the popish party. How greatly he regarded moderation, appears from that usual saying of his, that, if there had been more Cassanders and Wiceliuses, there would have been no occasion for a Luther, or a Calvin.”

Other editions were published in Helmstadt (1704) and Frankfort-on-the-Main (1707).

Forbes also wrote Animadversions on the works of Bellarmine, which was used by his friend and colleague at Marischal College, Robert Baron, but the manuscripts seem to have perished soon after.

A summary of his sermon before Charles I is given in an edition (1702-1703) of the works of Dr John Forbes.

Forbes as theologian

Forbes House, the offices of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Theological Institute, is in Grosvenor Crescent, a short walk from Saint Mary’s Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

At the end his short Life of William Forbes, Thomas Sydserf predicts that no passage of time will erase or obliterate the memory of Forbes. Among contemporary theologians, AM Allchin has commented on the importance of Forbes’s “pioneering work,” which he hopes will be recognised more widely. Dr Kenneth Stevenson describes the Considerationes as “one of the most unusual works of the seventeenth century,” and one that has “far more ecumenical potential … than has so far been appreciated.”

Forbes’s Considerationes received little attention and went through only a few editions in the 17th and 18th centuries, suggesting little interest in the book. However, between 1850-1856, through the impulse of the Oxford Movement, the Scottish Episcopalian priest and patristic scholar, the Revd George Hay Forbes (1821-1875), produced a new two-volume edition, with the Latin text and an English translation side-by-side.

The Considerationes is virtually the sole source for Forbes’s ideas. It shows his immense learning, his fluency in three sacred languages, Latin, Greek and Hebrew; and his prodigious knowledge of Scripture, the Fathers, the mediaeval schoolmen and contemporary theologians, both Roman Catholic and Protestant.

William Forbes … The origins of the ‘Considerationes’ may be traced to his lectures in theology students at Marischal College, although the bulk of the work belongs to later years

The origins of the Considerationes may be traced to his lectures in theology students at Marischal College, although the bulk of the work belongs to later years.

At the beginning of the book, Forbes launches straight into a debate about the doctrine of Justification, devoting more space to this than to any other subject. William Forbes’s writing on Justification is perhaps the most important contribution from the Caroline Divines to the discussion of the subject.

While Forbes is at pains to reassure Roman Catholics that Protestants have not simply discarded good works in their thinking about Justification, he is equally anxious to reassure Protestants that Roman Catholics place a high value on faith and are therefore misrepresented as believing in ‘”works righteousness.”

He quotes from the Council of Trent, which pronounces: “We are said to be justified gratis, because none of the things which precede justification, neither faith nor works, merit the grace of justification.” He also quotes Francis White (?1564-1638), Bishop of Norwich, who remarked regarding assurance of justification that the differences “between some learned Papists” and Protestants “is very small (if it be any at all).”

With regard to Purgatory, prayers for the dead, the invocation of angels and saints and the Eucharist, Forbes does his utmost to convince Protestants who have rejected Roman Catholic doctrine on these matters that these doctrines do not deserve to be regarded with such abhorrence as they often are. He tries to show how they may be made more acceptable to Protestants.

He makes two proposals that he believes would reduce the extent of disagreement. Firstly, he calls for only the fundamentals of the Christian faith to be required to be believed de fide. Outside this central core, a variety of opinion should be allowed on a range of matters of lesser importance, known as adiaphora, or “things indifferent.” Secondly, he urges that the authorities recognised as definitive by all Christians should be: Scripture, the teachings of the early Fathers, the pronouncements of the General Councils, and the practices of the Church in the first five centuries of its existence.

In this, Forbes echoes his contemporary, the Caroline Divine Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626), who summarises the Anglican understanding of doctrinal authority in similar words: “One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of fathers in that period – the three centuries, that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”

He believes that much of the acrimony could be taken out of the argument about Purgatory if Rome ceased to require the doctrine to be believed de fide and consigned it to the category of adiaphora. Forbes also suggests that an, “intermediate state” after death, something which he himself thought was “by no means devoid of a considerable degree of probability,” would be acceptable to many Protestants if it could be divorced from ideas about a punitive Purgatory.

Forbes was convinced that the idea of a punitive Purgatory was without warrant either in Scripture or the teachings of the early Fathers. However, some different ideas about an intermediate state can be found in the Fathers, including one he quotes who wrote of the “sweet consolation” enjoyed by God’s departed servants.

Forbes seeks to detach the practice of prayers for the dead from the idea of a punitive Purgatory, pointing out that the notion that such prayers deliver souls from the torments of Purgatory did not appear until the 5th century.

He quotes the Roman Catholic lay theologian Georg Cassander (1513-1566) who says such prayers are “acceptable to God and useful to the Church as a testimony of love towards the departed and as a profession of faith in the immortality of the soul …”

When it comes to the intercession and invocation of angels and saints, Forbes argues that such prayers are not propitiatory, that they do not take away from Christ’s role as our sole Mediator, nor do they involve offering worship to angels or saints. He also reminds Protestants that, as with prayers for the dead, these practices have not been pronounced de fide by Rome.

He cites a number of Protestants who are not wholly opposed to the practice, as long as no worship is offered to the saints. He hopes that abuses are removed this ancient custom of the Church in both East and West need not be abandoned.

His final discussion is on the “very serious” controversy about the Eucharist. All Protestants were at odds with Rome over the doctrine of transubstantiation, which was pronounced de fide in 1215). But they were also at odds with one another about the nature of the Sacrament.

Forbes’s thinking resembles t that of the English Caroline Divines, particularly Lancelot Andrewes, who was praised by Forbes for his great learning and as “a man worthy of all credit.”

He makes the same distinction as Andrewes between the reality of Christ’s presence in the Sacrament and the manner of it. For both theologians, the doctrine of transubstantiation concerns only the manner of the presence and so belongs to the category of adiaphora. Forbes, like Andrewes, insists that it is possible to believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist without being committed to transubstantiation.

He is anxious to convince Roman Catholics that many Protestants have not abandoned belief in the real presence, but only differ from them on the question of how it is brought about. Similarly, he wishes Protestants to understand that the rejection of transubstantiation does not necessarily entail the rejection of belief that Christ is truly present in the Sacrament.

Forbes points to the lack of scriptural warrant for transubstantiation and says the doctrine was unknown to the early Church, whose understanding of the matter was expressed by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who says Christ’s flesh “is exhibited to us, but spiritually, not carnally.”

However, Forbes does not mean that the Body of Christ is received “by bare faith.” He quotes from Calvin, who says: “The bread is not a bare and simple figure, but one joined to that which is its reality and substance … Deservedly is the bread called the Body, since it not only represents it to us, but also offers it …”

Forbes explains that the reason for the stress on the spiritual nature of the presence is partly a reaction against some accounts of Christ’s presence in the Sacrament that he believes have been far too gross and material.

Forbes pleads with persuade Roman Catholics not to condemn as heretical those who believe that after the consecration the substance of bread and wine remains along with the Body and Blood of Christ. He quotes the Franciscan theologian Peter of Alliaco (1350-1429), a professor at the Sorbonne, Archbishop of Cambrai and a cardinal, who said: “It is not contrary either to reason or to the authority of holy scripture . . . to believe this.”

Forbes also draws on Cuthbert Tunstal (1474-1559), Bishop of Durham, who points out that before 1215, it was left for Christians freely to decide on how they thought the presence was brought about, as long as they “owned the truth of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist, which was the very faith of the Church from the beginning.”

Having called on Roman Catholics not to accuse Protestants of being heretics because of their Eucharistic beliefs, he calls on Protestants not to accuse Roman Catholics and Lutherans of being “heretical, impious and blasphemous” on account of their Eucharistic beliefs. Pointing out that transubstantiation is believed by Roman Catholics and many Greek Orthodox, Forbes warns that “it would be an act of great rashness and temerity to condemn as guilty of heresy or deadly error all these followers of Christian religion.”

When it comes to the question of the reservation of the Sacrament, Forbes wants to return to the ancient practice of the Church when reservation was for the purpose of taking the Sacrament to the sick, not for the purpose of being carried about in processions.

In Scotland, many regarded even the simple act of kneeling to receive Holy Communion as idolatrous because it was taken to imply adoration. He argues that here adoration is not being offered to the bread and wine but to Christ present in the Sacrament.

Forbes is at pains to correct the mistaken idea that to describe the Eucharist in terms of sacrifice is to imply belief in a repetition of the one sacrifice of Calvary. It is no such thing, but rather a representation of Christ’s one sacrifice, as Roman Catholic theologians as eminent as Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas have taught he says. Nor is there any suggestion that the Mass can procure forgiveness of sins, only Calvary can do that, but the Mass is a way of appropriating the propitiation made once for all on the Cross. Understood in this way, and linked to Christ’s perpetual intercession in heaven, there is no need to deny that the Eucharist is propitiatory and profitable both for the living and the dead.

Forbes also has a deep interest in the Greek Orthodox Church. He makes a number of references to its beliefs, especially in regard to the Eucharist. His stress on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic action owes much to his knowledge and appreciation of the beliefs and liturgies of the Orthodox Church, which he respects as an important strand in Christian thinking. He deplores the schism between East and West as much as he deplores the schisms among the Christians of the West.

Forbes’s Considerationes, while firm in its criticisms of both Roman Catholics and Protestants, never descends to sectarian language. For example, he never refers to the pope as Antichrist, and he invariably calls for moderation and courtesy in theological debates.

Select bibliography:

JHS Burleigh, A Church History of Scotland (London: Oxford University Press 1960).
James Cooper, ‘Forbes, William (1585–1634),’ Dictionary of National Biography (vol 19, 1889).
GH Forbes (ed), The Works of William Forbes (Oxford: Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology, 1850-1856).
Frederick Goldie, A short history of the Episcopal Church in Scotland (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, rev ed, 1976). DG Mullan, ‘Forbes, William (1585–1634),’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
Thomas Sydserf, Life of William Forbes (1650).

Thursday, October 11, 2012

14: William Laud (1573-1645), Martyr among the Caroline Divines

Archbishop William Laud, after Sir Anthony Van Dyck, ca 1636

Patrick Comerford

William Laud (1573-1645) was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 to 1645. One of the Caroline Divines, he opposed radical forms of Puritanism. He was successively Archdeacon of Huntingdon (1615), Dean of Gloucester (1616), Bishop of St Davids (1621), Bishop of Bath and Wells (1626), Bishop of London (1628) and Archbishop of Canterbury (1633), and was also Chancellor of the University of Oxford and the University of Dublin.

Laud was one of the senior advisers to King Charles I, and paid for this loyalty with his life when he was executed on Tower Hill at the height of the English Civil War. Trevor-Roper describes him as the heir of Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes, and many see him as the first martyr among the Caroline Divines.

William Laud was born on 7 October 1573 in a house on Broad Street, Reading, Berkshire. His father, also William Laud, was a wealthy prosperous cloth merchant; his mother Lucy (née Webb), was a sister of Sir William Webb, who became Lord Mayor of London in 1591. However, Laud remained sensitive about his humble origins throughout his career.

He was baptised at Saint Laurence’s Church, Reading, and was educated at Reading Free School (Reading Grammar School). On 17 October 1589, at the age of 16, he matriculated at Saint John’s College, Oxford.

Saint John’s College Oxford … William Laud was an undergraduate here, and later President (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint John’s was a Catholic foundation of the reign of Mary Tudor and had stood out against the dominant Puritanism in Oxford. It was founded in 1555 by Sir Thomas White, a Reading-born former Lord Mayor of London, to provide educated Roman Catholic priests to support the Counter-Reformation, and it is now said to be the wealthiest college in Oxford. At Saint John’s, Laud’s was John Buckeridge, one of a group of theologians who led a reaction against Calvinism and who influenced Laud’s later policies for the reform of church liturgy.

Laud gained a scholarship in Saint John’s in 1590, and was elected to a fellowship in 1593. He graduated BA on 1 July 1594, and later proceeded MA (26 June 1598), BD (6 July 1604) and DD (1 June 1608).

Laud was ordained on 5 April 1601, and in 1603, he became chaplain to Charles Blount, Earl of Devonshire. But he was soon associated with the small clerical group, followers of the patristic scholar Lancelot Andrewes, who, in opposition to Puritanism, stressed the continuity of the visible church and the necessity, for true inward worship, of outward uniformity, order, and ceremony.

He also took an early an early against the Calvinistic party in the Church of England. In 1604 was reproved for his affirmation of apostolic succession for maintaining in his BD thesis “that there could be no true church without bishops,” and again for advocating “popish” opinions in a sermon he preached in Saint Mary’s University Church, Oxford on 21 October 1606.

In 1605, somewhat against his will, he obliged his patron, Lord Devonshire, by conducting his marriage to his mistress, a divorcée, Penelope, Lady Rich. He became Vicar of Stanford, Northamptonshire in 1607, Rector of North Kilworth, Leicestershire (1608), and Rector of West Tilbury, Essex (1609). In 1608 he became chaplain to Richard Neile, Bishop of Rochester and later Bishop of Lichfield, who introduced Laud to the court of King James I. Neile also appointed Laud in 1610 as Rector of Cuxton, Kent, when he resigned his fellowship at Saint John’s College, Oxford. He exchanged Cuxton later in 1610 to become Rector of Norton.

He was appointed king’s chaplain in 1611, and – despite the opposition of the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot and the Lord Chancellor, Ellesmere – he became president of St John’s College, Oxford, that year. His tutor and friend, John Buckeridge, had been President of Saint John’s until becoming Bishop of Rochester in 1611, and nominated Laud as his successor. It was a stormy election as by now Laud had a reputation as a trouble-shooter, and he remained president of his college for the next ten years.

A plaque on the walls of Saint Mary’s Church in the Market Square, Lichfield, recalling Edward Wightman who was burned at the stake in 1612 … he was interrogated by William Laud, one of the eight clerics who preached in Lichfield Cathedral at the end of his trial (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Edward Wightman, the last person burned at the stake for heresy in England, was executed in the Market Place, Lichfield, on 11 April 1612. He had spent several months in prison and interrogated at intervals by William Laud, the Bishop of Lichfield, Richard Neile, and others. Laud, who was then Neile’s chaplain, was one of the eight clerics who preached in Lichfield Cathedral against Wightman on the final day of his trial.

Meanwhile, in quick succession, Laud was appointed the Prebendary of Buckden in Lincoln Cathedral (1614) Archdeacon of Huntingdon (1615), Dean of Gloucester (1616), and a canon of Westminster Abbey (1621-1628). As Dean of Gloucester, he repaired the fabric of the cathedral, and aroused great religious controversy when he moved the communion table from the centre of the choir to the east end. This was a characteristic tactless exercise of power that offended the bishop, Miles Smith, who refused to enter the cathedral from then on.

In 1617, he accompanied King James I on a visit to Scotland, and aroused hostility by wearing the surplice. Laud returned to England that autumn and, on his way home, was inducted into the Rectory of Ibstock in of Leicestershire, a living in the patronage of his friend and former tutor, Bishop Buckeridge, who let him have it in exchange for Norton. However, after the visit to Scotland King James I distrusted him, predicting that he would in time cause great trouble in the Church, and held him back for several years, despite the urgings of the future Charles I, who admired Laud.

As Bishop of Durham, Richard Neile moved the Communion Table at Durham Cathedral into an altar-wise position, and around 1620 replaced the wodden table with a stone altar. By then, Laud was part of the so-called Durham House Group that formed around Neile and that included John uckeridge of Rochester, John Howson, Bishop of Oxford, and Richard Montagu, later Bishop of Chichester.

In April and May 1622, on the king’s orders, Laud took part in a controversy with Percy, a Jesuit, known as John Fisher. In a way, this was a re-run of the published debate between Lancelot Andrewes and Cardinal Bellarmine. The aim was to prevent the conversion to Roman Catholicism of the Countess of Buckingham, the mother of the king’s favourite, the Duke of Buckingham. Laud’s opinions in this debate show considerable breadth and comprehension. While he refused to acknowledge the Roman Catholic Church as the true church, he allowed it to be a true church and a branch of the Catholic body, at the same time emphasising the perils of knowingly associating with error.

With regard to the Church of England, Laud denied that it was necessary to accept all 39 of the Articles of Religion. The argued that the foundation of belief was the Bible, not any one branch of the Catholic Church arrogating infallibility to itself, and when dispute on matters of faith arose, “a lawful and free council, determining according to Scripture, is the best judge on earth.”

As a consequence of the debate, a close friendship developed between Laud and the Duke of Buckingham, and this friendship was the chief instrument of Laud’s subsequent advancement. In 1621, he was consecrated Bishop of St Davids and resigned as President of Saint John’s College. While he was Bishop of St Davids, he also became Chancellor in the Collegiate Church of Abergwilly (afterwards Brecon) in St Davids (1622) and Rector of Crick, Northamptonshire, in the Diocese of Peterborough (1623).

With the death of James I in 1625, and the accession of Charles I, Laud’s ambitions were given free rein. He immediately prepared for the king a list of the clergy in which each name was labelled “O” or “P” distinguishing the Orthodox to be promoted from the Puritans to be suppressed. Laud defended Richard Montague, who had aroused the wrath of the parliament by his pamphlet against Calvinism. His influence soon extended into the domain of the state.

He supported the king’s prerogative throughout the conflict with the parliament, preached in favour of it before Charles I’s second parliament in 1626, and assisted in Buckingham’s defence. In 1626, Laud was translated to Bath and Wells and in that same year he received the degree DD at the University of Cambridge, by incorporation from Oxford.

With Charles I on the throne, Laud’s political power grew. He officiated at the coronation of King Charles coronation in place of Bishop Williams, the Dean of Westminster Abbey, who had fallen from favour, and preached sermons at the opening of the parliaments of 1625 and 1626. Laud regularly preached that King Charles rule by Divine Right, a view shared by the king.

When Lancelot Andrewes died in September 1626, Laud succeeded him as the Dean of the Chapel Royal, and he was made a member of the Privy Council in April 1627.

In July 1628, Laud became Bishop of London. The assassination of the Duke of Buckingham a month later on 23 August 1628 further extended the influence of Laud, who stated that those who failed to support the king were simply bad Christians. As Bishop of London, Laud now effectively ran the Church of England owing to the sequestration of the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot, who had been injured in a shooting incident while hunting.

In London, he pursued a policy to silence Calvinist preaching at Saint Paul’s Cross, beside Saint Paul’s Cathedral.
The Divinity Schools, Oxford … as Chancellor of Oxford University, Laud insisted on examinations as a requirement for degrees (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

He became the Chancellor of the University of Oxford on 12 April 1629 and held that office until 1641. As chancellor, he was more closely involved in the affairs of the university than many of his predecessors. Perhaps Laud’s most significant contribution to Oxford was the creation of a new set of statutes for the university, a task completed in 1636, and as Chancellor he initiated a cycle for the election of proctors.

His reforms at Oxford included the statute by which public examinations became obligatory for university degrees, the ordinance for the election of proctors, the revival of the college system and academic dress.

He founded or endowed the office of public orator and the Chair of Hebrew and was instrumental in establishing the Laudian Chair of Arabic at Oxford

The Bodleian Library, Oxford … Laud obtained over 1,300 manuscripts for the Bodleian Library, adding a new wing to the building to hold his donations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

His time at Oxford was marked by a great increase in the number of students, and he encouraged English and foreign scholars, such as Voss, Selden and Jeremy Taylor.

He founded the university printing press, procuring in 1633 the royal patent for Oxford, and at some personal expense he acquired two Arabic script printing sets from the Netherlands, first publishing in Oxford in 1639.

He obtained over 1,300 manuscripts for the Bodleian Library, adding a new wing to the building to hold his donations. He took a particular interest in acquiring Arabic manuscripts for the Bodleian Library.

The Canterbury Quadrangle, one of the seven quads in Saint John’s College, Oxford (Photograph: Nigel Cox/Wikipedia)

In his own college, Laud erected new buildings, and is regarded as the second founder of Saint John’s, alongside Sir Thomas White. The Canterbury Quadrangle, one of the seven quads in Saint John’s College, was commissioned by Laud, designed by Adam Browne and built between 1631 and 1636. It is the first example of Italian Renaissance architecture in Oxford. Much of the college library is here, including the Old Library on the south side, and the Laudian Library (1631-1635) above the eastern colonnade, overlooking the garden.

Laud also showed his liberality and his zeal for reform as an active visitor of Eton and Winchester, and he endowed the grammar school at Reading where he was educated. In London he procured funds for the restoration of the dilapidated Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

Meanwhile, in 1629, Charles introduced the “Instructions” forbidding preaching “without cure of souls,” so-called lecturers, and enforcing the use of The Book of Common Prayer and the surplice. Puritans violently interrupted services at which the surplice was worn. In Oxford, a group of Puritans broke into a church the night before a service and stole the surplices, which they thrust into the dung-pit of a privy. In Lichfield, a woman marched into the cathedral, accompanied by the town clerk and his wife, and ruined the altar hangings with a bucket of pitch.

Laud was also able to put his own nominees in positions of authority within the church in the late 1620s and early 1630s. As a judge, he showed a tyrannical spirit both in the Star Chamber and the High-Commission court, threatening Felton, the assassin of Buckingham, with the rack, and showing special activity in procuring a cruel sentence in the Star Chamber in June 1630 imposed on Alexander Leighton (1587-1644), who was whipped, branded, and had his ears and nose severed, and imposing a severe fine on Henry Sherfield (1572-1634) in 1633.

When George Abbott died in 1633, Laud succeeded him as Archbishop of Canterbury. In that office, he was prominent in government on the side of the King and Lord Wentworth, and it is believed that he wrote the controversial Declaration of Sports issued by King Charles in 1633, allowing sports and other games to be played on Sundays.

Trinity College Dublin … Archbishop Laud was Chancellor of the University of Dublin from 1633 until his death in 1645 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the same year as he became Archbishop of Canterbury, Laud also became the fifth Chancellor of the University of Dublin, and continued to hold that office until his execution in 1645.

The Archbishop of Armagh, James Ussher (1581-1656), deliberately obstructed plans by Laud and Strafford to replace the 1615 Articles of the Church of Ireland with the 39 Articles of the Church of England, recently republished in support of Laud’s policies. In 1635, Bishop John Bramhall of Derry, later Archbishop of Armagh, blocked Ussher’s attempts to confirm the Irish canons.

Laud respected Ussher’s learning and character, but found him uncooperative and negligent, and Ussher’s refusal to remove the ostentatious Boyle monument from the east end of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral was just one of many points of conflict.

The most direct confrontation between Laud and Ussher was at Trinity College, Dublin, were Laud was Chancellor and Ussher was Vice-Chancellor. In their disputes, Laud relied on the saintly William Bedell, Provost of Trinity College. Ussher berated Bedell for learning the Irish language and preaching to the Irish people in their own language.

When Laud secured Bedell’s appointment as Bishop of Kilmore in 1629, he out-manoeuvred in having Bedell replaced in Trinity by William Chappell, Dean of Cashel, later rewarded by Laud by being made Bishop of Cork.

Finally, Laud persuaded Charles I to offer Ussher lodgings in the deanery at Westminster Abbey in 1640. He never returned to Ireland and spent the next 15 years in England, and died on 21 March 1656.

The Backs at King’s College, Cambridge … in 1636, the Privy Council ruled in favour of Laud’s claims as visitor at both Cambridge and Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1636, the Privy Council decided in his favour his claim of jurisdiction as visitor over both the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford. Soon after, he was placed on the Commission of the Treasury and on the committee of the Privy Council for foreign affairs.

That year, Laud was greatly delighted with the appointment of William Juxon, Bishop of London, as Lord Treasurer in 1636, declaring: “No churchman had it since Henry VIII’s time ... and now if the Church will not hold up themselves under God, I can do no more.”

By now, Laud was all-powerful in both church and state. The 11 years of personal rule by Charles I and the suspension of Parliament gave Laud the opportunity to reshape the Church of England in the way he wanted. He brought an end to reforms within the Church of England that he believed had already gone too far by the early 1630s. This approach angered the Puritans who believed Laud was too Catholic in his approach.

He proceeded to impose by authority the religious ceremonies and usages to which he attached so much importance. His vicar-general, Sir Nathaniel Brent, went through the dioceses of the Province of Canterbury, noting every dilapidation and irregularity. The pulpit was no longer to be the chief feature in the church, but the communion table, and rails should be put before the altar, “so thick with pillars that dogs may not get in.” However, rails also implied that Holy Communion should be received kneeling, and this too provoked Puritan reaction.

Although at first Laud opposed to the sitting of convocation, after the dissolution of parliament he used convocation to pass new canons that enforced his ecclesiastical system. With the “etcetera oath,” many were forced to swear perpetual allegiance to the “government of this church by archbishops, bishops, deans and archdeacons, &c.”

In 1632, he severely reprimanded the Chief Justice, Sir Thomas Richardson, for his interference with the Somerset wakes, and so humiliated Richardson in public that the judge left the room in tears.

The pun “give great praise to the Lord, and little Laud to the devil” is a warning to King Charles attributed to the court jester, Archibald Armstrong. Laud was known to be touchy about his diminutive stature. He was almost 60 when he became archbishop, and having waited with increasing impatience for a decade to replace Abbot, was no longer prepared to compromise on any aspect of his policy.

Laud’s main priority was “decent order” and unity within the Church. He dismissed Puritanism as a “wolf held by the ears” and he believed that the very existence of Puritans threatened the stability of the Church. Whereas Strafford saw the political dangers of Puritanism, Laud saw the threat to the episcopacy.

His instruction to replace wooden communion tables with stone altars infuriated Puritans who saw this as being a blatant move towards Catholicism. He sought to have stained glass windows restored in churches and wanted the altar moved from the centre of a church to the east end.

Lambeth Palace … as Archbishop of Canterbury, Laud made many alterations to the Chapel, installing the black-and-white marble chequered flooring and new decorative windows (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On his arrival at Lambeth Palace, Laud made many alterations to the Chapel, including the installation of black and white marble chequered flooring and the decoratively carved screen. He found the chapel windows inadequate, describing them as “all shameful to look on, all diversely patched like a poor beggar’s coat.” However, the decorative design of his new windows was not popular with Puritans who later smashed every pane.

He sought the financial independence of the clergy, so that a priest was not dependent on the support he received from the local squire. He proposed restoring to the Church some of the Church lands seized by Henry VIII and given or sold to various nobles and members of the gentry. The proposal never reached the stage of discussion about details, so it was not clear how compensation would be handled, but the proposal was enough to make landholders throughout England feel threatened.

He insisted on the use of The Book of Common Prayer among English soldiers in Holland, and forced strict conformity on the church of the merchant adventurers in Delft, He tried even to reach the colonists in New England.

William Laud’s coat-of-arms as Archbishop of Canterbury

Laud also tried to compel the Dutch and French refugees in England to unite with the Church of England, advising double taxation and other forms of persecution. In 1634, a year after Laud’s appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury, the justices of the peace were ordered to enter houses to search for people holding conventicles and to bring them before the commissioners. He took pleasure in displaying his power over the great, and in punishing them in the spiritual courts for moral offences.

In 1634, the ship Griffin left for America, carrying religious dissidents such as Anne Hutchinson, the Revd John Lothropp and the Revd Zechariah Symmes.

Three Puritans, John Bastwick, Henry Burton and William Prynne, were arrested on the orders of Laud in 1637, and were convicted of seditious libel. Their ears were cut off and they were branded on the cheeks for writing pamphlets criticising Laud’s beliefs and decisions. Prynne reinterpreted the “SL” (“Seditious Libeller”) branded on his forehead as Stigmata Laudis.

In the same year, Laud also took part in the prosecution of the Bishop of Lincoln and former Lord Chancellor, John Williams (1582-1650), who was also Dean of Westminster Abbey.

Laud’s one constant ally was Thomas Wentworth, later the Earl of Strafford and from 1633 Lord Deputy of Ireland. Laud and Wentworth corresponded regularly and frankly on their joint struggle to establish “thorough,” as their rigorous policy came to be called and Laud urged Strafford to carry out the same reforms in Ireland.

A new Prayer Book and canons were drawn up by the Scottish bishops with his assistance and enforced in Scotland in 1637. The Presbyterians were angered and made it clear they were willing to fight to preserve their rights. In February 1638, Scottish leaders signed the National Covenant, by which they pledged themselves to uphold the Puritan position by force, and by the end of the year they had voted to depose and excommunicate every bishop in Scotland.

In 1639, a Scottish army crossed the border, attacked north-east England and occupied the coalfields near Newcastle. Unable to muster an army capable of countering this invading army, Charles I was forced to recall Parliament to raise funds to counter the Scots.

William Laud ... he was accused of treason in 1640 and was arrested in 1641

After 11 years in which Parliament was in recess, MPs were in an unforgiving mood and used the financial weakness of the king to extend their political powers. They demanded control over the king’s ministers, and Laud was their first target. His enemies accused him of “Popery.” However, it was the broad concept of “Laudism” that most aroused fear and anger. It seems Laud most angered the older generation of the time. In the Long Parliament, his opponents were about ten years older than those who supported the King, and it was the older generation of MPs that led the campaign against Laud and his policies.

The Long Parliament of 1640 accused Laud of treason, and, in the Grand Remonstrance of 1641, called for his imprisonment. Laud was arrested imprisoned in the Tower of London on 1 March. On 12 May 1641, at Strafford’s request, the archbishop appeared at the window of his cell to give him his blessing on his way to execution, and fainted as he passed by.

Laud remained in the Tower throughout the early stages of the English Civil War, and apart from a few personal enemies like William Prynne, Parliament showed little anxiety to proceed against him. Indeed, given his age, most MPs would probably have preferred to leave him to die of natural causes, and for some time he was left unnoticed in the Tower.

Although he was granted a royal pardon in April 1643, it was to no effect. On 31 May, Prynne received orders from the parliament to search his papers, and published a mutilated edition of his diary. Parliament eventually passed a Bill of Attainder to prosecute Laud, who was accused of trying to subvert the laws of England and endangering the Protestant faith.

Once of the accusations against him at his trial was that he used incense and wafer bread in his private chapel. He denied both charges, but pointed out that Lancelot Andrewes and John Cosin had practised both.
The articles of impeachment were sent the Lords in October, and his trial began on 12 March 1644. However, the charge of high treason was not proved, and the trial ended without a verdict. An Act of Attainder was substituted and sent to the House of Lords on 22 November. On 4 January 1645, the Lords yielded to the Commons, and he was sentenced to death.

William Laud facing his executioners on Tower Hill in London

With some reluctance, his petition to be executed with the axe, instead of undergoing the ordinary brutal punishment for high treason, was granted. He was beheaded on Tower Hill on10 January 1645.

Laud died with courage and with dignity, unwavering in his religious beliefs. In his last words on the scaffold he alludes to the dangers and slanders he had endured labouring to keep uniformity in the Church in the external service of God. Before the final blow was struck, he asserted his innocence of any offence known to the law. He died repudiating the charge of “Popery” and declaring that he had always lived in the Protestant Church of England. His final prayer was: “The Lord receive my soul, and have mercy on me, and bless this kingdom with peace and charity, that there may not be this effusion of Christian blood amongst them.”

He was buried in the chancel of All Hallows’ Church, Barking, but his body was removed on 24 July 1663 to the chapel of Saint John’s College, Oxford.

William Laud is remembered in the calendars of both the Church of England and the Episcopal Church on 10 January.

Archbishop Laud was joint editor with John Buckeridge of the Ninety-six Sermons of Lancelot Andrewes (1629). This collection was commissioned by King Charles I, and is still regarded as the embodiment of classical Anglicanism.

In 1639, Laud published A Relation of the Conference between William Laud and Mr Fisher by command of King James.

His Summarie of Devotions was published after the Restoration in 1667. Unlike the prayers of Lancelot Andrewes, William Laud’s prayers are simple, in the style of The Book of Common Prayer, and include the prayer Laud composed commending himself to God before his death.

His other works include his Seven Sermons, originally published separately and collected and printed together in one volume in London, in 1651; his Diary and History of his Troubles and Trial, together with some other pieces, published by Wharton in 1695; and his History of his Chancellorship of Oxford, forming the second volume of that work, published in 1700.

Assessing Laud

Laud was never much liked, even by his allies. A humourless, dwarf-like figure, uninterested in court pleasures, unmarried, tactlessly impartial in his condemnations, he could never establish a party of influential supporters. Thomas Fuller describes him as “low of stature, little in bulk, cheerful in countenance (wherein gravity and quickness were all compounded), of a sharp and piercing eye, clear judgment and (abating the influence of age) term memory.”

Towards the end of his life, Charles I admitted that he had put too much trust in Laud, and allowed his “peevish humours” and obsession with points of ritual, to inflame divisions within the Church. Laud, on his side, could not forgive the king for allowing Strafford’s execution and dismissed him as “a mild and gracious Prince, that knows not how to be or be made great.”

During the English Civil War and interregnum, royalists and peacemakers generally preferred to forget him. At the Restoration, in 1660, outward Laudian forms were accepted, but by then the Church of England had become less significant.

Few in the 18th century saw Laud as a martyr. In the 19th century Thomas Babington Macaulay’s contempt for the “ridiculous old bigot” inspired the schoolbooks of many generations. In the 1840s, the Oxford Movement sought to re-establish him as a religious leader, and High Anglicans ever since have remained his principal supporters.

At the turn of the 19th century, the Civil War historian SR Gardiner stressed Laud’s abilities and integrity and regarded the links with authoritarian politics as his “misfortune.” In the 20th century, Hugh Trevor-Roper contrasted his narrow-minded methods with the comprehensive idealism of his social policy, “coloured over by the accepted varnish of an appropriate religious doctrine.”

Laud followed Andrewes in rejecting transubstantiation in favour of a middle road that affirmed the real presence of Christ in the elements but that at the same time placed due emphasis on faithful reception. In one of his prayers, he says: “His [Christ’s] mercy hath given it, and my faith hath received it into my soul.”

Laud’s devotion to a coherent purpose and his repudiation of hypocrisy, compromise and corruption in allies and enemies, of whatever class, were rare qualities for his time.

JP Kenyon says Laud gave the Church of England a decisive and aggressive leadership after he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. However, it was this aggressive approach that upset and angered many.

Laud has been called “a public man without a private life.” He seems to have lived entirely for his work, had no pastimes or recreation, remarkably few friends, and never married.

Because of the bitter religious conflicts with which he is associated, Laud has rarely been judged impartially. His severities were the result of a narrow mind and not of a vindictive spirit, and they have been exaggerated.

However, his life was marked by uprightness, piety, devotion to duty, courage and consistency. He held fast to the great idea of the catholicity of the Church of England, regarding it as a branch of the whole Christian Church, and emphasising its historical continuity and identity from the Apostolic times. The charge of partiality for Rome is unfounded – Laud says he was twice offered and refused the office of cardinal.

He paid attention to countless details, to the most trivial of which he attached excessive importance. Yet the one element in the Church which he regarded as essential was its visibility. For Laud, therefore, the Puritan concept of the Church, offered no tangible or definite form. He emphasised unity in ritual and ceremony in contrast to dogma and doctrine. For Laud, the external form was the essential feature of religion, preceding the spiritual conception.

In Laud’s opinion, spiritual influence was not enough for the Church. The church as the guide of the nation in duty and godliness, even extending its activity into state affairs as a mediator and a moderator, was not sufficient. Its power must be material and visible, embodied in places of secular administration and enthroned in the high offices of state.

After Laud at Lambeth Palace

The Chapel at Lambeth Palace was eventually restored by Archbishop Juxton, following the succession of Charles II. A vaulted ceiling installed by Edward Blore in 1846 replaced the flat ceiling, complete with archbishop’s crest that had been a part of Laud’s innovations.

One of the more unusual artefacts on display at Lambeth Palace is the shell of a tortoise that once belonged to Archbishop Laud. Laud brought the tortoise to Lambeth in 1633 as a pet, given to him as a gift from his college at Oxford. Ultimately the tortoise outlived Laud by over 100 years. It was accidentally killed at the age of 120, when it was dug up out of hibernation in the palace garden by a careless labourer in 1753 and subsequently died of frost exposure.

Laud’s College is a fictitious Cambridge College in Susan Howatch’s Glittering Images

Laud’s College is a fictitious Cambridge College in Susan Howatch’s Starbridge novels, and contains the (fictitious) Cambridge Cathedral. In Glittering Images Canon Charles Ashworth is a Fellow of Laud’s College, a Lecturer in the Theology and a canon of the cathedral. There is a Laud House, named after Archbishop Laud, at the King’s School, Gloucester.

Archbishop Laud’s Prayer:

O Gracious Father,
we humbly beseech thee for thy Holy Catholic Church;
fill it with all truth in all peace.
Where it is corrupt, purge it;
where it is in error, direct it;
where in anything it is amiss, reform it.
Where it is right, strengthen and confirm it;
where it is in want, furnish it;
where it is divided and rent asunder, make up the breaches of it,
O thou Holy One of Israel, Amen.

This prayer first appeared in A Summarie of Devotions (1667), drawn from a manuscript of Archbishop William Laud. It was included in the American Prayer Book (1928), and The South African Prayer Book (1944).

Laud’s final prayer

The Lord receive my soul,
and have mercy on me,
and bless this kingdom with peace and charity,
that there may not be this effusion of Christian blood amongst them.

Collect:

Keep us, O Lord,
constant in faith and zealous in witness,
That, like your servant William Laud,
we may live in your fear, die in your favour, and rest in your peace;
for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Select bibliography

W Scott, J Bliss (eds), The Works of Archbishop William Laud (7 cols, Oxford: Parker Society, 1847-1860, for the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology).


ECE Bourne, The Anglicanism of William Laud (1947).
Charles Carlton, Archbishop William Laud (London: Routledge, Kegan & Paul, 1988).
Mark Chapman, Anglican Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2012).
SR Gardiner, ‘William Laud,’ Dictionary of National Biography (1892).
Peter Heylyn, Cyprianus Anglicus or the history of the life and death ... of William Laud (London, 1668).
Christopher Hill, Economic Problems of the Church, from Archbishop Whitgift to the Long Parliament (1956).
WM Lamont, Godly Rule (1969).
Anthony Milton, ‘William Laud,’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
Kenneth Stevenson, ‘William Laud,’ in Alister E McGrath 9ed), The SPCK Handbook of Anglican Theologians (London: SPCK, 1998), pp 161-163.
Hugh Trevor-Roper, Catholics, Anglicans and Puritans (London: Fontana, 1989).
Hugh Trevor-Roper, Archbishop Laud, 1573-1645 (London: Phoenix Press, 2001).
CV Wedgwood, The King’s Peace (London, 1955).