From the Book of Eminent Burgesses of Dundee 1513 to 1885.

William Laud, Bishop of London - 4th July 1633



The fact of the enrolment of four Prelates of the Episcopal Church upon the Burgess Roll of a Burgh so entirely devoted to Presbyterianism as Dundee then was requires some explanation. A comparison of dates will show that the admission of these four Bishops took place at the time when CHARLES I. was making a Royal progress through this part of the Kingdom after his Coronation. At the end of June, 1633, the KING set forth from Edinburgh upon a sporting tour, journeyed by Linlithgow and Dunfermline to Falkland Palace, where he remained for several days, ultimately reaching Perth on the 8th of July. It was whilst he was at Falkland that the Bishops who had accompanied him game to Dundee for the purpose of being made Burgesses; their personal presence in the town being proved negatively, since it is not stated that the honour was conferred upon them in absence. It may therefore be concluded that the honour was paid to the KING in their persons rather than to the form of ritual which they sought to introduce.

WILLIAM LAUD, Bishop of London, and afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, was born at Reading on 7th October, 1573. His parentage was humble, as his father was a clothier in that town, and he obtained the rudiments of his education at the Free School there. When sixteen years of age he removed to S. John's College, Oxford, of which institution he became a Fellow in 1593 and ultimately was Lecturer in Theology at that place. His office as a Lecturer gave him an opportunity of promulgating some of his extreme Romanising views, and the debates to which these gave rise attracted notice towards him. In 1608 he received the degree of D.D., and became Chaplain to the BISHOP OF ROCHESTER, through whose intervention he was introduced to KING JAMES. That Monarch had been gradually estranging himself from the Presbyterians, and the sentiments which LAUD had so openly expressed were quite in accordance with the Royal mind. He was received into favour, and in spite of the actions of his most powerful rivals he succeeded in gaining the confidence of the KING, and had ready access to him both in Church and State affairs. He was made Dean of Gloucester in 1616, and accompanied the KING to Scotland in that year. It is asserted that it was mainly through his exertions that the Five Articles of Perth were adopted by the General Assembly, for he showed himself not only a plausible counsellor but an astute politician, and his efforts were suitably rewarded. He was made a Prebendary of Westminster on his return to England, and in 1621 he was consecrated Bishop of S. David's.

No sooner had he reached the Episcopal Chair than he began to put in practice the ritualism which he had formerly only recommended, and it was soon made apparent that the wall of separa┬Čtion betwixt Protestants and Romanists had been all but destroyed. The death of the KING, in 1625, increased rather than diminished the power of BISHOP LAUD. He had been frequently thrown into the company of CHARLES I. during his youth, and had gained great power over him, so that his position as a favourite was more secure than it had been. BISHOP WILLIAMS of Lincoln, who should have officiated at the Coronation, but whose Puritanism was offensive to the KING, was superseded by LAUD, who placed the crown upon the head of his Royal Master. Shortly afterwards he was promoted to the See of Bath and Wells, was made Dean of the Chapel Royal, and took his place as a Member of the Privy Council. His old antagonist, GEORGE, ABBOT, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had withstood his innovations at Oxford, was suspended in 1628, and LAUD, with other four Bishops, was placed in charge of the Primacy of the Realm. He was elected to the See of London in July of that year, and when BUCKINGHAM had been removed by the hand of an assassin, LAUD took his position in the counsels of the KING, and became the most powerful man in the Kingdom. There is little doubt that the extreme notions held by CHARLES as to the "Right Divine" were inculcated by LAUD, and they ultimately brought about the fatal end of both KING and counsellor. He visited Scotland a second time when CHARLES came north for his Coronation, in 1633, and it was then that the freedom of the Burgh of Dundee was conferred upon him. It was his intention to have introduced the English Liturgy in its entirety to the Scottish Church at this time, but the Scottish Bishops succeeded in dissuading him from this extreme step, and a compromise was attempted in the form of a Service Book that might lead to the development of more serious changes. It is not necessary to recount here the reception which the Service Book received from the Scottish people.

One month after LAUD'S admission as a Burgess of Dundee he was raised to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, and it is asserted that on the same day he had the offer of a Cardinal's hat from the POPE of Rome. His power both in Church and State was then almost unlimited. "He was a Member," writes Professor LORIMER, "of the High Commission and the Star Chamber as well as of the Privy Council; he was Chancellor of Oxford and Dublin, and Visitor of Cambridge; he was placed on all the Commissions entrusted with the management of the Treasury, the Crown Revenues, and Foreign Affairs. The old times when Churchmen monopolised all the power of the Kingdom seem to have come back again LAUD was a second WOLSEY." If his rise had been rapid, his fall was startlingly sudden. The assembling of the Long Parliament, in 1647, formed the turning point of his career. It was soon made apparent that the many enemies whom he had made whilst in office were determined to avenge the injuries they had received at his hands. He was accused of having urged the KING to impose taxes and to levy war without the consent of the Parliament, and on 1st March, 1641, he was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was confined for three years without a public trial. At length, on the 12th of March, 1644, his trial was begun in the House of Lords, but his final sentence was not pronounced till 2nd January, 1645. Eight days afterwards he was beheaded on Tower Hill, declaring that only his zeal for the Church had brought him to the scaffold.




Iain D. McIntosh, Friends of Dundee City Archives