Gateway to the Classics: Charles I by Jacob Abbott
Charles I by  Jacob Abbott

Archbishop Laud

I N getting so deeply involved in difficulties with his people, King Charles did not act alone. He had, as we have already explained, a great deal of help. There were many men of intelligence and rank who entertained the same opinions that he did, or who were, at least, willing to adopt them for the sake of office and power. These men he drew around him. He gave them office and power, and they joined him in the efforts he made to defend and enlarge the royal prerogative, and to carry on the government by the exercise of it. One of the most prominent and distinguished of these men was Laud.

The reader must understand that the Church, in England, is very different from any thing that exists under the same name in this country. Its bishops and clergy are supported by revenues derived from a vast amount of property which belongs to the Church itself. This property is entirely independent of all control by the people of the parishes. The clergyman, as soon as he is appointed, comes into possession of it in his own right; and he is not appointed by the people, but by some nobleman or high officer of state, who has inherited  the right to appoint the clergyman of that particular parish. There are bishops, also, who have very large revenues, likewise independent; and over these bishops is one great dignitary, who presides in lofty state over the whole system. This officer is called the Archbishop of Canterbury. There is one other archbishop, called the Archbishop of York; but his realm is much more limited and less important. The Archbishop of Canterbury is styled the Lord Primate of all England. His rank is above that of all the peers of the realm. He crowns the kings. He has two magnificent palaces, one at Canterbury and one at London, and has very large revenues, also, to enable him to maintain a style of living in accordance with his rank. He has the superintendence of all the affairs of the Church for the whole realm, except a small portion pertaining to the archbishopric of York. His palace in London is on the bank of the Thames, opposite Westminster. It is called Lambeth Palace.


Lambeth Palace.

The city of Canterbury, which is the chief seat of his dominion, is southeast of London, not very far from the sea. The Cathedral is there, which is the archbishop's church. It is more than five hundred feet in length, and the tower is nearly two hundred and fifty feet high. The magnificence of the architecture and the decorations of the building correspond with its size. There is a large company of clergymen and other officers attached to the service of the Cathedral. They are more than a hundred in number. The palace of the archbishop is near.

The Church was thus, in the days of Charles, a complete realm of itself, with its own property, its own laws, its own legislature, and courts, and judges, its own capital, and its own monarch. It was entirely independent of the mass of the people in all these respects, as all these things were wholly controlled by the bishops and clergy, and the clergy were generally appointed by the noblemen, and the bishops by the king. This made the system almost entirely independent of the community at large; and as there was organized under it a vast amount of wealth, and influence, and power, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who presided over the whole, was as great in authority as he was in rank and honor. Now Laud was Archbishop of Canterbury.

King Charles had made him so. He had observed that Laud, who had been advanced to some high stations in the Church by his father, King James, was desirous to enlarge and strengthen the powers and prerogatives of the Church, just as he himself was endeavoring to do in respect to those of the throne. He accordingly promoted him from one post of influence and honor to another, until he made him at last Archbishop of Canterbury. Thus he was placed upon the summit of ecclesiastical grandeur and power.

He commenced his work, however, of strengthening and aggrandizing the Church, before he was appointed to this high office. He was Bishop of London for many years, which is a post, in some respects, second only to that of Archbishop of Canterbury. While in this station, he was appointed by the king to many high civil offices. He had great capacity for the transaction of business, and for the fulfillment of high trusts, whether of Church or state. He was a man of great integrity and moral worth. He was stern and severe in manners, but learned and accomplished. His whole soul was bent on what he undoubtedly considered the great duty of his life, supporting and confirming the authority of the king and the power and influence of English Episcopacy. Notwithstanding his high qualifications, however, many persons were jealous of the influence which he possessed with the king, and murmured against the appointment of a churchman to such high offices of state.

There was another source of hostility to Laud. There was a large part of the people of England who were against the Church of England altogether. They did not like a system in which all power and influence came, as it were, from above downward. The king made the noblemen, the noblemen made the bishops, the bishops made the clergy, and the clergy ruled their flocks; the flocks themselves having nothing to say or do but to submit. It is very different with Episcopacy in this country. The people here choose the clergy, and the clergy choose the bishops, so that power in the Church, as in every thing else here, goes from below upward. The two systems, when at rest, look very similar in the two countries; but when in action, the current of life flows in contrary directions, making the two diametrically opposite to each other in spirit and power. In England, Episcopacy is an engine by which the people are ecclesiastically governed. Here, it is the machinery by which they govern. Thus, though the forms appear similar, the action is very diverse.

Now in England there was a large and increasing party that hated and opposed the whole Episcopal system. Laud, to counteract this tendency, attempted to define, and enlarge, and extend that system as far as possible. He made the most of all the ceremonies of worship, and introduced others, which were, indeed, not exactly new, but rather ancient ones revived. He did this conscientiously, no doubt, thinking that these forms of devotion were adapted to impress the soul of the worshiper, and lead him to feel, in his heart, the reverence which his outward action expressed. Many of the people, however, bitterly opposed these things. They considered it a return to popery. The more that Laud, and those who acted with him, attempted to magnify the rites and the powers of the Church, the more these persons began to abhor every thing of the kind. They wanted Christianity itself, in its purity, uncontaminated, as they said, by these popish and idolatrous forms. They were called Puritans.

There were a great many things which seem to us at the present day of very little consequence, which were then the subjects of endless disputes and of the most bitter animosity. For instance, one point was whether the place where the communion was to be administered should be called the communion table or the altar; and in what part of the church it should stand; and whether the person officiating should be called a priest or a clergyman; and whether he should wear one kind of dress or another. Great importance was attached to these things; but it was not on their own account, but on account of their bearing on the question whether the Lord's Supper was to be considered only a ceremony commemorative of Christ's death, or whether it was, whenever celebrated by a regularly authorized priest, a real renewal  of the sacrifice of Christ, as the Catholics maintained. Calling the communion table an altar, and the officiating minister a priest, and clothing him in a sacerdotal garb, countenanced the idea of a renewal of the sacrifice of Christ. Laud and his coadjutors urged the adoption of all these and similar usages. The Puritans detested them, because they detested and abhorred the doctrine which they seemed to imply.

Another great topic of controversy was the subject of amusements. It is a very singular circumstance, that in those branches of the Christian Church where rites and forms are most insisted upon, the greatest latitude is allowed in respect to the gayeties and amusements of social life. Catholic Paris is filled with theaters and dancing, and the Sabbath is a holiday. In London, on the other hand, the number of theaters is small, dancing is considered as an amusement of a more or less equivocal character, and the Sabbath is rigidly observed; and among all the simple Democratic churches of New England, to dance or to attend the theater is considered almost morally wrong. It was just so in the days of Laud. He wished to encourage amusements among the people, particularly on Sunday, after church. This was partly for the purpose of counteracting the efforts of those who were inclined to Puritan views. They attached great importance to their sermons and lectures, for in them they could address and influence the people. But by means of these addresses, as Laud thought, they put ideas of insubordination into the minds of the people, and encroached on the authority of the Church and of the king. To prevent this, the High-Church party wished to exalt the prayers  in the Church service, and to give as little place and influence as possible to the sermon, and to draw off the attention of the people from the discussions and exhortations of the preachers by encouraging games, dances, and amusements of all kinds.

The judges in one of the counties, at a regular court held by them; once passed an order forbidding certain revels and carousals connected with the Church service, on account of the immoralities and disorders, as they alleged, to which they gave rise; and they ordered that public notice to this effect should be given by the bishop. The archbishop, Laud, considered this an interference on the part of the civil magistrates, with the powers and prerogatives of the Church. He had the judges brought before the council, and censured there; and they were required by the council to revoke their order at the next court. The judges did so, but in such a way as to show that they did it simply in obedience to the command of the king's council. The people, or at least all of them who were inclined to Puritan views, sided with the judges, and were more strict in abstaining from all such amusements on Sunday than ever. This, of course, made those who were on the side of Laud more determined to promote these gayeties. Thus, as neither party pursued, in the least degree, a generous or conciliatory course toward the other, the difference between them widened more and more. The people of the country were fast becoming either bigoted High-Churchmen or fanatical Puritans.

Laud employed the power of the Star Chamber a great deal in the accomplishment of his purpose of enforcing entire submission to the ecclesiastical authority of the Church. He even had persons sometimes punished very severely for words of disrespect, or for writings in which they censured what they considered the tyranny under which they suffered. This severe punishment for the mere expression of opinion only served to fix the opinion more firmly, and disseminate it more widely. Sometimes men would glory in their sufferings for this cause, and bid the authorities defiance.

One man, for instance, named Lilburne, was brought before the Star Chamber, charged with publishing seditious pamphlets. Now, in all ordinary courts of justice, no man is called upon to say any thing against himself. Unless his crime can be proved by the testimony of others, it can not be proved at all. But in the Star Chamber, whoever was brought to trial had to take an oath at first that he would answer all questions asked, even if they tended to criminate himself. When they proposed this oath to Lilburne, he refused to take it. They decided that this was contempt of court, and sentenced him to be whipped, put in the pillory, and imprisoned. While they were whipping him, he spent the time in making a speech to the spectators against the tyranny of bishops, referring to Laud, whom he considered as the author of these proceedings. He continued to do the same while in the pillory. As he passed along, too, he distributed copies of the pamphlets which he was prosecuted for writing. The Star Chamber, hearing that he was haranguing the mob, ordered him to be gagged. This did not subdue him. He began to stamp with his foot and gesticulate; thus continuing to express his indomitable spirit of hostility to the tyranny which he opposed. This single case would be of no great consequence alone, but it was not alone. The attempt to put Lilburne down was a symbol of the experiment of coercion which Charles in the state, and Laud in the Church, were trying upon the whole nation; it was a symbol both in respect to the means employed, and to the success attained by them.

One curious case is related, which turned out more fortunately than usual for the parties accused. Some young lawyers in London were drinking at an evening entertainment, and among other toasts they drank confusion to the Archbishop of Canterbury. One of the waiters, who heard them, mentioned the circumstance, and they were brought before the Star Chamber. Before their trial came on, they applied to a certain nobleman to know what they should do. "Where was the waiter," asked the nobleman, "when you drank the toast?" "At the door." "Oh! very well, then," said he; "tell the court that he only heard a part of the toast, as he was going out; and that the words really were, "Confusion to the Archbishop of Canterbury's enemies." By this ingenious plea, and by means of a great appearance of humility and deference in the presence of the archbishop, the lawyers escaped with a reprimand.

Laud was not content with establishing and confirming throughout all England the authority of the Church, but attempted to extend the same system to Scotland. When King Charles went to Scotland to be crowned, he took Laud with him. He was pleased with Laud's endeavors to enlarge and confirm the powers of the Church, and wished to aid him in the work. There were two reasons for this. One was, that the same class of men, the Puritans, were the natural enemies of both, so that the king and the archbishop were drawn together by having one common foe. Then, as the places in the Church were not hereditary, but were filled by appointments from the king and the great nobles, whatever power the Church could get into its hands could be employed by the king to strengthen his own authority, and keep his subjects in subjection.

We must not, however, censure the king and his advisers too strongly for this plan. They doubtless were ambitious; they loved power; they wished to bear sway, unresisted and unquestioned, over the whole realm. But then the king probably thought that the exercise of such a government was necessary for the order and prosperity of the realm, besides being his inherent and indefeasible right. Good and bad motives were doubtless mingled here, as in all human action; but then the king was, in the main, doing what he supposed it was his duty to do. In proposing, therefore, to build up the Church in Scotland, and to make it conform to the English Church in its rites and ceremonies, he and Laud doubtless supposed that they were going greatly to improve the government of the sister kingdom.

There was in those days, as now, in the English Church, a certain prescribed course of prayers, and psalms, and Scripture lessons, for each day, to be read from a book by the minister. This was called the Liturgy. The Puritans did not like a Liturgy. It tied men up, and did not leave the individual mind of the preacher at liberty to range freely, as they wished it to do, in conducting the devotional services. It was on this very account that the friends of strong government did  like it. They wished to curtail this liberty, which, however, they called license, and which they thought made mischief. In extemporaneous prayers, it is often easy to see that the speaker is aiming much more directly at producing a salutary effect on the minds of his hearers than at simply presenting petitions to the Supreme Being. But, notwithstanding this evil, the existence of which no candid man can deny, the enemies of forms, who are generally friends of the largest liberty, think it best to leave the clergyman free. The friends of forms, however, prefer forms on this very account. They like what they consider the wholesome and salutary restraints which they impose.

Now there has always been a great spirit of freedom in the Scottish mind. That people have ever been unwilling to submit to coercion or restraints. There is probably no race of men on earth that would make worse slaves than the Scotch. Their sturdy independence and determination to be free could never be subdued. In the days of Charles they were particularly fond of freely exercising their own minds, and of speaking freely to others on the subject of religion. They thought for themselves, sometimes right and sometimes wrong; but they would think, and they would express their thoughts; and their being thus unaccustomed, in one particular, to submit to restraints, rendered them more difficult to be governed in others. Laud thought, consequently, that they, particularly, needed a Liturgy. He prepared one for them. It was varied somewhat from the English Liturgy, though it was substantially the same. The king proclaimed it, and required the bishops to see that it was employed in all the churches in Scotland.

The day for introducing the Liturgy was the signal for riots all over the kingdom. In the principal church in Edinburgh they called out "A pope! A pope!" when the clergyman came in with his book and his pontifical robes. The bishop ascended the pulpit to address the people to appease them, and a stool came flying through the air at his head. The police then expelled the congregation, and the clergyman went through with the service of the Liturgy in the empty church, the congregation outside, in great tumult, accompanying the exercises with cries of disapprobation and resentment, and with volleys of stones against the doors and windows.

The Scotch sent a sort of embassador to London to represent to the king that the hostility to the Liturgy was so universal and so strong that it could not be enforced. But the king and his council had the same conscientious scruples about giving up in a contest with subjects, that a teacher or a parent, in our day, would feel in the case of resistance from children or scholars. The king sent down a proclamation that the observance of the Liturgy must be insisted on. The Scotch prepared to resist. They sent delegates to Edinburgh, and organized a sort of government. They raised armies. They took possession of the king's castles. They made a solemn covenant, binding themselves to insist on religious freedom. In a word, all Scotland was in rebellion.

It was the custom in those days to have, connected with the court, some half-witted person, who used to be fantastically dressed, and to have great liberty of speech, and whose province was to amuse the courtiers. He was called the king's jester, or, more commonly, the fool. The name of King Charles's fool was Archy. After this rebellion broke out, and all England was aghast at the extent of the mischief which Laud's Liturgy had done, the fool, seeing the archbishop go by one day, called out to him, "My Lord! who is the fool now!" The archbishop, as if to leave no possible doubt in respect to the proper answer to the question, had poor Archy tried and punished. His sentence was to have his coat pulled up over his head, and to be dismissed from the king's service. If Laud had let the affair pass, it would have ended with a laugh in the street; but by resenting it, he gave it notoriety, caused it to be recorded, and has perpetuated the memory of the jest to all future times. He ought to have joined in the laugh, and rewarded Archy on the spot for so good a witticism.

The Scotch, besides organizing a sort of civil government, took measures for summoning a general assembly of their Church. This assembly met at Glasgow. The nobility and gentry flocked to Glasgow at the time of the meeting, to encourage and sustain the assembly, and to manifest their interest in the proceedings. The assembly very deliberately went to work, and, not content with taking a stand against the Liturgy which Charles had imposed, they abolished the fabric of Episcopacy—that is, the government of bishops—altogether. Thus Laud's attempt to perfect and confirm the system resulted in expelling it completely from the kingdom. It has never held up its head in Scotland since. They established Presbyterianism in its place, which is a sort of republican system, the pastors being all officially equal to each other, though banded together under a common government administered by themselves.

The king was determined to put down this rebellion at all hazards. He had made such good use of the various irregular modes of raising money which have been already described, and had been so economical in the use of it, that he had now quite a sum of money in his treasury; and had it not been for the attempt to enforce the unfortunate Liturgy upon the people of Scotland, he might, perhaps, have gone on reigning without a Parliament to the end of his days. He had now about two hundred thousand pounds, by means of which, together with what he could borrow, he hoped to make one single demonstration of force which would bring the rebellion to an end. He raised an army and equipped a fleet. He issued a proclamation summoning all the peers of the realm to attend him. He moved with this great concourse from London toward the north, the whole country looking on as spectators to behold the progress of this great expedition, by which their monarch was going to attempt to subdue again his other kingdom.

Charles advanced to the city of York, the great city of the north of England. Here he paused and established his court, with all possible pomp and parade. His design was to impress the Scots with such an idea of the greatness of the power which was coming to overwhelm them as to cause them to submit at once. But all this show was very hollow and delusive. The army felt a greater sympathy with the Scots than they did with the king. The complaints against Charles's government were pretty much the same in both countries. A great many Scotchmen came to York while the king was there, and the people from all the country round flocked thither too, drawn by the gay spectacles connected with the presence of such a court and army. The Scotchmen disseminated their complaints thus among the English people, and finally the king and his council, finding indications of so extensive a disaffection, had a form of an oath prepared, which they required all the principal persons to take, acknowledging allegiance to Charles, and denying that they had any intelligence or correspondence with the enemy. The Scotchmen all took the oath very readily, though some of the English refused.

At any rate, the state of things was not such as to intimidate the Scotch, and lead them, as the king had hoped, to sue for peace. So he concluded to move on toward the borders. He went to Newcastle, and thence to Berwick. From Berwick he moved along the banks of the Tweed, which here forms the boundary between the two kingdoms, and, finding a suitable place for such a purpose, the king had his royal tent pitched, and his army encamped around him.

Now, as King Charles had undertaken to subdue the Scots by a show of force, it seems they concluded to defend themselves by a show too, though theirs was a cheaper and more simple contrivance than his. They advanced with about three thousand men to a place distant perhaps seven miles from the English camp. The king sent an army of five thousand men to attack them. The Scotch, in the mean time, collected great herds of cattle from all the country around, as the historians say, and arranged them behind their little army in such a way as to make the whole appear a vast body of soldiers. A troop of horsemen, who were the advanced part of the English army, came in sight of this formidable host first, and, finding their numbers so much greater than they had anticipated, they fell back, and ordered the artillery and foot-soldiers who were coming up to retreat, and all together came back to the encampment. There were two or three military enterprises of similar character, in which nothing was done but to encourage the Scotch and dishearten the English. In fact, neither officers, soldiers, nor king wished to proceed to extremities. The officers and soldiers did not wish to fight the Scotch, and the king, knowing the state of his army, did not really dare to do it.

Finally, all the king's council advised him to give up the pretended contest, and to settle the difficulty by a compromise. Accordingly, in June, negotiations were commenced, and before the end of the month articles were signed. The king probably made the best terms he could, but it was universally considered that the Scots gained the victory. The king disbanded his army, and returned to London. The Scotch leaders went back to Edinburgh. Soon after this the Parliament and the General Assembly of the Church convened, and these bodies took the whole management of the realm into their own hands. They sent commissioners to London to see and confer with the king, and these commissioners seemed almost to assume the character of embassadors from a foreign state. These negotiations, and the course which affairs were taking in Scotland, soon led to new difficulties. The king found that he was losing his kingdom of Scotland altogether. It seemed, however, as if there was nothing that he could do to regain it. His reserved funds were gone, and his credit was exhausted. There was no resource left but to call a Parliament and ask for supplies. He might have known, however, that this would be useless, for there was so strong a fellow-feeling with the Scotch in their alleged grievances among the people of England, that he could not reasonably expect any response from the latter, in what ever way he might appeal to them.

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