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The Further Correspondence of William Laud, edited by Kenneth Fincham

01 November 2019

Richard Chartres reads William Laud’s newly edited correspondence

ARCHBISHOP LAUD remains a fascinating and controversial figure who played a significant part in the mid-17th-century broils that contributed so much to the ethos of the Church of England. In The Further Correspondence of William Laud, we have a valuable addition to our understanding of the complexity and extent of the part that he played, especially in the 1630s when he was at the height of his power as principal ecclesiastical adviser to Charles I.

The seven-volume Works of Archbishop Laud was published in the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology between 1847 and 1860. The learned editors, William Scott and James Bliss, collected and published 548 letters. The Further Correspondence, edited by Professor Kenneth Fincham of the University of Kent, has trawled fresh archives, and has uncovered a further 223 letters. They are illuminated by extensive footnotes of the highest scholarly quality and interest.

The most substantial cache of previously unpublished letters is the series of 39 addressed to John Bridgeman, Bishop of Chester. They have been preserved in the Bridgeman family archives at present on loan to the Staffordshire Record Office. The letters reveal a ripening friendship in dealing with matters that strictly lay outside Laud’s own Province of Canterbury. There is much about Laud’s activity in protecting and extending Crown patronage in church appointments, his resistance to lay encroachments on the prerogatives of the Church, and his intervention in matters as sensitive as the appropriate seating of the Mayor and Aldermen in Chester Cathedral.

Frequently, the Bishop’s second son, Orlando, is the go-between in conveying letters and the accompanying messages and gifts. Lovers of the poet and great Anglican mystic Thomas Traherne will recall that Orlando survived the Civil War and provided a home for Traherne in Teddington, where the latter is buried.

Many of Laud’s letters concern patronage and the advancement of poor but deserving scholars and clergy, and reveal a compassionate side to the Archbishop’s character which his critics down the centuries have largely edited out.

alamyWilliam Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, in a portrait by Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641)

There are rarities in the Collection, such as the only two extant letters from the Archbishop to Cyril Lucaris, Patriarch of Constantinople. These also illustrate Laud’s lively scholarly interests even in the press of official business, and his part in the collection and publication of significant manuscripts. Another of his correspondents was Elizabeth, briefly Queen of Bohemia, to whom he sent a letter printed here to accompany his edition of the Sermons of his mentor, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes.

Laud had a lifelong passion for university reform, not only at Oxford, where he was Chancellor, but also in Ireland, where he had a hand in devising new statutes for Trinity College, Dublin. He was not a cloistered academic, however, and every bishop will sympathise with his constant preoccupation with fund-raising. The restoration of St Paul’s was one of his cherished projects, and it is painful to read in a letter to the gentry of my own county “that of all the countyes in England” St Paul’s “hath hitherto been least beholding to Wilteshire”. The collection there had raised a measly 8s. 10d. when Laud wrote to them in 1637.

This edition is a testament to the industrial scale of the Archbishop’s correspondence, and the variety of his interests and interventions. There continues to be a puzzling absence of any substantial survivals after Laud’s fall from power at the end of 1640 and in the years he spent in the Tower. There is one letter just a few days before his execution signed “Your dyeing friend” with a characteristic plea on behalf of a faithful servant.

This excellent publication enhanced with Professor Fincham’s impeccable scholarship is number 23 in the publications of the Church of England Record Society. After some lean years in which subscribers have dwindled, the Society has mightily revived under the chairmanship of Professor Arthur Burns of King’s College, London. An ambitious publishing schedule has been planned for the coming years, and, by paying a modest annual subscription, every member of the Society is entitled to free copies of its publications. If The Further Correspondence of William Laud is anything to judge by, it would be a wise investment for anyone interested in the history of the Church of England.

The Rt Revd Lord Chartres is a former Bishop of London.


The Further Correspondence of William Laud (Church of England Record Society volume 23)
Kenneth Fincham, editor
Boydell Press £70
Church Times Bookshop £63

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