William Laud (October 7, 1573 - January 10, 1645) was Archbishop of Canterbury and a fervent supporter of Charles I of England whom he encouraged to believe in the Divine Right of Kings. Laud was born in Reading, England, of comparatively low origins (a fact he was to remain sensitive of through his career) and educated at Reading School and, through a White Scholarship, St. John's College, Oxford.
On April 5, 1601, he entered the church, and his Catholic tendencies, combined with his intellectual and organisational brilliance, soon made him a name. At that time, the Calvinist party was strong in the Church, and Laud's affirmation of the Apostolic succession was unpopular in many quarters. In 1605, somewhat against his will, he obliged his patron, Charles Blount, earl of Devonshire, by performing his marriage service--to a divorcée.
He continued to rise through the ranks, becoming Bishop of St David's in 1622, Bishop of Bath and Wells in 1626, and Bishop of London in 1628. Thanks to patrons who included George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, and the king himself, he reached the highest position the church had to offer in 1633. At the same time, he was prominent in government, taking the king's line and that of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford in all important matters.
Laud was a sincere Anglican and loyal Englishman, who must have been frustrated at the charges of Popery levelled against him by the Puritan element in the Church. Whereas Strafford saw the political dangers of Puritanism, Laud saw the threat to the episcopacy. But the Puritans themselves felt threatened; the Counter-Reformation was succeeding abroad, and the Thirty Years War was not progressing to the advantage of the Protestants. It was inevitable that in this climate, Laud's aggressive high church policy was seen as a sinister development.
Laud's policy was influenced by another aspect of his character: his desire to impose total uniformity on the Church. This, too, was driven by a sincere belief that this was the duty of his office, but to those of even slightly differing views it came as persecution. Perhaps this had the unintended consequence of garnerning support for the most implacable opponents of the Anglican compromise. In 1637, William Prynne and two others were sentenced to mutilation (removal of ears and branding on both cheeks) for the crime of seditious libel.
His intolerance towards the Presbyterians extended to Scotland where it led to the Covenanter movement and the Bishops' Wars. The Long Parliament of 1640 accused him of treason, resulting in his imprisonment in the Tower of London. He remained there throughout the early stages of the English Civil War. In the spring of 1644 he was brought to trail, but it ended without being able to reach a verdict. The parliament took up the issue, and eventually passed a Bill of attainder under which he was beheaded on January 10, 1645 on Tower Hill.