On Laudianism: Piety, Polemic and Politics during the Personal Rule of Charles I by Peter Lake - review by Peter Davidson

Peter Davidson

Reverend with a Cause

On Laudianism: Piety, Polemic and Politics during the Personal Rule of Charles I


Cambridge University Press 611pp £39.99

For a churchman whose career ended in disaster on the scaffold, Charles I’s final archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, casts a very long shadow on English history. In the history of the Church of England, the aborted Laudian reforms represent a path not taken. Their importance has been magnified by the fact that they were claimed as an ancestor by the Oxford Movement. In terms of cultural history, the Laudian church was a vital element of that wider Caroline movement which seemed to be taking Britain and its arts in a cosmopolitan direction, before the barriers came crashing down with the Civil War and Interregnum. Even now, Oxford has its Laudian lieux de mémoire: the Canterbury Quadrangle at St John’s College, with its personifications of the arts and virtues, and the Sheldonian Theatre, which does posthumous honour to Laud’s desire to remove profane academic ceremonies from the sacred space of the University Church. The shell of Laud’s Oxonian tortoise, which outlived its master by the best part of a century, reposes at Lambeth Palace.

Until now, there has been no single work offering a comprehensive view of the origins, scope and nature of the Laudian project in the Caroline Church of England. This book amply fills this want. It provides a magnificently detailed survey of what Laud and his followers thought, did and wrote across a very broad spectrum. The leading thread that emerges is their hardening awareness of ‘Puritan’ ideology and activity as a potential force of anarchy and destruction. Perhaps the Laudians’ insistence on attendance at worship and uniform liturgies polarised without persuading, but the destruction of monarchy and episcopacy at the hands of the extended Puritan community did indeed come to pass.

The structure of this book enables the reader to follow Laudianism’s whole trajectory, from origins to downfall. One of its most compelling aspects is its focus on Lancelot Andrewes, a bishop in several dioceses in the early 17th century, as a forerunner of and philosopher for much of the Laudian

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