10 January 1645 – William Laud
Former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud lost his head today in 1645 for passionately spreading the Lord’s word.
He was beheaded for treason for his unflinchingly single-minded work in trying to achieve church unity. But it appears he was truly misunderstood and a bit precious by all accounts. Laud had a dream – of uniting the church under one denomination: Anglicanism. But he didn’t take kindly to opposition. His methods provoked Puritans into thinking he was pro-Catholic. He also managed to incense the Scottish who tended to be more Presbyterian. And the Catholics? Well they didn’t even get a look in by the sounds of things. But all viewed his activity as sinister purely because he was overzealous in his defence of the church.
He bagged quite a few enemies along the way too. Laud had a renowned doctor of divinity’s ears lopped off after they’d branded him and whipped him. Why? Because he’d called bishops ‘tools of the Antichrist’. Laud also tried to standardise public worship, for example wearing of the surplice, which harked back to the days of Catholicism. And in doing so, he only succeeded in making people really wary that this was some Popish plot, when really all he wanted was to inject some kind of formality in to proceedings. Laud also wanted the Church to get back some of its land, which of course threatened the new landowners.
But the last straw came in 1637 when he tried to impose the ‘Book of Common Prayer’ on Scotland. Bad move. They wouldn’t even entertain the thought of it and they let him know in no uncertain Scottish terms. Riots, pledges to uphold Protestantism, you name it, they did it to try to maintain their stance on religion. They even went as far as to vote off every bishop in Scotland.
Of course, England didn’t just sit back and ignore their friends over the border. The unrest spread over the next three years until Laud was slung in jail for treason in 1640. They tried him and failed to reach a verdict so Parliament stepped in and sentenced him to death. He was held at the Tower of London until 1645, when he was beheaded at the age of 71.