Laudianism was an early seventeenth-century reform movement within the Church of England, promulgated by Archbishop William Laud and his supporters. It rejected the predestination upheld by the previously-dominant Calvinism in favour of free will, and hence the possibility of salvation for all men. It is probably best known for its impact on the Anglican High Church movement and its emphasis on liturgical ceremony and clerical hierarchy.


Promulgated by Archbishop William Laud and his supporters, Laudianism sought to establish as mainstream doctrines that were similar to the teachings of the Dutch theologian Jakob Harmenszoon who is best known by his latinized name Jacobus Arminius, and English proto-Arminians such as Lancelot Andrewes. It is probably best known for its impact on the Anglican High Church movement and its emphasis on liturgical ceremony and clerical hierarchy.


The Elizabethan Settlement of 1559, that set the tone for English religious policy until the rise of Laudianism, was theologically a mixture of Calvinism and Lutheranism in its theology. Although the doctrine of predestination was often neglected at a parish level in order to offset despair and the ensuing disobedience, the seventeenth of the Thirty-Nine Articles sets an undefined doctrine on predestination as one of the founding principles of the English Church. Unlike Calvinist doctrine on predestination, which is supralapsarian, double and unconditional, the predestination mentioned in the Thirty-Nine Articles may, due to silence and vagueness in controversial points, be understood as infralapsarian, single and/or conditional, and therefore more Zwinglian. The essence of Laudianism in a theological sense was a belief in God’s universal grace and the free will of all men to obtain salvation. Thus, Calvinist theories of predestination were rejected, revolutionising the fundamental teachings of the established Church of England.

Laudianism in practice

On a practical level, this led to a polarisation within English Protestantism, to the extent that the movements of Laudianism and Puritanism could no longer be described under this all-encompassing banner. Predestination had been the unifying feature of the Reformed Church and, although more radical groups might have been rejected, there was still a sense of brotherhood among the various sects. Archbishop Laud disagreed with the views of his predecessors, such as John Whitgift, that Puritans were aberrant brethren, erring but deserving some level of leniency, but believed instead that the protestant non-conformists presented a direct threat to the establishment and that there was more common ground between his own, true position and that of the pre-Reformed Roman Catholic Church.

The 1633 edition of the standard Latin-English Dictionary, dedicated to William Laud, contained for the first time the word Praedestinatiani, who were defined as “a kind of heretic that held fatal predestination of every particular matter person or action, and that all things come to passe, and fell out necessarily; especially touching the salvation and damnation of particular men”.

The extent to which Calvinism had been entrenched in the Church of England and in the English psyche can be seen in the reaction to the development of these Arminian tendencies following the royal marriage negotiations with Spain. James I faced an upsurge in hostility from the pulpit and the press. Although the King tried to quieten such opposition through proclamations, the confinement of offenders and a set of Directions to Preachers in 1622, opposition came from senior figures within the established Church, such as several royal chaplains, Dean Sutcliffe of Exeter, Archdeacon Hakewill of Surrey and George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury.[1] From this it can be seen that Laudianism signalled a stark break with previous practises and perceptions within the Elizabethan and early Stuart Church. Indeed, James reacted to this episode by moving his support to anti-Calvinist churchmen such as Lancelot Andrewes at Winchester, Montaigne at London and at last elevating Laud to the episcopate, thus radically shifting the power-base in favour of the emerging movement.

Charles I took these personnel changes even further when Laud was promised the archbishopric of Canterbury and effectively became the religious spokesman for the regime. As bishop of London, he had been controlling the printing presses since 1628 and prohibiting discussion of pre-destination. The York primacy had been filled with a succession of Laudians since the death of Calvinist Matthews in 1628 and from 1632 it was occupied by Neile, the one-time mentor of William Laud. In 1628, the Duke of Buckingham was made Chancellor of Cambridge University and all predestinarian teaching was subsequently banned. This was supported by a royal proclamation which effectively outlawed Calvinism on a national level.

There was also a break with the previous practices of the early Stuart Church on a visual level. Upon his translation to the bishopric of Durham in 1617, Richard Neile had the communion table transformed into an altar at the east end of the cathedral and supported Laud (then under his patronage) in a similar action at Gloucester.[2] In the 1630s, Laud declared that “the altar is the greatest place of God’s residence upon earth, greater than the pulpit for there 'tis Hoc est corpus meum, This is my body; but in the other it is at most but Hoc est verbum meum, This is my word.”[3] In November 1633, by act of Privy Council King Charles I established the precedent that all parochial churches should follow the by then general cathedral practice of placing communion tables altar-wise at the east end of chancels. This was highly significant. One of the main points of the Reformation had been the replacement of the Catholic notion of salvation through the practice of rites such as communion, baptism and confession. The visual emphasis that this placed on the act of communion directly contradicted the Calvinist doctrine of salvation through faith alone, the knowledge of which was communicated through preaching, although the practice was similar to the contemporary Lutheran use of intact mediaeval altars and pieces of art. Similarly, a few years later, Bishops Overall and Andrewes could be seen advocating the practice of confession before receiving Holy Communion.[4] Confession, like good works, implied that man had the chance to improve his chances of obtaining salvation and, again, was irreconcilable with the past fifty years and more of Calvinist, predestinarian teaching.

Laudianism and the English Civil War

The 1630s saw a polarisation of religious opinion influenced by reactions to tracts, sermons and lobbying; the revolutionary events in Scotland; the Thirty Years War; and the level of ecclesiastical corruption revealed by the Houses of Parliament's inquiries. Similarly, in relation to the attacks on government officials, apart from those directed towards the great men of the state, the harrying of Laudian churchmen was positively gleeful.

After 1640, the Laudians and Arminians who had previously enjoyed the favour of the Episcopal hierarchy, found themselves under attack from both the Parliament and the press. The Constitutions and Canons Ecclesiasticall were passed by the 1640 Convocation, unusually remaining in session after the Short Parliament was dissolved. They included as canon VI what became notorious as the "et cetera oath", a pledge to uphold episcopacy and the current Anglican hierarchy.[5]

Priests and bishops who had gathered in Convocation to draft the canons of 1640 made high claims for the ceremonies and rites of the Established Church but, within months, were unable to enforce them.[6] By December 1640 thirteen bishops had been impeached, with another dozen having followed them by December 1641.[7] Within eight weeks of the opening of Parliament, the Houses were calling not for the restoration of the pre-Laudian church, along Elizabethan or Jacobean lines, but the abolition of the entire ecclesiastical order and its reconstruction in a Puritan mould.[8] The removal of ecclesiastical judges and the abolition of the High Commission meant that the Established Church was unprotected on a parish level. Prayer books and surplices were torn up; communion tables were relocated and altar rails were burned. The reestablishment of the Anglican Church, in its Laudian version, would not occur until the Restoration in 1660.


  1. Kenneth Fincham (ed.), The Early Stuart Church
  2. Nicholas Tyacke, 'Puritanism, Arminianism and counter-Revolutionin', Conrad Russell (ed.), The Origins of the English Civil War
  3. Nicholas Tyacke, 'Puritanism, Arminianism and counter-Revolutionin', Conrad Russell (ed.), The Origins of the English Civil War
  4. Nicholas Tyacke, 'Puritanism, Arminianism and counter-Revolutionin', Conrad Russell (ed.), The Origins of the English Civil War
  5. Hugh Trevor-Roper, Archbishop Laud (1962 edition), pp. 390-1.
  6. David Cressy, Revolutionary England 1640-1642.
  7. John Morrill, The Nature of the English Revolution.
  8. John Morrill, The Nature of the English Revolution.