Archbishops of Great Britain


William Laud,

Archbishop of Canterbury in the reign of Charles I., was born in 1573, at Reading, in Berkshire; was educated at the free school of his native place, and at St. John's College, Oxford; was ordained in 1601; became President of his college in 1611 ; accompanied James I. to Scotland, as one of his chaplains, in 1617; was installed Prebendary of Westminster in 1620 ; and obtained the see of St. David's in the following year. On the accession of Charles I. his influence became very great and he was translated to the see of Bath and Wells, and, in 1628, to that of London. In 1630 he was elected Chancellor of the University of Oxford, to which he was a great benefactor, and which he enriched with an invaluable collection of manuscripts, ancient, modern, and Oriental.

In 1633 he attended Charles on his visit to Scotland; on his return, he was promoted to the see of Canterbury, and during the same year he was chosen Chancellor of the University of Dublin. The zeal which he displayed for conformity to the Church, and his endeavours to introduce the liturgy into Scotland, created him numerous enemies. At the commencement of the Long Parliament, therefore, he was impeached by the Commons and sent to the Tower. After lying there three years, he was brought to trial before the Lords, by whom he was acquitted. But the Lower House passed a bill of attainder, declaring him guilty of treason, which they compelled the Peers to pass; and the archbishop was accordingly beheaded on Tower Hill, Jan. 10, 1644-5. He was in the 72nd year of his age, and met his fate with great fortitude.

The works of Archbishop Laud consist of Sermons, the Report of his famous controversy with the Jesuit Fisher in 1622, his Speeches, Diary, Book of Devotions, History of his Troubles, and Correspondence. His character has been depicted in exaggerated colours by opposite parties; some expressing, like Macaulay, unmitigated contempt, others almost unlimited reverence. A portrait of Laud, the counterpart of the Vandyck picture in Lambeth Palace, has been purchased for the National Portrait Gallery.

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Odo, Archbishop of Canterbury

in the 10th century, was the son of a Danish chieftain, who took part in the invasion of England in 870. Converted to Christianity and persecuted by his father, he was adopted as son by Athelm, an Anglo-Saxon noble, who had him well educated, and induced him to enter the church. Odo's tastes were for a soldier's life. In 887 he accompanied Athelm on a visit to Rome, and eleven years later his patron died. Odo was made Bishop of Ramsbury in 926, fought at the famous battle of Brunanburgh in 937, and was selected by Dunstan, then minister to King Edmund, to be Archbishop of Canterbury in 942. He previously entered the Benedictine order. Odo made great improvements in the cathedral, and set himself to effect three measures of reform, --the separation of the clergy from their wives, the expulsion of the secular clergy from the cathedrals, and the introduction of the Benedictine rule into the monasteries. In carrying them out he showed himself the soldier and barbarian to the last, so that he got the name of Odo Severus, though his agent, Dunstan, called him the Good. The climax of his cruelty was reached when, in 955, shortly after the coronation of Edwy, he divorced the young king and Elgiva, and had the queen forcibly carried off and branded in the face with hot irons. Odo was employed on several diplomatic missions by Athelstan, Edmund, and Edred. Died, June, 958, and was buried at Canterbury.

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Edmund Rich,

archbishop of Canterbury, was born at Abingdon, about the close of the 12th century. His mother, Mabel, was remarkable for her ascetic piety, her fasts, vigils, hair chemise, and stays of iron; and she so ordered her house that her husband preferred a monastery. Edmund was sent to school at Oxford, and while there made a vow of celibacy and wedded the Virgin Mary. He next studied at Paris, whence he was called to his mother's death-bed at Abingdon; and after a period of retirement, became a teacher at Oxford. He was one of the illustrious men who aimed to restore the university to prosperity and honour, and is said to have had Grosteste and Robert Bacon among his pupils. About 1222 he was named treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral, where he gained esteem by his earnestness as a preacher, his hospitality and alms-deeds.

In 1227 he took part in preaching the Crusade; and in 1233, while rector of Calne, he was appointed archbishop of Canterbury. It was then a position of great difficulty, and Edmund attached himself and consistently adhered to the popular party, as distinguished from the parties of the court and the Pope. He presided at two councils in 1234, which by solemn remonstrance and threat of excommunication compelled the king, Henry III., to dismiss his foreign ministers and favourites; and he soon after negotiated a peace with Llewellyn, prince of Wales. The archbishop continued his ascetic habits, yet indulged in the pleasure of female society, even allowing himself a 'platonic affection' for a nun, who was his ward.

In January 1236, he was visited by the king, whose marriage with Eleanor of Provence, and the coronation of the latter, be celebrated the same month. The authority of Edmund being soon after virtually superseded by that of the new legate, Cardinal Otho, and not succeeding in his attempt at reform of the monasteries, he visited Rome in 1238, but came back disappointed, having received only insult and neglect from the papal Court. Two years later he retired to France, the queen, mother of St. Louis, bringing her sons to meet him to receive his blessing. He took up his abode at the abbey of Pontigny, whence he removed for his health's sake to the priory of Soissy, and there died, 1240. He was canonized, after much reluctance, by Innocent IV., in 1246, and his shrine was resorted to till it was destroyed during the French revolution.

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The above information was gleaned from various sources and then put together by Colin Hinson ©1996.

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