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18 September 2014
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Towards the Floodgates of Religious Reform

By Carol Davidson Cragoe
Laud’s reforms

Image of Archbishop Laud
William Laud - Archbishop of Canterbury, 1633 ©
Under Elizabeth I and James I, the Anglican Church was reasonably tolerant, allowing individual congregations to decide how they wanted to worship within the prescribed limits of the Prayer Book. With James's son Charles I, this delicate balance was upset.

'Scotland in particular had moved towards a Presbyterian method of worship ...'

Charles strongly believed in the Divine Right of Kings, and the appointment of William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, saw the elevation of a man with equally authoritarian views. Laud believed that every church in England should strictly adhere to his wishes for a more ritualistic Church, with a return to the use of vestments and ornaments such as crosses and candles. But those of a more puritanical belief felt these changes were returning the Church of England to popish practices.

Scotland in particular had moved towards a Presbyterian method of worship, where the congregation had a far greater influence in the way services were conducted. However, Laud firmly believed in a hierarchical system of government, and in 1638 attempted to impose a system of dioceses and bishops onto the Church of Scotland.

The rejection of this plan, which inspired Scottish leaders to sign the National Covenant, helped to polarise factions within the English Church into ‘high’ or ‘low’ factions, depending on where they thought authority should reside - in the bishops, as Laud wanted (high church), or in the individual congregations and their ministers as the Presbyterians wanted (low church).

Published: 2005-02-04

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