Meyricke Serjeantson













Shrewsbury and Archbishop Laud

The economic problems with which the church was faced in the seventeenth century and which have been examined at length by Christopher Hill, 1 affected Shrewsbury quite extensively and have left considerable documentary evidence. After the confiscation of church property by Henry VIII, in the previous century, the financial position of the church had been unsound. In the face of increasing economic pressures, the church had been forced to sell large areas of land whilst, at the same time, the Crown was selling the tithes, which it had acquired during the Reformation, to courtiers and other speculators. Elizabeth disposed of, by grant and sale, the tithes of 2,216 parishes; James I of 1,453. The main effect of these changes in control was to make the church dependent upon the Crown and its appointees in both financial and doctrinal matters. On the financial side there were numerous examples of exploitation. One of the worst of these must have been Archbishop Hughes of St Asaph

“Who held an archdeaconry and sixteen benefices in commendam, (and) is reported to have leased episcopal manors for long periods to his wife, children, sisters, and cousins. **** Hughes paid pittances to his vicars; sold presentations; squeezed the clergy at visitations; neglected hospitality and charity; and left a large fortune at his death.” 2.

This situation existed as much in Shrewsbury as elsewhere. A petition of the churchwardens of St Mary's to Archbishop Laud, probably dated 1640, told a story similar to those told by Hill. The advowson of the rectory had originally been settled upon the Dean and Canons of the church college, which had been dissolved by Edward VI. It had then passed to the Crown with the glebe, tithes and offerings, worth about £300, falling into lay hands. The stipend for the curate had been fixed at £20 per annum, a substantial sum at the time but insufficient by 1640. When a portion of the tithes was granted to the vicar of a neighbouring parish, the situation became intolerable, so that the petitioners asked that the full tithes and more be restored to St Mary's. 3 The Crown was aware of this problem, and a few months earlier a committee had been set up to negotiate with the impropriators of St Chad's, St Alkmond's, St Julian's, St Mary's and Holy Cross

“For some fitting increase of maintenance for the vicars and curates of the same.”4

It is interesting that St Alkmond's should have been included in this list for, in 1634, Thomas Lloyd, the vicar of the parish, had been the subject of a case involving the Feoffees.  Tithes, which should have been used to increase the vicarage, were paid to two “puritan preachers” and Lloyd was left to make the best out of his poor living. Some action must have been taken after this which resulted in Lloyd becoming involved in the petition from St Mary's.  It seems that tithes worth £80 were removed from St Mary's and given in part to Lloyd, the remainder going to the school.  Thus, Lloyd's stipend was increased but only at the expense of the curate of St Mary's.  The problem could only be solved by a general increase in the funds available for the payment of the clergy.  This was one of Archbishop Laud's chief aims and his attempts to recover the Church's lost wealth from the lay impropriators were amongst the main reasons for his unpopularity.  

In 1634 a test case was brought, in which a vicar complained to the church courts that the lessee of the impropriation did not allow him adequate maintenance.  The court decided for the vicar, also claiming the right to force the lessee to augment the vicar's stipend. This set a dangerous precedent, both for the lay impropriators and also for the upholders of Common Law, in that the church courts were successfully claiming the right to interfere with legally acquired property.  Future events were to be something of an anti-climax, in that there was no large-scale action against the impropriators.  Many of the ecclesiastical impropriators, in fact, made no attempt to improve the stipends of those parishes under their control. There was, however, a great increase in the amount of negotiation about the stipends of the clergy.  In some cases, the parishioners appealed directly to the Archbishop, hence the appeal from St Mary's in 1638. In general, the impropriators in Shrewsbury caused the Archbishop little trouble.

When the Council appointed referees to mediate with the impropriators of the parish churches the results were both quick and favorable. Thomas Bromehall and Thomas Owen agreed to increase the allowances of the vicars and curates of St Julian's and St Mary's to one quarter of the yearly value of the tithes. A group of five others agreed to pay whatever the referees should decide. Some of the impropriators did refuse but they were not named and the absence of any further mention of the case suggests that a satisfactory settlement was eventually achieved. The only documented opposition came from Thomas Lloyd, whose refusal to submit occasioned the petition from St Mary's in 1640. 5 The results of the petition are not, unfortunately, recorded in the state papers.

The attempt by Laud to regain control of the Church's finances was paralleled by his determined efforts to control the appointment of clergy to vacant livings. At a time when religious controversy was one of the central issues in national politics and when the pulpit was probably the most effective place from which to dispense propaganda of all types, it was inevitable that there should be considerable rivalry over the right to appoint the clergy.

The fight between Laud and the Feoffees for Impropriations was indicative of the importance placed on this issue. Shrewsbury was soon involved with the Feoffees because Rowland Heylyn, Sheriff of London and one of the early members of the company, 6 was born in the parish of St Alkmonds. In 1628 he handed over to the Feoffees the advowson of St Alkmond's and the tithes of Coton, the latter belonging to St Mary's. 7 The financial effects of this transfer have already been discussed, it being noticeable that the effects of the Feoffees' actions outlasted the Feoffees themselves by several years. Laud, having suppressed the Feoffees seems, in this instance at least, to have made no attempt to repeal their actions; indeed, his subsequent policy of encouraging augmentations was based on similar principles. Both Laud and his doctrinal enemies wanted to improve the condition of the Church in England. Their argument was primarily about control.

The way in which the Feoffees treated the vicar of St Alkmond's, Thomas Lloyd, sheds an interesting light on their activities. There is no evidence to suggest that he was non-conformist in any way, his actions indicating a man more interested in worldly affairs than in the good of the church. The Feoffees, however, did not remove him from his living once they had acquired it but expressly stated that they would not appoint a new incumbent until after the death of the existing one. 8 This would seem to show that the Feoffees were concerned with the transference of control in the long-term.

In addition to this conflict between two national bodies, there was conflict between the government and the town corporation. Shrewsbury was unusual in that the corporation had powers of patronage, other towns in this position being Leeds, Yarmouth and Plymouth. 9 The resignation of Peter Studley, the curate of St Chad's, provoked a confrontation between the corporation and the Archbishop. 10 On Studley's resignation, the burgesses elected Richard Poole as the new curate. Poole was a follower of Dr Downham 11 and had not been considered worthy of the post of headmaster of the school. The Archbishop objected to this election, both because of Poole's non-conformist sympathies and also because of the way in which he had been chosen. A popular election 12 would hardly appeal to Laud, who was trying to wrest the control of appointments from secular hands. Even if the election had been properly organised under the bailiffs and burgesses, and this was disputed, Laud would still have objected. He demanded that George Lawson be appointed instead. Little is known about Lawson except that he was an able scholar and that he revered Archbishop Laud. As such he would fit in well with Laud's schemes for the improvement of the Church.

At this stage the sources fail. The state papers make no further reference to the case and local records are of no help. It does seem possible that a compromise was reached, with a third man being appointed. The evidence for this theory is that in December 1642 a clergyman from St Chad's, called Lendall, was declared a delinquent. 13 The absence of further mention of the case in the state papers suggests that Laud was satisfied with the results of his objection, and he could hardly have been reconciled to Poole's appointment. It is also possible that Lawson could have been appointed and then have resigned before 1642.

Thus, it can be seen that Archbishop Laud's policies had a considerable impact in the town both upon the corporation and upon certain individuals. This simple survey of his actions reveals several interesting features, not the least of which is the similarity between the rival policies of Laud and the Feoffees. The effects that these actions were to have on the decision taken in the town in 1642 will be seen in a later chapter.