- A. J. Hegarty
Laurence, Thomas (1597/8–1657), college head, was born the son of a Dorset clergyman. Having obtained a Balliol scholarship in 1614 he matriculated on 11 May 1615, aged seventeen. Elected a fellow of All Souls College in 1617, he was formally admitted on 14 January 1618. He graduated BA on 9 June 1618 and proceeded MA on 16 May 1621. He incorporated his MA at Cambridge in 1627.
Ordained deacon in May 1624, Laurence subsequently became a priest and received from the college in July the vicarage of Lewknor, Oxfordshire, which he had resigned by March 1625. Perhaps about this time he became chaplain to William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, chancellor of the university. Granted the richest canonry of Lichfield Cathedral on 31 January 1629, he took his BD on 13 March. He became a chaplain to Charles I, through Pembroke's influence according to William Laud. Secure in the chancellor's favour, in disputations at the Oxford Act on 13 July 1629 Laurence asserted not only that property consecrated to God was inalienable but also that doctrine might be defined only by churchmen at ecclesiastical synods, and that laymen could have no say in it. This was implicitly to criticize the Commons' 1628 attack on Arminianism, and John Prideaux, regius professor of divinity, furiously accused Laurence of favouring popery. In 1630 Laurence apparently resigned his fellowship, and some time after, married; his wife's name is unknown.
In 1633 Philip Herbert, who had succeeded his brother as earl of Pembroke, presented Laurence to the rich rectory of Bemerton with Fugglestone, Wiltshire, in succession to George Herbert. He took his DD on 16 July of that year. His Two Sermons (1635), which denounced schismatic tendencies, criticized reliance on predestination without works, defended reverencing of the altar, and proposed a high view of sacerdotal dignity, identified him publicly with Arminian positions. His Sermon Preached before the King's Majesty (1637), which exalted priestly dignity and defended the real presence in the eucharist, became a cause célèbre.
In November 1637 Laud, evidently pleased by Laurence's publications, probably engineered Laurence's succession as master of Balliol College. Evelyn thought the new master 'an accute and Learned Person' (Evelyn, Diary, 2.18), excusing his disciplinarian style as necessary after his predecessor John Parkhurst's neglect, but the headship was simply a first step. After some difficulty, in March 1638 Laud, worried by the ever-present Calvinistic authority of Prideaux as regius professor of divinity, finally secured Laurence's election to the Lady Margaret professorship as a counterweight. He was also promptly installed in an attached canonry of Worcester Cathedral. He was a serious scholar and his annotated manuscript index of theological works in the Bodleian, presented to the same library in 1658 by his eldest son, suggests wide reading. Laud, however, wished the controversial professor to be prudent and advised him through Gilbert Sheldon, warden of All Souls, to be 'mindful of the waspishness of these times, and to be sure to read upon no argument, that may make any the least trouble in Church or university' (Laud, Works, 5.186). Prosperity allowed him to buy mills at Woodstock, near Oxford (1639), and land at Long Hanborough, also in Oxfordshire (1641). Dispensed from lecturing early in 1640 owing to ill health, he was sufficiently recovered to preach the national fast on 8 December 1640.
By absence from college in early 1642 Laurence evaded the protestation, and he remained loyal to the king during hostilities with parliament. At Laud's trial Laurence's promotion was given as an instance of the archbishop's advancing the popishly affected, but his serious troubles began in 1646, when on 13 April his Wiltshire rectory was let and he had to compound. By late June, in financial straits, he borrowed £10 from the vestry of St Lawrence Jewry, a Balliol living. In July the Wiltshire committee heard that he had observed ceremonies, set up an altar, forbidden psalm-singing, permitted a maypole, and allowed a bowling green and skittle alley to be used on Sundays. He had not visited Bemerton since before the war, though his wife had lived there. Laurence refused the covenant. Attempts to secure payment of his professorial arrears were ultimately unsuccessful and in January 1648 he was listed with sequestrated Wiltshire delinquents.
One of few men of note to submit without formal reservation to the parliamentary visitors of Oxford in 1648, Laurence was allowed to resign his two offices and depart with hopes of ecclesiastical employment elsewhere. Soon afterwards, having sold his Woodstock property, he left Oxford. Colonel Valentine Walton, a parliamentarian whom he had assisted while a prisoner in royalist Oxford, relieved his needs and by 1652 secured him the chaplaincy of Colne, in the parish of Somersham, Huntingdonshire.
Charles II is said to have destined Laurence for an Irish bishopric, but he died shortly before his burial on 10 December 1657 in Colne chapel, where his wife had been interred. By his will dated 2 November 1657 he bequeathed sums amounting to £150 between four younger sons, a nephew, and a niece, household goods at Colne and at Long Hanborough to his daughter Mary, the executrix, and the residue, including curiously his barber's case and instruments, to his eldest son, Thomas.
- Wood, Ath. Oxon., new edn, 3.437–8
- M. Burrows, ed., The register of the visitors of the University of Oxford, from ad 1647 to ad 1658, CS, new ser., 29 (1881), lxxxii–lxxxiii, cxxv–cxxvi, 167, 181, 188, 479
- Walker rev., 376
- Reg. Oxf., 2.338, 3.364
- The works of the most reverend father in God, William Laud, 5, ed. J. Bliss (1853), 185–6, 194, 244–5
- Bodl. Oxf., MS Mus. e.40; MS DD All Souls College c. 112, item 11
- TNA: PRO, SP 16/146/94r; SP 16/271/148v–149r; PROB 11/283/585
- LPL, MS 943, 133–4
- diary of Thomas Crosfield, Queen's College, Oxford, MS 390, 75r
- Fasti Angl., 1541–1857 [Ely], 125
- Balliol Oxf., letters, essays, and verses
- Bodl. Oxf., annotated catalogue, MS Mus. e. 40
Wealth at Death
see will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/283/585