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Civil War Politics and the Texts of Archbishop William Laud's Execution Sermon and Prayers

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Abstract

Before his execution in 1645, Archbishop William Laud composed a sermon and prayer to be delivered on Tower Hill. What started as a single text—the manuscript from which he spoke—soon became multiple texts composed of a transcribed record which differed from the written text in hundreds of places. The Oxford and London printed versions of Laud's execution sermon and prayers presented contrasting portraits of the Archbishop, neither corresponding to readers' expectations. As these texts reversed assumptions about how political allegiances might affect the transmission of a prominent figure's dying words, they also refused to present a single voice captured in one stable document, offering instead contrasting representations and tones, each authoritative in its context and for its purpose. This essay explains how Civil War politics shaped those texts and discusses some contemporaries' awareness of these textual and political issues. (P. J. K.)

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