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Laud's Backgammon Set

One of the unusual items that we have had the pleasure to display in 2016 is a beautiful Backgammon and chequers set which has lived in the Library since 1951.  It is inlaid with a number of coloured woods and ivory, and comes complete with embroidered silk bag for counters and dice with shakers.  It was bequeathed to the Dean and Chapter by the Bennetts, the last remaining relations of a Welsh family of Morgans who had seemingly inherited it from Laud’s half brother’s daughter – Elizabeth Bailey.

Four hundred years ago this year, William Laud was appointed to be Dean of Gloucester, and so this item has particular resonance this year.

Laud is a fascinating figure often mentioned in discussions on the cause of the Civil War, but in this backgammon set we get a different picture, of a man, sharing a fireside with a friend and possibly gambling on the outcome of this game of dice. 

This is a contrast to the man who we often tell our visitors of, the man who returned the altar to the East End of the Cathedral and reinstated the altar rails and all the ceremonial of the church, to such an extent that Bishop Miles Smith (one of the translators of the King James bible and the then Bishop of Gloucester) refused to enter the Cathedral so long as these practices continued.

Laud stayed in Gloucester only five years before moving on to become Bishop of St David’s in Wales and then moving on to become Bishop of London, before he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633.

Laud’s life was brought sharply to an end in 1645, when after five years of imprisonment and trials he was attainted for treason by Parliament and executed.


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