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Charles I

By W. H. Hutton

From S.L. Ollard and Gordon Crosse, eds. A Dictionary of English Church History

London: Mowbray and Co., Ltd, 1912, pages 105-107.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2007

CHARLES I. (1600-49), King of Great Britain and Ireland, and martyr, the only person formally canonised by the English Church since the Reformation, was born at Dunfermline, and did not come to England till 1604. He was a delicate child, and only gradually grew strong and athletic, becoming a good rider, as well as interested in books, particularly theology and plays, in music and in painting. On the death of his brother Henry in 1612 he came more prominently into public life. After a boyish quarrel in 1618 he became a great friend of his father's friend, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, to whom he remained attached till his murder in 1628. In 1623 they went to Madrid (taking full provision for the performance of the English Church services in a private chapel) with a view to negotiate a marriage with the sister of Philip IV. The obdurate demands of the Spaniards for the recognition of Romanism in England caused the negotiations to break down, and Charles married Henrietta Maria, daughter of Henry IV. of France, on 1st May 1625 (by proxy). On 27th March he had become King by the death of his father. From the first he was in difficulties with his Parliament, largely through the policy of Buckingham, and partly through the attack of the Commons on Richard Mountague, an anti-Calvinist writer, whom Charles made his chaplain. Parliament met again in 1628, and in the Petition of Right condemned a number of illegal or unconstitutional practices, and accused Bishops Laud (q.v.) and Neile of favouring popery. Charles gave his special favour to Mountague and Mainwaring (who had published sermons in which he declared that those who did not pay sums demanded by the Crown should receive damnation, i.e. in modern language, condemnation), and translated Laud to the see of London. In 1629 Parliament was dissolved, and a period of personal government began. Money was obtained in many unusual ways. 'Obsolete laws were revived,' says Clarendon, 'and rigorously executed,' and 'unjust projects of all kinds, many ridiculous, many scandalous, all very grievous, were set on foot.' Year by year the Government in consequence became more and more unpopular. Charles was now advised by Thomas Wentworth (afterwards Earl of Strafford) and Laud, the former an advocate of benevolent despotism, the other tolerant towards liberty of opinion within the Church, but anxious to enforce the formularies to which she was committed. Church preferment was given according to a list of names supplied by Laud, in which the O (Orthodox) were distinguished from the P (Puritan) among the clergy. In 1633 Wentworth was made Lord Deputy of Ireland and Laud Archbishop of Canterbury.

In 1634 the King endeavoured to raise a sum of money, primarily for a fleet to keep off pirates, by 'ship money,' from maritime shires and London, which in the next year he ordered to be exacted also from inland counties. In 1637 in Hampden's case the judges (except Coke and Hutton) gave judgment in favour of the Crown in regard to the legality of this. Meantime the Star Chamber was active in suppressing libels against the King, Queen, and bishops (cases of Prynne, Burton, and Bastwick): the severe punishments were attributed by the Puritans to Laud. In 1637-8 the attempt to introduce a liturgy into Scotland caused riots in Edinburgh, the signing of a Solemn League and Covenant to resist innovations, and a revolution took place. In 1639 Charles went to York, but failed to gather an army strong enough to coerce the Scots. In 1640 the Scots entered England, and he was obliged to yield. On 13th April the Short Parliament met, and it was dissolved on 5th May because it would not grant supplies before the redress of grievances. Charles summoned, by the advice of Wentworth and Laud, a Parliament, which met on 3rd November 1640. At the beginning of 1641 the Commons ordered that ;commissions be sent into all counties for the defacing, demolishing, and quite taking away of all images, altars, or tables turned altar-wise, crucifixes, superstitious pictures, monuments, and reliques of idolatry, out of all churches or chapels.' On 11th November 1640 Strafford was impeached; on 18th December Laud. The trial of the former failing, a Bill of Attainder was brought in, which was passed on 7th May by the Lords, and Charles on 10th May gave his assent. Bishop Williams (q.v.) had advised him that [105/106] his 'public conscience' might do what his personal conscience forbade, but he was probably most influenced by the riot in London which threatened the Queen's life. From that moment the whole fabric of personal government was broken down. Charles made an ineffectual visit to Scotland. A rebellion (largely due to dread of Puritanism) broke out in Ireland. The Grand Remonstrance, against all the King's policy in recent years, was passed (22nd November 1641). On 4th January 1642 Charles made matters much worse by endeavouring to arrest five members who were opposed to him. During the next three months the chief dispute was on the control of the militia, which the Parliament wished to secure for itself.

On 8th April Charles issued from York a declaration against the demands and conduct of Parliament, and on 23rd August he set up his standard at Nottingham. On 23rd October he fought an indecisive battle at Edgehill. Throughout the war which followed he showed considerable military capacity, and though not successful in his object at Newbury (20th September 1643), he won the fight at Cropredy Bridge (29th June) and secured the capitulation of Essex at Lostwithiel (12th September). In 1643 at Oxford and in 1645 at Uxbridge negotiations were entered into, which broke down because Charles was determined to preserve episcopacy, while the Scots, who now controlled the policy of Parliament, were determined on its destruction. Charles was willing, on the advice of his chaplains, to grant toleration, but he said: 'Let my condition be never so low, I resolve by the grace of God never to yield up this Church to the government of Papists, Presbyterians, or Independents.' On 22nd February 1645 the negotiations were broken off. On 9th May Charles left Oxford, on 15th May relieved Chester, on 1st June took Lancaster, but on 14th June he was totally defeated at Naseby, and all hope of success in the war was at an end, and the King found himself face to face with the Independents as the dominant party among his opponents. He returned to Oxford, 6th November, and remained there with failing fortunes till 5th May 1646, when he gave himself up to the Scots. 'Then came months of difficult negotiation. The King was willing to allow the establishment of Presbyterianism, for a time, and the suppression of the Independents, in whom men like Baxter as well as the Scots already saw their most dangerous foes; but he insisted on the maintenance of some at least of the sees, as a security for freedom of Church worship and for the continuance of apostolic succession.' Charles, in the course of negotiations at Newcastle with Alexander Henderson, applied to Juxon (q.v.), Bishop of London, to advise him as to how far he might allow the temporary cession of episcopacy, 'which absolutely to do is so directly against my conscience that by the grace of God no misery shall ever make me.' Juxon and Brian Duppa, Bishop of Salisbury, agreed that a temporary compliance might be justified, and the King offered to accept the establishment of Presbyterianism for three years, after which a 'regulated episcopacy' was to return. 'How can we expect God's blessing if we relinquish His Church?' said the King when he was pressed to further concession. On 30th January 1647 he was delivered up by the Scots, and remained at Holmby House, where he again agreed to the establishment of Presbyterianism for three years. On 3rd June, seized by Joyce on behalf of the army, he was removed from Holmby, and after moving about was taken to Hampton Court. There the 'Heads of Proposals' put to him by the army included the abolition of 'all coercive powers, authority, and jurisdiction of bishops, and all other ecclesiastical officials whatsoever, extending to any civil penalties upon any.' Charles preferred this to the proposal of Parliament that Presbyterianism should be established, with no toleration for the use of the Common Prayer; but he arrived at no definite settlement with the army. On 11th November he escaped to Carisbrooke Castle, where he soon became a strict prisoner. On 26th December he signed a secret treaty with the Scots, agreeing to the establishment of Presbyterianism in England for three years and the suppression of the other sects; but the second Civil War failed, and after a new attempt at settlement (the treaty of Newport, 18th September) had come to nothing because the King refused entirely to abandon episcopacy, he was again seized by the army, imprisoned in Hurst Castle, 4th December; moved to Windsor, 19th December; and brought to trial at Whitehall, 19th January 1649.

He refused to plead before an illegal tribunal, but was sentenced to death on 27th January, and executed on 30th January in front of Whitehall. He was attended during his last hours by Juxon, who confessed and absolved him at Whitehall. 'There they permitted him and the Bishop to be alone for some time, and the Bishop had prepared all things in order to his receiving the Sacrament; and, whilst he was at his private devotions, Nye and some [106/107] other bold-faced ministers knockt at his door . . . to offer their services to pray with the King. [But he said]: "They that have so often prayed against me shall never pray with me in this agony." When he had received the Eucharist he rose up from his knees with a cheerful and steddy countenance. . . . They at Whitehall had prepared two or three dishes of meat for him to dine upon, but he refused to eat anything . . . resolved to touch nothing after the Sacrament. But the Bishop let him know how long he had fasted . . . and how some fit of fainting might take him upon the scaffold . . . which prevailed with him to eat halfe a manchet of bread and drinke a glass of wine' (Sir Philip Warwick's Memoires of the Raigne of King Charles I.). He went boldly to the scaffold, and in his last speech said: 'For the people; and truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whosoever; but I must tell you that their liberty and freedom consists in having of government those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not having share in government, sirs; that is nothing pertaining to them.' He was buried in St. George's Chapel at Windsor by Juxon, but permission to use the Prayer Book service was refused.

Charles undoubtedly died because he would not abandon the Church, and this was formally recognised at the Restoration. On 25th January 1661 it was ordered that 30th January should be kept as a public fast, and a form of prayer was drawn up by Bishop Duppa. This contained a prayer that by 'a careful, studious imitation of this Thy blessed saint and martyr, and all other Thy saints and martyrs that have gone before us, we may be made worthy to receive benefit by their prayers, which they, in communion with the Church Catholic, offer up unto Thee for that part of it here militant.'

The form of prayer, after revision, was issued by the authority of both Convocations, annexed by the authority of the Crown to the Prayer Book, and sanctioned by Parliament in 12 Car. II. c. 14. Royal proclamation at the beginning of each reign ordered its use, but in 1859 it was withdrawn from the Prayer Book by Royal Warrant. In the Calendar 'King Charles, Martyr' was inserted on 30th January, and no action has ever been taken by Crown, Convocation, or Parliament to remove the words, though the printers have omitted them.

Charles was thus formally canonised by the Church of England. Sermons were preached annually in his memory, often reaching a high pitch of devout eulogy. Churches were dedicated to his memory (Arnold Forster, Studies in Church Dedications, ii. 346-8). Keble's (q.v.) poem in the Christian Year is well known, and in a sermon he declared that 'it is as natural that the Church of England should keep this day as it is that Christ's Universal Church should keep St. Stephen's martyrdom.' And Bishop Creighton (q.v.) in 1895 said that by his death Charles saved the Church of England for the future. [EIKON BASILIKE.] [W. H. H.]

King Charles's Works, 1661; S. R. Gardiner in D.N.B.; Hutton, Hist. of Eng. Ch., 1625-1714.

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