Project Canterbury




Published by


President: LORD NORTON
Chairman: REV. J. R. SANKEY
Secretary: MISS C. M. R. CALLENDER

1 Vanbrugh Road, Blackheath, S. E. 3


Printed in England at
The Westminster Press
411A Harrow Road
London, W. 9


Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, 2009

January 30: KING CHARLES, Martyr
Kalendar of the Book of Common Prayer

"King Charles the First a Martyr?" you may ask. Yes, and a Saint. That the question can be put is a measure of the failure of the Church of England to maintain the view concerning him which she has never officially abandoned. From 1662 to 1859 it was proclaimed in the Book of Common Prayer, until, in the latter year, by a legal quibble, the special services for the 30th January were removed from it by Royal Warrant.

"It is as natural," said John Keble, preaching before the University of Oxford, "that the Church of England should keep this day as it is that Christ's Universal Church should keep St. Stephen's martyrdom." Bishop Creighton in 1895 observed: "Had Charles been willing to abandon the Church and give up episcopacy, he might have saved his throne and his life. But on this point he stood firm; for this he died and, by dying, saved it for the future."

In the whirlwind of Calvinism which devastated Great Britain during the first half of the seventeenth century arose "the White King", devout, learned, brave: of whom a great preacher eloquently said "that he could defend his Religion as a King, dispute for it as a Divine, and die for it as a Martyr". The oath "to defend the Catholic Faith", administered at his coronation, he made the keynote of his life, striving, as far as it lay in his power, to restore the [1/2] traditional teaching and dignified worship of which the shepherdless sheep had gradually been deprived, and strenuously opposing the attempted abolition of the Episcopal Hierarchy and the "sacrilegious invasions" of "the Church's enemies". (Eikon Basilike.)

Even Lord Morley remarks that the King was "unyielding in fidelity to his standards of personal duty and national well-being; he was patient in facing the ceaseless buffets that were at last to sweep him down the cataract".

Many persons, including churchmen of influence and importance, have fallen into serious error with regard to King Charles. In Victorian days much history was produced by men who were prejudiced, careless, and sometimes actually hostile to the Royal cause. The writers were not churchmen, and it is now ascertained that they ignored much contemporary evidence when it did not support their preconceptions, which were all in favour of Cromwell and the Parliament.

This history was accepted without question and has formed the basis for school text-books to this day. It is only of recent years that original sources have been re-examined by scholars and the misrepresentations exposed. For instance, the King himself was the first to recognise the blot on his fame, his treatment of Strafford; but it must be remembered that he was powerless to save his minister.

A modern and quite baseless charge is that the King lacked wit and humour. It is remarkable how he gained the trust and affection of persons hostile to him before knowing him, and that by sincerity and uprightness of character.

It is now admitted that his exacting ship-money from the inland counties was completely justified; indeed it is to him that we owe our Navy.

That he reigned for eleven years without a Parliament (a period when England had never been so well governed and the poor so well looked after) was not due to any despotic preference of his, but to the refusal of the Puritan squires in Parliament to facilitate the government of the [2/3] country and to refrain from persecuting Anglicans and Roman Catholics. It was Cromwell, not the King, who insulted, browbeat and abolished Parliament.

The historian Hume in the 18th century pointed out that the charge of double-dealing was not made against the King by his contemporaries. "I do stand more for the liberties of my people," said the King at his trial, "than anyone that is here as a judge."

Clarendon, originally an opponent, and a very critical loyalist, wrote of him: "He was the worthiest Gentleman, the best Master, the best Friend, the best Husband, the best Father, and the best Christian that the age in which he lived produced". B. Disraeli, in Sybil, wrote: "Rightly was King Charles surnamed the Martyr, for he was the holocaust of direct taxation. Never yet did a man lay down his life for so great a cause--the cause of the Church and the cause of the poor," and W. E. Gladstone, a Liberal, agreed with him so far as to admit: "It was for the Church that King Charles shed his blood upon the scaffold".

His attitude to the Saints was definitely traditional and Catholic; the Pope's Envoy, Rossetti, stated that the Queen Mother (Anne of Denmark) told him that in speaking of certain miracles performed by the Saint in whose honour the processions were being made at Antwerp, she observed the King listening attentively, "seeming to have a decided taste for the Catholic religion". We know that by the King's orders, in 1635, the bones of St. William at York were translated to a worthier grave. He also ordered the Windsor tapestries, representing the Assumption and St. George, to be placed on either side of the High Altar at the feasts of the Order of the Garter. It was during his reign that Oxford saw the erection of the crowned image of our Lady and Child over the porch of the University Church.

At Hedgerley, in Buckinghamshire, local tradition has it that the King, halting at the Church to receive the Blessed Sacrament, covered the altar with his cloak, and left it behind on departing. The remains of it are now carefully preserved.

[3] The apparent coldness of the King to the papal envoys who visited Whitehall for the purpose of discussing reunion seems to have been due mainly to his dislike of the deposing power of the Popes, and not to any differences in doctrine. It is significant that in his last speech on the scaffold, the King did not make use of the word "Protestant", but described himself as "a Christian according to the profession of the Church of England, as I found it left me by my father".

The Eikon Basilike (of which there is no reason for denying him to be substantially the author) sets forth very beautifully the actual "portraiture" of a noble mind in affliction and captivity, being strengthened and purified under God's hand till it was ready for the garland of sorrows and the crown incorruptible--"a good exchange".

Sir Philip Warwick records: "His Majestie told me that he should be like a captain that defended a place well . . . 'till I make some stone in this building my tombstone, and so will I doe' (says he), 'by the Church of England.' "

Small wonder that when Charles, through treaties abortive and battles lost, clung firmly--at the price of liberty, revenues, and life itself--to the doctrine of the Apostolical Succession versus Presbyterianism, he should be regarded as a Martyr pro vero articulo fidei, for a true article of faith, by the Church for which he died.

That January day in Whitehall did not wash the balm from Kingship,
but gave it a new anointing. (JOHN BUCHAN)

On the night before his beheading, he made his confession to Juxon, the Bishop of London, and on the day itself, spent an hour in prayer, and then received the Viaticum, after which, we are told, "he rose up from his knees with a cheerful and steady countenance". On the scaffold he forgave his murderers and declared that he died as a martyr for his people. Kneeling to the block as to a prayer-desk, he stretched out his hands for a sign that he was ready. With one blow the execution severed his head from [4/5] his body. Andrew Marvell, the Puritan poet, thus described the martyr's death:

"He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene
But with his keener eye
The axe's edge did try;
Nor called the gods with vulgar spite
To vindicate his helpless right,
But bow'd his comely head
Down, as upon a bed."

The boys of Westminster School are said to have spent the time of the martyrdom in prayer for the King. Strange doves flew about the scaffold, which was erected against the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and at the moment his head was severed from his body, devout persons rushed forward to dip handkerchiefs in his blood, to preserve them as relics.

Even in his lifetime, King Charles had effected miraculous cures, apart from the touching for the King's Evil. The most famous was that of John Cole of Winchester, as related to King Charles II by John Nicholas, Warden of Winchester College. Many cures are said to have been wrought by handkerchiefs and cloths dipped in the blood of the martyr, "proving that his late Majestie is now a Blessed Saint in Heaven". In 1685, the diarist Evelyn heard Bishop Ken speaking to King Charles II of the "salutary effect of King Charles his Majesty's father's blood, in healing one that was blind".

In 1725 a woman advertised a handkerchief dipped in the blood of King Charles I for the King's Evil. As recently as 1860 a child was brought to Ashburnham to touch the relics there; at one time they were kept in the chancel of the Church, but for many years they have been kept in Ashburnham House.

Strange sign and portents had accompanied the King from birth, when an angel appeared over his cradle holding [5/6] a blood-stained pall. At his trial in Westminster Hall the head of his cane suddenly fell to the ground. On the morning of his martyrdom it happened that the second lesson at Morning Prayer related the Passion of our Saviour, "which the King was much affected with".

He was known as the White King, because at his Coronation he wore a long shirt of white instead of the customary red upper shirt; and at his funeral at Windsor, the coffin was entirely whitened, during its progress to St. George's Chapel, by a sudden fall of snow from a clear sky, as though Heaven attested his innocence.

From the day of his martyrdom many editions of his famous book of meditations, the Eikon Basilike, were rushed through the press, causing a great wave of devotion to his memory and cause. Innumerable pictures and prints of him were produced, and these were treated with extraordinary veneration. Some of the devotional pictures still remain in churches, as in Canterbury Cathedral, St. Mary's, Rotherhithe, and St. Michael's Cambridge, and also in St. James's Palace. Medals commemorating him as a martyr were struck; on the "Laud Medal" (1662) the Archbishop is styled Sancti Caroli Praecursor, Forerunner of St. Charles. Devout people observed the 30th of January in his honour, and Bishop Duppa wrote prayers invoking his intercession. One might say he was canonized by acclamation.

At the Restoration, Convocation decreed his formal canonization by the threefold method in use till the 10th century, i.e., by appointing the anniversary of his martyrdom to be kept (the Canterbury and York Convocations adding the name of "K. Charles, Martyr", to the Kalendar of the new Book of Common Prayer), the compilation of an Office proper for his Feast-day, and the dedication of churches under his patronage. (To this day the Feast of Saint Charlemagne, although he was never canonized at Rome, is celebrated at Paris and Aix-la-Chapelle.) Churches were dedicated to the Royal Martyr at Plymouth, Falmouth, Tunbridge Wells, the Peak Forest, Newtown in Shropshire, Shelland in Suffolk, Tangier, Kilmainham Hospital in [6/7] Dublin, recently at South Mimms, and another is in process of building at Oxford.

In 1678, the Government voted £68,000 for a mausoleum at Windsor, of which the designs by Wren are preserved in All Souls' College, Oxford. The martyr's body still lies in St. George's Chapel, where it was discovered in 1814 to be incorrupt and emitting a sweet odour.

Many relics of the King exist, such as the blue silk vest, stained with his blood, in the London Museum; the cap under which he tucked up his hair on the scaffold is in the Victoria and Albert Museum; part of his cloak is in the London Museum, and another part in Shrewsbury Museum; a shirt, drawers and garters worn on the 30th January, and the blood-stained sheet that was used to cover the body, are at Ashburnham; the Duke of Portland owns the silver cup which served for a chalice at the King's last communion; various relics of his blood and hair are in private possession.


The Church of England, in the later 18th century, gradually forgot her debt to King Charles, but the Tractarians retained the tradition; Isaac Williams and Keble sang the Martyr, and Newman recalled "our own Saint Charles". The revival had been largely inspired by his name, as the tender poems in the Christian Year and Williams' Cathedral, or books like the Heir of Redcliffe, show.

In 1859 the services for the 30th January were removed by secular authority from the Book of Common Prayer, but the unauthorized omission of the Feast from the Kalendar was the work of the printers instructed by the Home Secretary alone.

Though "in the sight of the unwise" it "seemed to perish", the cult of the Royal Martyr has steadily revived through the years. The outcome of this widely awakening devotion is the Society of King Charles the Martyr, founded in 1894.

[8] Shrines (as at Walsingham and St. Mary le Strand) are being erected in increasing numbers. One of the Society's objects is the provision of a memorial chapel in London in which could be enshrined the various relics of the Martyr which it already possesses, as well as those which may come into its keeping in the future.

The Society has been instrumental in reviving the observance of the 30th January in hundreds of churches, both here and in the U.S.A. and the Dominions.

In almost every Kalendar (including that of the Scottish Episcopalian Church) the Feast is marked, for the Church of England does not find a king to die for her every day. The Lower House of Convocation in 1915, 1917 and 1918 petitioned for the reinstatement (or rather, retaining) of the King's name in the Kalendar, to be refused each time by the Bishops. In 1927 the Lower House again sent up a motion, and on that occasion the Bishops postponed the matter until such time as the revision of the Kalendar should be considered.

The Church of England will be branded with faithlessness and ingratitude if the name of "our own, our Royal Saint" be not speedily reinstated in her Kalendar. Had the sacred and innocent blood of the Martyr King not been shed, every one of our prelates would now be a Presbyterian or Baptist or Independent minister.

Do they, perchance, ever recall the words of Saint Charles written to Bishop Juxon, "Let my condition be never so low, I resolve by the grace of God, never to yield up the Church. By God's grace, no misery shall make me change Episcopal government into Presbyterian. God is my witness, my chiefest end in regaining my power is to do the Church service".


Project Canterbury