The Cult of King Charles the Martyr

The Cult of King Charles the Martyr

The Cult of King Charles the Martyr

The Cult of King Charles the Martyr

Synopsis

The cult of King Charles the Martyr did not spring into life fully formed in January 1649. Its component parts were fashioned during Charles's captivity and were readily available to preachers and eulogists in the weeks and months after the regicide. However, it was the publication of the Eikon Basilike in early February 1649 that established the image of Charles as a suffering, innocent king, walking in the footsteps of his Saviour to his own Calvary at Whitehall. The figure of the martyr and the shared set of images and beliefs surrounding him contributed to the survival of royalism and Anglicanism during the years of exile.With the Restoration the cult was given official status by the annexing of the Office for the 30th January in the Book of Common Prayer in 1662. The political theology underpinning the cult and a particular historiography of the Civil Wars were presented as the only orthodox reading of these events. Yet from the Exclusion Crisis onwards dissonant voices were heard challenging the orthodox interpretation. In these circumstances the cult began to fragment between those who retained the political theology of the 1650s and those who sought to adapt the cult to the changing political and dynastic circumstances of 1688 and 1714.This is the first study to deal exclusively with the cult and takes the story up until 1859, the year in which the Office for the 30th January was removed from the Book of Common Prayer. Apart from discussing the origins of the cult in war, revolution and defeat it also reveals the extent to which political debate in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was conducted in terms of the Civil Wars. It also goes some way to explaining the persistence of conservative assumptions and patterns of thought.ANDREW LACEY is currently Special Collections Librarian, University of Leicester, and College Librarian, Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

Excerpt

I confess his sufferings make me a Royalist that never cared for him. (William Sedgwick. Justice upon the Armie remonstrance. 1649, p. 31)

He was taken from prison and from judgment and who shall declare his generation? For he was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people was he stricken. (Isaiah 53:8)

The cult of Charles the martyr did not spring into life fully formed in January 1649. On the contrary, the component parts of the cult were known and available to the eulogists and preachers well before the execution obligingly provided them with a body. Perhaps more importantly, there was a substantial part of the nation who by 1647—8 were ready to receive sympathetic images of Charles and who could identify their hopes and fears with the figure of the defeated king. Although we are familiar with the `cult of personality', it is impossible to speak of a martyr cult in the traditional Christian sense, before there has been a killing. However, it was in the period 1646—8 that the imagery, typology and ideology of the cult were created. This typology, and the political theology which underpinned it, developed principally out of the confusion and anxiety of the late 1640s. Fears over the rise of religious radicalism, dislike of the high taxation necessary to keep the Army in the field, and the `new men' who had come to prominence in the County Committees, as well as anxieties over the propriety of opposing the Lord's anointed and the precedents this established in a hierarchical and patriarchal society, were some of the negative factors contributing to a reassessment of attitudes towards the king in the period after his military defeat. On a more positive note, the Royalist war effort had always been rooted in a sense of personal allegiance to the person of the king. This identification was encouraged through the use of the Royal Touch, the presentation of Charles as the representative of the `good old laws', and through the image of suffering kingship associated with the . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.