King Charles the Martyr, 1643-1649

King Charles the Martyr, 1643-1649

King Charles the Martyr, 1643-1649

King Charles the Martyr, 1643-1649

Excerpt

The very mention of Charles the Martyr is notoriously a reaction stimulus, or slogan, of the most thought-killing kind. It is, however, a title so uniquely appropriate to this concluding act of the King's tragedy, as to leave practically no alternative. That he did, in fact, after the failure of his appeal in arms to the country, elect to take the way of martyrdom constitutes the vital point of the story and gives it its human and historical significance. It was Charles the King whose power was smashed, beyond hope of recovery, on Naseby field. It was Charles the Martyr who triumphed at the Restoration and who, though dead, proved strong enough to break the power of armed tyranny in Britain, and to maintain inviolate every one of those objects for which he had taken his stand in the field and in captivity.

May I, however, be permitted to explain that in speaking of Charles as a martyr I am stating the plain fact, and not pre- judging the case in his favour. A martyr--if we may trust Saint Paul--is not necessarily a saint. He is simply one who, of his free choice, lays down his life for a cause that he considers worthy. It is not enough merely to risk or to stake his life. The soldier who falls in battle is not a martyr. Not even when he implored the King to sip his own death warrant, was Strafford, by this reckoning, a martyr--he had staked and lost, and knowing it, paid up in the spirit of the hero he was. Laud, when they did him to death, was not given the opportunity of achieving martyrdom. But Charles was, and he deliberately embraced it. Almost up to the last moment, as I shall hope to show, it was open for him to have saved his life and even his crown, by what he at least would have considered an ignoble betrayal of things that he valued more than either. He was, if my reading of his mind be correct, more resolved to die than Oliver Cromwell to kill him. Cromwell was no fool, nor by choice would he have been accessory to murder. But his hand--to his ruin--was forced, and forced by his victim. It would have required a far greater moral strength than ever Cromwell possessed to have stood firm against the forces that . . .

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