This day, three hundred and sixty-three years past, was a dark day in English history – the regicide and martyrdom, at the hands of an illegal and unconstitutional kangaroo court, of King Charles I, the only person ever to be sainted by the Church of England. King Charles made a number of enemies in his support for such clergymen as Richard Montagu, who attacked the anti-humanist doctrinal excesses of the non-Conformists of his time (including the ideas that the mass of humanity was predestined for eternal torment whilst only a select few were assured places in heaven), as well as William Laud, who was a persistent and outspoken advocate on behalf of the legal and economic rights of tenant and smallholding farmers, against the arrogant and inhumane practice of enclosure. Though his enemies attacked King Charles as an overbearing absolutist, the point should be made very clearly that each of his actions – including the invocation of the feudal privileges of the monarch to the service and financial support of the landed classes – was very much in line with the constitutional balance between the rights of Parliament and the privileges of the monarch. Indeed, when Charles was defeated and dragged before the ‘court’ which ultimately took his life, his own defence was perfectly aligned with the principles of constitutional government, as David Lindsay notes here:
But didn’t Charles I believe in the Divine Right of Kings? No, he did not. Or at least he certainly expressed no such view at his grotesque “trial” pursuant to a Bill of Attainder, and before 80 of his carefully selected parliamentary and military enemies under a second-rate lawyer, John Bradshaw, created “Lord President” because all the proper judges had fled London rather than have anything to do with the wretched proceedings.
There, Charles declared repeatedly that, by denying the authority of the “court” to try him, he was simply upholding the law as it then existed, including the liberties of the English people and the parliamentary institutions of the English State. No law permitted the trial of the monarch, he argued. On the contrary, the law of treason then in force provided for exactly the opposite, namely that any attack on the monarch’s person was itself an offence. Simply as a matter of fact, he was right.
And the subsequent behaviour of the Cromwellian regime fully vindicated him.
And this pattern has held true for many a regime which followed. The ideological heirs of the roundhead landlords and merchants who ended up executing the sainted king – these Parliamentarians who would not put up with a king who exercised his traditional prerogatives to marry a faithful Catholic wife, to appoint sensible bishops and to tax the wealthy, but who welcomed an unbridled dictator in his stead – did not express any qualms about upholding oppressive and dictatorial regimes in Africa or Latin America or Asia, so long as those regimes posed no threat to their continued economic and political hegemony. King Charles I as a saint of the English Church could very well be the patron in Heaven of such constitutionally legitimate leaders as Mohammad Mosaddegh and Salvador Allende, and of such faithful reformers as have had to struggle against the dictatorial regimes which replaced them, without partaking of the militarist and materialist ideology which painted itself as the only alternative.
Blessed Charles, please continue to pray for us now.