29 January 2013

Blessed Charles, King and Martyr, pray with us

Today is the anniversary of the martyrdom at the hands of a cruel dictator (the first, indeed, of modernity) of the only person ever to be sainted by the Church of England after its break with Rome. Incidentally, through the Divines who to this day carry Blessed King Charles’s name, he was also a champion of a more just and more egalitarian social order than the one portended by the rise of the Puritans. As Fr John Alexander of S Stephen’s Church in Providence, RI notes: his Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, fought the enclosures movement in the Court of Star Chamber; he championed the Poor Laws to provide state relief and jobs for those victimised by enclosure; he promoted an economic policy of firm economic regulation through the patents system and through Crown monopolies (the beginnings of a modern ethos of public ownership); and he was a dedicated patron of the fine arts, in ‘[witness] in a thoroughly medieval way against the stark utilitarianism of the Puritans who condemned such pursuits as so much frivolity’.

The fight King Charles I waged against the economic anarchy which was fast congealing into a spirit of greed, Mammon-worship and primitive capitalism was far from an unconscious or merely self-interested one, in spite of the claims of Puritan-sympathetic Whig historians to the contrary. Indeed, his fight was expressly one oriented to what he saw as the common good of the kingdoms he ruled, as against the abuse he witnessed against farmers and tradesmen by a rising capitalist class. It is perhaps best in such an instance to allow King Charles I to speak for himself on the matter, as in this 1639 Proclamation Revoking Certain Patents and Commissions:

Whereas divers grants, licences, privileges and commissions have been procured from his Majesty, some under his Great Seal of England and some under his privy seal, signet or sign manual, under pretences that the same would tend to the common good and profit of his subjects, which since upon experience hath been found prejudicial and inconvenient to his people, contrary to his Majesty’s gracious intention in granting the same...

Forasmuch as his most excellent Majesty (whose royal ear and providence is ever intent on the public good of his people) doth now discern that the particular grants, licences and commissions hereafter expressed, have been found in consequence far from those grounds and reasons wherefore they were founded, and in their execution have been notoriously abused, he is now pleased of his mere grace and favour to all his loving subjects (with the advice of his Privy Council) by his regal power to publish and declare the several commissions and licences hereafter following, whether the same have passed his great seal, privy seal, signet and sign manual, or any of them, to be from hence utterly void, revoked and hereby determined...

and all proclamations, warrants or letters of assistance for putting in execution of the said commissions or licences to be henceforth declared void, determined and hereby revoked to all intents and purposes.

And thus, continues Fr John Alexander:

Against this background, we can begin to appreciate the full significance of the beheading of King Charles on January 30, 1649 as more momentous than even the crime and sin of regicide. In its constitutional dimension, it represented the severing of the head of state from the body politic; and in its social dimension it signaled the final unraveling of the web of mutual relationships and reciprocal obligations that had bound English society together for centuries. Henceforth, it would be everyone for oneself. It is in this sense, I believe, that we discover the fullest meaning of Gregory Dix’s remark that medieval England came to its final end on the scaffold outside Whitehall.

The veneration of Blessed King Charles thus does not solely represent an earnest desire and thankfulness for the continuation of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church in England, complete with its episcopacy. Though it certainly does that, it also extends the hope that through the witness of that Church, one, holy, Catholic and apostolic, and of its martyrs, a more just social order marked by reciprocity and mutual giving might be realised over-against the ruthless and anti-human logics of the market and of naked power.

Blessed Charles Stuart, King of England, of Ireland and of Scots, Martyr for Our Lord and his Church, pray with us.


  1. In sillier circles, this imposition of the greatest tyranny in English (never mind Irish) history is termed “the English Revolution”.

    In fact, of course, it long preceded the emergence of any industrial proletariat and is wholly inexplicable in Marxist terms, just as is the very existence of any Marxist movement in, say, the Russia of 1917, or Albania, or China at least until very recent years, or Korea, or Vietnam, or Nepal, or Bengal, or Sri Lanka, or Ethiopia, or Zimbabwe, or Uganda, or Rwanda, or South Africa, or Cuba, or Peru, or Bolivia, or … well, make your own list. At their respective heights of Communism, certainly Spain, and arguably also Italy and even France, were standing contradictions of the whole theory.

    If there is any truth at all in the Marxist analysis of history, then these things simply cannot be. I think that we all know what follows from the fact that these things are.

    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.

  2. Indeed, David, that it certainly did! I suppose I can understand why a certain subset of Anglo-American historians still want to take a sympathetic view of Cromwell, but as you note it is one which has some unfortunate distorting effects.