Why We Should Remember St. Charles King and Martyr

I’ll admit it. I’m a hipster. I was born and baptized into the Episcopal Church, but once it got too liberal (or mainstream, one could say), we left. Later, I drifted into the “New Calvinism,” but also left. Where to? Back to the roots. I went back to Anglicanism. Obviously for a host of personal reasons I could not return to the mainstream Episcopal Church, but to Anglicanism nonetheless.

This hipsterish part of my soul loves Anglicanism for its refusal to forget. I still remain fairly Reformed in much of my doctrine, however I longed for a tradition that still revered the “holy apostolic and catholic Church.” I love that our Christian dead are not deaf, dumb and silent on the other side of humanity, but worship with us and surround us.

However, despite this glorious legacy we still have forgetful tendencies. While there’s a number of moments that a traditionalist hipster may take aim at, one in particular still sticks in my craw. In 1859 the saint day of St. Charles, King and Martyr, was removed from the calendar of holy days.((Jolyon Mitchell, Martyrdom: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 99.)) While this was done by royal and parliamentary consent, it did not have the permission of the convocation.((Peter F. Anson, Building Up the Waste Places: The Revival of Monastic Life along medieval lines in the Post-Reformation Church of England (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1973), 57.)) I believe that the Church of England, as well as the sister churches of the Anglican Communion, should restore January 30th as a day commemorating the saintly sacrifice of King Charles I.

My argument to you today is quite simple. Not only was Charles a fairly devout Christian, faithful husband and father, he was also a staunch defender of the episcopacy. I believe that the episcopacy is a critical element of the essence of the Church and thus should be defended. Charles’ obstinate refusal to ultimately abolish the episcopal polity of the Church of England was the sufficient cause of his execution in 1649. This means King Charles was martyred in odium fidei, in hatred of the Faith.


Why Did Charles Die?

 The full story would require a full accounting of the causes of the English Civil War and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. However, there isn’t really scope for that in this essay and our real story begins at the end of the Second English Civil War. While Charles had sought refuge with the Scots, they turned him over to Parliament in 1647.((Pauline Gregg, King Charles I (London: Dent, 1981), 411.)) Parliament had sought to negotiate with Charles based on the Heads of Proposals, a more moderate constitutional proposal that retained a limited episcopacy.((“The Heads of Proposals Offered by the Army,” Constitution Society, accessed September 1, 2016, http://www.constitution.org/eng/conpur071.htm.)) Charles wrote back that he sought further negotiations but that he could not abide by a limitation or abolition the bishops, as,

[H]e cannot give his consent thereunto, both in relation as he is a Christian and a King; for the first he avows that he is satisfied in the judgement that this order was placed in the Church by the Apostles themselves, and ever since their time hath continued in all Christian Churches throughout the world…hath been upheld by the wisdom of his ancestors.((Ed. Samuel Rawson Gardiner, The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution, 1625-1660 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), 328.))

The decision to continue negotiations along this line angered the more radical, anti-episcopal faction of the parliament and army.((Ed. C.H. Firth, The Clarke Papers: Selections from the Papers of William Clarke (Camden: Camden Society, 1901), 228.)) Charles had sought to escape as he saw these negotiations pointless given the strength of the radical faction but was captured by an officer loyal to the parliament.((Gregg, King Charles I, 419-420.)) From his latest imprisonment, Charles continued to negotiate with the Presbyterian Scots. The king agreed to a temporary installation of Presbyterian church government for three years, after which the divines would agree upon the most godly polity. Charles was confident that the divines would restore the episcopacy once he took power.((“The Engagement: 1647-8,” British Civil Wars Project, accessed September 1, 2016, http://bcw-project.org/church-and-state/second-civil-war/engagement))

It was not to be. English and Welsh royalists were put down and the Scottish invasion was defeated at Preston.((Charles Carlton, Charles I: The Personal Monarch (London: Routledge, 1995), 329–330.)) Charles was forced to return to the negotiating table and Parliament overwhelmingly voted to talk with the king.((Geoffrey Robertson,The Tyrannicide Brief (London: Chatto & Windus, 2005), 118.)) At Newport, Charles had made several political concessions but had won the full retention of the episcopacy.((“The Treaty of Newport, 1648,” British Civil Wars Project, accessed September 1, 2016, http://bcw-project.org/church-and-state/second-civil-war/treaty-of-newport))

There remained, however, a radical faction determined on abolition of the bishops. They had earlier backed a failed attempt in 1641.((Clive Holmes, Why Was Charles I Executed? (London: Hambledon Continuum, 2006), 47.)) Lead by Col. Thomas Pride, this faction conducted a coup d’etat, purging parliament of elements committed to this negotiation.((Christopher Hibbert, Charles I (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968), 252.)) The triumph of the radicals sealed Charles’ fate. He had proved intransigent in the matter of the bishops and adamant in his authority.((Gardiner, The Constitutional Documents, 374–376.)) Charles was removed from the court and, after two days of testimony in his absence, he was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.((Gregg, King Charles I, 440–441.)) Before his death he was allowed to see and comfort his children.((W. Clark, A concise history of England; From the first invasion of the Romans to the accession of Queen Victoria (New York: Ivison & Phinney, 1857), 202-203.)) On January 30th 1649, King Charles I of England, Ireland and Scotland was put to death by beheading.

Dr. Mandell Creighton, historian and Bishop of London put it best when he wrote,

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 Charles stood firm: for this he died, and by dying saved it for the future.((“About S. Charles,” Society of King Charles the Martyr, accessed September 1, 2016, http://skcm.org/about-s-charles/.))

Even Charles’ later critics, such as Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone, while not praising his political ability, admitted, “It was for the Church that King Charles shed his blood upon the scaffold.”((Trans. Wayne Kempton, “King Charles the Martyr,” Project Canterbury, accessed September 1, 2016, http://anglicanhistory.org/charles/skcm_pamphlet.html.))


Why Episcopacy & Commemoration?

 It’s not just Charles general defense of the Church that should earn the praise of Anglicans. It’s his specific defense of the episcopacy that garners acclaim. For the Anglican there can’t be any negotiation. From the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, the episcopacy is a critical element of the life of our Church. From the earliest organization of the New Testament Church, there’s a division of authority between the apostles, and those ordained by them, such as Titus, the elders or presbyters, and the deacons. As soon as early second century, soon after the passing of the apostles, it seems that office of bishop, episcopos or overseer, had been instituted as a replacement for the apostles’ position.((Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans IX-X.)) However it does seem it would take the church some time to fully implement this model.((Alphonse Van Hove, “Bishop” The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907. Accessed September 1, 2016, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02581b.htm))

All in all, we can agree Christ doesn’t simply start a series of relationships, or some ill-defined movement, but rather a New Covenant and an institution to follow it. This institution isn’t simply made up of beliefs but also of specific offices, powers, duties and organization. Like the Parliament of England, we have no authority to abolish that which He has set up. While we profess that the Scripture is the only absolute authority to bind our consciences, we also believe that where the Scripture appears murky or in contention, we hold that which is catholic and that has been held traditionally. There can be no doubt that from nearly the earliest times, the Church adopted the episcopal polity as the best representation of Christ’s institution. It’s not just wrongheaded, ill-advised, or even dangerous to tinker with or abolish the institutions of Christ’s Church, but potentially blasphemous even.

While traditionally we don’t “unchurch” those Protestant traditions that lack bishops, we can’t abide by those seeking to destroy that which had been set up for centuries. Whether one holds that the episcopacy is the esse, plene esse, or even merely the bene esse of the Church, it can be clear that to violently abolish it via armed revolt and conspiracy is dangerous. To resist such conspiracy, even to the point of death, is commendable, even saintly.

Lastly, we can also honor how St. Charles acted in death. When he awoke the day of his execution, he called it his “second wedding day,” as, “before the night I hope to be espoused to my blessed Jesus.”((Clark, A concise history, 203.)) Charles then declared his confession of faith in the Church of England and noted he had both a “good cause and a gracious God.”((Clark, A concise history, 203.)) When Bishop Juxon reminded him that Charles had but a brief moment before heaven, Charles comforted him with his last words, “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown. Remember!”((Clark, A concise history, 203-204.))

I’ve come to love Anglicanism with its emphasis on Scriptural authority, salvation by faith, and simultaneous stance on remaining in the apostolic and catholic Church. I’ve also come to love how Anglicanism remembers. I believe we should continue to remember, as Charles charged Juxon. I look forward to praying on the next January 30th the old prayer,

For England’s Church, for England’s realm,

(Once thine in earthly sway)

lest our storms our Ark should overwhelm,

Saint Charles of England pray!

Joseph Laughon

Joseph Laughon is layman in the Anglican Church of North America and worships with his wife at All Saints Anglican in Long Beach, California. He is a history graduate from Concordia University, Irvine and is a member of the American region of the Society of King Charles the Martyr. He is also a contributor to The Hipster Conservative and his own blog at Musings On The Right.

'Why We Should Remember St. Charles King and Martyr' has 1 comment

  1. February 23, 2023 @ 11:46 pm Randy Schumacher

    Great article Thanks.


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