Charles, King and Martyr, 1649

Charles the First

A biographical sketch of Charles the First, King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, may be found on the Anglican History Blog. Another sketch may be found at James Kiefer’s Christian Biographies.

Like his Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, who predeceased him on the scaffold, Charles the First is a controversial figure and inclusion in the sanctoral calendar. Considered by some a martyr for the High Church cause, dying for the sake of Crown and Bishops, he is decried by others as a defender of royal absolutism against parliamentary rule and willing (contra the claim of his steadfast defense of episcopacy) to negotiate a settlement with the Scots if they took up arms against the English in order to restore him to the throne that included the temporary establishment of a presbyterian polity for the Church of England. His flaws notwithstanding, he attracted the loyalty not only of “old style conformists” to the established order of the Church of England and of avant-garde conformists (Laudians) but also of some presbyterians among the Puritans who, despite their ecclesiastical disagreements with Charles and his advisers, wished to see the monarchy continue. The eminent scholar and Calvinist theologian James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, continued a royalist despite his disagreements with the Laudians with whom Charles surrounded himself, and he fainted when he witnessed Charles’ decollation from a nearby rooftop.

Charles, King and Martyr, was first commemorated in the Book of Common Prayer in 1662, two years after the restoration of monarchy and episcopacy in England, and was thus the only person “canonized” by the reformed Church of England. The commemoration was removed from the calendar in 1859, along with other “state services” like the thanksgiving for deliverance from the Gunpowder Plot, with the support of Queen Victoria. In recent years his commemoration has been restored to the sanctoral calendars of several Anglican Churches, including the Anglican Church in North America.

The Collect

Blessed Lord, in whose sight the death of your saints is precious: We praise your name for your abundant grace bestowed upon your servant Charles, king and martyr; by which he was enabled so cheerfully to follow the steps of his blessed Master and Savior in a constant patient suffering of all barbarous indignities, and at last resisting unto blood, and even then, according to the same pattern, praying for his murderers. Let his memory, O Lord, be ever blessed among us, that we may follow the example of his courage and constancy and great charity; for Jesus Christ’s sake, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.


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