True son of our dear Mother, early taught With her to worship and for her to die, Nursed in her aisles to more than kingly thought, Oft in her solemn hours we dream thee nigh. – John Keble, “Charles Stuart, King and Martyr”, from The Christian Year
The word saint, has several different uses, but one basic meaning. It comes from the Latin word sanctus, which means holy, and it means “holy one”. This much everyone agrees on. It is when we come to the question of who is a saint or a holy one that disagreements arise. There is a kind of secular concept within Western culture of a “saint” as an extremely good person. In this sense of the term holiness is equated with goodness. Within the Christian faith, the term saint is sometimes used as a synonym for Christian, to refer to any believer in Jesus Christ. This use of the term is derived from the New Testament itself and reflects the original root meaning of the Greek and Latin words for holy, that of being consecrated or set apart. Believers in Jesus Christ are holy in the sense of being called out of the world, set aside, and consecrated for God. Many Protestant Christians recognize only this use of the word saint. Other Christians, including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and Lutherans, while recognizing this use of the word saint, also use it in another way. In this other use, saint is a title bestowed upon a person as a way of saying that the Church officially recognizes his holiness.
Some Protestants object to this use of the term saint on the grounds that it is not the way the New Testament uses the word but I disagree. The New Testament does declare that all believers in Christ have been sanctified, i.e., made holy, consecrated to God, by the blood of Jesus Christ. It also declares specific individuals to be holy – like John the Baptist (Mark 6:20), the prophets (Luke 1:70, Acts 13:21, 2 Peter 1:21, 3:2, Revelation 22:6), and the apostles (Ephesians 3:5, Revelation 18:20). One of the books which calls the prophets and apostles holy also says that only God is holy (Revelation 15:4) indicating that either the Apostle John and the martyrs to whom he attributes the statement that only God is holy are in disagreement, or that the word holy has different senses in different contexts, one of which can only be rightly attributed to God, another of which can be ascribed to men like the apostles and prophets. The latter is the correct inference. As T. S. Eliot wisely said “We should not try to pin a word down to one meaning, which it should have at all times, in all places, and for everybody.” (1) The New Testament calls all believers saints but it does not contain an injunction forbidding the Church from doing what it does itself, applying the same term in a more limited sense to specific persons. After the Reformation, a major difference of opinion arose among the reformed Churches, regarding Church traditions. Some said that unless a traditional belief or practice can be shown to be found in and authorized by Scripture it should be abandoned. Others argued that unless a traditional belief or practice is said to be wrong or forbidden by Scripture it should be retained and honoured. Among English-speaking reformed Christians, the latter was the position of the Church of England, defended by the Elizabethan era Anglican divine Richard Hooker in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. The former was the position of the Puritans whom Hooker argued against.
It is perversely appropriate therefore, that the Puritans were the ones who persecuted and martyred the man who is our subject today, the only man every canonized a saint by the Church of England after she was removed from under the authority of Rome. The canonization took place at the convocation of the ecclesiastical provinces of Canterbury and York in 1660, during the Restoration that followed the English Civil War and the Puritan protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. The man canonized as saint was Charles Stuart, who had reigned over England and Scotland as King Charles I until he was murdered by the Puritans on January 30, 1649.
Charles I was the second member of the House of Stuart to reign over England. The Stuarts had ruled Scotland ever since Robert Stewart, grandson of Robert the Bruce through his daughter Marjorie, succeeded his uncle David II as king in 1371. Prior to Robert II’s accession to the throne his ancestors had held the title High Steward of Scotland for six generations, from which the family’s patronym was derived. Charles’ father James, was already James VI of Scotland when he inherited the throne of England in 1603, upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth I was the third and last child of Henry VIII, and when she, like her brother Edward and sister Mary, died without issue, the House of Tudor became extinct and the line of succession reverted back to the descendents of Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister and the daughter of Henry VII. Margaret had married James IV of Scotland, their son was James V, whose daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, was the mother of James VI.
The House of Stuart inherited its problem with the Puritans from the House of Tudor. Parliament, under Henry VIII, had passed the Act of Supremacy in 1534 which declared the king to be the highest earthly authority over the Church of England, effectively removing it from under the authority of the Pope. This was not done out of sympathy with the doctrines of Martin Luther and John Calvin and the Church of England at first was little different after the Act than it had been before the Act. Later in Henry VIII’s reign other reforms were started. He authorized the production of an official English translation of the Bible for use in the Church, which came out in 1539 as The Great Bible. Thomas Cranmer, whom he had made Archbishop of Canterbury, also began work on an English language version of the liturgy. This became the Book of Common Prayer, the first edition of which came out in 1549, a couple of years after the death of Henry VIII during the reign of his son Edward VI. Edward, unlike his father, was a Protestant in doctrine, and, although he was in his minority for the duration of his brief reign, under him Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Thomas Ridley introduced further reforms, including an explicitly Protestant confession of faith. When Edward died at age 15, the throne passed, despite his efforts to install a Protestant cousin, Lady Jane Grey, to his Roman Catholic sister Mary, who repealed the Act of Supremacy, reversed the reforms of her father and brother, and had Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley – among many others – burned at the stake. When she died childless in 1558 the throne then went to her Protestant sister Elizabeth. By this time, the polarization over religion threatened the stability of the government. Protestants had fled the realm during the persecutions of “Bloody Mary” to find refuge in places like Calvin’s, Geneva. Now under Elizabeth it was the Catholics who were fleeing to places like France and Spain and the Protestants were returning. Unfortunately, during their exile they had come under the influence, not merely of the Reformer’s better teachings like the authority of Scripture as the Word of God and justification by faith, but of more radical and obnoxious doctrines as well. Among these doctrines, popular in Calvin’s Geneva, were presbyterianism, the idea of getting rid of the bishops that had governed the Church since the Apostolic era and putting the governance of the Church in the hands of synods of presbyters, and anti-monarchical, seditious, republicanism. Thus, when Elizabeth became Queen, she had to deal with both Catholics who opposed her restoration of the reforms of her father and brother and Protestants who demanded that she get rid of the bishops and everything ritualistic, ceremonial and traditional that they objected to. Her response was to say that the Church would keep its bishops, rituals, and ceremonies, that it would follow the Book of Common Prayer, and adopt the Protestant Thirty-Nine Articles as its doctrinal confession, and that bishops and priests would be free to interpret its doctrines in as Catholic or Protestant a way as they liked, so long as they did not rock the boat, in which case they would be dealt with mercilessly. The Elizabethan Settlement was an ingenious attempt to split the difference between the wisdom of Solomon and the man who put on the colours of both sides in a war and got shot at by both.
This was the situation in England when the throne passed to the Scottish House of Stuart. The situation in Scotland was a bit different. There, the established Church had gone much further in the way of Calvinistic reforms. The bishops had been abolished and the Church had been given a presbyterian government. It was because of this that the English radical Protestants, who are known in history as the Puritans because of their desire to purify the Church and society of all they considered to be unbiblical, initially thought they had an ally in the new king who already reigned over a presbyterian country. They were very much mistaken. The new James I of England, as James VI of Scotland, had already tasted of the fruit of Puritanism. He had been baptized in the Roman Catholic Church which was the Church of his parents, Mary, Queen of Scots and her husband Lord Darnley. Before his first birthday his father was murdered and his mother was arrested by Protestant radicals. He never saw his mother again. She was forced to abdicate and he, crowned king at age one, was removed from her custody so that he would be raised as a Protestant. He was brought up under the tutelage of brutal presbyterian masters. He was captured and held prisoner for about a year by presbyterian noblemen when he was sixteen years old. When he inherited the throne of England he was already developed a strong dislike for extreme Protestantism. The Puritans, therefore, when they sent him the Millenary Petition as he travelled to London to claim his new throne, requesting that he abolish the sign of the cross in baptism, the rite of confirmation, the term priest, wedding rings and vestments, bowing at the name Jesus, etc., were already fated to be disappointed. He called the Hampton Court Conference for early 1604 to which he invited Puritan representatives and bishops of the Church of England. He allowed the Puritans to present their requests and the bishops to present counterarguments and then proceeded to deny their requests. The one exception was the request for a new authorized translation of the Bible. This he approved because he disliked the presbyterian and republican marginal notes of the then popular Geneva Bible. He was convinced that presbyterianism was the ally of republicanism while episcopalianism was allied to the reign of kings.
If it could be argued that James support for the Anglican status quo was politically motivated the same cannot be said for his son. Charles was baptized into the Church of England and raised in the Anglican faith – the first British monarch of whom this can be said. He was personally devout and when he refused to give in to Puritan demands it was for a sincerely held theological belief in the necessity of bishops in Apostolic succession.
“Rightly was King Charles surnamed the Martyr”, wrote Benjamin Disraeli, “for he was the holocaust of direct taxation.” He then went on to say “Never yet did man lay down his heroic life for so great a cause: the cause of the Church and the cause of the poor.” (2)
Disraeli wrote this assessment of King Charles in his novel Sybil which was first published in 1845. This was not typical of the way the martyred king was treated by the historians of Disraeli’s century. The nineteenth century was the era of triumphant liberalism. Liberalism, the ideology which encapsulated the spirit of the Modern Age, was born out of the anti-Christian doctrines of the Enlightenment Project. It championed the “liberty” of the individual against the traditional authority of kings and the Church only to bind the individual in slavery to the omnipotent State. In the English-speaking world liberalism’s pedigree went back, through the Whig Party of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to the Puritan Roundheads who deposed and murdered King Charles I. Naturally, therefore, the Whig historians of the nineteenth century were not inclined to include sympathetic interpretations of the king in their histories.
In the Whig interpretation of history King Charles was a tyrant, who sought to overturn the constitution of England, abrogate the rights and privileges of Parliament, and to impose his own arbitrary will upon the country. This interpretation is, like virtually every other idea liberals have ever come up with, pure nonsense.
Charles, like his father, believed in the Divine Right of Kings. Liberals see this doctrine as being a justification for autocratic government. This, however, reveals the anti-Christian, rationalistic thinking that is at the heart of liberalism. The doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings asserts that rulers derive their authority directly from God to Whom they are accountable. To say that this doctrine promotes autocratic government is to assert one’s practical atheism. For if we believe in the existence of an Almighty, Holy, God, Who holds men accountable in this world and for all eternity, the idea that kings derive their authority from and are accountable to Him is a strong deterrent rather than an incentive to tyrannical behaviour on the part of the king. It is a much stronger deterrent to tyranny than the liberal doctrine that government derives its authority from “the consent of the people”. (3)
It is, in fact, liberal, democratic theory that is the true recipe for tyranny. It actually removes inhibitions on the government’s powers to tax and legislate. If the government is the voice of the people, after all, whenever it uses those powers it is the people who are taxing and legislating themselves. This is not sophistry, it is borne out by the history of the last three centuries. As Western governments have grown more democratic, they have also grown exponentially, as have the laws which they have introduced, laws which now intrude into people’s private lives and businesses in ways that would have been unthinkable before modern democracy. Taxation has also become far more oppressive. Disraeli said that the death of King Charles was “the holocaust of direct taxation.” When Disraeli spoke of direct taxation he was referring to taxes levied directly by the sovereign as opposed to those which were created by the elected assembly. His claim that the taxes King Charles raised directly without Parliamentary consent were fairer than those imposed by Parliament was based upon the fact that the wealthy paid the former and the poor paid the latter. This was, in fact, the case, but there is an even stronger case to be made. The tax system that has evolved after the Crown was weakened and most of its powers transferred to the assembly brings in government revenue in much larger amounts, through taxes at much higher rates, collected in a much more oppressive way, than those conceived of by any feudal king.
This is quite easily demonstrable. Today, when we speak of direct and indirect taxation, we do not refer to the difference Disraeli had in mind but to the difference between taxes imposed directly upon a person and his livelihood, of which the income tax is the obvious example, and taxes which consist of charges added to economic transactions, such as tariffs and sales taxes. It should be fairly obvious that in this usage, direct taxation is the more oppressive of the two. To raise revenue through an income tax a government requires a large, permanent, tax bureaucracy which keeps extensive records on the employment, earnings, and spending habits of its citizens. It is by far the most oppressive form of taxation ever devised by man. It is like the tribute which the Romans demanded of the peoples they conquered as a symbol of their submission except that it is imposed by governments upon their own people. It is the creation of democratic governments and it was only in the last century that it became the norm throughout the Western world.
The reason many people do not recognize that the income tax, requiring them to turn over a percentage of their income each year to a government that keeps tabs on where they work, for whom, how much money they make, and how they spend it, is an unprecedentedly high and oppressive tax is the same reason why they do not recognize mandatory seat belt laws and other nanny-state regulations for the unprecedented government intrusion into their daily lives that they are. We can call it the “Brave New World” effect.
Tyranny consists of two elements. The first is the usurpation of authority, either by using force to seize an office of power for one’s self or by assuming to one’s office powers which did not previously belong to it. The second is the abuse of authority by harsh treatment of those under it. Neither of these elements was present in the reign of Charles I, except in the actions of the Puritans. Charles inherited his throne legitimately and, while some of his actions would be unconstitutional if committed by a monarch today, they did not violate the constitution in his own day.
Charles became king on March 27, 1625. On May 1st of that year he was married by proxy, to Henrietta Maria, the youngest sister of King Louis XIII of France, in Notre Dame Cathedral. On June 13th, he married her again in person, in Canterbury. Henrietta Maria was a Roman Catholic and, in the treaty with France in which the marriage was arranged, Charles had agreed that she would be allowed to remain a Catholic and to practice her religion freely. Charles also promised his new brother-in-law’s prime minister, Cardinal Armand du Plessis, Duc de Richelieu, that he would grant freedom of religion to the Roman Catholic recusants. It would take a rather sick mind to see these promises of religious freedom for Catholics as a threat to impose popery on the rest of the country. That, however, was the way the Puritans saw it and they, unfortunately, had a lot of clout in Parliament, which Charles called together five days after his marriage.
It did not have to be that way. John Williams, who had been appointed Bishop of Lincoln and Lord Keeper by King James, advised King Charles “to postpone calling parliament until his friends had time to ensure the election of trustworthy candidates.” (4) Charles ignored this suggestion, preferring to take the opposite advice from George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Buckingham had been King James’ favourite before he became Charles’ and, although the title and office did not yet exist, he was to all intents and purposes the Prime Minister of Britain until his assassination by Puritan John Felton in 1628. He was also a complete idiot and the advice he gave Charles was generally of the worst possible sort. Two years earlier, he had talked Charles into travelling incognito with him to Madrid, to attempt to woo the Infanta Maria, the youngest daughter of Philip III of Spain. The adventure was a disaster and when the two returned home, Buckingham urged war with Spain. Early the following year he got his way when, with Parliament enthusiastically behind the idea, James reluctantly declared war on Spain. Thus, upon Charles’ accession to the throne, Buckingham urged him to convene Parliament as soon as possible to obtain the necessary funds to fight the war.
Well, that went over like a ton of bricks. The House of Commons voted Charles two subsidies, but these were insufficient to cover the expenses of the war which the House itself had overwhelmingly supported the year previously. Then, to make matters worse, they voted to grant Charles tonnage and poundage for one year.
Tonnage and poundage were customs duties, charged mostly on imported wine. For three centuries these had been collected as part of the royal revenue and it was customary for Parliament to grant these to the king for life at the beginning of his reign. For the Commons to restrict the grant to one year was a major insult. The insult was intensified by the fact that it was tacked on at the end of the session, when most of the House had gone home, having voted for the insufficient subsidies after having side-tracked the discussion for several days with a harangue against Romanism filled with demands that the recusancy laws against Catholics be severely enforced. Thus began the conflict between the king and his Parliament, not with the king attempting to rob Parliament of its prescriptive rights and privileges, but with the Commons attempting to rob the king of his!
Buckingham then proceeded to really mess things up through his utter incompetence. Having recognized the insult to the king in the Commons’ vote - and the threat to his own plans for war – he convinced the Lords to reject the bill granting the king tonnage and poundage for a year. The result of this, of course, was that Charles was not granted these customs by Parliament at all! His officers continued to collect them, which they had strong prescriptive authority to do, but this only increased the opposition to the king in the Commons. The Commons then attempted to impeach Buckingham but were prevented from doing so by the king’s dissolving Parliament. This was more or less the pattern for the next two Parliaments as well. The third Parliament was suspended, rather than dissolved, in June of 1628, four months after it had been called, and in the recess Felton’s blade removed Buckingham permanently as a source of contention between Charles and his Parliament. This odious act of “murder most foul” was the most praiseworthy deed that can be attributed to the Puritans.
By this point in time, Buckingham had really fouled things up. Having talked both king and Parliament into war with Spain but failing to obtain for the king the funds necessary to fight the war, Buckingham proceeded to conduct the war by means of highly romantic adventures which he botched badly, such as the failed attempt to capture the Spanish port Cádiz. Then he managed to get England involved in a second war with France. He had promised, in the treaty with France that he had negotiated with Cardinal Richelieu over King Charles marriage to Henrietta Maria, that England would contribute ships to help Richelieu suppress the Huguenots at La Rochelle and the Ile de Ré. That hardly helped to dampen the suspicions of the Calvinists in Parliament that the government was sympathetic to popery, especially when Buckingham tried to carry these promises out. Then Buckingham broke with Richelieu and took English forces to aid the Huguenots! He was of no help to them whatsoever and in fact, they ended up saving him after his force was decimated, but having learned nothing from this embarrassment, he was organizing a larger force to come to their aid when Felton assassinated him.
The death of Buckingham brought harmony to the relationship between Charles and his queen which had previously been strained. (5) It was too late to repair the relationship between the king and Parliament, however. Three Parliaments had approved the wars but refused to vote Charles the money needed to fight the wars, or even the king’s traditional customs and duties, unless Buckingham was removed from office and the king had responded to their arrogance with stubbornness of his own, dissolving the first two Parliaments and proroguing the third. Placed in the position of being in Parliament-approved wars without Parliament-approved funding, the king continued to collect tonnage and poundage without Parliament’s authorization, and resorted to such means as forced loans and the billeting of troops to cover his military expenses.
This sort of thing, if done today, would be unconstitutional. It was not unconstitutional at the time. Parliamentary authority over all taxes was not yet an established part of the constitution and even without Parliamentary approval the king’s collection of tonnage and poundage was backed by prescription and precedent. Nor was this sort of thing unjust. These measures were not oppressive, especially when compared to the kinds of taxes that would later be imposed on people once Parliament had seized most of the king’s powers and authority. The Puritans in Parliament were not being reasonable. They were in favour of war with Spain and France because they wished to pillage and plunder the Catholics but they didn’t want to pay for it.
Justifiable and constitutional as these measures were at the time, they made Parliament furious. When the third Parliament resumed in January 1629 Buckingham was dead but it no longer mattered. Sir John Eliot and his Puritan followers launched an attack upon the king. They prepared three resolutions, two of which were about taxes and one about religion, and forcibly held the Speaker of the House in his chair while they read them out. The first resolution, the religious one, declared the person who tried to “extend or introduce Popery or Arminianism” to be a “capital enemy to this kingdom and commonwealth”. In this case “Popery” did not mean only literal allegiance to the Pope or Roman Catholicism, but also ceremonialism or ritualism. King Charles had just made appointed several Arminians and high churchmen to important ecclesiastical offices. These resolutions were not voted upon and the king dissolved Parliament. This time he did not call it together again for eleven years. At no time in the seventeenth century was Britain governed better than in those eleven years.
No longer under the influence of Buckingham and his romantic military adventurism, Charles quickly negotiated an end to the wars with France and Spain and from then on sought to negotiate a diplomatic end to the Thirty Years War. No other minister ever had the influence in his reign that Buckingham had and to advise him, he called together a competent Privy Council. Among these advisors, the two most important were as excellent as Buckingham had been foolish. One of these was Thomas Wentworth, who had initially been among Charles opponents in Parliament, but who had become a supporter of the king in 1628. Wentworth was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1632 and was made the Earl of Strafford in 1640. The other minister was William Laud, whom Charles had made Bishop of London and then later Archbishop of Canterbury, and who was also Chancellor of Oxford University. Both men were hated by the Puritans and met with the same fate as Charles.
As Lord Deputy of Ireland, Wentworth was an efficient administrator. He weeded out corrupt and inefficient officials, increased revenues and cut out wasteful spending, turning a large deficit into an even larger surplus. He put down the pirates who had been the terror of the Irish sea and administered justice fairly. Of his justice Derek Wilson wrote “He applied even-handed justice and won few friends in the process”. (6)
William Laud’s theology set him at odds with the Puritans. He rejected the Calvinist understanding of the doctrine of predestination in favour of the Arminian understanding of free will and he was a firm high churchman, believing that the legitimacy of the sacraments in the Church of England were derived from the Apostolic succession of her bishops. He agree with the Puritans on one thing – the Church was badly in need of reform. When he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633 at the age of sixty he promptly set out to bring in those reforms. His reforms, however, were not the kind the Puritans had in mind. He desired unity and order in the Church and he saw these things primarily in terms of ritual, ceremony, and decorum. This reeked of Rome to the Puritans, especially when the specific reforms, such as his insistence that altars be placed at the east end of the building and called altars rather than communion tables, brought the Church closer to the practices of Roman Catholicism. Laud was not particularly impressed with the kind of reforms the Puritans sought either. They wished for stricter enforcement of moral behaviour, such as the banning of recreational activities on Sundays. In Laud’s first year as Archbishop he convinced the king to reissue the Book of Sports which his father had passed in 1617. The Book of Sports was a declaration that after Sunday services, people could participate in such “harmless recreation” as archery, dancing, etc. This infuriated the Puritans who saw this as authorizing Sabbath-breaking. Charles ordered that the declaration be read from the pulpit by all clergy. Charles Carlton writes that one clergyman read the proclamation first, then the ten commandments, and told his congregation “You have heard the commandments of God and Man, obey which you please.” (7) However, he also noted earlier in the same paragraph that:
Although some opposed such Sabbath breaking, for most people it was the only day that they had for recreation. Admittedly the church ales could degenerate into drunken brawls, but again they were one of the few releases working folk had from the daily grind. (8)
If you think about what our Lord had to say regarding the Sabbath during His earthly ministry it is not difficult to figure out which side was closer to Him in spirit here. Here’s a hint. It wasn’t the Puritans.
This brings us back to Disraeli’s assertion that King Charles laid down his life for “the cause of the Church and the cause of the poor.” Anthony M. Ludovici made the same observation about Charles’ repeal of the Sunday observation laws that Professor Carlton did. He wrote:
In 1633 Charles I, to the intense annoyance of the Puritans, repealed the Sunday observance laws, which he felt were taking the spirit out of the working people, who had but that day upon which to play and enjoy themselves, and he ordained that, after attending evening prayers, everybody should be allowed to amuse himself in any decent way he might choose. (9)
In the chapter in which Ludovici wrote this he was making the case that King Charles, Archbishop Laud, and the Earl of Strafford had as one of the main goals of their policy, in both theory and practice, the protection of the poor from abuse by the rich. He does in fact make a very strong case for this. He points to the fact that Charles’s taxes, which Parliament made such a big deal over, were actually very light and that “An essential part of the real grievance was that the weight of this taxation fell entirely upon the trading and wealthy classes.” (10) He discusses Charles’ appointment of Commissioners to “inquire into the laws for the relief of the poor” and make sure the officials appointed to uphold these laws were doing their jobs. (11) Then he brings up the commissions Charles appointed to deal with depopulation. This was a problem that had been growing for centuries. In the open-field system of the Middle Ages, each village had a large community field, divided into strips that each year were allotted to the peasants in the village to farm. At the end of the medieval period these began to be converted to private use through a process called enclosure. Often they were converted into uses, like pasture for sheep, which were far less labour-intensive and a result of all this was depopulation – plenty of people lost their homes and livelihoods. This had become a major problem in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and the process of enclosure-depopulation was strongly denounced by the Church and opposed by the Houses of Tudor and Stuart. Archbishop Laud in particular championed the traditional rights of the newly dispossessed peasantry and of all the Tudor and Stuart monarchs, Charles was the one who most actively combated this injustice, appointing several different commissions to deal with it in the eleven years he ruled without a Parliament, using his Star Chamber to prosecute offenders. Other measures Ludovici mentions by which Charles sought to defend the poor and the weak include his coming to the assistance of the Essex weavers in 1629, his efforts to keep the price of corn from rising in 1630, his 1633 proclamation “against the intolerable avarice” of those who were overcharging for victuals (which affected the poor most harshly), his legislation against various sorts of fraud, and his efforts to maintain high standards of quality for manufacturers. (12)
Now it needs to made clear that none of this was socialism. It would be socialism if done by a democratically elected assembly today. It was not socialism when done by a divinely ordained feudal king in the seventeenth century. If there is confusion on this point today it is largely due to twentieth century tendency to think about all issues in terms of polarized spectrums, in this case an economic spectrum between the poles of absolute freedom and government control.
When a king passes laws protecting the poor and the weak, he is fulfilling a duty that is inseparable from his office, a duty which has come down to him from God. A democratically elected assembly, however, derives its powers from the people and not from God. When it passes legislation like this it is a vulgar display of the lowest of human vices. At the time the events we have been considering took place, England was in a transition from feudalism to liberal capitalism. Charles, in defending the poor and the weak, was advocating their traditional rights under feudalism, against the forces that were sweeping capitalism in. Socialism is an advanced stage in the development of liberal capitalism.
This is an important fact which is far too often overlooked. Do not be confused by socialism’s anti-capitalist rhetoric. All socialists accept capitalism. As an ideology, socialism is built upon the same foundational concepts as liberal capitalism – the sovereignty of the people, society as a contract between its members, the superiority of reason and science over tradition and revelation, etc. As a system of economic organization, socialism like liberal capitalism, is based upon the concentration of production in large, mechanized, factories based in urban centres. The differences between socialism and capitalism are smaller and less important than what the two have in common, which distinguishes them both from pre-liberal organic, rural, agrarian, feudal societies rooted in a worldview derived from Christianity.
When Charles called Parliament back together in 1640, it was not a humbler, wiser, Parliament, but a much more arrogant Parliament. Two Parliaments were called that year. The first, the Short Parliament, was dissolved after three weeks. The second, the Long Parliament, would not be dissolved until 1660. Headed by John Pym, the Puritan party had more control over Parliament and made demands of a radical and revolutionary nature. They demanded that control of the army and navy, which constitutionally belonged to the king, be turned over to them. They introduced the Root and Branch Bill, in response to a petition they had received from London’s Puritan extremists in December of 1640, demanding the abolition of the episcopal hierarchy of the Church of England, denouncing such things as surplices and copes, standing for the reading of the Gospel, facing the East while praying, and calling the flock to the altar to receive communion, and calling for the severe persecution of Roman Catholics. They demanded a veto over all of the king’s appointments. .
They also went after the king’s ministers. They arrested Wentworth, now the Earl of Strafford. He had raised an army in Ireland and had advised the king in Privy Council to use that army to put down the rebellion by the Covenanters in Scotland. His rival Sir Henry Vane used his words against him, deliberately misinterpreting them as advice to use the army against Parliament. They charged him with treason and began the impeachment process but then they decided to condemn him through a Bill of Attainder instead. The difference between the two was basically this – to impeach him, they would have had to have had a trial before the House of Lords which would follow the procedure of an ordinary criminal court in which evidence would be required and Strafford would be allowed a defence, whereas by Attainder they simply passed a bill declaring him guilty of treason and ordering his execution. Unlike impeachment, however, Attainder required royal assent. They had decided to insist that the king himself sign off on their murder of one of his loyal lieutenants He refused to give his assent, promising Strafford that he would not sign, and telling Parliament that if they dropped the Attainder he would permanently dismiss Strafford from his service. They would not have it and Strafford released him from his promise, pleading with him to sign to save the kingdom. He did and the guilt of it would torment him for the rest of his life.
The execution of Strafford took place in May of 1641. Later that year they presented the king with the Grant Remonstrance, a document which had it not been written in the seventeenth century, would read like a Jack T. Chick comic book. It asserted that in order to effect a Roman Catholic takeover of Britain the Jesuits had infiltrated the House of Bishops, the Privy Council, and the king’s officers and ministers in general, and that in order to save the kingdom for the true faith from Popish influence it was necessary that the king abolish the powers of the bishops and give Parliament control over all his appointments. Laud was not mentioned by name but it was obvious they were singling him out as Jesuit-in-chief and three weeks after they presented the Great Remonstrance to the king, they impeached Laud and ordered him imprisoned in the Tower of London.
It was now absolutely clear that there could be no reasoning with the Puritans. Several members of Parliament who had earlier been supportive of Parliamentary opposition to the king now formed a Royalist party in Parliament. (13) Lucius Cary, the 2nd Viscount Falkland led the party along with Sir John Colepeper and Edward Hyde, who would become the Earl of Clarendon in the Restoration. The formation of the Royalist party in Parliament was too late, however, to affect a reconciliation between the king and his Parliament and prevent the conflict that was about to start. On January 4th, 1642, King Charles went personally to St. Stephen’s Chapel in the Palace of Westminster where the House of Commons was assembled to arrest John Pym and four other Puritan leaders for treason, of which, unlike Strafford whom they had executed on the same charge, they were actually guilty. The attempt failed due to their having escaped but it was ill-advised to begin with. It violated the prescriptive privileges of Parliament, and while the Puritans were currently engaged in trying to subvert the very constitution from which those prescriptive privileges were derived, they were able to use this to stir up widespread anger against the king in London. The royal family fled London and the English Civil War began.
In Men at Arms, the first volume of his Sword of Honour trilogy, Evelyn Waugh’s protagonist, Guy Crouchback, explains the motive for his returning home to England and seeking to enlist to fight in World War II. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had formed an alliance, which meant that Britain was fighting against “the Modern Age at arms”, and he believed his place was in that conflict. Throughout the trilogy he gradually becomes disillusioned as he experiences how modern the British army itself had become and as Britain makes its dishonourable alliance with Stalin. While World War II did not live up to Crouchback’s expectations there are other conflicts which could accurately be described as fights against “The Moden Age at arms”. The internecine war between the American states from 1861-1865 was one of them. The English Civil War was another. Unfortunately in both cases the Modern Age won.
King Charles’s supporters were the Cavaliers – knights of chivalry, honourably fighting out of loyalty to their king. He had the support of the older, longer established, noble houses, of the poorer, rural areas, and of Oxford and its University. In terms of territory, the areas loyal to the king were the northern and western parts of the country. The south-east, where the big urban centres were located, the hub of industry and trade, was the base from which the Puritans operated. Their supporters were religious fanatics, tradesmen, and the nouveau-riche, especially newer landlords who had enriched themselves through enclosure and depopulation. It was the traditional and feudal on the one side versus the modern on the other side.
Unfortunately, the modern came with practical advantages. The Puritans had more money and their territory was united in one large area, whereas the Royalists’ territory was divided into two large areas. Moreover England’s ports were located in their territory which is one reason why the navy, furbished by the ship money Charles had collected, sided with the Puritans. In 1644 and 1645, Parliament passed the Self-Denying Ordinances which re-organized its forces into the New Model Army – a modern, professional, army, that was placed under the general command of Sir Thomas Fairfax. Under Fairfax, Sir Philip Skippon commanded the infantry and Oliver Cromwell commanded the cavalry. The New Model Army had all the cold, utilitarian, efficiency of a modern army and in the Battle of Naseby in June 1645, they defeated the Royalist army commanded by the king’s nephew Prince Rupert of the Rhine. King Charles and the remnants of his army retreated to Oxford, then in 1646 he went north and surrendered to the Scots who turned him over to the English Parliament in 1647. He was imprisoned at Holmby House in Northamptonshire, then at Hampton Court. While he was in captivity, his opponents began to fight among themselves and Charles used this division to his advantage as he negotiated with the various sides. He escaped from Hampton Court and went to the Isle of Wight where he placed himself in the custody of the unsympathetic Col. Robert Hammond, who promptly locked him up in Carisbrooke Castle. In 1648, his supporters in England and an invading Scottish army sought his restoration but the Puritan army quickly defeated them.
At this point the army took matters into its own hands. Following the defeat of the Royalists at the Battle of Preston the Long Parliament entered into negotiations with King Charles, hoping that he would sign a treaty limiting the royal prerogative and handing power over to Parliament in return for restoration to the throne. The army would have none of that. On Fairfax’s orders, Colonel Pride purged the Parliament, removing from it the majority that was in favour of signing the treaty with the king. The remainder, known as the Rump Parliament, rubberstamped the army’s decision that King Charles should be tried and executed for High Treason.
On January 4th, 1689 they authorized the establishment of the kangaroo court that assembled at Westminster Hall on January 20th to try the king. The court was presided over by John Bradshaw, a boorish, ill-mannered, homunculus, who showed up at the proceedings late and when he found that he had no answer to the arguments the king put forth in his defence, kept rudely interrupting him. The king spoke patiently and eloquently, pointing out that the court that presumed to try him as a “Tyrant, Traitor and Murderer, and a public and implacable Enemy to the Commonwealth of England”, had no legitimate authority to do so. The court was conducted in defiance of both the laws of God and of the constitution of England, having been called together by a “House of Commons” the majority of whom had been forcibly prevented from sitting, without the House of Lords or Royal assent, in the name of “the people” the majority of whose opinions they had not bothered to ask. There was, of course, no possible answer to this and, once the sentence of death by beheading was passed on January 27th, although he was initially asked if he wished to speak further on his behalf, Bradshaw prevented him from doing so.
On January 30th, 1646, he was taken to the scaffold, where he was allowed to address his people before his execution. In his final speech he neither backed down from the position he had been upholding nor falsely confessed to the crimes he had been wrongly accused and convicted of, but forgave his enemies and declared that although the sentence upon him was unjust in earthly terms, under God it was justly imposed because he had allowed a previous unjust execution to take place – that of Strafford. The crowd that had gathered to watch the execution was in sympathy with him and groaned out in sorrow when the executioner removed his head. (14)
The abolition of the Roman kings and establishment of the Roman Republic created a power vacuum, that eventually was filled by the rise of the Caesars. When the Bourbon monarchy was overthrown in France in the late eighteenth century it produced a tyrannical and murderous republican government and paved the way for the rise of Napoleon. The overthrow of the Romanov, Hapsburg and Hohenzollern dynasties in the twentieth century prepared the way for the creation of the Soviet Union and the tyrannies of Lenin, Stalin and Hitler. The murder of Charles Stuart was no different. The Puritans, who had accused him of tyranny, overturned the English constitution, abolished the office of king and the House of Lords, and eventually established Oliver Cromwell as dictator. Upon his death, England restored the constitution as best as they could, and placed Charles II on his father’s throne. Some of the damage could not be repaired but Britain was more fortunate than the other examples mentioned.
“Rightly”, Disraeli wrote, “was King Charles surnamed the Martyr.” When the Church of England canonized him a saint in 1660, they did so on the basis of his martyrdom, that he refused to save his life by betraying his people or his Church. His queen, Henrietta Maria, whom the Puritans hated and believed was conspiring to bring the king and England back under the authority of the Pope, had pleaded with him during the Civil War to save his life and his crown by accepting Presbyterianism. He wrote to her saying:
For the difference between me and the rebels concerning the Church is not a matter of form or ceremony, which are alterable according to occasion, but so real that if I should give way as is desired, here would be no Church, and no human probability ever to be recovered: so that, besides the obligation of mine oath, I know nothing to be an higher point of conscience. (15)
Today, five hundred years after the Reformation, most Protestant Christians, having been seeped in the ideas that religion is a private matter, that Christianity is a “personal relationship” between the individual and Christ, and doctrines and practices can be divided into the categories of basics and non-basics, the latter of which are completely unimportant and not worth dying for and into which category they would most certainly place church government, will find it very difficult to understand, let alone sympathize, with Charles’s position. If they try to make sense of it at all, they are likely to see the doctrine of Apostolic succession as something concocted by bishops and priests in order to justify their privileges, power, and position within the Church.
This is a shame because the real issue is far more important than that. One of the fundamental differences between modern liberal thought and pre-modern thought is the understanding of the nature of human society. Is a society a voluntary association of individuals formed by mutual contract? Or is a society a living organism, whose members are united in a whole in a way similar to the cells in a body, with a lifespan that exceeds any one generation but includes all past and future generations? Modern liberalism is based upon the contractual view. Pre-modern Western thought, however, saw societies and communities as organic. In the Bible, St. Paul puts forward an organic view of the Church in several of his epistles in which he expands upon the concept of the Church as the Body of Christ. Oddly, it is mostly in Protestantism, otherwise the most Pauline of the various Christian traditions, that the organic concept has been abandoned, at least with regards to the organized Church, for the liberal contractual concept in ecclesiology.
The Apostolic succession of bishops is important, not because it supports the powers and privileges of prelates, but because it contributes to an organic view of the Church. Christ founded His Church, ordained His Apostles to govern it, who ordained bishops (Gk episcopoi, administrators) to help them govern it once it spread far and wide, who once the Apostles died out continued to ordain other bishops. In saying that if this were eliminated “here would be no Church” Charles was saying that organic connection to the Church founded by Christ was necessary for a Church to be a Church.
His taking this position did not mean that he wished to bring the Church of England back under the authority of the Pope. This accusation was always ridiculous, whether directed against him or against Laud. Both men were Protestants. Both men were high Anglican churchmen, whose belief that the Church of England already had a valid Apostolic succession would not have been consistent with a drive to bring that Church back under the authority of Rome. When, in the nineteenth century, John Henry Newman crossed over to the Roman Catholic Church, he did so because he no longer believed in the validity of the Church of England’s Apostolic succession.
Like his defence of the rights of the Crown, divine and constitutional, against Parliament’s hypocritical attempts to enhance their own privileges and powers at the expense of those of the king, and of feudal rights against the encroachment of industrial capitalism, Charles’ defence of the Apostolic episcopacy of the Church of England, is best seen as part of an overall resistance to modernity, in its infancy in his own day, but which would soon grow and stretch forth its hand to try and strangle all that was left of the good, the true, and the beautiful from Western civilization, and all but succeed in doing so.
For that reason, the Church of England made no mistake in honouring this holy martyr with the title saint.
(1) T. S. Eliot, To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965), p. 65. The quotation is from “Can ‘Education’ be Defined”, the first of four lectures on the subject of “The Aims of Education” which Eliot gave at the University of Chicago in 1950.
(2) Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil, or the Two Nations, Vol. 1, (London and New York: M. Walter Dunne, 1904), p. 331.
(3) Richard M. Weaver said that the Divine Right of Kings was “widely misunderstood”. Ideas Have Consequences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), p. 76. He said this in the context of noting that the doctrine was often grouped with the concept of vocation – that “work is a divine ordinance” and that both ideas were now out of fashion. He goes on to confirm that the ideas are associated and that they are different variations on the answer to a single question “What is his real authority to act?” when asked of rulers and of workers. He extends the concept of “the divine right of kings” to all legitimate governments and quotes an unlikely authority – Puritan Governor of Massachusetts John Winthrop to explain the idea. Classic expositions of the concept of the “divine rights of kings” – which is, of course, entirely Scriptural and the plain teaching of both Jesus and St. Paul – include James I’s The True Law of Free Monarchies or The Reciprocal and Mutual Duty Betwixt a Free King and his Natural Subjects (1598), Basilikon Doron (1599) and Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha or the Natural Power of Kings (1680).
(4) Charles Carlton, Charles I: The Personal Monarch (London, Boston, Melbourne and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983), p. 69.
5) D. R. Watson, The Life and Times of Charles I, (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1972), p. 65-66. “The Queen complained that Buckingham came higher in her husband’s affections and that he was poisoning the King’s mind against her.” Derek Wilson, The King and the Gentleman: Charles Stuart and Oliver Cromwell 1599-1649, (London: Hutchinson, 1999), pp. 166-167.
(6) Wilson, op. cit., p. 298.
(7) Carlton, op. cit., p. 164. In the endnote to this anecdote Carlton writes “This story was associated with so many incidents that it may be worth telling more than it is worth believing.”
(13) Following the Restoration, the Royalist Party was succeeded by the Tory Party, organized in 1678 to resist further attempts by the Whigs (liberals) to mess with the Crown and the Church. It was in turn re-organized into the Conservative Party in 1834.
(14) The biographical and historical details in this essay have been largely drawn from the sources listed in footnotes four and five.
(15) Charles Stuart to Henry Marietta Stuart, January 11, 1646, quoted in D. R. Watson, op. cit., p. 147.
A Protestant Christian, patriotic Canadian, and a reactionary High Tory with a libertarian streak, at the same time a monarchist, indeed a royal absolutist, and a minarchist.
You can e-mail me at gerrytneal(at)hotmail(dot)ca