Sunday, 25 January 2015

Commemoration of King Charles I Execution / Martyrdom

Charles I (19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649) was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. He was beheaded on January 30th 1649, the only king to be publicly executed in Britain. Each year the anniversary is marked by special prayers and wreath laying at his statue outside the Banqueting Hall in London which was the site of his decapitation, followed by a Mass inside the Banqueting House.


Legend / History says that he wore several shirts as the weather was cold and he didn’t want to shiver because the assembled crowd might think he was trembling with fear. As soon as he was executed, he was portrayed as a martyr for his faith (Roman Catholic) and for many years muffled peals of bells rang throughout the country on this day.

The Society of King Charles the Martyr organise an event on the 30th of January each year. When the 30th January falls on a Sunday it is customary to transfer the observance to the following Monday. The service is held at the site of S.Charles’s martyrdom, The Banqueting House in Whitehall, London. Wreath laying and prayers near the place of the martyrdom are offered at 11.40 a.m. followed by High Mass and sermon at noon within the Banqueting House itself.

The Society’s relics of S.Charles are placed upon the altar for the Mass and may be viewed after the service. A choir, usually from King’s College, London sings at the Mass. The Banqueting House is where S.Charles was kept for several hours on the day of his decollation. The architect of the Banqueting House was Inigo Jones and the ceiling is adorned by the great paintings of Rubens. There is also an exhibition on the ground floor describing the events of 30th January, 1649.

King Charles the Martyr was the last saint to be canonised by the Church of England. He is honoured as a martyr because he died for the Church. He was offered his life if he would abandon episcopacy but he refused, for this would have taken the Church of England away from being part of ‘the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’ and change Her into a sect.

So The Society of King Charles the Martyr venerate him for his sacrifice and see in it inspiration for today. S. Charles is a martyr for the doctrine of episcopacy and the apostolic succession.

In the words of Dr. Mandell Creighton, Bishop of London 1897- 1901 and a noted ecclesiastical historian: ‘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.’

Immediately upon the Restoration of Church and monarchy on 19th May, 1660, the Convocation of Canterbury and York, now being free to assemble and act, canonised King Charles and added his name to the Kalendar of Saints at the revision of The Prayer Book.

S. Charles is also honoured for his strong personal piety and for his protection and patronage of the Church.

His reign saw the beginning of a revival of the Religious Life in the Church of England and the first attempt at Community Life (after the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII), which began at Little Gidding and was encouraged by S. Charles. The King visited the community and commissioned work.

He oversaw many schemes for the Church: the restoration and adornment of churches and cathedrals, the founding and advancement of charities, the improvement of the liturgy and the re-introduction of the episcopacy in Scotland. His reign witnessed, albeit briefly, a Golden Age for Anglicanism especially in spiritual and devotional writing that is still much appreciated today.


The English Civil War Society also organise an annual parade in Whitehall on a Sunday near to the 30th. This year that date fell on the 25th. The English Civil War Society dress in authentic period costume and weaponry identical to that used during the 17th century.

They assemble on the Mall by St James's Palace and march along the route the king was taken on Sunday 30th January 1649, across Horse Guards Parade to the Banqueting House in Whitehall where Charles was beheaded.

King Charles I (1600-49) was king of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1625 until his execution in 1649. After he became king, he was constantly at loggerheads with parliament who wanted to curb his royal prerogative. Charles believed in the divine right of kings and thought he could govern according to his own conscience.

Charles dissolved parliament three times in the four years after taking the throne and in 1629, he dismissed parliament and resolved to rule alone. This forced him to raise revenue by non-parliamentary means which made him increasingly unpopular.

In November 1641, tensions came to a head with disagreements over who should command an army to suppress an uprising in Ireland. Charles marched into parliament and attempted to have five members of parliament arrested.

In August 1642, Charles raised the royal standard at Nottingham and Civil war began between the Parliamentarians (led by Oliver Cromwell) and the Royalists (led by Charles I). The war divided the country and lasted until 1649, when Charles was captured and tried for treason. He was executed and Oliver Cromwell took on the role of Lord Protector, thus turning England into a Republic.


The Parade organised by The English Civil War Society was an interesting experience. People came in full costume reminiscent of the 1600's. The bishop and the Mayor were the most smartly dressed. But there were also loads of ordinary soldiers and womenfolk and children who were so excited to be a part of this event.

What I truly loved about this event was that as the participants were assembling, they were more than willing to have conversations about their costumes, the history behind the event and the props that they were carrying. The children in the crowd that had come to observe were curious and asked many questions and the participating members interacting so well with them. It wasn't just a costume party. Each one of them could knowledgeably answer curious and excited questions regarding why they were dressed that way and why they were there participating in the event.

This is truly a way to keep history alive. Everyone who interacted or observed the parade today will always remember the event and the history behind it.

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