On this day in 1649, a king was beheaded. He was Charles I, and his death was the culmination of a growing struggle between Parliament and the Crown. More importantly, it was a growing struggle between a “high church”, sacramental, and episcopal view of the church and the Puritanism of Oliver Cromwell and his New Model Army. The English Civil War and the period between the death of Charles and the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II (the Interregnum) are a complex topic, weaving together politics and religion in a way that frustrates simple explanations.
But today is the feast of Charles I, King and Martyr. Blessed Charles is the only person to be officially canonized by the Church of England since the Reformation. His feast day was added to the calendar of saints (liturgy geeks call it the “sanctoral cycle”) in 1660 at the restoration of the monarchy. It was dropped during Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s reign, but it is now found in the Alternative Service Book (1980) and Common Worship (2000), both of which are the official alternative liturgical resources for use in the Church of England.
Blessed Charles doesn’t appear in the calendar of the Episcopal Church. Despite the massive increase in proposed commemorations, some of them of dubious worth, Charles has not been included. Resolutions have been brought to General Convention, where they have failed. Perhaps it would be strange to include a king in our Calendar, since we are America, a bastion of democracy that rejected the monarchy, right?
And yet I and many other Anglo-Catholics will commemorate this day not because Charles was a king (although I am a monarchist at heart, having been born in the UK) but because Charles was a martyr. He preferred to go to his death than to allow the catholic core of the English church to be swept away.
- The American branch of the Society of King Charles the Martyr
- The English branch of the Society of King Charles the Martyr
- An instructive blog post from Fr Jody
- Fr Robert Hendrickson’s post
- How would Jane Austen have commemorated Blessed Charles?
Proper for the commemoration of Charles Stuart, King of England and Scotland, Martyr
Collect (traditional language): O sovereign God, who didst grace thy servant Charles Stuart with nobility and fortitude, so that he was content to forfeit his throne, and life itself, for the cause of apostolic order in the Church: bestow on us, we beseech thee, the like grace, that we, being steadfast in all adversity, may persevere unto the end, and attain with him the crown of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ the faithful witness, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Collect (contemporary language): O sovereign God, who graced your servant Charles Stuart with nobility and fortitude, so that he was content to forfeit his throne, and life itself, for the cause of apostolic order in the Church: bestow on us, we pray, the like grace, that we, being steadfast in all adversity, may persevere to the end, and attain to the crown of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ the faithful witness, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Psalm – 1:1-9 or 124 (Michno suggests Psalm 143:1-9)
Lesson – 1 Timothy 6:12-16
Gospel – Matthew 10:34-39
Preface of Baptism
Proper from Common Worship
Use the prayers, readings, offertory prayers, and preface from the common of martyrs (p. 284-290 of this pdf document). This is the proper collect: King of kings and Lord of lords, whose faithful servant Charles prayed for those who persecuted him and died in the living hope of your eternal kingdom: grant us by your grace so to follow his example that we may love and bless our enemies, through the intercession of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.