This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

January 30 -- Feast of King Charles the Martyr

"Kings are not bound to give an account of the actions but to God alone." - Charles I, King of England, Ireland, and Scotland

Some saints dress better than others.
On the cold Tuesday morning of January 30, 1649, the English Parliament, High Court, and a masked executioner proved him wrong.  Charles Stuart, the one-time ruler of the British kingdoms, was led from his imprisonment in St. James Palace to a scaffold erected in Whitehall.  There, bundled against the cold lest anything think he shivered from fear, he made a short, defiant speech defending monarchy, said a quick prayer, and rested his head on the block.  The masked axeman brought a blade quick, straight and firm.  The severed head was raised and presented to the crowd. 

Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan tyrant who led the British experiment in republican government, was not a beast.  Rather than simply murdering Charles, as any previous ruler had ever done when toppling a predecessor by force, he put the man on trial for treason.  This must have seemed very civilized to him, like a new and more just way of governing.  The fact that the sixty-eight commissioners all sitting in judgment of the King had prejudged his guilt probably did not strike Cromwell as a mockery of justice.  After all, if the King's stubbornness had triggered a civil war that killed more than 3% of the population of Britain, his guilt was self-evident.  The trial was not for determining it, but rather for making an exposition of it that all might see and know it. 

Three views of King Chuck
Charles was the last person to be declared a saint of the Anglican Church.  He was canonized because, it has been asserted, he might have spared himself if he had renounced his position as head of the Church of England.  The challenge to his throne was a two-pronged attack.  Politicians resented his claim of absolute right of kings, including taxation without representation and foreign policy without consultation with leaders of Parliament.  Puritans similarly objected to his claim to be the head of the Church, an institution they wished to democratize in the Presbyterian / Congregational model. 

Even as he was assailed by Puritans, Anglicans worried that he was too High Church and might try to repair the breach with Rome, while Catholics objected that he was too Protestant.  Tough times to be the leader of the national church.  An Act of Toleration might have been the way to go.  After all, Maryland passed one in 1649, the very year Charles was beheaded.  However, virtually no one in England -- not Anglicans, nor Puritans, nor even Catholics -- wanted toleration.  You might as well go looking for a religious pluralist in today's Afghanistan.  I am not saying the Oliver Cromwell was the equivalent of Mullah Omar of the Taliban... okay, yes I am.  But his errors do not mean that his enemies were any more enlightened.
Gloves fit for a king to die in -- now holy relics, of course.
Anyway, Citizen Charles Stuart was not inclined to answer the charges that he was "guilty of all the treasons, murders, rapines, burnings, spoils, desolations, damages and mischiefs to this nation, acted and committed in the said wars, or occasioned thereby."  Instead, he gave the Court an earful about their lack of standing as his judges.  It was not designed to win his freedom, but it probably helped him keep his head high until the axe took it off. 

Oliver Cromwell was not, as I have said, a beast.  He was in fact something much worse: a civilized man.  Having chosen to kill his predecessor, he made an exposition of the man first, getting fifty-nine political allies to sign their names to the King's death warrant.  Then, having seen that the warrant was executed, he ordered that the head be stitched back onto the body so that the family could bury their dead intact.  Can there be anything grislier and ghastlier than such pretended magnanimity?

Cromwell didn't quite get his.  He died a natural death, but before he did, he saw the pipe dream of republican England get throttled slowly and inexorably by a tyrant as brutal and high-handed as Charles ever was.  And every morning, he saw that tyrant in the mirror as he was that tyrant's face.  Cromwell will find no place in this canon, except as the villain in Saint Charles' story. 

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