30 January 2022

With the Saints through Christmas (36):
30 January 2022, Charles, King and Martyr

Charles I was executed on 30 January 1649 and remembered in London today as king, martyr … a copy of the triptych by Sir Anthony van Dyck in the High House, Stafford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany), although I have transferred the provisions for the Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas) from Wednesday next to this morning’s celebration of the Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.

Before a busy day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

I have been continuing my Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during the Season of Christmas, which continues until Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation, on Wednesday (2 February);

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

This day in the Calendar of the Church of England marks ‘Charles, King and Martyr’ … a commemoration that is rarely found in the Church of Ireland. However, the former Chapel in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, bore his name as its dedication and he is celebrated as the ‘preserver’ of Trinity College Dublin in the college graces:

We praise thee, most gracious Father,
for the most serene ones,
Queen Elizabeth the founder of this college,
James its most munificent builder,
Charles its preserver,
and our other benefactors.

The variations in the calendars of the Church of England and the Church of Ireland can sometimes catch me by surprise, and I recall how I was caught off-guard during a residential meeting of USPG trustees in 2018 when the commemoration at the Eucharist was of ‘Charles King and Martyr, 1649.’

I was invited three years ago to take part in the commemorations in Tamworth marking the 400th anniversary of the visit to the town of James I and his son, the future Charles I. My talk in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, on the Comberford Family and the Moat House in Tamworth [9 May 2019], was organised by Tamworth and District Civic Society.

During that visit in 1619, the King stayed with the Ferrers family at Tamworth Castle while the Prince of Wales was a guest of the Comberford family at their town house, the Moat House on Lichfield Street.

On that occasion, the Comberford family had the long hall or gallery in the Moat House redecorated with heraldic illustrations of the family tree, showing how the family and the future king shared a common ancestry, albeit a very distant one.

Perhaps, in some ways, Charles I personalised the new unity that was being embodied in a new kingdom: he was seen in England as the next king, yet he had been born in Dumferline in Scotland. In another way, he also embodied the new, outward-looking vision of a new country claiming its place in Europe: his mother was from Denmark, he would marry a French princess, his sons would marry Portuguese and Italian princesses, his daughters would marry French and Dutch princes, his sister became Queen of Bohemia, a miniscule European Union brought together in one family.

Charles, King and Martyr, or Charles I, was king from 1625 until his execution on 30 January 1649, and his feast day in Anglican calendars falls on 30 January, the anniversary of his execution.

This observance was one of several ‘state services’ removed from the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England and the Church of Ireland in 1859. But there are churches and parishes dedicated to Charles the Martyr in England, and the former chapel in the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin, was dedicated to him too.

King Charles is still named in the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship and is commemorated at the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall, Pusey House in Oxford, and by some Anglo-Catholic societies, including the Society of King Charles the Martyr founded in 1894.

King Charles is regarded by many as a martyr because, it is said, he was offered his life if he would abandon the historic episcopacy in the Church of England. It is said he refused, however, believing that the Church of England was truly Catholic and should maintain the Catholic episcopate.

Mandell Creighton, Bishop of London, wrote, ‘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.’

The political reality, though, is that Charles had already made an Engagement with the Scots to introduce Presbyterianism in England for three years in return for the aid of Scots forces in the Second English Civil War.

However, High Church Anglicans and royalists fashioned an image of martyrdom, and after the Restoration he was added to the Church of England’s liturgical calendar by a decision at the Convocations of Canterbury and York in 1660.

The red letter days or state commemorations in the calendar of the Book of Common Prayer included the Gunpowder Plot, the birth and restoration of Charles II, and the execution of Charles I. These were marked with special services and special sermons.

The State Services were omitted from the Book of Common Prayer by royal and parliamentary authority in 1859, but without the consent of Convocation. Later, Vernon Staley would describe the deletion as ultra vires and ‘a distinct violation of the compact between Church and Realm, as set forth in the Act of Uniformity which imposed the Book of Common Prayer in 1662.’

Of the three commemorations, only that of King Charles I was restored in the calendar in the Alternative Service Book in 1980, although not as a Red Letter Day. A new collect was composed for Common Worship in 2000.


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.

‘All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord’ (Psalm 138: 4) … a depiction of King Charles I in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 4: 21-30 (NRSVA):

[Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah.] 21 Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 23 He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum”.’ 24 And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The Moat House on Lichfield Street, Tamworth … the future Charles I was the guest of the Comberford family there on the night of 18 August 1619 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (30 January 2022) invites us to pray:

Loving God,
let us renew our love for all of humanity,
may we focus on spreading
the faith, hope and love
you give to us.

Yesterday: Saint Dominic

Tomorrow: Charles Mackenzie

The chapel in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, was dedicated to Charles I, King and Martyr (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The memorial to Charles I at the Banqueting House, recalling his execution in Whitehall in 1649 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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