The Royal Martyr: our own

Our own, our royal Saint - John Keble, 'King Charles the Martyr'.

Keble's words are a beautiful expression of the Royal Martyr's place in the native piety of Anglicanism.  The Royal Martyr is "our own". 

The reformed ecclesia Anglicana, of course, had its martyrs before 30th January 1649: Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley.  But their martyrdom pre-dated the Elizabethan Settlement, the foundation of the essential form of the Anglican experience. 

At the outset of Elizabeth's reign, her minister Sir Christopher Hatton stated that she "placed her Reformation as upon a square stone, to remain constant".  So emerged constant characteristics of what would become the Anglican tradition: episcopacy and the three-fold order, the form of ordering the Church "from the Apostles time"; a Book of Common Prayer practically identical with 1662; an expression of the Royal Supremacy which defined the Anglican understanding of a particular or national church; and the Articles of Religion, an enduring statement, "for the establishing of consent", of how the ecclesia Anglicana responded to the debates of the Reformation era.

It was of this Settlement - these enduring characteristics of the Anglican experience - that Charles I declared:

We hold it most agreeable to this Our Kingly Office, and Our own religious Zeal, to conserve and maintain the Church committed to Our Charge, in Unity of true Religion, and in the Bond of Peace.

Resisting those who wished to undo the Elizabethan Settlement by imposing a 'further reformation' upon the ecclesia Anglicana, Charles I maintained - in words taken from Keble's Assize Sermon (a quite traditional expression of High Church political theology) - "the cause of the Apostolical Church in these realms". 

Episcopacy, Common Prayer, Royal Supremacy (in the words of the Canons of 1604, the same authority seen in "Christian Emperors in the Primitive Church", establishing the authority of a national church), the generous orthodoxy of the Articles: these provided Anglicanism with its essential form and embodied its catholicity. It is these which Charles defended, these common, shared characteristics of Anglican identity, against "unnecessary Disputations, Altercations, or Questions to be raised, which may nourish Faction" (in the words of His Majesty's Declaration).

Charles is also "our own" in his defence of the Anglican experience against Puritan assault, what historian Kevin Sharpe has termed "the rhythms and rituals of parish life which were central to his perception of the ecclesia Anglicana". The ordinary experience of Anglican parish life - "its fabric, customs and ritual" - was cherished, promoted, and defended by Charles, the ordinary experience which has nurtured Anglicans across centuries in the life of prayer, attentiveness to Scripture, and the sacramental life.

With the universal Church, Anglicans share the saints of the Apostolic and patristic era.  Within Anglicanism, Evangelicals and Tractarians can claim saints from their respective traditions, those who exemplify how the vocation to holiness has been understood from within those traditions.  The Royal Martyr is different.  He is "our own".  In life and death he witnessed to the vitality of the common, ordinary characteristics, in national churches and in parishes, of what would come to be known as Anglicanism. 

Jeremy Taylor would say of the ecclesia Anglicana, "a King died in the profession of her Religion".  Taylor went on to describe the religion of the ecclesia Anglicana:

We have the Word of God, the Faith of the Apostles, the Creeds of the Primitive Church, the Articles of the four first general Councils, a holy Liturgy, excellent Prayers, perfect Sacraments, Faith and Repentance, the Ten Commandments, and the Sermons of Christ, and all the precepts and counsels of the Gospel; We teach the necessity of good works ... We speak honourably of his most holy Name, we worship him at the mention of his Name, we confess his Attributes, we love his Servants, we pray for all Men, we love all Christians, even our most erring Brethren, we confess our sins to God and to our Brethren whom we have offended, and to God's Ministers in cases of Scandal, or of a troubled Conscience. We communicate often, we are enjoyned to receive the holy Sacrament thrice every Year at least; Our Priests absolve the penitent, our Bishops ordain Priests, and confirm baptized persons, and bless their people and intercede for them; and what could here be wanting to Salvation?

Ordinary Anglicanism, the ordinary life of the parish, the ordinary characteristics of a national church.  The common, shared Anglican experience.  To this the Royal Martyr witnessed, even unto death. 

He is "our own", an embodiment of Anglicanism's native piety - a native piety which should honour and reverence his witness.


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