Charles I, King and Martyr

npgd1306What with Milton being the hot literary topic of the year, and The Devil’s Whore on TV, Charles I keeps cropping up at the moment. This small exhibition is well worth a visit (though it closes on December 14th) for its examination of how Charles was represented posthumously. The picture left shows Charles’s execution, but to my mind, more interesting are the ones which show his “afterlife” – how people remembered him. After his death the Royalist cause reasserted itself, horrified by the regicides, and virtually deified him.

Images from his trial to his execution show him as a strong, dignified man, resolute in his faith and laughing in the face of death. Victorian images of the same turn him into a devout, sober family man, gathering his children around him (though most had left the country by the time of his execution). After his death, images display him as a Christian martyr, with my favourite, by Bernard Baron, in 1728, showing Charles being borne aloft by cherubs while Britannia turns her face away in shame. It’s almost kitsch, but it was serious; in fact Charles was only removed from the Book of Common Prayer in 1859. It’s a history lesson in itself, this exhibition, since it shows how popular opinion manifests and regenerates itself, sometimes in quite surprising ways.


  1. That’s a good question! I suspect a lot of people are mostly ambivalent, though perhaps the idea of Cromwell as Lord Protector doesn’t appeal much these days! Having said that, the monarchy is a debated topic in the UK anyway, so perhaps there are people who think Charles II should never have been restored to the throne. Personally I can see why Cromwell and his men seemed like a good thing to many after the despotic rule of Charles I, with many corruptions in the ruling systems of England, though whether execution was the best route I’m not sure. And who knows what will happen when the Queen dies and we have King Charles III!

  2. Thank you very much for the reply! And Happy New Year!

    Please go on with you stories! I would be grateful if you tell about Edward Bulwer-Lytton (one of my favourite novelists, and Pelham is my favourite novel:)).
    I would post the translation to my LJ

    Best regards!

  3. Yes, it’s been a while since I last posted – house renovations rather took over my life! However I shall post again shortly! I’m afraid I don’t know much about Bulwer-Lytton, although he is on my list of “must-reads”! I shall certainly look out for Pelham, and will post something about it when I’ve read it!
    Best wishes, Serena

  4. Serena, I have clean forgotten to add that it was the translation which I have read, not the original novel. I think Bulwer-Lytton’s English might be different and somewhat outdated but the translation sounds perfect, if not brilliant.

    By the way, academics say that Pelham influenced Pushkin to write something of the sort. Actually, I have some slight information about Bulwer-Lytton as a person, some interest facts and snapshots, say, of his country house or of interesting places in London etc. I believe he is an interesting person.

    Best regards

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s