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Charles I’s defence to the end of the vertical hierarchy

Tuesday, 25 Mar 2014

Charles I on Staff and Scrip, Dr John Dunn. First posted onWednesday, 10 April 2013 at 21:46

Charles I’s last words on the scaffold defined the historical antithesis between the sacred way and the profane.

Many could not hear what he said as he spoke quietly. However, he was leaving his words for posterity. Charles directed his last comments to Colonel Tomlinson and Bishop Juxon who reported his words after the execution.

All the world knows that I never did begin a war with the two Houses of Parliament. ….for I do believe that ill instruments between them and me has been the chief cause of all this bloodshed.
He was acutely aware that there were larger forces, ‘ill instruments’, driving the war, other than the obvious protagonists. What did these ‘ill instruments’ have to gain from the defeat of the king? The answer to that, quite clearly, is commercial gain.
I have forgiven all the world, and even those in particular that have been the chief causers of my death……For the people; And truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever, but I must tell you, that their liberty and freedom consists in having of government; those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government that is pertaining to them; A subject and a sovereign are clean different things, and therefore until you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves.
Charles I’s defence to the end of the vertical hierarchy, the outward and imperfect expression of a supreme spiritual reality, was inevitably always going to clash with the new creed of ‘practical necessity and the pursuit of one’s own advantage’, ‘the mundane principles of Judaism’, as later described by Marx.

Charles’s own position was best exemplified by the enthusiastic support he gave for William Laud’s enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury. A champion of the social organism as a reflection of the cosmic order, Laud set himself against factionalism and the pursuit of individual economic gain. Factionalism in the form of parties was a threat to the coherence of society and had to be suppressed, for Governments must ‘entertain no private business’, and ‘parties are ever private ends’. In the spirit of the medieval Church Councils, Laud detested as sacrilegious the self-interest which led the individual to struggle for riches and advancement. ‘There is no private end, but in something or other it will be led to run cross the public: and, if gain come in, though it be by “making shrines for Diana”, it is no matter with them though Ephesus be in an uproar for it.’*

Laud was executed in the midst of the Civil War for these beliefs, and Charles I was eventually overcome by opponents who sought in Calvinism the halo of ethical sanctification for their amoral economic ends.

Charles concluded his final speech.
Sir,it was for this that I am come here. If I would have given way to an arbitrary way, for to have all laws changed according to the power of the Sword, I needed not to have come here, and therefore I tell you….that I am the martyr of the people. I have a good cause and a gracious God on my side.
He could have given way to the forces of Mammon, disorder, the party with the greater economic backing and fire power, but he chose to make a stand for the sacred order on earth. He offered himself to posterity as a martyr in the cause of the sacred way against the profane.

* R.H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Penguin, 1961, p.175.

John Dunn.

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