This is part two in a three part series of posts looking at the death of King Charles I through his and his son’s letters (see Part 1). This letter was written while Charles was in the hands of the army and prior to the trial that would eventually lead to his execution, on 30th January 1649. It is one of the last pieces of correspondence that he sent to Charles. What stands out about this letter to me is its reflective nature and the air of dignified sadness, even melancholy. While the trial that was to condemn him had not yet begun, I think the letter shows that the writing on the wall was coming into focus for this man and he had begun to put his mind to how he might guide his heir. Some of the lessons that Charles extols to the young Prince in this epistle are ones he singularly failed to adhere to in life, and there is a sense in which the King is acknowledging this. The blame is still in the hands of others, but he has clearly looked deep into his soul at this late point. A final point I would make is that while this is a letter to his son, the future King, it is also written from the point of view of a man who considers himself father of a nation, bear that in mind when reading it. I’ll publish the final post, and final letter from the hand of the King, on the Sunday 30th January.
Newport, November 29, 1648.
By what hath been said, you may see how long we have laboured in search of peace. Do not you be discouraged to tread those ways, to restore yourself to your right; but prefer the way of peace. Show the greatness of your mind, rather to conquer your enemies by pardoning than punishing. If you saw how unmanly and unchristianly this implacable disposition is in our evil willers, you would avoid that spirit. Censure us not, for having parted with too much of our own right; the price was great; the commodity was security to us, peace to our people. And we are confident another Parliament would remember how useful a King’s power is to the people’ s liberty.
Of how much we have divested ourself, that we and they might meet again in a due Parliamentary way to agree the bounds for Prince and people! And in this, give belief to our experience, never to affect more greatness or prerogative than what is really and intrinsically for the good of our subjects (not satisfaction of favourites). And, if you thus use it, you will never want means to be a father to all, and a bountiful Prince to any you would be extraordinarily gracious to… if princes, like the sea, receive and repay all the fresh stream and rivers trust them with, they will not grudge, but pride themselves, to make them up an ocean.
These considerations may make you a great Prince, as your father is now a low one; and your state may be so much the more established, as mine have been shaken. For subjects have learnt (we dare say) that victories over their Princes are but triumphs over themselves; and so, will be more unwilling to hearken to change hereafter.
The English nation are a sober people; however at present under some infatuation. We know not but this may be the last time we may speak to you or the world publicly. We are sensible into what hands we are fallen; and yet we bless God we have those inward refreshments, that the malice of our enemies cannot disturb. We have learnt to own ourself by retiring into ourself, and therefore can the better digest what befalls us; not doubting but God can restrain our enemies’ malice, and turn their fierceness unto his praise.
To conclude, if God give you success, use it humbly and far from revenge. If He restore you to your right upon hard conditions, whatever you promise, keep. Those men which have forced laws which they were bound to observe, will find their triumphs full of troubles. Do not think anything in this world worth obtaining by foul and unjust means. You are the son of our love; and, as we do not more affectionally pray for you (to whom we are a natural parent) than we do, that the ancient glory and renown of this nation be not buried in irreligion and fanatical humour… that you may in due time govern, and they be governed, as in the fear of the Lord.