Death of King Charles Pt. 3 ‘I shall go but before you to a better kingdom’

Charles the Martyr

I switched on the BBC news coverage of the Egyptian protests earlier today. As I watched the Egyptian people attempt to emulate their Tunisian neighbours in deposing their head of state, I wondered how many people on that chilly London day on 30th January 1649 had felt the same way about their ‘tyrant’ during the war and if they were now happy to be seeing his execution.

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As we saw from the last letter, Charles had begun to prepare for the most extreme outcome of his capture. The King had clearly begun to gather his thoughts in order to prepare his son in case the tide ever turned back in their favour.

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The letter I am featuring in this final post in the series (part 1, part 2) is the last letter that Charles communicated to the world. The letter was to his son, Prince Charles, and was handed over to the Bishop of London as he readied himself for the moment. The full letter is very long and a little repetitive, so I have edited it down to capture its key points. I hope I have managed to capture its nature as well. Here we see a father imparting his last thoughts and hopes to his son, both political and personal.

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Son,

If these pages, with some others, wherein I have set down the private reflections of my conscience, and my most impartial thoughts, touching the chief passages which have been most remarkable, or disputed in my late troubles, come to your hands, to whom they are chiefly designed, they may be so far useful to you, as to state your judgement aright in what hath passed; whereof a pious us is the best can be made; and they may also give you directions how to remedy the present distempers, and prevent (if God will) the like for time to come.

It is some kind of deceiving and lessening the injury of my long restraint, when I find my leisure and solitude have produced something worthy of myself, and useful to you; that neither you, nor any other, may hereafter measure my cause by the success, nor my judgement of things by my misfortunes, which I count the greater by far, because they have so far lighted upon you and some others whom I have most cause to love as well as myself, and of those whose unmerited sufferings I have a greater sense of than my own.

…But this advantage of wisdom you have above most princes; that you have begun, and now spent some years of discretion in the experience of troubles, and exercise of patience, wherein piety and all virtues, both moral and political, are commonly better planted to a thriving, as trees set in winter, than in warmth and serenity of times, or amidst those delights which usually attend princes’ courts in times of peace and plenty…

I had rather you should be Charles le bon, than le grand, good, than great; I hope God hath designed you to be both…

…Above all, I would have you, as I hope you are already, well grounded and settled in your religion, the best profession of which I have ever esteemed that of the Church of England, in which you have been educated… and not other men’s custom or tradition which you profess.

…Never charge your head with a crown as shall, by its heaviness, oppress the whole body, the weakness of whose parts cannot return anything of strength, honour or safety to the head, but a necessary debilitation and ruin.

Your prerogative is best showed and exercised in remitting rather than exacting the rigour of the laws; there being nothing worse than legal tyranny.

…the troubles of my kingdoms, have nothing else to object against me but this, that I prefer religion and laws established before those alterations they propounded.

…Time will dissipate all factions, when once the rough hours of private men’s covetous and ambitious designs shall discover themselves; which were at first wrapped up and hidden under the soft and smooth pretensions of religion, reformation, and liberty: as the wolf is not so cruel, so he will be more justly hated, when he shall appear no better than a wolf under sheep’s clothing.

…It is all I have now left me, a power to forgive those that have deprived me of all; and I thank God I have a heart to do it, and joy as much in this grace, which God hath given me, as in all my former enjoyments; for this is a greater argument of God’s love to me than any prosperity can be. Be confident (as I am) that the most of all sides, who have done amiss, have done so, not out of malice, but misinformation, or misapprehension of things.

…As your quality sets you beyond any duel with any subject, so the nobleness of your mind must raise you above the meditating any revenge, or executing your anger upon the many.

…And if neither I nor you be ever restored to our right, but God, in His severest justice, will punish my subjects with continuance in their sin… I hope God will give me and you that grace which will teach and enable us to want, aw well as to wear a crown, which is not worth taking up, or enjoying upon sordid, dishonourable, and irreligious terms.

Keep you to true principles of piety, virtue, and honour; you shall never want a kingdom.

… My prayer to God Almighty is (whatever becomes of me…) that He would be pleased to make you an anchor, or harbour rather, to those tossed and weather beaten kingdoms…

… When they have destroyed me (for I know not how far God may permit the malice and cruelty of my enemies to proceed, and such apprehensions some men’s words and actions have already given me) as I doubt not my blood will cry aloud for vengeance to Heaven; so I beseech God not to pour out His wrath upon the generality of the people who have either deserted me, or engaged me…

…And if God will have disloyalty perfected by my destruction, let my memory ever, with my name, live in you; as of your father, that loves you, and once a King of three flourishing Kingdoms…

…At worst, I trust I shall but go before you to a better kingdom, which God hath prepared for me, and me for it…

Farewell, till we meet, if not on earth, yet in Heaven.

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