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The book that turned Charles I into a saint

a frontispiece to a book with an engraving of Charles I on it

A rare C17th copy of Eikon Basilike published soon after King Charles I was exectued which has been acquired by the National Civil War Centre in Newark.

The Book that Charles I wrote before his execution is acquired by the National Civil War Centre

Book that helped turn a royal ‘sinner’ into a saint acquired by the National Civil War Centre

It may not have been written by the hand of the first English King to be executed, but Charles I’s musings in the lead up to his execution exerted a powerful influence over the minds the of late seventeenth century populace.

Called Eikon Basilike (Royal Portrait) and purportedly written by the King, the book was printed just days after his execution on 30 January 1649, having been found guilty of waging war against his own people during the British Civil Wars.

No fewer than 36 editions of Eikon were printed in 1649 alone despite Parliament’s attempts to suppress its distribution and rebut its arguments with a counter-tract written by non other than poet and Republican John Milton.

A rare copy of the book, which effectively propelled King Charles I to martyrdom, has now been acquired by the National Civil War Centre in Newark.

a photo of a book illustration of Charles I kneeling at prayer

A rare C17th copy of Eikon Basilike published soon after King Charles I was executed which has been acquired by the National Civil War Centre in Newark.

a page of an old book showing the signature of Charles I

The book belonged to the Royal Library after the Restoration. Courtesy The National Civil War Centre in Newark.

Describing the book as being in “outstanding condition”, Curator Glyn Hughes says: “With its original seventeenth century binding and an illustration showing the king holding a crown of thorns, it also contains the signature of King Charles II and a note to the effect that this was one of his copies from the royal library. That makes it an even more impressive find.

“The last thing Parliament wanted was for the execution to make the king into a martyr and yet that’s exactly what happened because this book proved so popular.”

Cromwell’s rule has gone down as one of English history’s most joyless, with the banning of Christmas and other merriments being cited as examples of his mismanagement of a country that had endured years of privation and civil war.

When the crown was restored in 1660, just two years after Oliver Cromwell’s death, King Charles was made a saint by the Church of England and an annual day of fasting declared.

The annual day of fasting was later removed from the Book of Common Prayer by Queen Victoria and the Society of King Charles the Martyr continues to work for its restoration in the Anglican calendar.

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National Civil War Centre

Newark, Nottinghamshire

It was Britain's deadliest conflict and one which shaped our modern world. Why did brother take up arms against brother and how did a once all-powerful monarch lose his head to the axeman? Discover how the people of Newark survived three sieges by dodging cannon fire, hammering flat family silver…

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