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Book that helped turn a royal 'sinner' into a saint

24 January 2017

A rare copy of a book that propelled King Charles I to martyrdom has been acquired by the National Civil War Centre in Newark.

Called Eikon Basilike (Royal Portrait) and purportedly written by the King, it 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.

Possibly written whilst he was imprisoned by Parliament, the ill-fated monarch defends his actions and re-asserts his belief in the divine right of kings – an issue that sparked the bloodiest conflict in English history, claiming five percent of the population.

Glyn Hughes, Curator at the National Civil War Centre, said: 

“Our copy is in outstanding condition 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.”

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

Glyn Hughes added: 

“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.” 

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. 

Removed from the Book of Common Prayer by Queen Victoria, the Society of King Charles the Martyr continues to work for his restoration in the Anglican calendar.  
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It is likely the book will go on display next year as part of an exciting new exhibition being planned at the National Civil War Centre.