On February 1, the Cathedral Church of St Paul will host the Annual Mass & Luncheon of the Society of King Charles the Martyr (SKCM), American Region. Our own Fr Dave Halt, rector of St Matthew’s, Bloomington, will be the preacher, and YFNB will preside. But we will also no doubt have several guests from outside the diocese.The music will be very special, as singers from the Blackburn College choir will perform a setting of the Mass by English composer Richard Shephard.
But … what is the SKCM, anyway? Why does it exist?
Charles I was born in 1600 and reigned over the United Kingdom from 1625 until his death in 1649. He was of the Stuart dynasty, succeeding his father James I (who had been James VI of Scotland, and whose accession then created the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, and Ireland) after Queen Elizabeth I died with no heirs in the Tudor line. Charles got on increasingly poorly with the Parliament, both for his secular and religious politics. He believed strongly in the essential Catholic character of the Church of England, especially in the absolute necessity that it be led by bishops who are in the historic line of episcopal succession. Those of a more reformed persuasion, some of whom “tolerated” bishops but didn’t think they were essential, and some of whom were outright opposed to having bishops, chafed under his rule.
Charles also believed firmly in the divine right of kings, which meant that he believed himself accountable to God alone, and not to any human political entity, such as Parliament. Some who may not have been opposed to him on religious grounds found his secular politics to be objectionable, creating a “perfect storm” that resulted in a long civil war. Eventually, forces led by Oliver Cromwell, who was religiously Puritan and politically republican (i,e, anti-monarchist), triumphed militarily and imprisoned the king. In January 1649 he was indicted by Parliament (under a law never assented to by the king, per constitutional tradition) for treason, tried, and convicted. On January 30, at 2pm, Charles Stuart was beheaded on a scaffold erected outside of Whitehall Palace. For the next eleven years, both the monarchy and the Church of England were abolished, and the realm was effectively a dictatorship under Cromwell. After Cromwell’s death, popular sentiment guaranteed the restoration of both the monarchy and the church, and the martyr’s son, Charles II, was crowned king.
Soon after the restoration, King Charles I became the only person ever to be canonized a saint by the Church of England in the post-reformation era. An American may wish to quarrel with his belief in the divine right of kings, but no one may challenge his humble tenacity in contending for his convictions. There is surviving correspondence between Charles and his children in the days leading up to his execution that give evidence of a holiness of spirit that is manifested in tremendous courage. He insisted on wearing an extra shirt to the scaffold, since it was a cold day and he would not have anyone think that he shivered out of fear. It is said that Charles could have saved his life if only he would renounce episcopacy as essential to the church, but he embraced a martyr’s death rather than betray his Catholic convictions.
The SKCM, both in England and in the U.S., exists to perpetuate the memory of Charles Stuart, King and Martyr, and to uphold the Catholic principles for which he died. Every year, the Annual Mass & Luncheon is on a Saturday near the date of his martyrdom (January 30), in various locations around the country. We are honored and thrilled to be hosting it in Springfield this year. I invite you to consider becoming a member (use this link). And, by all means, register for the luncheon and attend the Mass on February 1.