Today is the 30th January and in Jane Austen’s lifetime it was known in the Anglican Church Calendar as the Feast Day of St Charles the Martyr. It referred to the beheading -the regicide- of King Charles the First in 1649.
This is The Calender of Saints and Feats Days from my copy of The Book of Common Prayer dating from 1761 and printed by John Baskerville for Cambridge University.
Jane Austen was a fierce Jacobite, as readers of her History of England know quite well. She was a strong supporter of the Royal House of Stuart, of which Charles I was a leading member. Indeed it was though his support of Charles I ,who was rescued entry into the city of Coventry that Jane Austen’s ancestor, Thomas Leigh of nearby Stoneleigh, shown below, was ennobled in July 1643, becoming thereafter known by the title, Lord Leigh. There can be no doubt, surely, that Jane Austen’s strong Jacobite feelings were influences by her family history.
The beheading of King Charles was seen by many of his supporters as a form of religious martyrdom. The Cult of King Charles the Martyr began not long after his death, with relics of his body being preserved and some of them were later reputed to have performed miracles and to possess healing powers. As Sophie Dicks wrote in the catalogue to an exhibition of relics of King Charles held at the jewellers,Wartski last year, The King’s Blood, and which she curated:
There are varying accounts of the crowds reaction to the execution( of King Charles-jfw) but what is certain is that relics were gathered and in the years following the king’s death his supporters would ascribe healing powers to them. Use of the relics was seen as a substitute for the healing power of the King’s Touch in life. There was certainly a brisk trade in vials and boxes said to contain his blood and hair varying from the magnificent to the humble and memorials were fashioned from even the most obscure of material including peach stones…Andrew Lacey in his study of the cult of King Charles the Martyr has identifed the king as ” the only post-Reformation monarch to be credited with healing powers after his death‘
Here is a memorial ring dating from the 17th century,which commemorates King Charles.
You can see that the reverse of the ring, below, is enamelled with a skull and the date of his death as 30th January 1648 due to the operation of teh Julian and not teh Gregorian calendar, ,and also has a quotation from Romans 8:37 “More than conquerors“.
Jane Austen as a devout Anglican would have taken part in the day of religious ceremonies commemorating his death. Before we look at the wording of these services, it might be a good idea to remind ourselves why he was commemorated.
The Monarchy was restored in 1660 when King Charles’ son, Charles II, resumed the throne after the Interregnum. Charles I was canonised ( he was the last saint to be canonised by the Anglican church) and his name was added to the ecclesiastical calendar for the anniversary of his death, so that services could then be held to commemorate his death. The idea was to create a day that could be observed as a day of national mourning for the dead king who was considered by his supporters to have died in defence of his religion.
This situation continued until 1859 when the feast day was removed from the Calender in the Book of Common Prayer. The Society of King Charles the Martyr was formed not long after this took place and the aims of the society are to work for the reinstatement of the feast day in the Book of Common Prayer. As their website declares their main aim is to :
Work for the reinstatement of the Feast of S.Charles in the Kalendar of The Prayer Book from which it was removed in 1859 without the due consent of the Church as expressed in Convocation (The Feast was restored to the Kalendar in the Alternative Service Book of 1980 and a new collect composed for Common Worship in 2000).
Here are the pages from the 1761 Book of Common Prayer showing the forms of Morning and EveningPrayer to be said in commemoration of Charles I, as they were said during Jane Austen’s life time. Do remember you can enlarge all these pages by simply clicking on them in order to read the fine print:
The day and services are still commemorated by members of the Society of St Charles the Martyr today. I thought you might be interested to see them,as they are rarely performed today.