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Eikon Basilike

A guide to rare editions of the Eikon Basilike and related materials held by Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Maryland.

King Charles I

History of the Eikon Basilike

On January 27, 1649, Charles I, the anointed King of England, was condemned for treason by a "high court of justice" and sentenced to death by execution. Two days later, under heavy armed guard, Charles walked from St. James' Palace to Whitehall, stepped onto the scaffold, and with a short speech and the mysterious last whispered word "Remember," was executed. To an England caught in the turmoil of a political and religious war, the king's death resulted in a reemergence of a popular royalist sentiment . In the wake of the king's execution, the despotic misdeeds of his government were forgotten; Charles the Tyrant was transformed into Charles the Martyr. The sufferings and trials of the king were compared to those of Jesus Christ. Handkerchiefs dipped in his blood were reported to have wrought miracles. The Eikon Basilike, published on or within a few days of the king's death, painted a touching portrait of the unfortunate monarch.

Since the Eikon Basilike purported to be a compendium of the king's own meditations on duty and death, it is easy to understand that the commonwealth government was anxious to suppress this piece of royalist propaganda. The authorities were unsuccessful in their efforts to ban the Eikon Basilike, however, and as the work found receptive audiences in both England and abroad, it went through several editions in the year immediately following the king's execution. The phenomenon of the Eikon Basilike is interesting not only for the immediate historical effects of its appearance, but also for the puzzles it presents to any bibliographer and for the literary controversy which arose over it authorship.

It is amazing, indeed, that in the days of handset type and surreptitious printing under the watchful eye of a hostile government, the Eikon Basilike went through some 35 editions in England and 25 in Ireland and abroad in 1649 alone. Many editions were printed in secrecy without the place or name of the printer/publisher appearing on the title page. Some merely carried the imprint "In R.M. Anno. Dom. 1648" (In memory of the king, 1648/1649). Certain attributions as to publication can be made, however, by tracking down initial letters and ornamental devices used by individual printers.

The first edition of the Eikon Basilike was issued by Richard Royston, whose shop had become a center of royalist activity. Advance copies of the Eikon Basilike may have been available on January 30, 1649, the day of the king's execution, but copies were certainly in circulation during the first week of February. Royston was called before the Council of State in May and ceased further publication of any separately issued Eikons; in 1650, however, he published the first of four editions of the works of King Charles, which included the text of the Eikon Basilike. A second group of Eikons was printed by William Dugard and published by Francis Eglesfield. On March 17, 1649, Dugard was arrested by Parliament, but due to the public outcry in his favor, he was quickly released. In a gesture of defiance, Dugard reprinted his edition of the Eikon Basilike. After having been arrested and jailed a second time and when his family began to suffer severe deprivation, Dugard capitulated and joined the Parliamentary cause. After the warning given to Royston and the arrest of Dugard, John Williams published a series of miniature editions which could easily be concealed and which circulated in large numbers. Williams, however, did not escape the eye of the authorities; he also was arrested at the end of the year. Whether from a sense of loyalty to the royalist cause or from a hope of making a profit, certain printers and publishers in England were evidently willing to risk the hazardous business of printing and distributing the Eikon Basilike.

Eikonoklastes

Eikonoklastes (Eἰκονοκλάστης) is a book by John Milton, published October 1649. In it he provides a justification for the execution of King Charles I, which had taken place in January 1649. 

The book's title is taken from the Greek, and means "iconoclast" or "breaker of the icon", and Milton's book is therefore usually seen as Parliamentarian propaganda, explicitly designed to counter the Royalist arguments.

The Society of King Charles the Marytr

The Society of King Charles the Martyr has a history dating back to the 19th century. Since King Charles' martyrdom on 30th January, 1649, countless Anglicans and Christians have remembered his sacrifice for the Church.

The origins of the Society can be traced back more specifically to when the Feast of Saint Charles was unjustly removed the Kalendar of The Prayer Book. The organization's central task of drawing churchmen and women to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the life and martyrdom of Charles I continues today.

The Feast was restored to the Kalendar in the Alternative Service Book of 1980 and a new collect composed for Common Worship in 2000.