This is the final installment of a 15 part series examining the historical antecedents of the Anglican Communion.
“Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the LORD which he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.”
Joshua 24 : 27
King Charles I of England was born in Scotland. His father was King James VI of Scotland who became King James I of England when Queen Elizabeth died. James had been a strong believer in the divine right of kings. James had written a book on the duties of a king for his son, Henry. (Henry was the older brother of Charles who died before he could inherit the throne). A good king, James wrote, “Acknowledgeth himself ordained for his people, having received from God a burden of government, whereof he must be countable. The idea of the divine right to rule has appeared in many cultures Eastern and Western spanning all the way back to the first God king Gilgamesh.” Under the theory of the divine right of kings, a king was appointed by God and not by any temporal authority. A king was accountable to God for his actions, but could never be accountable to other men. To betray a king was to betray God.
King James had wished to create an alliance with Spain and entered into prolonged negotiations with that country’s king, Philip II, for a marriage between Charles and Maria Anna, Philip’s daughter. The proposed marriage between an English prince and a Spanish princess was unpopular in England, where recent wars with Spain were yet fresh in memories. King James was thought by many, especially the Puritans, to be overly sympathetic to Catholicism. The prospect of a marriage of the heir apparent to a Catholic princess was regarded with great alarm. Negotiations dragged along, until 1623 when Charles, accompanied by the duke of Buckingham, traveled secretly to Spain to attempt to close the deal in person. The Spanish demanded that Charles become a Catholic and that he remain in Spain for at least a year after the marriage to show England’s good faith. These were unacceptable terms and Charles returned to England still a bachelor.
Charles was eventually wed to Princess Henrietta Maria, sister of King Louis XIII of France. The marriage took place a few months after he took the throne in March, 1625. Several members of his first Parliament had expressed opposition to his marriage to the Catholic princess, fearful that Charles would relax restrictions on Catholic practices and that he would not punish recusants. “Recusant,” was the term applied to those who failed to conform to the Church of England. A law enacted in 1593 under Elizabeth I defined “Popish Recusants” as individuals who were, “convicted for not repairing to some Church, Chapel, or usual place of Common Prayer to hear Divine Service there, but forbearing the same contrary to the tenor of the laws and statutes heretofore made and provided in that behalf. “ Charles promised Parliament that he would not relax enforcement of laws against recusants, but his secret marriage treaty with Louis XIII promised that he would.
The suspicion that Charles was leading England down the path back to Catholicism was also fueled by his attitudes toward Puritans and the more radical reformists. Charles appointed William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury, someone known to be hostile to Calvinism and who looked favorably upon the existing BCP liturgy. Laud’s views were apparently congruent with those of Charles, and Laud was able to use the infamous Court of Star Chamber and other government apparatus to punish those who opposed him. Charles also attempted to impose Church of England structure and practices on the Scottish church. Armed conflict, known as the Bishops Wars, ensued. They ended in humiliating defeat for Charles, and made him more dependent than ever on the assistance of Parliament. But worse things awaited Charles.
In 1642, Charles entered the halls of Parliament with an armed force, intending to arrest its leaders. Most of them escaped. His opponents armed themselves. By the fall, England was embroiled in civil war. The royalists lost this war. A victorious Parliament demanded that Charles agree to creation of a constitutional monarchy form of government. Charles refused to agree, and escaped to Scotland where he attempted to enlist the aid of Scottish nobles in his cause. A second civil war erupted, and Charles was captured, put on trial, and convicted of high treason. On January 30, 1649, he was beheaded. Disputes over theology and the encroachment of Catholicism in England had resulted in a devastating civil war and the overthrow of the government. England no longer had a king.
Father, we have murdered. We have assassinated. We have refused to make peace with our brothers. We have refused to be reconciled to one another. We have allowed disagreements among Christians to become the reason for terrible wars. We have rebelled against lawful government and we have rebelled against you.
Forgive us, Father. Forgive our ancestors. Heal our broken Anglican Church.
Have mercy, Father. Use the blood shed by Jesus on the cross to cleanse the sins of our ancestors and our own sins. Wipe clean this stain on our history. Restore us. Break the cycle of repeated sins. Free us from bondage to this history. Begin a new creation in which you are our God and we are your people.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord and true King.