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Poétique de la catastrophe ? Représentations du régicide aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles en Europe

Sacrificial Kings and Martyred Rebels: Charles and Rainborowe Beatified

Rachel Willie

Résumés

En clôture dramatique de la guerre civile, l’Angleterre assiste à l’exécution publique de Charles Ier en Janvier 1649. Après cet événement, l’iconographie du martyr Charles fut fréquemment utilisée pour rendre compte du désastre royaliste et pour faire sens du régicide. Cet essai traite de trois textes dramatiques publiés après le régicide pour étudier comment ils représentent la décapitation et se positionnent vis à vis du discours martyrologique. A Tragi-comedy Called New-Market Fayre (1649) se concentre sur la vente de biens du roi défunt et flirte avec l’idée de reliquaire et interroge la valeur des biens matériels du monarque. The Famous Tragedie of Charles I (1649) met en récit le régicide et décrit Charles comme un martyr. Cependant, le récit est déstabilisé par l’apparition du colonel Rainborowe, un parlementaire radical qui a également été dépeint comme un martyr par ses partisans. À la Restauration, The Famous Tragedie est révisée pour célébrer la mort d’Oliver Cromwell. Quant au drame Cromwell’s Conspiracy (1660), il présente le régicide comme annonçant les souffrances royalistes à venir avant la restauration triomphante de la monarchie. Ces « iconographies » contradictoires compliquent notre compréhension du discours martyrologique et de la manière dont il fut adapté pour faire sens du régicide de 1649.

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  • 1 C.V. Wedgwood, The Trial of Charles I, London, Folio Society, 1959, p. 137.
  • 2 See Book of Common Prayer, London, 1662. Andrew Lacey’s The Cult of Charles the Martyr, Woodbridge, (...)

1“I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be”1. Charles I’s final words upon the scaffold, as recounted by John Rushworth, present a king who accepts his fate and goes to his grave safe in the knowledge of salvation. Such a representation of the execution related to mid-seventeenth century religious controversies. Reform in church worship was a bone of contention and, while the causes of the Civil War were much more complicated than a simple division over religion, this did not prevent contemporaries from perceiving religious tension as a major factor in the build-up to war. As a consequence, Charles I began to style himself as a martyr for the Anglican Church. Tracts such as The Martyrdom of King Charles, or his Conformity with Christ in His Sufferings (1649) proliferated after the execution. At the Restoration, some churches were dedicated to Charles and a service to remember January 30 (the day when Charles, believed by some to be the blessed saint and martyred king, met his death) was included in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer2. In this essay, I will examine three dramatic representations of regicide: A Tragy-Comedy Called New-Market Fayre (1649), The Famous Tragedie of Charles I (1649) and Cromwell’s Conspiracy (1660), all penned by royalists. I will argue that, while martyrological discourse may be appropriated as a way to redeem Charles, conflicting iconographies complicate our understanding of matyrology and how the notion of the martyred king was adopted as a way to understand the 1649 regicide. In so doing, I use the term ‘iconography’ less as a way to examine pictorial representation or the visual image, but instead as a means to focus upon the iconography of the subject. I will examine how textual representations printed in 1649 and 1660 configure the regicide and style Charles as a martyr.

  • 3 A. Lacey, op. cit., p. 30-33.
  • 4 See, for example, John Milton, Eikonoklastes, London, Matthew Simmons, 1649; Eikon Alethine, London (...)

2Within the matyrological discourses that developed about Charles was the notion that the king was mirroring Christ in his sufferings and, like Christ, sacrificing himself to atone for sin. The likening of Charles to Christ was not well received in all quarters: such strong comparisons could be deemed blasphemous despite their intention to beatify the deceased king3. Furthermore, the beatification of Charles was a little paradoxical for the Anglican Church, which (ostensibly at least) still does not recognise saints in the same way as the Catholic Church. Despite this, the concept of Charles as a suffering monarch gained some credibility and royalists fostered this idea in the 1650s and throughout the Restoration decade. Soon after the regicide, Eikon Basilike was presented to the reading public as the private devotions, reflections and observations of a pious prince. Eikon Basilike went into multiple editions and, for some, only added to the posthumous redemption of Charles. However, the meditation was not without its controversies and sparked several publications denouncing the text and questioning the likelihood of Charles even being the author4. These ongoing discussions emphasise the tensions between how some royalists viewed the appropriation of martyrological discourse and how it was seen by those who were unsympathetic to the notion of Charles as sacrificing himself for national sin.

  • 5 Joad Raymond, “Popular Representations of Charles I,” in Thomas N. Corns (ed.), The Royal Image: Re (...)
  • 6 Mercurivs Aulicvus, Communicating the Intelligence of the Court, to the rest of the Kingdome. From (...)
  • 7 Play pamphlets, a hybridization of plays and pamphlets, developed during the Civil War as a means o (...)

3The cult of the suffering, martyred king emerged as early as 16475. In 1645, Mercurius Aulicus claimed that those fighting against Charles had admitted that they intended to kill their king6; this perhaps provided one of the origins for the idea of a royal martyr. Some royalists were clearly prepared for the possibility that the wars might not end favourably for Charles. An enduring image of Charles was thus created and perpetuated in print. One of the ways in which this was achieved was by printing play pamphlets7 that focused upon the materiality of the royal body and royal possessions.

  • 8 Jerry Brotton, The Sale of the Late King’s Goods: Charles I and his Art Collection, Basingstoke and (...)
  • 9 Ibid., p. 16 et passim (esp. chapter 8). In reality, the monetary value of much of Charles’s collec (...)

4Soon after the regicide, Parliament passed an act for the sale of the late king’s goods8. Some of the Royal Collection, wares, land and property were put up for sale. Other items were retained by Parliament as it sought to find ways of defining the new form of government that was to replace monarchical rule. The sale served the very practical purpose of quickly realising capital needed by Parliament to settle some of the debts incurred during the Civil War. However, as Jerry Brotton observes, it also commercialised the nature of kingship. Monarchy was reduced to a commodity that could be traded. The symbolism of deconstructing monarchy through dismantling its art collection was abandoned in favour of appropriating some of the late king’s wares as a means of trying to define and legitimise a form of government that lacked precedent.9 The sale therefore had political as well as fiscal significance.

  • 10 It is generally accepted that the anonymous writer was John Crouch (Lois Potter, Secret Rites and S (...)
  • 11 Brotton, op. cit., p. 228.

5Printed anonymously, A Tragi-Comedy Called New-Market Fayre anticipates the passing of the act for the sale of the late king’s goods.10 Three weeks before the act was passed, an audience could read a satiric rendering of the impending sale:11

  • 12 A Tragi-Comedy Called New-Market-Fayre or a Parliament Out-Cry: of State-Commodities Set to Sale, 1 (...)

Here be pretty things, toys for your new Kings, Scepters, Crowns, Diamonds, Rings: Mannors for pleasure, good Lands for your treasure; good People, here is measure for measure. Come Tom and Noll, Jane, Cisse, Sue, and Doll, and wise Aldermen of the City, See but this Play, and before you go away you’l say tis wondrous pritty.12

6The prologue is spoken by the Cryer, advertising the wares that are for sale, and so the mythos of monarchy is reduced to toys that can be purchased for ready cash and there is a comic disjunction between the wealth and authority of kings now being in the ownership of the London citizenry. However, in buying these goods, the purchaser is raised to the status of a king; the former chattels of monarchy act as talismans that afford the new owner some of the prestige, wisdom and power a monarch ought to possess – in theory, if not in practice.

7Paradoxically demystifying the idea of kingship, whilst simultaneously suggesting that the commodities of a deceased monarch contained an intrinsic and ennobling power, the play pamphlet is confused as to what the place and function of monarchical goods might be in a society lacking a royal family. The confusion expressed with regard to the contemporary political moment is enhanced by the metatheatrical reference to plays in the final couplet quoted above. The play pamphlet acknowledges that it was written as a play to be seen, yet, paradoxically, it was not performed. However, the preoccupation with commodities alludes to another form of spectacle; one that is intrinsically linked with material culture. At the beginning of the play pamphlet, the Cryer begins by focusing upon the sale of state objects that once symbolised monarchical government:

O yes, O yes, O yes; here is a golden Crown, worth many a hundred pound: ’twill fit the head of a Foole, Knave or Clowne; ’twas lately taken from the Royal Head of a KING Martyred; Who bids most? Here is a Scepter for to sway a kingdom a new reformed way; ’twas usurp’d from one we did lately betray; pray Customers come away! (sig. A2r)

8The crown is here presented as an expensive bauble that is a suitable adornment for any cranium. The references to martyrdom and usurpation, however, suggest that the connection between the body politic and the body natural has been severed as a consequence of the trial and execution and it is not so much the crown that lacks symbolic value as the regicide that has rendered the crown a redundant object. Whereas the crown ceases to have worth beyond its monetary value in a state that lacks a monarch, the place and function of the sceptre in a “reformed” kingdom is ambiguous. While it is suggested that the sceptre can be used to govern the kingless kingdom, the use of the word “sway” can be interpreted in multiple ways and, for the author, exposes that the right to govern has been dishonestly seized. In asserting that the sceptre had been “usurp’d” from Charles, the author alludes to the jurisdiction or sway that a monarch holds over his subjects; the sceptre ceases to be a means of endorsing the new political order, but instead reaffirms Charles’s authority and right to reign by exposing that he has been betrayed and there has been a breach of allegiance. “Sway” could also mean to totter or to swing, which implies that a faltering government has replaced the rigidity of monarchical rule. Since these two objects of office have been sullied, the Cryer moves on to list other objects that are connected to the erstwhile king and Charles is remembered primarily through his personal commodities:

here be Stockings; here be shooes [sic] and cuffes, and double double [sic] Ruffs; here be cloaks, hats and gloves, Rings and Bracelets of his Deer Loves; here be boots and spurs, and bloody handkerchers; with his Roabs that be royal, his Watch and Sun-dial; here be Cabbinets with Letters, to instruct all your betters; his Meditations and Prayer-book, in which all Nations may look: here is his Haire and royall-Blood, shed for his Subjects good; here be Libraries and Books, and Pictures that contain his looks; here you may all things buy, that belong to Monarchy. (sig. A2r-A2v)

  • 13 Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory, Cambrid (...)
  • 14 The Kings Cabinet Opened: or, Certain Packets of Secret Letters and Papers, Written with the Kings (...)

9In the early modern period, clothes operated as “materials of memory” and the exchange of livery bound people in “networks of obligation” that connected employee and employer13. However, the extract quoted above demonstrates how commercialisation can challenge the bonds that are created through the bestowing of material goods. By selling the goods, the network of obligation is severed, but Charles, as previous owner of the products, is constantly remembered through the mnemonic associations of his material goods. Through appropriating the paraphernalia of the body natural, the body politic is also metonymically consumed. This is emphasised by mingling allusions to bloody handkerchiefs with the robes of office, which further conjoin the semiotics of authority with the corporeal. The cabinet of letters (a possible allusion to parliament’s publication of the notorious letters that were in the cabinet lost by Charles after the battle of Naseby14) marks the boundary between the listing of material objects as commodities and objects as relics. Alluding to the shed royal blood, the Cryer emphatically points to the burgeoning cult of the saint and martyred king. Goods once in the possession of the royal household are assimilated into martyrological discussions. They cease to be commodities and evolve into relics through which Charles may be remembered. Commonwealth dignitaries bartering for the items afford them a monetary value that cannot diminish their symbolic worth.

10New-Market Fayre claims that chief amongst those seeking to make advantageous acquisitions from the sale are Cromwell and Fairfax. Despite the Cryer’s observation that the crown can “fit the head of a Foole, Knave or Clowne,” Cromwell and Fairfax are keen to purchase it because they perceive it to be a means through which they can gain regal authority:

CROM[WELL]: Where is the Crown that Col. Martyn took from the Abby at Westminster, some years since? I think it fitts my Temples, and is the richest save one, and that the Rebell Earl of Darby hath ith’ Ile of Man.
CRYER: Here ’tis, Sir; try it on: So, now ’tis sure,
And make you look more like King then Brewer
FAIR[FAX]: ’Tis most my Right and best becomes my head. (sig. A2v)

11Thus commences a bidding war between Cromwell and Fairfax for the crown of England. In seeking the crown, the two recognise and authorise its metonymic value, even though the Cryer has previously dismissed its non-monetary worth. However, their respective wives also mirror their quarrel, partly in support of their husbands, but mainly with a view to personal elevation. This play pamphlet depicts Elizabeth Cromwell expressing reservations about appropriating possessions that once belonged to Henrietta Maria:

But think ye that WE can brook any thing that was the late Queens; No, she was a Strumpet, & a Baggage and all her goods smell of Popery, and savor as strong as the Whore of Babylon; If the Kingdome will not be at the Charge to finde me all things New; by my troath, I will not be their Queen. (sig. A3v)

12While the king’s goods must be appropriated by the new order to legitimise its authority, the queen and all her chattels need to be consigned to history. Henrietta Maria’s possessions are destroyed as the (Catholic) objects can only taint by association their subsequent owners. There is a tension between dismissing royalty and the need to appropriate the king’s political authority through his personal effects. Caroline relics validate the new Commonwealth, but Henrietta Maria’s possessions (which have different political and symbolic resonances) are suppressed.

13New Market Fayre thus presents the memory of Charles, materialised by the goods that were once in his possession. Charles is not depicted, nor is the regicide, but his execution figures heavily in other play pamphlets. Much literature produced at the time demonstrates that, while there was support for the parliamentarians, there was also mourning for the deceased king and anger that Civil War had terminated in regicide:

  • 15 Anon, An Elegie upon the Death of our Soveraign Lord King Charles the Martyr, BL Thomason E.594 (10 (...)

Did you by others your God and Country mock
Pretend a Crowne and yet prepare a block?
Did you that swore you’d Mount Charles higher yet
Intend the Scaffold for his Olivet
Was this hail Master? Did you bow the knee
That you might murder him with Loyalitie?15

14Despite the immediate and obvious disaster that the regicide was for Charles and his supporters, the first public spectacle of the Republic in some ways proved to be redemptive for the royal line it sought to expunge and brought the notion of Charles as the martyred monarch to its natural and inevitable conclusion. In the trial and execution of Charles, we see politics and drama conjoin. The theatricality of the final scene of the ‘tragedy’ was not lost upon contemporary spectators. In the wake of the execution, one of the first dramatic works of the new republic was published. The Famous Tragedie of Charles I was informed by the execution and sought to comprehend the event by dramatising it and historicising the recent past.

15Charles, as the eponymous tragic hero, is a minor figure who has a post-mortem role: the decapitated kingly corpse is revealed only in the last scene. The royal image is embalmed in a final tableau, embodying the end of one political order and the beginning of the next. Although three other bodies share in this morbid unveiling, the main focus of the play’s narrative is centred upon Charles. Absent monarch he may be, but Charles is omnipresent: the play focuses upon the build-up to his death and its immediate aftermath. This is achieved through juxtaposing the idea of royalist suffering with the ambitions of parliamentarians. The action of the play is split between the perceived intrigues of Cromwell and the siege of Colchester.

  • 16 Susan Wiseman, Drama and Politics in the English Civil War, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, (...)

16The siege of Colchester became the focus of a debate regarding the ethics of both factions in war16. While the town was besieged, a pamphlet war raged where supporters of both sides added to the debate. These pamphlets may have provided the author of The Famous Tragedie with knowledge of the siege. In depicting the final stages of one of the most controversial events of the latter part of the war, the writer participates in Civil War discussions and establishes a causal link between the besieged royalist town and the martyred king. Military defeat is displaced by heroic purification as the “Protestant King” becomes a means through which the nation may be purged of the sins that took it to war.

  • 17 “An Horatian Ode,” in Elizabeth Story Donno (ed.), Andrew Marvell: The Complete Poems, London, Peng (...)
  • 18 Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution, 1625-1660, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002, esp. p. 4 (...)

17Some army officials viewed the execution of Charles as a necessity; by trying to draw up a peace treaty with the king, they believed that they had been negligent of their duty to God. The Second Civil War, in this view, was a punishment inflicted by an enraged deity. Only the death of the “royal actor”17 could cleanse England of the misery of war18. Ironically, the rhetoric adopted by Independents within the parliamentarian army to justify the execution paralleled that adopted by royalists to beatify the royal martyr. In both accounts, Charles is figured as an offering to atone for war. For some militant parliamentarians, the king is a necessary sacrifice, needed to placate a wrathful God. Royalists rewrote this concept to represent Charles as sacrificing himself to purge the nation of sin.

18Despite the Christ-like parallels, in The Famous Tragedie we see no tearful farewell as a magnanimous king takes his leave of a remorseful populace. Instead, we see a shift in focus as the narrative recounts the deaths of two notable royalists, Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle, who were executed in the aftermath of the siege of Colchester. In their executions, we have two proxies for the beheading of one royal martyr. According to the play, their valedictory speeches have the power to convert a noble mind. This is a right that the play denies Charles, the titular focus of the narrative:

  • 19 Anon., The Famous Tragedie of King Charles I, [London], 1649, III:[i], sig. E3v-E4r.

SOULDIER: I am no longer of your base societie; Heaven pardon what is past, my future deeds shall amply expiate my former crimes, the bloud of noble Lucas and brave Lisle
On Rainsborow’s base head, I will requite,
And send his Soule unto eternall night.19

  • 20 For a discussion of the cult, which includes the Church of England’s Restoration settlement and eig (...)

19The presence of the lone remorseful soldier echoes biblical commentaries on the crucifixion, where the New Testament depicts a watching Centurion, who glorifies God by saying “Certainly this was a righteous man” (Luke: 23.47). Like many writers in the aftermath of the execution, the author brings ideas derived from the Crucifixion into his historical narrative20. The biblical commentary suggests the second soldier becomes enlightened through the deaths of righteous men. However, the reaction his conversion provokes in his fellow soldiers complicates matters.

20The fact that the third roundhead soldier wants to arrest the second soldier demonstrates that there are no easy conversions. This is not the final stage of a long fought feud, but (in the context of royalist iconography) the penultimate bloody deed before a dramatic climax. Shortly before the double execution, Lord Capell endeavours to rally his fellow royalists by anticipating the eulogies that will be bestowed upon their noble corpses:

e’re we fall and be commixt with new and stranger earth, by hard atchievements [sic] and heroick acts (perform’d for Charles, and for our Countries sake) let us provide us fame when we are dead, that the next Age, when they shall read the Story of this unnaturall, uncivill Warre, and amongst a crowd of Warriours find our Names filed with those that durst passe through all horrors by death and vengeance for their KING and Soveraigne:
They may sing Peans to our valiant Acts,
And yeild [sic] us a kind plaudit for our facts. (II:[i], sigs. C3r-C3v)

21A verbose Capell thus envisages an age where panegyrics will applaud all who die as martyrs for the royal cause and not just the martyred king. By depicting the highly controversial decision to execute Lucas and Lisle after they had surrendered Colchester to Parliament, the play fulfils its own prophecy: the play immortalises the execution of Lucas and Lisle, making them signifiers of true royalist sentiment.

22The deaths of Lucas and Lisle are brought into the wider narrative of Charles’s execution: Charles is not the only martyr to “fall, for God, the King, and Church” (II:[i], sig. C2r), but is the ultimate martyr for the cause of established order. Other “Nations have suffer’d cause their Kings were ill, / But Britains CHARLES, His Peoples sinnes did kill” (II:[i], sig. C3r). According to the play, Charles died for the sins of his nation, paralleling the biblical narrative that claims Christ died to redeem sinners. A scaffold and not the throne thus becomes the site for Charles’s final anointing and a heavenly crown replaces his earthly crown. The fact that the commentary can observe the tyranny of other kings, however, complicates matters: it suggests that while monarchy is to be celebrated, not all monarchs rule wisely. Although this does not necessarily negate absolutist ideas of the monarch being God’s vice-regent on Earth, it suggests that absolute rulers can have weaknesses. In this context Charles becomes emblematic of everything that good kingship ought to be. Charles fulfils the ultimate role of a monarch by redeeming his subjects through sacrificing himself for them. This is implicitly contrasted with rulers who govern imprudently.

23Offstage, the king is taken to his universally redemptive death. News is dispatched to Cromwell via a letter from his favourite son-in-law, Ireton. The precariousness of the new order is emphasised in the opening lines, and is elaborated throughout the rest of the letter:

The deed is done, (which either ever makes, or marres us all) the King [...] this morning lost His Head; […] the Vulgar (generally) are much inraged at it, and say (having proceeded so farre in our Treasons against him, that we despaired of pardon to preserve our own lives, and to make our selves Master over them) we have murthered the most virtuous Prince in Europe [...], but we shall muzell the mouthes of that many-headed Hydra ere it be long; and in the meane time must resolve to keep what we have got by fraud and force, by oppression and violence. (V:[i], sigs. F4v-G1r)

  • 21 C. V. Wedgwood, op. cit., prefaces contemporary accounts of the trial from the memoirs of Sir Thoma (...)

24The letter proceeds to outline how the new regime can legitimise its authority. From a royalist perspective, this story of ensuing oppression is a convenient means of suggesting that the Caroline regime was liberal and just. Despite this, the letter may not necessarily be wholly a piece of historical fabrication. Many contemporary accounts would seem to suggest that the description outlined in the letter with regards to Charles’s execution is fairly accurate21. There was genuine shock and anger when the plan to execute Charles was carried out.

  • 22 See Michael Cordner, “Zeal-of-the-Land-Busy Restored,” in Martin Butler (ed.), Re-Presenting Ben Jo (...)

25Charles, offstage until the final tableau, is emblematic of all that is good: an invisible icon of true royal magnanimity who forgives his erring subjects. Onstage, Cromwell is reduced to a Machiavellian caricature, plotting the demise of a noble monarch. Advised by Hugh Peter (a prototype for the pimping non-conformist minister found in some Restoration drama)22, Cromwell seduces his way to power while simultaneously wooing Mrs Lambert.

  • 23 For example, see the Craftie Cromwell play pamphlets (1648). Sexual satire figured heavily in royal (...)

26Cromwell’s cuckolding of Lambert and accession to power were perennial topics in royalist pamphlets23. By juxtaposing the positive iconography of royal martyrdom with the negative image of Cromwell, the anonymous writer presents a reductive view of events surrounding the execution of Charles. This would be extended at the Restoration in an adaptation of The Famous Tragedie. Printed in 1660, the revised play pamphlet reinvents the execution of Charles I as the beginning of a return to restored order. This re-write draws from (and also adds to) the festivities and panegyrical tracts that greeted Charles II upon his accession to the throne. In this amended version, the focus shifts from Charles to overtly acknowledge that the play pamphlet is more concerned with Cromwell. In Cromwell’s Conspiracy, the Lord Protector becomes the eponymous anti-hero. Charles is no longer the subject of the play, but the audience is given a dramatic representation of him: instead of a morbid tableau of the deceased Charles, we are presented with his valediction upon the scaffold. Unlike The Famous Tragedie, in Cromwell’s Conspiracy the regicide is no longer merely a momentary but cataclysmic affair to be reported, but an event that pre-figures future royalist woe. It also suggests that all the royalists who were executed by parliamentary command were avenged in the death of Cromwell.

27In the final scenes of The Famous Tragedie, we see Cromwell seeking to secure his throne against a royalist reaction. Cromwell’s Conspiracy revises the earlier subject material and extends the story to present a tyrant who will never rest secure upon the throne. The image of the forgiving, benevolent Charles going to his death is juxtaposed with a tormented Cromwell whose own deathbed is far from peaceful. The tragedy of a royal martyr is therefore displaced by the cautionary tale of a scheming heretic. Cromwell, never assured of his right to rule, dies with a daughter’s curse bearing upon his tortured soul:

  • 24 Anon., Cromwell’s Conspiracy, London, 1660, V:I, sig. E3v.

Now Daughter Claypool, I begin to feel
Thy Curses light too heavy upon me:
I now remember thy dire words too well,
Blood-Thirsty Tyrants have their place in Helll [sic] _Thither go I. dyes.24

  • 25 Dale B. J. Randall, Winter Fruit: English Drama 1642-1660, Kentucky, The University Press of Kentuc (...)
  • 26 J. T. Peacey, “Hewitt , John (bap. 1614, d. 1658),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxf (...)

28Cromwell is cursed because he permits a double execution. As with The Famous Tragedie, Charles’s corpse is not the only body to grace the (imagined) stage. Whereas the deaths of Lucas and Lisle foreshadow the climactic decapitation of Charles in the 1649 play, the 1660 rewrite offers Charles’s death as a prelude to the executions of Sir Henry Slingsby and the Anglican divine, Dr John Hewitt. Hewitt was the vicar who officiated at Elizabeth Claypool’s marriage, providing an historical explanation for the play’s suggestion that she was angry with her father for failing to save the priest’s life25. Contemporary accounts suggest that Claypool had unsuccessfully interceded in the case26. In the narrative of the play pamphlet, this image of domestic strife feeds through to the dramatisation of public events.

  • 27 A. Woolrych, op. cit., p. 691.
  • 28 To prevent confusion, when referring to the man, I adopt the ODNB’s preferred spelling. When referr (...)

29Slingsby and Hewitt were implicated in a royalist plot to reinstate monarchical rule. The letter in the first play (a truncated version of which remains in Cromwell’s Conspiracy) anticipates that uprisings would need to be quashed if the republic was to be secured; the trial and execution of plotters in the second play fulfils this prophecy. In reality, the 1658 executions of Slingsby and Hewitt marked the last serious attempt by royalists to regain the kingdom for the Stuarts by force27. The execution of Lucas and Lisle during the Civil War and the deaths of Slingsby and Hewitt two years before the Restoration became embedded in martyrological discourses relating to Charles. These two episodes are emblematic of the idea of suffering royalists who remained loyal to their cause, even when the battle had been lost. However, the failure of the 1658 royalist plot to reinstate the monarchy is not of great significance to the play. The episode is not a means of looking to a distant future where the monarch may rule once more, but a vision of the past. Hewet’s28 execution is figured as a way to discuss the legality of a Commonwealth court, harkening back to the royal trial:

DR HEWET: I humbly crave my former request; that is,
To know by what Commission you sit here.
ATTORN. G[ENERAL]: My Lord, [...] if the Doctor be
Thus peremptory, as not to acknowledge
This Courts Authority, nor plead to’s charge,
I must do my duty; that is, if he
Refuse to answer, the Court would be pleas’d
Then to proceed according to the Act,
As ’tis in Cases of High Treason, which
Is very penal. (IV.iii; sig. D4r)

  • 29 B. J. Randall, op. cit., also makes this observation (p. 110).
  • 30 C. V. Wedgwood, op. cit., p. 102.

30The narrative is focused implicitly upon Charles I. In questioning the authority of the court, Hewet echoes Charles’s demand to know on what grounds the court had been convened.29 The reaction of the play’s Attorney General mirrors the sentiments on display at Charles’s trial: upon his refusal to cooperate, Charles was duly found guilty of the charges laid against him. The court resolved “That in case the King shall not submit to answer, and there happen no such cause of withdrawing, that then the Lord President do command the Sentence to be read”30. Charles may be denied a trial scene in Cromwell’s Conspiracy, but the relationship between the knowledge of his actual trial and the depiction of Hewet’s trial mean that the parallels are difficult to ignore. The drama of politics played out in the trial of Charles meets its direct counterpart in the politics of drama found in the play pamphlet’s portrayal of Hewet’s trial.

31Contemporary accounts of the trial of Hewitt suggest that these parallels are not merely a construction of the author. Hewitt did question the legality of the court, as Charles had before him. Contemporaries noted parallels between the two deaths. In his account of the trial, William Prynne lingers upon the illegality of the proceedings:

  • 31 Beheaded, Dr John Hewytts Ghost, London, 1659, sigs. B4r – B4v.

this Defendant [Hewitt] praies his Dismission from any such further proceedings against him without a lawful Jury and Trial by his Peers. And that you will be pleased after deliberate consideration of the premises to reverse and recall that arbitrary, unrighteous, bloudy Sentence of Death, you have newly passed against him, without anie lawfull Indictment, Presentment, Trial, Confession or Conviction of Treason, which strikes at the Root of the Fundamental Laws, liberties, franchises of all English Free-men, and cuts off all their necks at one stroke, transcending all the arbitrarie, tyrannical proceedings of Strafford, Canterbury, and the late King Charles (whom some of yourselves have impeached, censured, condemned, decapitated as the very worst, and greatest of Tyrants) lest it become a most pernicious fatal president to posteritie, to others, or your own destruction, and render you as execrable to all succeeding generations, as anie formerly guiltie of the like exorbitant proceedings.31

32For Prynne, Slingsby and Hewitt become representative of all freeborn Englishmen and as such deserve to be prosecuted in accordance to English laws. The executioner’s axe not only threatens the necks of the two royalists, but also severs civil liberties and undermines the basic principles of English law. Post-regicide, Prynne (not known for his support of Laud or the archbishop’s reforms in church worship) became a surprising ally of the crown, despite having previously authored many critical pamphlets that had led to him being mutilated twice in punishment for sedition. Comparing the trial of Slingsby and Hewitt with the perceived misdemeanours of Strafford, Laud and Charles, Prynne warns that the illegal trial transcends Caroline transgressions. To find Slingsby and Hewitt guilty may (under the analysis of future generations) negate or invalidate monarchical tyrannies.

  • 32 Anon., The True and Exact Speech and Prayer of Doctor John Hewytt Upon the Scaffold, [London: 1658] (...)

33The valediction that the real Hewitt is purported to have given upon the scaffold demonstrates that the vicar was as concerned with his afterlife as Prynne suggests the Protectorate ought to be with its legacy. In the printed version of the speech, Hewitt offered himself “willingly and freely to be a State-Martyr for the publike good”32. Echoing Charles, Hewitt styled himself not as a Protestant martyr, but a martyr to the whim of the state. Although the play pamphlet does not reproduce this valediction, the circulation of these other pamphlets emphasises the various debates that influenced discussions of the regicide. By selecting this particular instance of royalist defeat to dramatise in the play pamphlet, the fictionalised Hewet becomes a royalist proxy for Charles. The representation of Hewet’s trial as an iniquitous prosecution with remembrances of the trial and execution of the erstwhile king serves as a way to remember and reinvent the regicide and celebrate royalist stoicism in defeat.

34In both The Famous Tragedie and Cromwell’s Conspiracy, we are presented with more than one martyr for monarchical rule. In each drama, the deaths of the royalists act as a means through which to comprehend the execution of the king. Charles’s death is the main focus of both texts, but Lucas, Lisle, Slingsby and Hewet all share in royalist martyrology. In offering Cromwell as the ultimate heretic, Cromwell’s Conspiracy completes the dichotomy: the play gives an example of how usurpers can only gain a restless death and afterlife, in contrast to the peaceful end of the king. Prynne suggests tyrannical and arbitrary action leads a regime to be derided by future generations. Similarly, the play pamphlet warns that tyranny ultimately destroys the afterlife and historical reputation of the culprit. Cautionary tales abound as the royal martyr becomes emblematic of rightful government, duty and all that is dignified and Cromwell is punished.

  • 33 Even amongst modern historians, there are multiple spellings of Rainborowe’s name. Again, I adopt t (...)
  • 34 A. Woolrych, op. cit., esp. p. 354-401; T. Royle, op. cit., esp. p. 401-21.
  • 35 A. Woolrych, op. cit., p. 434-559.
  • 36 Sometimes spelled “Rainsborough”: the play alternates between spellings of his name.

35The eponymous anti-hero of Cromwell’s Conspiracy thus meets the grisly end that he is not given in The Famous Tragedie. However, The Famous Tragedie still celebrates parliamentarian pain through the assassination of Thomas Rainborowe33. Colonel Rainborowe distinguished himself in the army and rose to be Vice Admiral of the Fleet at sea. However, his relationship with Cromwell and other military comrades appears to have been a cautious one. The beliefs Rainborowe expressed at the Putney Debates were far more unorthodox than many were prepared to accept. As a radical Leveller, Rainborowe represented one extreme of republican thought within the army. Although he and Cromwell were, at this time, both fighting for Parliament, they certainly did not share the same ideologies. The militant parliamentarian cause encompassed many disparate political viewpoints34. This diversity of opinion eventually led Parliament to lose control of the army and there followed a series of military coups before Cromwell became Lord Protector35. The Famous Tragedie partly acknowledges the different views that influenced republican thought in its depiction of Rainsborow36.

36We are first introduced to Rainsborow at the siege of Colchester. The play acknowledges that the colonel is a valiant and noble soldier, and partially attributes to him the deed of encouraging a reluctant Fairfax to pronounce execution on Lucas and Lisle:

FAIRFAX: be it as you [i.e., Ireton and Rainsborow] councell, [...] (Rainsborow) see them shot to death as Souldiers destin’d by fortune to a noble end, some two houres hence. I shall expect to heare you say, they are dead.
My Soule (I feele) is wondrously perplext,
Who knows but mine or your turne may be next. (III:[i], sig. E1r)

37Fairfax is thus absolved: evil counsellors have swayed his noble mind. Rainsborow is not only culpable for cajoling Fairfax into commissioning the act, but he is also commissioned to ensure that the deed is committed. Once this mission has been accomplished, Rainsborow goes to command the troops at Pontefract Castle, where another siege is taking place.

  • 37 Anon., A Full and Exact Relation of the Horride Murder Committed Upon the Body of Col. Rainsborough(...)

38Pontefract Castle was the last royalist stronghold. As he was travelling North, Rainborowe stayed at his house in Doncaster. There, he was taken hostage and subsequently assassinated37. Due to his unconventional political views, some people suspected foul play by other New Model Army officials, but there is little evidence to support this view. In depicting this event, the author of The Famous Tragedie uses print as a way to be revenged upon the roundheads. As with Cromwell in Cromwell’s Conspiracy, Rainsborow goes to his death aware that his misdemeanours have earned him an afterlife of torment:

  • 38 IV:[i], sig. F4r. The reference is to John Pym, a prominent parliamentarian, who “became the leadin (...)

My spirit’s faint, my heart is sick to death, I hold the panting lumpe betwixt my teeth, But ’twill not brooke to stay; Let all those that have sought their Soveraignes ruine looke upon me and my deserved destiny, I would invoke the powers above, but them I have so much exasperated, they’l stop their eares to my complaints. Oh! I die _____
Thou King of flames, let me in Sulphure swim
Neare to that Caudron [sic], holds my Patron, Pim.38

39Rainsborow thus embraces death in the full knowledge that he will experience post-mortem suffering. It is the turncoat soldier of Act III who kills Rainsborow. This action redeems the soldier by avenging the deaths of Lucas and Lisle. By implicating a former member of the New Model Army in the plot, the author gestures towards the possibility of a conspiracy to dispose of Rainborowe, while simultaneously claiming that the death is retributive for the royalists.

  • 39 A. Woolrych, op. cit., p. 425 (see also the reference to the execution and funeral of the Leveller (...)
  • 40 Merculius Militaris, or the Armies Scout, Communicating from all parts of England, Scotland, & Irel (...)
  • 41 Thomas Brooks, The Glorious Day of the Saints Appearance, London, Rapha Harford and Matthew Simmons (...)

40In depicting Rainsborow’s death as just, The Famous Tragedie is following a royalist agenda. Royalists (and moderate parliamentarians) could celebrate the death of Rainborowe, but Levellers lamented his demise and figured him as a martyr. Rainborowe’s corpse was processed through the streets of London and followed by a multitude of Levellers39. The newsbook Mercurius Militaris ensured that those who could not attend the funeral could read a report of the event, and the author went as far as to claim that the corpse was “attended with fifty or sixty Caroches, and near three thousand Gentlemen and Citizens on horsback.” After describing how Rainborowe was “entombd honourably” amidst “great lamentation,” the author volunteers that he “cannot passe by the thought of his Hearse, without sacrificing a Teare to it”40. Sacrifice becomes a sensory experience that connects the mourner to the deceased and a wider readership; this bond is enhanced by other texts that were circulated amongst the reading public. The sermon preached by Thomas Brooks at Rainborowe’s internment also went into print. This tract stipulates at length that the noble acts of saints are a means through which they can glorify God and thus gain a place in paradise: “consider this, the more gloriously you doe for God here, the more glorious you shall be hereafter. Suffering Saints for Christ shall have weighty crownes set upon their heads. Murthered Saints for Christ shall have double crowns sat upon their heads”41. As a murdered saint, Rainborowe is not destined for damnation. Royalists may be concerned with how the paradisal crowns that Charles shall wear will compare to his earthly one, but the radicals focus upon Rainborowe’s truly resplendent double heavenly crown. Although some royalists may perceive Rainborowe’s actions as being tantamount to heresy, Levellers sanctify the Colonel. In the use of martyrological rhetoric to describe the death of Rainborowe, we see that the types of narrative used in panegyrics as a means through which to create posthumous images of Charles are complicated by the way similar notions are used in other tracts. The sermon preached at Rainborowe’s funeral and the account of the funeral each demonstrate that both royalists and republicans employed the concept of martyrdom to produce images of their deceased heroes.

  • 42 A. Lacey, op. cit., p. 229 and p. 244.
  • 43 The Society of King Charles the Martyr’s website offers a comprehensive overview of their activitie (...)

41Although radicals also appropriated the idea of the martyr, the image of the suffering king possessed considerable longevity. There is evidence to suggest that in 1755, the Speaker of the House of Commons believed King Charles’s martyrdom to be a ridiculous notion, but the service to commemorate Charles’s death was not removed from The Book of Common Prayer until 185842. Remnants of the cult of Charles the blessed saint and martyred king even survive to the present day. Founded in 1894, The Society of King Charles the Martyr continues to commemorate “the Martyr’s sacrifice” and promote the hagiographical representation of Charles that seventeenth-century play pamphlets, tracts and sermons helped to develop43.

42Through shared tropes, themes were repeated, modified and exchanged between royalist and (sometimes) republican writers. This demonstrates an anxiety to revisit and re-evaluate significant moments during the Civil War and Commonwealth period. The iconographic impact of regicide is unstable; endeavours to comprehend the event led to reductive images and presented roundheads and cavaliers as a precarious binary opposition. The appropriation of martyrological discourse in the presentation of Rainborowe by Levellers and notions held by royalists that the regicide was a form of martyrdom highlight the fluidity and instability of these representations. Ultimately, the binaries that the play pamphlets construct emphasise the difficulties in using the idea of martyrdom as a way of presenting a coherent narrative of the trial and execution of Charles I.

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Notes

1 C.V. Wedgwood, The Trial of Charles I, London, Folio Society, 1959, p. 137.

2 See Book of Common Prayer, London, 1662. Andrew Lacey’s The Cult of Charles the Martyr, Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 2003, offers an extensive study of martyrological constructions of Charles.

3 A. Lacey, op. cit., p. 30-33.

4 See, for example, John Milton, Eikonoklastes, London, Matthew Simmons, 1649; Eikon Alethine, London, Thomas Paine, 1649.

5 Joad Raymond, “Popular Representations of Charles I,” in Thomas N. Corns (ed.), The Royal Image: Representations of Charles I, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 47-73, p. 60; A. Lacey, op. cit., p. 18.

6 Mercurivs Aulicvus, Communicating the Intelligence of the Court, to the rest of the Kingdome. From April 13. to Aprill 20 1645 . See esp. the entry for Sunday, April 13: “The Rebels have pull’d off their visard, for although hitherto they sought His Majesties life, yet still pretended they fought For King and Parliament. But now their Rebellion being come to it’s [sic] full ripenesse, they care not who knows that they intend to sheath their swords in the Sacred body of our Sovereign Lord the KING” (Robin Jeffs et al., eds., notes by Peter Thomas, The English Revolution III: Newsbooks I: Oxford Royalist, 4 vols, London, Cornmarket Press, 1971, vol. IV, p. 17).

7 Play pamphlets, a hybridization of plays and pamphlets, developed during the Civil War as a means of commenting upon the political moment. For some recent discussions of play pamphlets, see my ‘Viewing the Paper Stage: Civil War, Print, Theatre and the Public Sphere’ in Angela Vanhaelen and Joseph Ward (eds.), Making Space Public in Early Modern Europe: Performance, Potentiality, Privacy, London, Routledge, forthcoming; Susan Wiseman, ‘Pamphlet Plays in the Civil War News Market: Genre, Politics and “Context”’, in Joad Raymond (ed.), News, Newspapers and Society in Early Modern Britain, London, Frank Cass, 1999, p. 66-83); Nigel Smith, Literature and Revolution in England 1640-1660, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1994, esp. p. 70-92.

8 Jerry Brotton, The Sale of the Late King’s Goods: Charles I and his Art Collection, Basingstoke and Oxford, Macmillan, 2006, p. 14.

9 Ibid., p. 16 et passim (esp. chapter 8). In reality, the monetary value of much of Charles’s collection was not as great as the aesthetic value afforded to them. The sale of land and property generated more revenue, and the Commonwealth retained many objects from the art collection.

10 It is generally accepted that the anonymous writer was John Crouch (Lois Potter, Secret Rites and Secret Writings: Royalist Literature, 1641-1660, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 15).

11 Brotton, op. cit., p. 228.

12 A Tragi-Comedy Called New-Market-Fayre or a Parliament Out-Cry: of State-Commodities Set to Sale, 1648 [1649], title page.

13 Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000, esp. p. 20.

14 The Kings Cabinet Opened: or, Certain Packets of Secret Letters and Papers, Written with the Kings own Hand and taken in his Cabinet at Nesby-Field, June 14. 1645, London, Robert Bostock, 1645.

15 Anon, An Elegie upon the Death of our Soveraign Lord King Charles the Martyr, BL Thomason E.594 (10) MS, fol. 1.

16 Susan Wiseman, Drama and Politics in the English Civil War, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 63.

17 “An Horatian Ode,” in Elizabeth Story Donno (ed.), Andrew Marvell: The Complete Poems, London, Penguin, 1996, p. 55-58 (l. 53).

18 Austin Woolrych, Britain in Revolution, 1625-1660, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002, esp. p. 408-409; Trevor Royle, Civil War: The Wars of the Three Kingdoms, 1638-1660, London, Abacus, 2005, esp. p. 486.

19 Anon., The Famous Tragedie of King Charles I, [London], 1649, III:[i], sig. E3v-E4r.

20 For a discussion of the cult, which includes the Church of England’s Restoration settlement and eighteenth century sermons on Charles the martyr, see A. Lacey, op. cit.

21 C. V. Wedgwood, op. cit., prefaces contemporary accounts of the trial from the memoirs of Sir Thomas Herbert and John Rushworth, which present a similar narrative to the one related in The Famous Tragedie, passim

22 See Michael Cordner, “Zeal-of-the-Land-Busy Restored,” in Martin Butler (ed.), Re-Presenting Ben Jonson: Text, History, Performance, London, Macmillan, 1999, p. 174-192

23 For example, see the Craftie Cromwell play pamphlets (1648). Sexual satire figured heavily in royalist play pamphlets. See Joad Raymond, The Invention of the Newspaper: English Newsbooks 1641-1649, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996, p. 205-207.

24 Anon., Cromwell’s Conspiracy, London, 1660, V:I, sig. E3v.

25 Dale B. J. Randall, Winter Fruit: English Drama 1642-1660, Kentucky, The University Press of Kentucky, 1995, p. 110. David Underdown notes that the Protectorate indulged Hewitt’s practising of outlawed Anglican rites (Royalist Conspiracy in England, 1649-1660, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1960, p. 211).

26 J. T. Peacey, “Hewitt , John (bap. 1614, d. 1658),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/13147 (accessed 24 September 2011).

27 A. Woolrych, op. cit., p. 691.

28 To prevent confusion, when referring to the man, I adopt the ODNB’s preferred spelling. When referring to the play’s construction of Hewitt, I use the spelling that is used in the play.

29 B. J. Randall, op. cit., also makes this observation (p. 110).

30 C. V. Wedgwood, op. cit., p. 102.

31 Beheaded, Dr John Hewytts Ghost, London, 1659, sigs. B4r – B4v.

32 Anon., The True and Exact Speech and Prayer of Doctor John Hewytt Upon the Scaffold, [London: 1658], sig. A1v.

33 Even amongst modern historians, there are multiple spellings of Rainborowe’s name. Again, I adopt the spelling used by ODNB when referring to the historical figure. (Ian J. Gentles, “Rainborowe, Thomas (d. 1648),” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2004, http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/23020, accessed 24 September 2011).

34 A. Woolrych, op. cit., esp. p. 354-401; T. Royle, op. cit., esp. p. 401-21.

35 A. Woolrych, op. cit., p. 434-559.

36 Sometimes spelled “Rainsborough”: the play alternates between spellings of his name.

37 Anon., A Full and Exact Relation of the Horride Murder Committed Upon the Body of Col. Rainsborough, London, printed for R. A., 1648; Woolrych, op. cit., p. 425; T. Royle, op. cit., p. 473.

38 IV:[i], sig. F4r. The reference is to John Pym, a prominent parliamentarian, who “became the leading champion of the powers and privileges of parliament” (A. Woolrych, op. cit., p. 132).

39 A. Woolrych, op. cit., p. 425 (see also the reference to the execution and funeral of the Leveller Robert Lockyer, p. 445).

40 Merculius Militaris, or the Armies Scout, Communicating from all parts of England, Scotland, & Ireland, all Martiall Enterprizes, Designs and Successes, 14 – 21 November, 1648, sig. E3r.

41 Thomas Brooks, The Glorious Day of the Saints Appearance, London, Rapha Harford and Matthew Simmons, 1648, sig. C1r.

42 A. Lacey, op. cit., p. 229 and p. 244.

43 The Society of King Charles the Martyr’s website offers a comprehensive overview of their activities. See http://www.skcm.org/SKCM/skcm_main.html (accessed 24 September 2011).

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Rachel Willie, « Sacrificial Kings and Martyred Rebels: Charles and Rainborowe Beatified », Études Épistémè [En ligne], 20 | 2011, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2011, consulté le 20 septembre 2017. URL : http://episteme.revues.org/428 ; DOI : 10.4000/episteme.428

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Auteur

Rachel Willie

After being Research Associate at the University of York, Rachel Willie is now Assistant Professor at Bangor University. Her research interests lie broadly in seventeenth century English literary history and culture and her book, Staging the Revolution: Drama, Reinvention and History is forthcoming from Manchester University Press.

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