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King Charles I

In honor of this month’s coronation of Charles III, King of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth Realms, we are going to discuss the original King Charles, the 17th century King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, whose monarchy ended in a decidedly dramatic fashion. Charles I (1600-1649) ascended the throne in 1625 after the death of his father, King James I and VI. He married Henrietta Maria, a French Catholic princess. Together the couple had nine children, six of whom lived past childhood. Throughout his reign, Charles I ruled with an authoritarian style, believing fully in the Divine Right of Kings—the belief that God granted the monarch his authority and no one could question the monarch or his rule. The King regularly dissolved Parliament (once for eleven years!) when he felt like legislature were not going his way. He found creative ways around needing Parliament’s backing to impose taxes and raise money to run the country and fight wars. Not surprisingly, after years of ruling England, Scotland, and Ireland this way, civil war broke out in August, 1642 and continued, off and on, until the King’s capture in late 1648. In early 1649, King Charles I was put on trial for treason, but he refused to recognize the legality or legitimacy of the trial. He even went so far as to refuse to enter a plea, as he believed that none but God could judge him. He was ultimately convicted of treason and, in a dramatic setting, beheaded on January 30, 1649. He went to his death fully believing he was a martyr for the Royalist cause, and the monarchy was completely dissolved a week later as Oliver Cromwell ushered in the 11 years of the Protectorate. Only with the Stuart Restoration in 1660 was the monarchy restored when Charles II, the eldest living son of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, ascended the throne.

PORTRAIT OF CHARLES
PORTRAIT OF CHARLES

In our collection here at Agecroft, we have three objects that memorialize King Charles I, an embroidered portrait miniature, a book cover, and an engraved medallion. Worked in silk on a painted satin ground, this Charles I miniature is based upon a 1641 Wenceless Hollar engraving of the King wearing the Order of the Garter. Embroidered miniature portraits show such a high degree of skill that they were, undoubtedly, worked by professionals or possibly even by only one workshop. This piece has a faded backing of unknown material, furthering the theory this was probably part of a bookbinding that was trimmed and framed around 1660. Many of these commemorative bindings appear to date from the 1630s, in the first decade of his reign. Some, however, date from after the Restoration (1660), when the monarchy was reinstated in England. The conflict with Cromwell’s Parliamentary forces led the Royalists to look upon Charles I as a cult-like figure. After his death, embroidered depictions of Charles I were a way one could be politically subversive in the privacy of one’s home without drawing unnecessary attention to oneself. The use of binding miniatures on both sacred and secular books during this period reinforces the importance of displaying books in one’s home as symbols of wealth, learning, and power.

 MINIATURE
MINIATURE

In the 16th and 17th centuries, books were still highly prized possessions, and protecting them was very important. Enter book covers. Earlier editions were frequently covered in rich velvets. Over time, embroidered details were added to the velvet covers. By the 17th century, as books became more available and less expensive, book covers, especially those using embroidered satin like this one, became more decorative than practical. Book covers are just one example of the wide array of utilitarian objects whose beauty was enhanced by delicate needlework in the 17th century. The small-scale needlework of this piece required the skill of a professional embroiderer. The crowned figures on each side of this piece are probably King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. This theory is supported by the figures’ costumes and the use of the Scottish thistle for the Stuarts on the spine of the binding.

BOOK COVER
BOOK COVER

This object is a medallion featuring the portraits of Charles I and Henrietta Maria. The images are set in an oval frame of laurel leaves, which are interspersed with flowers. A seed pearl is attached to the bottom of the medallion. Thomas Rawlins, who became Chief Engraver to the Mint in 1647, created this commemorative medallion, probably after the execution of Charles I. These medallions came in two sizes with this piece being one of the larger ones. The larger pieces would have been made for someone of noble rank who was, of course, a Royalist, or those who supported the King. Both sides are inscribed: King Charles I: (Obverse) Carolus D.G.Mag Br Fran. Et Hib Rex Queen Henrietta Maria: (Reverse) Henretta. Maria. D. G. Mag Britan. Fran. Et. Hib. Reg. (fleur de lis) / T. Rawlins (beneath portrait)

OBVERSE OF MEDALLION
OBVERSE OF MEDALLION

REVERSE OF MEDALLION
REVERSE OF MEDALLION

We hope for a prosperous and tranquil reign for King Charles III. If you can’t make it across the pond for the coronation, take a trip back in history to the time of a different King Charles at Agecroft Hall & Gardens

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