The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

King Charles's Martyrdom

William Hone, The Every Day Book, 2 Vols. London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827.

Volume 1

January 30

On this day, in the year 1649, king Charles I. was beheaded. In the Common Prayer Book of the Church of England, it is called "The Day of the Martyrdom of the Blessed King Charles I.;" and there is "A Form of Prayer, with Fasting, to be used yearly" upon its recurrence.

The sheet, which received the head of Charles I. after its decapitation, is carefully preserved along with the communion plate in the church of Ashburnham, in this county; the blood, with which it has been almost entirely covered, now appears nearly black. The watch of the unfortunate monarch is also deposited with the linen, the movements of which are still perfect. These relics came into the possession of lord Ashburnham immediately after the death of the king. Brighton Herald.

Lord Orford says, "one can scarce conceive a greater absurdity than retaining the three holidays dedicated to the house of Stuart. Was the preservation of James I. a greater blessing to England than the destruction of the Spanish armada, for which no festival is established? Are we more or less free for the execution of king Charles? Are we at this day still guilty of his blood? When is the stain to be washed out? What sense is there in thanking heaven for the restoration of a family, which it so soon became necessary to expel again?"

According to the “ Life of William Lilly, written by himself,” Charles I. caused the old astrologer to be consulted for his judgment. This is Lilly’s account: His majesty, Charles 1., having intrusted the Scots with his person, was for money, delivered into the hands of the English parliament, and, by several removals, was had to Hampton-court about July or August, 1647; for he was there, and at that time when my house. was visited with the plague. He was desirous to escape from the soldiery, and to obscure himself for some time near London, the citizens whereof began now to be unruly, and alienated in affection from the parliament, inclining wholly to his majesty, and very averse to me army. His majesty was well informed of all this, and thought to make good use hereof: besides, the army and parliament were at some odds, who should be masters. Upon the king’s intention to escape, and with his consent, madam Whorewood (whom you knew very well, worthy esquire) came to receive my judgment, viz. In what quarter of this nation he might be most safe, and not to be discovered until himself pleased. When she came to my door, I told her I would not let her come into my house, for I buried a maid-servant of the plague very lately: however, up we went. After erection of my figure, I told her about twenty miles (or thereabouts) from London, and in Essex, I was certain he might continue undiscovered. She liked my judgment well; and, being herself of a sharp judgment, remembered a place in Essex about that distance, where was an excellent house, and all conveniences for his reception. Away she went, early next morning, unto Hampton-court, to acquaint his majesty; but see the misfortune: he, either guided by his own approaching hard fate, or misguided by Ashburnham, went away in the night-time westward, and surrendered himself to Hammond, is the Isle of Wight. While his majesty was at Hampton-court, alderman Adams sent his majesty one thousand pounds of gold, five hundred whereof he gave to madam Whorewood. I believe I had twenty pieces of that very gold for my share." Lilly proceeds thus: "His majesty being in Carisbrook-castle, in the Isle of Wight, the Kentish men, in great numbers rose in arms, and joined with the lord Goring; a considerable number of the best ships revolted from the parliament; the citizens of London were forward to rise against the parliament; his majesty laid his design to escape out of prison, by sawing the iron bars of his chamber window; a small ship was provided, and anchored not far from the castle to bring him into Sussex; horses were provided ready to carry him through Sussex into Kent, that he so might be at the head of the army in Kent, and from thence to march immediately to London where thousands then would have armed for him. The lady Whorewood came to me, acquaints me herewith. I got G. Garmer (who was a most ingenious locksmith, and dwelt in Bow-lane) to make a saw to cut the iron bars in sunder, I mean to saw them, and aqua fortis besides. His majesty in a small time did his work; the bars gave liberty for him to go out; he was out with his body till he came to his breast; but then his heart failing, he proceeded no farther; when this was discovered, as soon after it was, he was narrowly looked after, and no opportunity after that could be devised to enlarge him."

Lilly goes on to say "He was beheaded January 30, 1649. After the execution, his body was carried to Windsor, and buried with Henry VIIIth, in the same vault where his body was lodged. Some, who saw him embowelled, affirm, had he not come unto this untimely end, he might have lived, according unto nature, even unto the height of old age. Many have curiously inquired who it was that cut off his head: I have no permission to speak of such things; only thus much I saw, that he did it is as valiant and resolute a man as lives, and one of a competent fortune. For my part, I do believe he was not the worse, but the most unfortunate of kings.'

Lilly elsewhere relates, "that the next Sunday but one after Charles I. was beheaded, Robert Spavin, secretary unto lieutenant-general Cromwell at the time, invited himself to dine with me, and brought Anthony Pierson, and several others, along with him to dinner. Their principal discourse all dinner-time was, who it was beheaded the king: one said it was the common hangman; another, Hugh Peters, others also were nominated, but none concluded. Robert Spavin, so soon as dinner was done, took me by the hand, and carried me to the south window; saith he, "These are all mistaken, they have not named the man that did the fact; it was lieutenant-colonel Joice: I was in the room when he fitted himself for the work, stood behind him when he did it; when done, went in again with him. There is no man knows this but my master, viz. Cromwell, commissary Ireton, and myself.' - 'Doth not Mr. Rushworth know it?' said I. 'No, he doth now know it,' saith Spavin. The same thing Spavin since hath often related unto me when we were alone.

 


Volume 2

January 30

King Charles’s Martyrdom, 1644. [sic] -- Holiday at the Public Offices, 1826.

It is recorded that, after King Charles the First received sentence of death, on Saturday the 27th, he spent the next day in devout exercises, he refused to see his friends and ordered them to be told, that his time was precious, and the best thing they could do was to pray for him. On Monday the 29th, his children were brought to take their leave of him, viz. the lady Elizabeth and the duke of Gloucester. He first gave his blessing to the lady Elizabeth, bidding her that when she should see her brother James, she should tell him that it was his father’s last desire that he should no more look upon his brother Charles [later Charles II.] as his eldest brother only, but be obedient to him as his sovereign; and that they should love one another, and forgive their father’s enemies. The king added, “Sweetheart, you will forget this.” “No,” said she, “I shall never forget it as long as I live.” He bid her not grieve and torment herself for him; for it would be a glorious death he should die, it being for the laws and liberties of this land, and for maintaining the true Protestant religion. He recommended to her the reading of “Bishop Andrews’s Sermons,” “Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity,” and “Archbishop Laud’s Book against Fisher.” He further told her, that he had forgiven all his enemies, and hoped God would likewise forgive them. He bade her tell her mother, that his thoughts had never strayed from her, and that his love should be the same to the last. After this he took the duke of Gloucester, being then a child of about seven years of age, upon his knees, saying to him, “Sweetheart, now they will cut off thy father’s head:” upon which the child looked with great earnestness upon him. The king proceeding, said, “Mark, child, what I say, they will cut off my head, and perhaps make thee a king: but mark what I say, you must not be a king so long as your brothers Charles and James do live; for they will cut off your brothers’ heads when they can catch them, and cut off thy head too at last: and therefore I charge you do not be made a king by them.” At which the child fetched a deep sigh, and said, “I will be torn in pieces first.” Which expression falling from a child so young, occasioned no little joy to the king. This day the warrant for execution was passed, signed by fifty-nine of the judges, for the king to die the next day, between the hours of ten in the morning and five in the afternoon.

On the 30th, “The king having arrived at the place of execution, made a long address to colonel Tomlinson; and afterwards turning to the officers, he said, ‘Sirs, excuse me for this same: I have a good cause and a gracious God: I will say no more.’ Then turning to colonel Hacker, he said, ‘Take care that you do not put me to pain;’ and said, ‘This and please you—’ A gentleman coming near the axe, he said, ‘Take heed of the axe — pray take heed of the axe.’ Then speaking to the executioner (who was masked) he said, ‘I shall say but very short prayers, and when I thrust out my hands—.’ Then he asked the bishop for his cap, which, when he had put on, he said to the executioner, ‘Does my hair trouble you ?‘ who desiring it might be all put under his cap, it was put up by the bishop and executioner. Turning to the bishop, he said, ‘I have a good cause, and a gracious God on my side.’ To which the bishop answered, ‘There is but one stage more, which, though turbulent and troublesome, yet it is a very short one; it will soon carry you a very great way. It will carry you from earth to heaven; and there you will find, to your great joy, the prize you hasten to, — a crown of glory.’ The king added, ‘I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance is, no disturbance in the world.’ The bishop replied, ‘You are exchanged from a temporal to an eternal crown, a good exchange.’ Then the king asked the executioner if his hair was well. After which, putting off his cloak, doublet, and his George, he gave the latter to, the bishop, saying, ‘Remember.’ After this he put on his cloak again over his waistcoat, inquiring of the executioner if the block was fast, who answered it was. He then said, ‘I wish it might have been a little higher.’ But it was answered him, it could not be otherwise now. The king said, ‘When I put out my hands this way, then—.’ He prayed a few words standing, with his hands and eyes lift up towards heaven, and then stooping down, laid his neck on the block. Soon after which the executioner putting some his hair under his cap, the king thought he had been going to strike, bade him stay for the sign. After a little time the king stretched forth his hand, and the executioner took off his head at one stroke. When his head was held up, and the people at a distance knew the fatal stroke was over, there was nothing to be heard but shrieks, and groans, and sobs, the unmerciful soldiers beating down poor people for this little tender of their affection to their prince. Thus died the worthiest gentleman, the best master, the best friend, the best husband, the best father, and the best Christian, that the age in which he lived produced.” 1

——————

Sir Philip Warwick, an adherent to this unfortunate king, says, “His deportment was very majestic; for he would not let fall his dignity, no not to the greatest foreigners that came to visit him and his court: for though he was far from pride, yet he was careful of majesty, and would be approached with respect and reverence. His conversation was free; and the subject matter of it, on his own side of the court, was most commonly rational; or if facetious, not light. With any artist or good mechanic, traveller, or scholar, he would discourse freely; and as he was commonly improved by them, so he often gave light to them in their own art or knowledge: for there were few gentlemen in the world that knew more of useful or necessary learning than this prince did; and yet his proportion of books was but small, having, like Francis the First of France, learnt more by the ear than by study. His way of arguing was very civil and patient; for he never contradicted another by his authority, but by his reason; nor did he by petulant dislike quash another’s arguments; and he offered his exception by this civil introduction, ‘By your favour, Sir, I think otherwise, on this or that ground;’ yet he could discountenance any bold or forward address unto him. And in suits, or discourses of business, he would give way to none abruptly to enter into them, but looked that the greatest persons should in affairs of this nature address to him by his proper ministers, or by some solemn desire of speaking to him in their own persons. His exercises were manly, for he rid the great horse very well; and on the little saddle he was not only adroit, but a laborious hunter, or field-man. He had a great plainness in his own nature, and yet he was thought, even by his friends, to love too much a versatile man; but his experience had thoroughly weaned him from this at last [?]. He kept up the dignity of his court, limiting persons to places suitable to their qualities, unless he particularly called for them. Besides the women who attended on his beloved queen and consort, the lady Henrietta Maria, sister of the French king, he scarcely admitted any great officer to have his wife in the family. His exercises of religion were most exemplary; for every morning early, and evening, not very late, singly and alone, in his own bed-chamber, or closet, he spent some time in private meditation, (for he dared reflect and be alone,) and through the whole week, even when he went to hunt, he never failed, before he sat down to dinner, to have part, of the liturgy read to him and his menial servants, came he ever so hungry or late in: and on Sundays and Tuesdays he came, commonly at the beginning of service, well attended by his court lords, and chief attendants, and most usually waited on by many of the nobility in town, who found those observances acceptably entertained by him. His greatest enemies can deny none 0f this; and a man of this moderation of mind could have no hungry appetite to prey upon his subjects, though he had a greatness of mind not to live precariously by them. But when he fell into the sharpness of his afflictions, (than which few men underwent sharper,) I dare say I know it, (I am sure conscientiously I say it,) though God dealt with him, as he did with St. Paul, not remove the thorn, yet he made his grace sufficient to take away the pungency of it; for he made as sanctified an use of his afflictions as most men ever did. As an evidence of his natural probity, whenever any young nobleman or gentleman of quality who was going to travel, came to kiss his hand, he cheerfully would give them some good counsel leading to moral virtue, especially a good conversation; telling them, that if he heard they kept good company abroad, he should reasonably expect they would return qualified to serve their king and country well at homes and he was careful to keep the youth in his time uncorrupted. The king’s deportment at his trial, which began on Saturday the 20th of January, 1643, was very majestic and steady; and though usually his tongue hesitated, yet at this time it was free for he was never discomposed in mind; and yet, as he confessed himself to bishop Juxon, who attended him, one action shocked him very much; for whilst he was leaning in the court upon his staff, which had a head of gold, the head broke off on a sudden:

he took it up, but seemed unconcerned; yet told the bishop, it really made a great impression on him; and to this hour (says he) I know not possibly how it should come. It was an accident I myself have often thought on, and cannot imagine how it came about; unless Hugh Peters, who was truly and really his gaoler, (for at St. James’s nobody went to him but by Peters’s leave,) had artificially tampered upon his staff. But such conjectures are of no use.”

——————

In the Lansdowne collection of MSS. a singular circumstance before the battle of Newbury is thus related: —

The king being at Oxford went one day to see the public library, where he was shown, among other books, a Virgil, nobly printed and exquisitely bound. The lord Falkland, to divert the king, would have his majesty make a trial of his fortune by the sortes Virgiliance, which every body knows was not an unusual kind of augury some ages past. Whereupon the king opening the book, the period which happened to come up was part of Dido’s imprecation against Ćneas, which Mr. Dryden translates thus:—

Yet let a race untamed, and haughty foes,
His peaceful entrance with dire arms oppose
Oppressed with numbers in th’ unequal field,
His men discouraged and himself expelled,
Let him for succour sue from place to place,
Torn from his subjects and his sons’ embrace,
First let him see his friends in battle slain,
And their untimely fate lament in vain;
And when at length the cruel war shall cease,
On hard conditions may he buy his peace.
Nor let him then enjoy supreme command,
But fall untimely by some hostile hand,
And lie unburied on the barren sand.
Ćneid, b. iv. l. 68

It is said, king Charles seemed concerned at this accident, and that the lord Falkland observing it, would likewise try his own fortune in the same manner, hoping he might fall upon some passage that could have no relation to his case, and thereby divert the king's thoughts from any impression the other might have upon him. But the place that Falkland stumbled upon was yet more suited to his destiny2 than the other had been to the king's; being the following expressions of Evander upon the untimely death of his son Pallis, as they are translated by the same hand: —

O Pallas! thou hast failed thy plighted word
To fight with caution, not to tempt the sword:
I warned thee, but in vain ; for well I knew
What perils youthful ardour would pursue.
That boiling blood would carry thee too far;
Young as thou wert in dangers—raw in war!
O curst essay in arms,—disastrous doom,—
Prelude of bloody fields and fights to come.
Ćneid, b. xi. l. 230.

Remarkable 30th of January Sermon

On the 30th of January, 1755, the rev. John Watson, curate of Ripponden, in Yorkshire, preached a sermon there which he afterwards published. The title-page states it as “proving that king Charles I. Did not govern like a good king of England.” He also printed “an Apology for his Conduct yearly on the 30th of January.” In these tracts he says, “ For some years last past I have preached on the 30th of January, and my labours were employed in obviated the mistakes which I knew some of my congregation entertained with regard to the character of king Charles Il;' and in proving that if it was judged rebellion in those who took up arms against that unfortunate prince, who had made so many breaches in the constitution, it must be an aggravation of that crime. To oppose the just and wise measures of the present father of his country, king George. The chief reason for publishing the sermon is to confute a commonly received opinion that I applauded therein the act of cutting off the king's head, which any one may see to be without foundation. For when I say that the resistance he met with was owing to his own mal-administration, nothing else can be meant than the opposition he received from a wise, brave, and good parliament: -- not that shown him by those furious men who destroyed both the parliament and him, and whose conduct I never undertook to vindicate. It has been observed that I always provide a clergyman to read prayers for me on the 30th of January; but no to be read that service is deemed criminal, because in subscribing the 36th canon I obliged myself to use the form prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer. The office for the 30th of January is no part of the Liturgy of the church of England. By the liturgy of the church I mean the contents of The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, &c. established by the act of uniformity, in the year 1662; and whatever has been added since, I suppose no clergyman ever bound himself by subscription to use; the reason is because the law requires no more.”

Mr. Watson then says, on the authority of Wheatly, in his “Illustration of the Common Prayer,” Johnson in his “Clergyman's Vade Mecum,” and the author of “The Complete Incumbent,” that the services for the 30th of January and the 29th of May are not confirmed by act of parliament, and that penalties do not attach for the non-celebration of the service on those days. “I cannot in conscience read those prayers,” says Watson, “wherein the king is called a Martyr. I believe the assertion to be false, and therefore why should I tell a lie before the God of Truth! What is a martyr? He is a witness, for so the word in the original imparts. Robert Stephens tells us, that they are martyrs who have died giving a testimony of divinity to Christ, but if this be true king Charles can be no martyr, for he was put to death by those who believed in the divinity of Christ as well as he. What were the grounds then for giving him this glorious title? His dying rather than give up episcopacy? I think lord Clarendon hath proved the contrary: he consented to suspend episcopacy for three years, and that money should be raised upon the sale of the church lands, and only the old rent should be reserved to the just owners and their &iccessors. My charity leads me so far, that I hope king Charles meant well when he told the princess Elizabeth that he should die a martyr, and when he repeated it on the scaffold. But this might be nothing else but a pleasing deception of the mind; and if saying that he died a martyr made him such, then the duke of Monmouth also was the same, for he died with the same words in his mouth, which his grandfather, king Charles, had used before. King Charles II. seems to have had no such opinion of the matter; for when a certain lord reminded his majesty of his swearing in common discourse, the king replied, ‘Your martyr swore more than ever I did,’ which many have deemed a jest upon the title which his father had got. In fact, we, of this generation, should never have judged, that he who swore to preserve the religion, laws, and liberties of his country inviolate, and yet broke through every one of these restraints — that he, who put an English fleet into the hands of the French to crush the protestants there, who were struggling to maintain their religion and liberties — that he, who contrary to the most solemn promises, did sacrifice the protestant interest in France — that he, who concurred with Laud in bringing the church of England to a kind of rivalship, for ornaments, &c., with the church of Rome — that he, who could consent, when he married the French king’s daughter, that their children were to be educated by their mother until thirteen years of age — that he, who gave ‘great church preferments to men who publicly preached up popish doctrines; and that protected known papists horn the penalties of the law, by taking several very extraordinary steps in their behalf — that he, who permitted an agent, or a kind of nuncio from Rome, to visit the court publicly, and bestowed such offices as those of lord high treasurer, secretary of state, chancellor of the exchequer, &c., on papists—that he, who by proclamation could command the Lord’s day to be profaned (for I can call it no less) by revels, plays, and many sorts of ill — timed recreations, punishing great numbers of pious clergymen for refusing to publish what their consciences forbad them to read : and to name no more — that he, who could abet the Irish massacre, wherein above three hundred thousand protestants were murdered in cold blood, or expelled out of their habitations. (Vide ‘Temple’s Irish Rebellion,’ page 6) I say, we, at this period of time, should not have thought such a one worthy to be deemed a martyr for the cause of protestantism; but that it has been a custom in the church for near a century to call him so. However, it is time seriously to consider whether it is not proper to correct this error; at least, it should be shown to be no error if we must keep it, for, at present, many of the well-meaning members of the church are offended at it.”

The writer cited, goes on to observe, “My second objection against reading this service is, that I judge it to be contrary both to reason and the contents of the Bible, to say that ‘the blood of king Charles can be required of us or our posterity.’ There is not, I suppose, one man alive who consented to the king’s death. We know nothing of it but from history, therefore none of us were concerned in the fact; with what reason then can it be averred that we ought to be responsible for it, when it neither was nor is in our power to prevent it. But what if we disclaim the sins of our forefathers, or are the posterity of those who fought for the king, are we still to be in danger of suffering? Such seems to be the doctrine of this service, where all, without exception, are called upon to pray that they ‘may be freed from the vengeance of his righteous blood.’ I could prove, from undoubted records, that the family I came from were royalists; but I think it sufficient to say, that I never did nor ever will consent, that a king shall be beheaded, or otherwise put to death; therefore let others say what they will, I look upon myself to be innocent, and why should I plead with God as if I thought myself guilty? But we are told that they ‘were the crying sins of this nation which brought down this heavy judgment upon us.’ I think it is more clear, that a series of ill-judged and ill-timed acts, on the part of the king, brought him into the power of his opposers, and that, afterwards, the ambition of a few men led him to the scaffold. Let it only be remembered, that at the beginning of his reign he entered into a war for the recovery of the Palatinate against the consent of his parliament; and when he could not get them to vote him money enough for his purpose he extorted it illegally from his subjects; refusing to join the parliament in redressing the grievances of the nation; often threatening them; and even counteracting their designs; which, at last, bred so many disputes, that he overstepped all bounds, and had the misprudence to attempt the seizing of five members in the house; on which the citizens came down by land and water, with muskets on their shoulders, to defend the parliament: soon after which so great a distrust arose between the two houses and him, that all likelihood of agreement wholly ceased. This was the cause whereon to make war sending the queen to Holland to buy arms, himself retiring from the capital, and soon after erecting his standard at Nottingham. Not succeeding, he was made prisoner, and when many expected his restoration, a violent opposition in the army broke forth; a design was formed to change the monarchy into a republic, and to this, and nothing else, he fell a sacrifice. If the real cause of the king’s death was the wickedness of those times, does it not follow that his death was permitted by God as a punishment for that wickedness; and if so, why should we fear that God will still visit for it? Will the just and merciful Judge discharge his vengeance on two different generations of men for the offences committed by one? Such doctrine as this should be banished from every church, especially a christian one; for it has no foundation in reason or revelation.” The reasons of this clergyman of the established church for his dissent from the established usage are still further remarkable.

Mr. Watson states other objections. to this service. “ In the hymn used instead of Venite exultemus, it is said, They fought against Him without a cause: the contrary of which, when it is applied to king Charles, I think has been owned by every historian. The parliament of England were always more wise and good, than to raise armies against the kings who gave them no occasion to do so; and I cannot but entertain this favourable opinion of that which began to sit in the year 1640. There is nothing more true than that the king wanted to govern by an arbitrary power. His whole actions showed it, and he could never be brought to depart from this. Either, therefore, his people must have submitted to the slavery, or they must have vindicated their freedom openly; there was no middle way. But should they have tamely received the yoke? No, surely; for had they done so, they had deserved the worst of evils; and the bitter effects thereof, in all probability, had not only been derived to us, but our posterity. Happy Britons, that such a just and noble stand was made! May the memories of those great patriots that were concerned in it be ever dear to Englishmen; and to all true Englishmen they will!

In the same hymn it is likewise affirmed that False witnesses rose up against him, and laid to his charge things that he knew not. Which on this occasion cannot be truly said, because as the chief fact to be proved was the king’s being in arms, it cannot be supposed that out of more than 200,000 men who had engaged with him, a sufficient number of true witnesses could be wanting. What, therefore, Mr. Wheatly could think when he said that his hymn is as solemn a composure, and as pertinent to the occasion as can be imagined or contrived, I cannot tell. I am sure a broad hint is given therein, that the clergy in king Charles’s time were a set of wicked people, and that it was through their unrighteousness, as well as that of the laity, that the king lost his life. The words are these, ‘For the sins of the people, and the iniquities of the priests, they shed the blood of the just in the midst of Jerusalem.’ Let those defend this passage who are able, for I own myself incapable of doing it consistently.”

Mr. Watson says, “I am not by myself in thinking that this service for the 30th of January needs a review; many sensible, worthy men think further — that it is time to drop it; for they see that it is unseasonable now, and serves no other end than as a bone of Contention in numberless parishes, preventing friendship, and good will being shown towards such of the clergy as cannot in all points approve of it; excepting that (as I have found by experience) it tends to make bad subjects. A sufficient argument this, was there no other, why it should either be altered, or taken away; but I presume not to dictate; and, therefore, I urge this no further: had I not a sincere regard for the church of England, I should have said less; but notwithstanding any reports to the contrary, I declare myself to be a hearty well-wisher to her prosperity. Did I not prefer her communion to that of any other I would instantly leave her, for I am not so abandoned as to play the hypocrite that I detest, and have often detested it to my great loss. But I am not of that opinion, that it is for the interest of the church to conceal her defects; on the contrary, I think I do her the greatest service possible by pointing them out, so that they may be remedied to the satisfaction of all good men. She ought not to be ashamed of the truth, and falsehood will never hurt her.”

——————

It appears that Mr. Watson’s conduct obtained much notice; for he preached another sermon at Halifax, entitled “Moderation; or a candid disposition towards those that differ from us, recommended and enforced.” This he also printed, with the avowed view of “promoting of that moderation towards all men which becometh us as Christians, is the ornament of our profession, and which we should therefore labour to maintain, as we desire to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” He proceeds to observe in this discourse, that “whoever reflects upon the nature of human constitutions, will readily allow the impossibility of perfection in any of them; and whoever considers the mutability of human things, will grant that nothing can be so well devised, or so sure established, which, in continuance of time, will not be corrupted. A change of circumstances, to which the best constituted state is liable, will require such alterations as once would have been needless : and improvement of observation will demand such regulations as nothing else could have discovered to have been right. Of this the wise founders of the established church of England were very sensible; they prudently required no subscription to perfection in the church, well knowing that they but laid the foundation stone of a much greater building than they could live to see completed. The Common Prayer, since it was first properly compiled, in the year 1545, has undergone sixteen alterations, as defects became visible, and offence was thereby given to the promoting of separations and divisions: noble examples these — fit for the present age to imitate for, as ninety years have elapsed since the last review, this experienced age has justly discovered that the amendments, at that time made were not sufficient. I could produce you many instances; but I forbear; for I am very sensible how tender a point I am discussing. However, I cannot but observe, that for my own part, upon the maturest and most sober consideration, I take him to be a greater friend to Christianity in general, and to this church in particular, who studies to unite as many dissenters as may be to us, by a reasonable comprehension, than he who is against it.”

It is urged by Mr Watson, that the church of England herself does not claim a perfection which is insisted upon as her distinguishing quality by some of her over zealous advocates. He says, “The first reformers were wise and good men, but the Common Prayer they published was little better than popery itself; many indeed have been the alterations in it made since then ; but as, through the unripeness of the times, it never had any but imperfect emendations, we may reasonably suppose it capable of still further improvements.” Deeming the service appointed for this day as inappropriate, and referring to suggestions that were in his time urged upon public attention for a review of the liturgy, he proceeds to say, “There may be men at work that misrepresent this good design; that proclaim, as formerly, the church’s danger; but let no arts like these deceive you; they must be enemies in disguise that do it, or such who have not examined what they object to with sufficient accuracy. What is wished for, your own great Tillotson himself attempted: this truly valuable man, with sonic others but little inferior to himself, being sensible that the want of a sufficient review drew many members from the church, would have compromised the difference in a way detrimental to no one, beneficial to all; and had he not been opposed by some revengeful zealots, had certainly completed what all good men have wished for.”

——————

The Editor of the Every-Day Book has Mr. Watson’s private copies of these printed tracts, with manuscript additions and remarks on them by Mr. Watson himself. It should seem from one of these notes, in his own hand-writing, that his opinions were not wholly contemned. Regarding his latter discourse, he observes that “the late Dr. Sharp, archdeacon of Northumberland, in a pamphlet, called 'A Serious Inquiry into the Use and Importance of External Religion;’ quotes this sentence, “Where unity and peace are disregarded, devotion must be so too, as it were by natural consequences. I have borrowed these words from a sermon preached at Halifax, by John Watson, A. M., which, if any man, who has sixpence to spare, will purchase, peruse, and lay to heart, he will lay out his time and his money very well.” Archdeacon Sharp was father of the late Granville Sharp, the distinguished philanthropist and hebraist.

——————

Mr. Watson was born at Presburg, in Cheshire, and educated at Brazen Nose college, Oxford, where he obtained a fellowship. He wrote a History of Halifax, in 2 vols. 4to., 1775; and a History of the Warren Family, by one of whom he was presented to the rectory of Stockport, where he died, aged 59 years He also wrote a review of the large Moravian hymn book, and several miscellaneous pieces. There is a portrait of him by Basire.

——————

By those who believe that Charles was “guiltless of his country’s blood,” and that the guilt “of his blood” is an entail upon the country not yet cut off; it may be remarked as a curious fact, that at about that season, eighty years after the king “ bowed his head” on the scaffold at Whitehall, it was “a very sickly time.” It is recorded, that in 1733 “ people were afflicted this month with a head-ach and fever which very few escaped, and many died of; particularly between Tuesday, the twenty-third, and Tuesday, the thirtieth of January, there died upwards of fifteen hundred in London and Westminster.”3 On the twenty-third of January, 1649, the king having peremptorily denied the jurisdiction of the court, the president, Bradshaw, “ordered his contempt to be recorded: on the thirtieth of January he Was beheaded.” During these days, and the intervening ones, the fatal London head-ach prevailed in 1733.

——————

On the second of March, 1772 Mr. Montague moved in the house of commons to have so much of the act of 12th C. II. c. 30, as relates to the ordering the thirtieth of January to be kept as a day of fasting and humiliation, to be repealed. His motive he declared to be, to abolish, as much as he could, any absurdity from church as well as state. He said that he saw great and solid reasons for abolishing the observation of that day, and hoped that it was not too harsh a name to be given to the service for the observation of that day, if he should brand it with the name of impiety, particularly in those parts where Charles I. is likened to our Saviour. On a division, there being for the motion 97, and against it 125, it was lost by a majority of 27.

Notes from Hone:

1. Clarendon. Return

2. Lord Falkland engaged in a thoughtless skirmish and perished in it. Return

3. British Chronologist, 177. Return

Print Page Return Home Page Close Window

If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.


Related Hymns and Carols