The Eikon Basilike

The Portraiture of His Sacred Majestie in his Solitudes and Sufferings

Better known to us as the Eikon Basilike it is a book containing the meditations and prayers of King Charles I in the style of a diary written in the months immediately preceding his execution. It also presents a strong defence of His Majesty and Royal policy during the Civil War. It was said to have been written by the King himself but was more likely compiled from amongst his papers by Dr John Gauden. Regardless of the truth of Royal authorship it was a publishing sensation very quickly running to thirty six editions portraying as it did the recently departed King as a Saint and Christian Martyr, fully exploiting the wave of sympathy that swept the country following his execution.

The popularity of the ‘Martyred Monarch’ greatly disturbed the recently established Republican Government fearing that it would, as indeed it did eleven years later in the form of his son, presage the return of the Stuart Monarchy.

john milton xx

It felt obliged to coerce (not that as Parliaments propagandist in-situ he required much coercion) the poet John Milton to pen a response, to ridicule as absurd worship of the dead King and to denounce him for the tyrant and the man of blood he was.

His Eikonoklastes, or the Image Breaker, written In answer to the King’s self-justification was published the following year in 1650. It was a closely argued text that attempted to dismantle the portrait of the King as a martyr for his people and his faith, page-by-page and line-by-line. But it was never to be as popular as the Eikon Basilike and fell flat as a response proving to be pedantic and hectoring in style and resonant of the arrogance of the victor over the vanquished. For example, he accuses those who still express sympathy for the King as “like a credulous and hapless herd, begott’n to servility, and inchanted with these popular institutes of tyranny.”

Milton’s endeavour satisfied only those who were already its author and his dismissal of the King’s Book as mere empty and frivolous poetry was ignored by those who were aware that he had already described his own as propaganda. It was never likely to endear itself to a people who after enduring ten years of famine and war just wanted a return to the peace and normality of the past, a past they associated with the stability of the Reign of Kings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked