Charles I : King and Martyr

Past beyond the gallery archive
27 February - 31 October 2010

Lyme Park, Cheshire

  • Partnership exhibition



King Charles I, by William Marshall, published 1649 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

King Charles I
by William Marshall
published 1649
NPG D1305

The execution of Charles I was one of the most momentous events in British history, the culmination of years of political unrest and civil war. Its impact was both profound and widespread, reaching into all areas of British life.

This display explores the ways in which the king's death was remembered through the medium of prints, ranging from gory representations of the execution to idealised images of the king transfigured through martyrdom.

The central image is William Marshall's emblematic frontispiece to Charles I's final written testament Eikon Basilike. The Pourtraicture of his sacred Maiestie in his solitudes and sufferings. The print is a masterpiece of propaganda. It concisely summarises the book's principal theme of Charles I's indomitable Christian faith and acceptance of his martyrdom. The king is shown in an attitude of prayer, which invites comparisons to images of Christ's Agony in the Garden. He discards his worldly crown while seizing a crown of thorns and looking up to an ‘incorruptible' celestial crown awaiting him in heaven.

The Lyme Park display is complimented by a number of precious relics relating to Charles I including a chair reputedly upholstered in the cloak worn by the king at his execution. Other items have been generously loaned by the Legh family, owners of Lyme Park for 600 years, which have never before been on public display. These consist of a pair of beautiful leather gloves and an agate-handled dagger of c.1530, the blade inscribed ‘Carolus'. Both are said to have belonged to the King, whose connection with other objects throughout the house is being highlighted for the duration of the display.