Parliament was quick to condemn it as a forgery and enlisted John Milton to pen his Eikonoklastes which, though it declaimed Charles as a tyrant, failed to slow the growing popular sentiment for the king. The question of authorship was reignited more than a decade later when a dean named John Gauden claimed to have written the Eikon Basilike based on the king’s notes. Meanwhile, a companion of the king through his last days named William Levet swore he had seen the king write it himself; his signed witness is often found in later editions. To this day, the origin of the Eikon Basilike remains a debated subject.
Whether the original words of Charles or a production by an associate, the Eikon Basilike stands out as a treasure of our library and we are fortunate to have a first edition of this superb piece of literature and history available for scholars and enthusiasts.
Nor hath Gods Justice failed in the event and sad consequences, to shew the world the fallacy of that Maxime, ‘Better one man perish (though unjustly) then the people be displeased, or destroyed’.
In the second chapter, Charles laments yielding to Parliament’s demands for the execution of the Earl of Strafford, a long-time supporter of the king. Charles felt that by this, above all, he had damned himself. In his final speech on the scaffold at Whitegate it is recorded that he spoke ‘That an unjust Sentence that I suffered for to take effect is punished now by an unjust Sentence upon me’ in reference to Strafford.As beautiful as the spring finally come is, consider taking an afternoon to experience some of the history that the Walter Havighurst Special Collections has to offer. For more on the debate between the Royalists and Parliamentarians, we also have a first edition of Claude Saumaise’s Defensio regia pro Carolo I, published just months after the Eikon Basilike, and another anti-monarchial response by Milton, Defensio pro Populo Anglicano. Or why not read through some of Charles’ known letters and decide for yourself whether or not you think the Eikon Basilike to be the king’s own words?
Special Collections Librarian