As in previous years a number of Old Carolians gathered together in the King Charles' Room at Kidderminster Town Hall on a bleak afternoon in January to remember the execution some 369 years ago of the School's benefactor.
With programmes on television concerning the King’s Art Collection, especially with the excellent Alexander Graham Dixon, and with the current exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, it seemed appropriate to be acknowledging the Anniversary of the Execution. The portrait of the King dominated the King Charles Room in the Town Hall as a large gathering of Old Carolians and their friends met there. They were accompanied by Rev. Rose Lawley, Team Rector of Kidderminster and by Martin Stook, Deputy Mayor and Old Carolian.
President Dave Laverty welcomed everyone and asked Rev. Rose Lawley to start the proceedings. She began by passing on the good wishes of old friend Rev. Owain Bell, who is sorely missed, as indeed will be Rose when she retires. We have been most fortunate to have had these two colleagues working with us over the past decade.
Rose briefly summarised the life of Charles 1. Brought up as a genuine and devout Church of England monarch, he had a very personal, strongly willed Calvinistic faith which sadly clashed with a Puritan Parliament. Charles was no statesman and it was almost inevitable that there would be a schism and breakdown with the opposition. Noble and fearless to the end, the verdict of historians does not place all the blame for this on the King. Indeed, the executioner on the scaffold did not repeat the usual words, “Behold the head of a traitor”. Rose ended her speech with the Prayer Book Collect for King Charles 1, martyr of the Church.
President David Laverty said that it would be good if we all learned the lessons of 1649. He quoted the words of Philip Henry, aged 18 at the execution at Whitehall: “at the instant when the blow was given, there was a dismal groan among the thousands of people that were within sight of it". It seems as if there was shock and numbness amongst them and no cheers. Two companies of troops were sent to disperse the crowd. David reminded us that latest estimates suggest that around 180,000 perished between 1642 and 1651: around 5% of the population of this country. When we compare this with the 2.6% who perished in the First World War we can see how badly the Civil War generation suffered. David stressed that the King was a steadfast family man, a devoted husband and father, and a brave man. He was a lover of art and his wonderful collection is still available as a legacy for all to see.
David ended by saying that both Cromwell and the King had their strengths and weaknesses as men. There was no total right on either side and that clash of two incompatible philosophies is echoed in some aspects of our politics today: for example, the division between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, between Remainers and Brexiteers, Right wing and Left. We should remember that others often have a different perspective and compromise is always preferable. The Ceremony closed with David placing the wreath under the King's portrait and with photographs being taken of those present.
Peter Vaughan: Old Carolians Home Affairs Correspondent