Eikon Basilike in context
The intellectual history of a martyrdom
in Revolutionising politics
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The Eikon Basilike was the most widely printed English book of the seventeenth century and played a crucial role in shaping English political imaginary for generations after the Civil War. The work has been widely studied by literary specialists, but rarely by historians of politics or political thought. This essay offers a preliminary reading of the implicit and explicit political theory of the Eikon, exploring its account of monarchy, its Stoic features and its traditional ecclesiology. Rather than an apology for divine right absolutism, the Eikon attached itself to a more measured, constitutional understanding of monarchy. Its use of Christological imagery, as opposed to the more Davidic scriptural motifs favoured by James I, represented an ingenious effort to snatch a royalist ideological victory from the jaws of military defeat. The heroic sacrificial quality of Charles as portrayed in the Eikon dovetailed with the Stoic features of the text and with its pronounced rejection of fashionable reason-of-state thinking. But it was, above all, the dualist or ‘Laudian’ ecclesiology of the Eikon that generated the greatest controversy. The elevated account of clerical authority contained in the text made it a staple of Restoration piety, but also fuelled enormous hostility. The chapter traces these elements of the Eikon’s reception through the long-running controversy over the work’s supposed – and often doubted – royal authorship.

Revolutionising politics

Culture and conflict in England, 1620–60


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