For personal branding, where other monarchs have provided lessons for success, King Charles I of England provides more of a cautionary tale. Had he hired a personal branding coach in his time, he probably would have ignored the person’s warnings.
Like Henry VIII, Charles was a second son who became heir to the throne when his older brother died from disease. His father, King James I, was king of Scotland, and heir to Queen Elizabeth I. When she died in 1603, James ascended to the throne and united the two kingdoms.
King James is best known for being the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed by Elizabeth I; for formalizing the Royal Mail service that maintained communication between London and Edinburgh; and for creating the famous King James Bible, an English translation for the Church of England that was completed in 1611.
His son Charles was a sickly youth and diminutive, only 5’4” compared to the blustering King Henry VIII at 6’2”. Still, Charles would have no trouble distinguishing his reign from his father’s, or leaving an unforgettable legacy.
When James arrived in London to take his throne, he brought with him the lifestyle and beliefs he’d acquired in Scotland, which, at the end of the Elizabethan period, were far more crude, coarse, debauched and extravagant. He had strange notions and lacked the polish one might expect of a king. Some accounts say he never washed his hands but only rubbed his fingertips on a wet napkin; he had a passion for fruit and gorged himself on it; he was always hiccupping, belching, scratching himself and fiddling with his codpiece. In his rather squalid court, young men drank heavily and frolicked about, trying to get the king’s attention and favor.
But Charles, having visited the court of King Phillip in Spain, had very different notions. His court would be “decorous, orderly, elegant and ceremonial…with minute regard to drill-like and unchanging custom.” He would allow his beloved wife her Catholic faith and all the pageants and parties she desired. And, he would become one of the most famous art collectors of all time.
“Every day the King’s table…was provided with twenty-eight dishes, brought in to a fanfare of trumpets that temporarily stilled the less strident notes of his private orchestra.”
~ Christopher Hibbert, Charles I
Shared values provide the basis for a strong personal brand. In Charles’s case, his values centered around one core belief: that the king ruled by divine right—meaning that he was royal by blood, and had come to the throne by God’s will. His motto, “Dieu et mon droit” – God and My Right – came down from Henry V and Henry VII. Therefore, it was his right to rule by his own conscience and his direct contact to God. He did not need Parliament to tell him what to do. This belief was his strength, and ultimately his downfall.
The imagery of his brand supports this core belief:
- His portraiture showed usually shows calm facial expression and the unconcerned, perhaps sad eyes of a scholarly, wise man.
- His clothing is stylish to the times; the heavens hover above his head; servants look up to him as if to a heavenly being.
- Family imagery indicates opulence, beauty, and sound structure: the royal lineage is secure.
Charles loved art, music, his wife Henrietta Maria, their children, and his solitude—values that others could appreciate. But Charles did not use them to advantage. Instead of connecting with his subjects on common ground, he created barriers. He collected art with great extravagance even when the royal purse was nearly empty. He taxed people without their consent and dissolved Parliament rather than working with the members to gain their support and votes for funding. While allowing the queen to maintain her Catholic faith, he imposed the use of a common prayer book that infuriated the Presbyterian Scots. He expanded the plantation system in Ireland, taking fertile lands and displacing Irish clans.
He surrounded himself with loyal advisors and administrators who supported Divine Right and who were widely unpopular. His favorite, the Duke of Buckingham, was assassinated, and his chief administrator, the Earl of Strafford, was executed by Parliament.
Long story short, after a bloody civil war King Charles I also was executed, on a scaffold outside of his own Banqueting House where he’d decorated the ceiling with magnificent paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. His death not only ended his 24-year reign, but also temporarily ended the monarchy, as Parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell stepped into the role of Protector of England’s Commonwealth.
Gems from the Crown
- King Charles’s legacy is reflected in the danger of arrogance and ignoring public opinion.
- His values could have helped him connect in a personal way with his subjects, to ameliorate conflict.
- Things in life that are rigid are either dying or dead. With flexibility and collaboration, Charles might have been able to address the concerns of his realm, but he remained inflexible on the core issue of Divine Right, which led to his demise.