The King’s Whiskers at SAS

Has British royalty ever visited the Cumberland Plateau? Well, sort of …

“On the feast of Charles I of England 1924 Fr Orum [the prior at the time] thought it fitting that they should hold a special commemoration for his martyrdom on January 30. Bp. Maxon and other guests were invited formally to attend the occasion. Some one had given us a properly authenticated relic of the beheaded King, which unfortunately was a clipping from his beard. This was carried about in solemn procession with incense and torches and appropriate hymns. But some newspaper man from Nashville was there and he thought to give the school a boost by writing an illustrated story of the event which was published in due time. That raised a storm that spilled over the country, far beyond the confines of Tennessee.  Fr. Orum was completely crushed, and he never really did recover from the shock. Fortunately our Bishop Gailor saw the humor of the situation, while not for a minute approving of the rather bizarre performance; and it was most kindly and charitable of him to say merely that Fr. Orum had used poor judgement. All the furor over ‘King Charles whiskers’ died down in due time, but, as mentioned above, Fr. Orum was so shaken he never recovered.”

Former St. Andrew’s-Sewanee headmaster, Fr. Bill Wade, pointed me to this story, which is found in the charming manuscript, A Résumé of the Story of Saint Andrew’s School, 1905 to 1945, by Rt. Rev. Robert Erskine Campbell, O.H.C. (1968) on page 76.  My lazy on-line investigations have not turned up much confirmation of the “storm that spilled over the country,” although I did find a disdainful mention in The Lutheran Witness 43  (1924) 176 to an article entitled “Episcopalians Venerating King Charles’s Whiskers.”

You can see Charles’ distinctive beard in the famous triple portrait below, now in the Royal Collections, done by Anthony Van Dyck–it was after this painter that this sort of facial hair came to be called a “Van Dyke,”which is also sometimes called a “Charley” after His Majesty, according to the OED ( which gives a reference from 1834 reading, “With white pantaloons, watch chains and Wellingtons, and a charley at their under lip”).  Other relics of the poor beheaded monarch are accounted for on the website of the Society of King Charles the Martyr.  If mooning over old dead kings is your thing, this is the site for you–just don’t try it here in Tennessee or you might end up like Father Orum.

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground,
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been depos’d, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos’d;
Some poison’d by their wives, some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d — for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
Keeps Death his court: and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state, and grinning at his pomp;
Allowing him a breath, a little scene
To monarchize, be fear’d, and kill with looks;
Infusing him with self and vain conceit —
As if this flesh, which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable — and, humour’d thus,
Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and — farewell king!

Shakespeare, Richard II, 3.3

About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
This entry was posted in Education, England, Saints, Sewanee, Tennessee. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The King’s Whiskers at SAS

  1. timtrue says:

    So why not try it there in Tennessee? Plenty of mooning happens in Sewanee, to be sure.

  2. Doesn’t seem to have worked out too well for poor Father Orum.

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