The Execution of Charles I: Killing a King


[Knock] [Music] God’s law has been changed by the power
of the sword. But subject and sovereign are clean different things. By what
lawful authority am I brought hither? I failed to spot the wolves in sheep’s
clothing. Sweethearts I bid my farewells. I embrace my
destruction. A glorious death I should die. And now you will kill your anointed King. I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown. Where no disturbance can be. No disturbance in the world. On the 30 January 1649 Charles I
King of England, Scotland and Ireland walked through this, his Banqueting House at the Royal Palace of Whitehall, out of a window and onto a
scaffold where his executioner was waiting. Charles had been tried and found
guilty. Tyrant, traitor, murderer. An enemy of the Commonwealth. but was he guilty?
and what led to this unprecedented killing of a king? Charles was never expected to become the
king of England. He was second in line to the throne of Scotland. His mother Anne of Denmark His father King James VI Scotland Charles was born on
the 19 November in the year 1600 but three years later his father was
invited to become king of England Charles however was left behind as the
sickly child His elder brother Henry was bright strong and sporting but at the age of 18 his brother got typhoid fever and died. Charles was now the first in
line to the throne. In March 1625 his father died and Charles became King. He was crowned on the 2 February 1626. The most important similarity between
Charles and his father James was the belief in what was known as the divine
right of kings. there was nobody higher than them and
they were not accountable to the laws of common men. Parliament are thoroughly
excited by the prospect of a new young king. James had compromised with his
ministers. Charles was resolute and would not. Things start to go pretty bad for
Charles right from the outset. Charles wishes to marry to have heirs to
continue his line. He arranges a marriage with the Catholic Henrietta Maria of
France. However as a Catholic his country are not happy about it. Charles is the head of a divided country
when it comes to religion. It all started with Henry VIII when he split from
the Church of Rome. Now almost 100 years later there is still discontent.
There have been many reforms but with fanatics on either side. Now Charles is
the head of the Protestant Church of England and he has reforms of his own. He
wishes for a Protestant state however he believes wholeheartedly that there
should be a hierarchy within the Church and its ministers and a deference
towards them. For Puritans that is too much like Catholicism. Perhaps Henrietta
Maria is bringing too much influence to our Protestant King. She is known as the
Popish brat of France. Charles will not put up with this. In the
first four years of his reign he disbands Parliament three times up until
1629 when this time he would disband them for what turned out to be 11 years. Charles was a loving husband and a
doting father. He is known that Charles loved to play with his children at St.
James’s Park where they would play outside. He also had a silver staff where
he would score upon it to see the changing in height. He referred to his
Queen Henrietta Maria as his dear heart. After 11 years of ruling on his own
Charles is out of money. His foreign wars have cost a fortune and now the only
thing to do is to recall Parliament however straight away they have
disagreements once again. Parliament is divided. Those who are on the side of the
king, Royalists the others who support
Parliament are known as Parliamentarians. These arguments continue back and forth
until eventually there is no other path to take. The King on the 22 August
1642 raises his banner at Nottingham Castle. Civil war has started. God Save
the King they cry. Civil war in England is the bloodiest
conflict will ever take place on English soil.
It will last five years and it’s estimated that over 200,000
people will die. Charles is doing very well for the first two years and the
Royalists seem to take every single victory. However that all changes in 1644.
Oliver Cromwell makes his name and at the Battle of Naseby
the Kings forces are beaten. It goes from bad to worse however for our King and
eventually Parliament sign an agreement with the Scots and they joined
the war on the Parliamentarian side. Charles tries to negotiate with them as
well however is taken prisoner. He is then handed from one house to another
until eventually being locked up at his own palace at Hampton Court. Then word
reaches the King there might be an assassination attempt so in 1647 he
tries a daring escape and he manages it. Unfortunately he is once again
recaptured and eventually brought back to London. Now there is talk of placing a
king on trial. The country once again is divided. Who could place a king on trial? With the divine right of kings he’s
above the law. It’s a hugely unpopular decision to
place a king on trial. The majority still wish to negotiate with him however when
they arrive to Parliament in December 1648 they find that there are soldiers
on the door. Those who will not look favourably upon the King’s trial are
turned away. Many of them are arrested. Those who are
allowed to enter will become known as the Rump Parliament. These remaining 46
MPs take a vote. A majority of 26 decide to place the
King on trial. On the 20 January 1649 the trial began. Charles dressed for
the occasion. He wore a fine black velvet suit with a black hat a white
lace collar around his neck and of course the blue ribbon with the jeweled
George upon it signifying that he was the head of the Order of the Garter. He kept
his hat upon his head showing that everyone else should show deference to
him. When the court begins their questioning Charles stops them and
demands ‘By what power am I called hither?’ For three days Charles refuses to
recognise the authority of this court and will not enter a plea.
Despite this the trial continues. On the morning of the 27 January
Charles was brought to Parliament to have judgment passed upon him. He had
been found guilty. He tried to speak a word but was
silenced by John Bradshaw the head of the proceedings. He insisted
‘will you not hear a word, sir’.? But he was denied. He was led from the courtroom.
For Charles it was all too late. Charles is given three days to prepare
for his execution. He asks that he might be allowed to see his youngest children
still in the country Elizabeth and Henry. He then writes a
letter to Charles his eldest advising him on what to do when he becomes king.
He writes to James telling him to stand by his brother. On the 29 January
Henry and Elizabeth are brought to meet their father Elizabeth is hysterical with tears.
Charles comforts them as best he can. He tells Elizabeth she will forget this Henry is sat upon his father’s lap and
Charles says to him at no cost should he accept the crown. Parliament may try to
give it to him. Henry insists he’ll be torn apart before he accepts. When it is
time for them to leave Elizabeth is distraught. Her father rushes to the door and
embraces them one last time. They’re then ushered out the door. Charles collapses in a heap upon the
floor. He spends the rest of the day in his bed inconsolable. On the night before
his execution Charles got about four hours sleep. He arose two hours before
dawn but with the sunrise he opened the curtains and said ‘I have
great work to do today’. He called for his attendant to bring him an extra shirt
for it was a cold, icy day outside he wouldn’t want anyone in the crowd
thinking he shivered out of fear. At ten o’clock there was a sharp knock upon the
door. It was time. He would be escorted from St. James’s Palace
through the park under armed guard. At 2:00 p.m.
Charles was led through this hall. The cruel irony being that he walked
underneath the paintings he commissioned by Peter Paul Rubens showing his father
looking down from heaven and the nature of the divine right of kings a belief
which had brought Charles to this very moment. He past through the hall… and out onto the scaffold. If Charles
felt any nerves at this moment he hid them well. He conducted himself with
strength and decorum. This was such an unpopular decision to execute a king the
New Model Army had been posted to hold the crowd back. To find an executioner to
kill a king was a hard task. Whoever they found did not want to be recognised so
they dressed in the outfit of a sailor wore a false beard and a wig and placed
fishnets over their head. Charles noted that his last words would only fall upon
the ears of his executioner’s and the soldiers around him. He said ‘I go from a
corruptible to an incorruptible crown where no disturbance can be’. He asked his executioner if his hair was
troubling him. His executioner said yes and so Charles placed a nightcap upon
his head. His executioner helped to tuck the hair away. He told his executioner
that he would say his last prayers and when he stretched out his arms he was ready
to die. Charles lay himself down upon the floor. He said his last prayers
stretched out his arms and the axe fell. His unwavering commitment
to the divine right blinded Charles to the need for compromise. He was a man who
stuck to his beliefs but ultimately paid for it with his life. Was Charles solely
to blame or where he and Parliament on a road that led to only one outcome? What do you think?

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