Execution of Carlos I

30/01/1649View on timeline

Charles I (19 November 1600 – 30 January 1649) was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649.

Charles was born into the House of Stuart as the second son of King James VI of Scotland, but after his father inherited the English throne in 1603, he moved to England, where he spent much of the rest of his life. He became heir apparent to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland on the death of his elder brother, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1612. An unsuccessful and unpopular attempt to marry him to the Spanish Habsburg princess Maria Anna culminated in an eight-month visit to Spain in 1623 that demonstrated the futility of the marriage negotiations. Two years later, he married the Bourbon princess Henrietta Maria of France instead.

After his succession, Charles quarrelled with the Parliament of England, which sought to curb his royal prerogative. Charles believed in the divine right of kings and thought he could govern according to his own conscience. Many of his subjects opposed his policies, in particular the levying of taxes without parliamentary consent, and perceived his actions as those of a tyrannical absolute monarch. His religious policies, coupled with his marriage to a Roman Catholic, generated the antipathy and mistrust of Reformed groups such as the English Puritans and Scottish Covenanters, who thought his views were too Catholic. He supported high church Anglican ecclesiastics, such as Richard Montagu and William Laud, and failed to aid Protestant forces successfully during the Thirty Years' War. His attempts to force the Church of Scotland to adopt high Anglican practices led to the Bishops' Wars, strengthened the position of the English and Scottish parliaments and helped precipitate his own downfall.

From 1642, Charles fought the armies of the English and Scottish parliaments in the English Civil War. After his defeat in 1645, he surrendered to a Scottish force that eventually handed him over to the English Parliament. Charles refused to accept his captors' demands for a constitutional monarchy, and temporarily escaped captivity in November 1647. Re-imprisoned on the Isle of Wight, Charles forged an alliance with Scotland, but by the end of 1648 Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army had consolidated its control over England. Charles was tried, convicted, and executed for high treason in January 1649. The monarchy was abolished and a republic called the Commonwealth of England was declared. The monarchy was restored to Charles's son, Charles II, in 1660.

Portrait from the studio of Anthony van Dyck, 1636

Execution

Charles's beheading was scheduled for Tuesday, 30 January 1649. Two of his children remained in England under the control of the Parliamentarians: Elizabeth and Henry. They were permitted to visit him on 29 January, and he bade them a tearful farewell. The following morning, he called for two shirts to prevent the cold weather causing any noticeable shivers that the crowd could have mistaken for fear: "the season is so sharp as probably may make me shake, which some observers may imagine proceeds from fear. I would have no such imputation."

He walked under guard from St James's Palace, where he had been confined, to the Palace of Whitehall, where an execution scaffold was erected in front of the Banqueting House. Charles was separated from spectators by large ranks of soldiers, and his last speech reached only those with him on the scaffold. He blamed his fate on his failure to prevent the execution of his loyal servant Strafford: "An unjust sentence that I suffered to take effect, is punished now by an unjust sentence on me."[288] He declared that he had desired the liberty and freedom of the people as much as any, "but I must tell you that their liberty and freedom consists in having government ... It is not their having a share in the government; that is nothing appertaining unto them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things." He continued, "I shall go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be."

At about 2:00 p.m., Charles put his head on the block after saying a prayer and signalled the executioner when he was ready by stretching out his hands; he was then beheaded with one clean stroke. According to observer Philip Henry, a moan "as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again" rose from the assembled crowd, some of whom then dipped their handkerchiefs in the king's blood as a memento.


Contemporary German print of Charles I's beheading

The executioner was masked and disguised, and there is debate over his identity. The commissioners approached Richard Brandon, the common hangman of London, but he refused, at least at first, despite being offered £200. It is possible he relented and undertook the commission after being threatened with death, but there are others who have been named as potential candidates, including George Joyce, William Hulet and Hugh Peters. The clean strike, confirmed by an examination of the king's body at Windsor in 1813, suggests that the execution was carried out by an experienced headsman.

It was common practice for the severed head of a traitor to be held up and exhibited to the crowd with the words "Behold the head of a traitor! "Although Charles's head was exhibited, the words were not used, possibly because the executioner did not want his voice recognised. On the day after the execution, the king's head was sewn back onto his body, which was then embalmed and placed in a lead coffin.

The commission refused to allow Charles's burial at Westminster Abbey, so his body was conveyed to Windsor on the night of 7 February.[304] He was buried in private in the Henry VIII vault alongside the coffins of Henry VIII and Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 9 February 1649. The king's son, Charles II, later planned for an elaborate royal mausoleum to be erected in Hyde Park, London, but it was never built.

Cromwell was said to have visited Charles's coffin, sighing "Cruel necessity!" as he did so. The sto...
Another of Delaroche's paintings, Charles I Insulted by Cromwell's Soldiers, is an allegory for late...
History of the Kings and Queens of England

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Published in 4/10/2018

Updated in 19/02/2021

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