Charles I of England

By the Grace of God, King of England, Scotland, Ireland, and France

1600 - 1649

Portrait of Charles I

Charles I was King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 27 March 1625 until his execution. Charles famously engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England. He was an advocate of the Divine Right of Kings, and many subjects of England feared that he was attempting to gain absolute power. Many of his actions, particularly the levying of taxes without Parliament's consent, caused widespread opposition. He was canonized in 1660.

Henrietta Maria of France

Religious conflicts permeated Charles's reign. He married a Catholic princess, Henrietta Maria of France, over the objections of Parliament and public opinion. He further allied himself with controversial religious figures, including the ecclesiastic Richard Montagu and William Laud, whom Charles appointed Archbishop of Canterbury. Many of Charles's subjects felt this brought the Church of England too close to Roman Catholicism. Charles's later attempts to force religious reforms upon Scotland led to the Bishops' Wars that weakened England's government and helped precipitate his downfall.

William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury

His last years were marked by the English Civil War, in which he was opposed by the forces of Parliament, which challenged his attempts to augment his own power, and by Puritans, who were hostile to his religious policies and supposed Catholic sympathies. Charles was defeated in the First Civil War (1642 - 1645), after which Parliament expected him to accept demands for a constitutional monarchy. He instead remained defiant by attempting to forge an alliance with Scotland and escaping to the Isle of Wight. This provoked a Second Civil War (1648 - 1649) and a second defeat for Charles, who was subsequently captured, tried, convicted, and executed for high treason. The monarchy was then abolished and a republic called the Commonwealth of England, also referred to as the Cromwellian Interregnum, was declared. Charles's son, Charles II, became King after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

And when did you last see your father?" by William Frederick Yeames - in which the son of a Royalist is questioned by Parliamentarians during the English Civil War.

The second son of James VI, King of Scots and Anne of Denmark and Norway, Charles was born at Dunfermline Palace, Fife, on 19 November 1600, and, until the age of three, was unable to walk or talk. His paternal grandmother was Mary, Queen of Scots, who had been beheaded by Elizabeth I of England on 8 February 1587.

When Elizabeth died in March 1603 and James VI of Scotland became King of England as James I, Charles was originally left in Scotland in the care of nurses and servants because it was feared that the journey would damage his fragile health. He did make the journey in July 1604 and was subsequently placed under the charge of Alletta (Hogenhove) Carey, the Dutch-born wife of courtier Sir Robert Carey, who taught him how to walk and talk and insisted that he wear boots made of Spanish leather and brass to help strengthen his weak ankles. When Charles was an adult he was 5 feet 3 inches tall.

Henry, Prince of Wales

Charles was not as well-regarded as his elder brother, Henry, Prince of Wales; Charles himself adored Henry and tried to emulate him. In 1603, Charles was created Duke of Albany, with the subsidiary titles Marques of Ormond, Earl of Ross and Lord Ardmannoch the sixth, in Scotland. Two years later, Charles was created Duke of York, as was then, and remains, customary in the case of the Sovereign's second son.

Charles I as Duke of York and Albany

When his elder brother died at the age of 18 of typhoid in 1612, two weeks before Charles's 12th birthday, Charles became heir apparent (and the eldest living son of the Sovereign, thus automatically gaining several titles including Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay) and was subsequently created the Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester in November 1616. His sister Elizabeth married Frederick V, Elector Palatine in 1613 and moved to Heidelberg.

The new Prince of Wales was greatly influenced by his father's favorite, George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham. The two of them travelled incognito to Spain in 1623 to reach agreement on the long-pending Spanish Match between Charles and Infanta Maria Anna of Spain, the daughter of King Philip III of Spain. The trip ended badly, however, as the Spanish demanded that Charles convert to Roman Catholicism and remain in Spain for a year after the wedding as a sort of hostage to ensure England's compliance with all the terms of the treaty. Charles was outraged, and upon their return in October, he and Buckingham demanded that James I declare war on Spain.

George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham

With the encouragement of his Protestant advisers, James summoned Parliament so that he could request subsidies for a war effort. James also requested that Parliament sanction the marriage between the Prince of Wales and Princess Henrietta Maria of France, whom Charles met in Paris while en route to Spain. It was a good match since she was a sister of Louis XIII (their father, Henry IV, had died during her childhood). Parliament agreed to the marriage, but was extremely critical of the prior attempt to arrange a marital alliance with Spain. James was growing senile and as a result was finding it extremely difficult to control Parliament-the same problem would later haunt Charles during his reign. During the last year of James' reign, actual power was held not by him but by Charles and the Duke of Buckingham.

Louis XIII, King of France

Both Charles and James were advocates of the Divine Right of Kings, but James listened to the views of his subjects and favored compromise and consensus. Charles I was shy and diffident, but also self-righteous, stubborn, opinionated, determined and confrontational. Charles believed he had no need to compromise or even to explain his rules and that he was only answerable to God. He famously said: "Kings are not bound to give an account of their actions but to God alone, I mean to show what I should speak in actions." Those actions were open to misinterpretation, and there were fears as early as 1626 that he was a potential tyrant.

Charles I of England

On 11 May 1625 Charles was married by proxy to Henrietta Maria of France, nine years his junior. In his first Parliament, which he opened in May, many members were opposed to his marriage to Henrietta Maria, a Roman Catholic, fearing that Charles would lift restrictions on Roman Catholics and undermine the official establishment of Protestantism. Although he stated to Parliament that he would not relax restrictions relating to recusants, he promised to do exactly that in a secret marriage treaty with Louis XIII. The couple was married in person on 13 June 1625, in Canterbury. Charles was crowned on 2 February 1626 at Westminster Abbey, but without his wife at his side due to the controversy. Charles and Henrietta had seven children, with three sons and three daughters surviving infancy.

Henrietta Maria: (ca 1633)
By Sir Anthony van Dyck

Distrust of Charles's religious policies increased with his support of a controversial ecclesiastic, Richard Montagu. In a pamphlet, Montagu had argued against the teachings of John Calvin, thereby bringing himself into disrepute among the Puritans. After a Puritan member of the House of Commons, John Pym, attacked Montagu's pamphlet during debate, Montagu requested the king's aid in another pamphlet entitled "Appello Caesarem" (Latin "I appeal to Caesar", a reference to an appeal against Jewish persecution made by Saint Paul the Apostle). Charles made the cleric one of his royal chaplains, increasing many Puritans' suspicions as to where Charles would lead the Church.

John Pym

Charles's primary concern during his early reign was foreign policy. The Thirty Years' War, originally confined to Bohemia, was spiraling out of control into a wider war between Protestants and Catholics in Europe. In 1620, Frederick V, Elector Palatine, the husband of Charles's sister Elizabeth, had lost his hereditary lands in the Palatinate to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II. Having agreed to help his brother-in-law regain the Palatinate, Charles declared war on Spain, hoping to force the Catholic Spanish King Philip IV to intercede with the Emperor on Frederick's behalf.

Thirty Years War

Parliament preferred an inexpensive naval attack on Spanish colonies in the New World, hoping that the capture of the Spanish treasure fleets could finance the war. Charles, however, preferred more aggressive (and more expensive) action on the Continent. Parliament only voted to grant a subsidy of £140,000; an insufficient sum for Charles. Moreover, the House of Commons limited its authorization for royal collection of tonnage and poundage (two varieties of customs duties) to a period of one year, although previous sovereigns since 1414 had been granted the right for life. In this manner, Parliament could keep a check on expenditures by forcing Charles to seek the renewal of the grant each year. Charles's allies in the House of Lords, led by the Duke of Buckingham, refused to pass the bill. Although no Parliamentary authority for the levy of tonnage and poundage was obtained, Charles continued to collect the duties anyway.

The war with Spain went badly, largely due to Buckingham's incompetent leadership. Despite Parliament's protests, however, Charles refused to dismiss him, dismissing Parliament instead. He then provoked further unrest by trying to raise money for the war through a "forced loan" -- a tax levied without Parliamentary consent. Although partially successful in collecting the tax, Charles let the money dribble away in yet another military fiasco led by Buckingham. Summoned again in 1628, Parliament adopted a Petition of Right, calling upon the King to acknowledge that he could not levy taxes without Parliament's consent, impose martial law on civilians, imprison them without due process, or quarter troops in their homes. Charles assented to the petition, though he continued to claim the right to collect customs duties without authorization from Parliament. Then, on 23 August 1628, Buckingham was assassinated. Although the death of Buckingham effectively ended the war and eliminated his leadership as an issue, it did not end the conflicts between Charles and Parliament over taxation and religious matters.

The famous "Charles I, King of England, from Three Angles", commonly known as the "Triple Portrait". This famous painting is commonly known as the "Triple Portrait".

In January 1629, Charles opened the second session of the Parliament, which had been dismissed in June 1628, with a moderate speech on the tonnage and poundage issue. Members of the House of Commons began to voice their opposition in light of the Rolle case. Rolle was an MP whose goods were confiscated when he failed to pay tonnage and poundage. Many MPs viewed the confiscation as a breach of the Petition of Right, arguing that the petition's freedom-from-arrest privilege extended to goods. When Charles ordered a parliamentary adjournment in March, members held the Speaker, Sir John Finch, down in his chair while three resolutions against Charles were read aloud. The last of these resolutions declared that anyone who paid tonnage or poundage not authorized by Parliament would "be reputed a betrayer of the liberties of England, and an enemy to the same". Though the resolution was not formally passed, many members declared their approval. The fact that a number of MPs had to be detained in Parliament is relevant in understanding that there was no universal opposition towards the King. Nevertheless, the provocation was too much for Charles, who dissolved parliament the same day. Immediately, he made peace with France and Spain. The following eleven years, during which Charles ruled without a Parliament, have been known as both the Eleven Years Tyranny or simply as the Personal Rule. (Ruling without Parliament, though an exceptional exercise of the royal prerogative was supported by precedent. By the middle of the 17th century, opinion had shifted, and many held the Personal Rule to be an illegitimate exercise of arbitrary, absolute power.)

Even after making peace, Charles still had to acquire funds in order to maintain his treasury. To raise revenue without reconvening Parliament, Charles first resurrected an all-but-forgotten law called the "Distraint of Knighthood", promulgated in 1279, which required anyone who earned £40 or more each year to present himself at the King's coronation to join the royal army as a knight. Relying on this outdated statute; Charles fined all individuals who had failed to attend his coronation in 1626.

Later, Charles reintroduced an obsolete feudal tax known as Ship Money, which proved even more unpopular. Under statutes of Edward I and Edward III, collection of 'Ship Money' had been authorized only during wars. Charles, however, sought to collect the tax during peacetime. Although the first writ levying ship money, issued in 1634, did not provoke much immediate opposition, the second and third writs, issued in 1635 and 1636, aroused strong opposition, as it was now clear that the ancient prohibition on collecting ship money during peacetime had been swept away. Many attempted to resist payment, but the royal courts declared that the tax was within the King's prerogative. The collection of ship money during peacetime was a major cause of concern among the ruling class.

Personal Rule ended after the attempted enforcement of the Anglican and increasingly Arminian styled prayer book under Laud that precipitated a rebellion in Scotland in 1640.

Charles wished to move the Church of England away from Calvinism in a more traditional and sacramental direction. This goal was shared by his main political adviser, Archbishop William Laud. Laud was appointed by Charles as the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, and started a series of unpopular reforms in an attempt to impose order and authority on the church. Laud attempted to ensure religious uniformity by dismissing non-conformist clergymen and closing Puritan organizations. This was actively hostile to the Reformed tendencies of many of his English and Scottish subjects. His policy was obnoxious to Calvinist theology, and insisted that the Church of England's liturgy be celebrated using the form prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. Laud was also an advocate of Arminian theology, a view whose emphasis on the ability to reject salvation was viewed as heretical and virtually "Catholic" by strict Calvinists.

To punish those who refused to accept his reforms, Laud used the two most feared and most arbitrary courts in the land, the Court of High Commission and the Court of Star Chamber. The former could compel individuals to provide self-incriminating testimony, while the latter could inflict any punishment whatsoever (including torture), with the sole exception of death.

The lawlessness of the Court of Star Chamber under Charles far exceeded that under any of his predecessors. Under Charles's reign, defendants were regularly hauled before the Court without indictment, due process of the law, or right to confront witnesses, and their testimonies were routinely extracted by the Court through torture.

The first years of the Personal Rule were marked by peace in England, to some extent due to tighter central control. Several individuals opposed Charles's taxes and Laud's policies. For example, in 1634, the ship Griffin left for America carrying religious dissidents, such as the Puritan minister Anne Hutchinson. However, the overall trend of the early Personal Rule period is one of peace. When, however, Charles attempted to impose his religious policies in Scotland he faced numerous difficulties. The King ordered the use of a new Prayer Book modeled on the English Book of Common Prayer, which, although supported by the Scottish Bishops, was resisted by many Presbyterian Scots, who saw the new Prayer Book as a vehicle for introducing Anglicanism to Scotland. When the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland abolished Episcopalian government (that is, governance of the Church by bishops) in 1638, replacing it with Presbyterian government (that is, governance by elders and deacons), Charles sought to put down what he saw as a rebellion against his authority.

In 1639, when the First Bishops' War broke out, Charles sought to collect taxes from his subjects, who refused to yield any further. Charles's war ended in a humiliating truce in June of the same year. In the Pacification of Berwick, Charles agreed to grant his Scottish subjects civil and ecclesiastical freedoms.

Charles's military failure in the First Bishops' War in turn caused a financial and military crisis for Charles, which caused the end of Personal Rule. Due to his financial weakness, Charles was forced to call Parliament into session by 1640 in an attempt to raise funds. While the ruling class grievances with the changes to government and finance during the Personal Rule period were a contributing factor in the Scottish Rebellion, the key issue of religion was the main reason that forced Charles to confront the ruling class in Parliament for the first time in eleven years. In essence, it was Charles's and Laud's confrontational religious modifications that ended what the Whig historians refer to as "The Eleven Years of Tyranny".

Disputes regarding the interpretation of the peace treaty between Charles and the Church of Scotland led to further conflict. To subdue the Scots, Charles needed more money; therefore, he took the fateful step of recalling Parliament in April 1640. Although Charles offered to repeal ship money, and the House of Commons agreed to allow Charles to raise the funds for war, an impasse was reached when Parliament demanded the discussion of various abuses of power during the Personal Rule. As both sides refused to give ground on this matter, Parliament was dissolved in May 1640, less than a month after it assembled; thus, the Parliament became known as the "Short Parliament".

In the meantime, Charles attempted to defeat the Scots, but failed miserably. The humiliating Treaty of Ripon, signed after the end of the Second Bishops' War in October 1640, required the King to pay the expenses of the Scottish army he had just fought. Charles took the unusual step of summoning the Magnum Concilium, the ancient council of all the Peers of the Realm, who were considered the King's hereditary counselors. The Magnum Concilium had not been summoned for centuries. On the advice of the peers, Charles summoned another Parliament, which, in contrast with its predecessor, became known as the Long Parliament.

The Long Parliament assembled in November 1640 under the leadership of John Pym, and proved just as difficult for Charles as the Short Parliament. Although the members of the House of Commons thought of themselves as conservatives defending the King, Church and Parliamentary government against innovations in religion and the tyranny of Charles's advisors, Charles viewed many of them as dangerous rebels trying to undermine his rule.

To prevent the King from dissolving it at will, Parliament passed the Triennial Act, to which the Royal Assent was granted in February 1641. The Act required that Parliament was to be summoned at least once every three years, and that when the King failed to issue proper summons, the members could assemble on their own. In May, he assented to an even more far-reaching Act, which provided that Parliament could not be dissolved without its own consent. Charles was forced into one concession after another. He agreed to bills of attainder authorizing the executions of Thomas Wentworth and William Laud. 'Ship Money', fines in destraint of knighthood and forced loans were declared unlawful, and the hated Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission were abolished. Although he made several important concessions, Charles improved his own military position by securing the favor of the Scots. He finally agreed to the Official Establishment of Presbyterianism; in return, he was able to enlist considerable anti-parliamentary support.

In November 1641, the House of Commons passed the Grand Remonstrance, a long list of grievances against actions by Charles' ministers that were asserted to be abuses of royal power Charles had committed since the beginning of his reign. The tension was heightened when the Irish rebelled against Protestant English rule and rumors of Charles's complicity reached Parliament. An army was required to put down the rebellion but many members of the House of Commons feared that Charles might later use it against Parliament itself. The Militia Bill was intended to wrest control of the army from the King, but Charles refused to agree to it. However, Parliament decreed The Protestation as an attempt to lessen the conflict.

Oliver Cromwell

When rumors reached Charles that Parliament intended to impeach his Catholic Queen, Henrietta Maria, he took drastic action. It was possibly Henrietta who persuaded him to arrest the five members of the House of Commons who were perceived to be the most troublesome on charges of high treason, but the MPs had already slipped away by the time Charles arrived. Charles entered the House of Commons with an armed force on 4 January 1642, but found that his opponents had already escaped, with exception to Oliver Cromwell who had not fled the House of Commons, but avoided arrest. He asked the Speaker, William Lenthall, where the MPs had fled, and Lenthall famously replied, "May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here." This move was politically disastrous for Charles. It caused acute embarrassment for the monarch and essentially triggered the total breakdown of government in England. Afterwards, Charles could no longer feel safe in London and he began travelling north to raise an army against Parliament; the Queen, at the same time, went abroad to raise money to pay for it.

Charles Raised the Royal Standard at Nottingham
By Augustus Leopold Egg (1816 - 1863)

Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham on 22 August 1642. He had spent the previous months trying to raise an army in the north, without much success. The weather was so bad at Nottingham that the standard was blown down shortly after it was erected.

Egg has used the gloomy weather to indicate the low morale of the king and his small army at this stage. The poses and composition are very informal. The king sits impassively on his horse pushed to one side of the painting. William Holman Hunt, the Pre-Raphaelite painter, very much admired this sketch. He recorded how deeply the subject moved the artist. Egg demonstrates here the expressive power of composition and tonality, lessons which perhaps many of the Saint John's Wood Clique never fully understood.

The English Civil War had not yet started, but both sides began to arm. Following futile negotiations, Charles raised the royal standard (an anachronistic medieval gesture) in Nottingham on 22 August 1642. He then set up his Court at Oxford, when his government controlled roughly the north and west of England, Parliament remaining in control of London and the south and east. Charles raised an army using the archaic method of the Commission of Array. The Civil War started on 26 October 1642 with the inconclusive Battle of Edgehill and continued indecisively through 1643 and 1644, until the Battle of Naseby tipped the military balance decisively in favor of Parliament. There followed a great number of defeats for the Royalists, and then the Siege of Oxford, from which Charles escaped in April 1646. He put himself into the hands of the Scottish Presbyterian army at Newark, and was taken to nearby Southwell while his "hosts" decided what to do with him. The Presbyterians finally arrived at an agreement with Parliament and delivered Charles to them in 1647. He was imprisoned at Holdenby House in Northamptonshire, until cornet George Joyce took him by force to Newmarket in the name of the New Model Army. At this time, mutual suspicion had developed between the New Model Army and Parliament, and Charles was eager to exploit it.

Charles I holding a Council of War at Edgecote on the Day before the Battle of Edgehill

Fairfax at the Battle of Naseby

The turning point for the eventual triumph of the Parliament's New Model army came with the Battle of Naseby on June 14th, 1645, under the leadership of Sir Thomas Fairfax (1612-1671).The turning point for the eventual triumph of the Parliament's New Model army came with the Battle of Naseby on June 14th, 1645, under the leadership of Sir Thomas Fairfax (1612-1671).

Siege of Oxford
(Walls of Oxford)

Cromwell shadowed the king's north-western march but, when the operations against Chester were abandoned, part of his force proceeded, under Colonel Bartholemew Vermuyden, to guard the approaches to Yorkshire while he turned back to join Fairfax in the newly hatched scheme to besiege Oxford.

Neither of Parliament's field commanders were keen to do this, but the decision of the commanding power, the Committee of Both Kingdoms, was not without virtue. The hopes of arranging the betrayal of the city were to prove groundless, but the place was Charles's headquarters and the possessions and families of his followers were thus put in peril. What is more, the royal arsenal and arms factories were threatened. Goring had renewed the investment of the reinforced roundheads in Taunton and Charles, who had been marching to Newark, now turned south again. The Committee reacted by sending Cromwell to Cambridge to organize the defense of the East Anglia, which they took to be Charles's objective.

He was then transferred first to Oatlands and then to Hampton Court, where more involved but fruitless negotiations took place. He was persuaded that it would be in his best interests to escape - perhaps abroad, perhaps to France, or perhaps to the custody of Colonel Robert Hammond, Parliamentary Governor of the Isle of Wight. He decided on the last course, believing Hammond to be sympathetic, and fled on 11 November. Hammond, however, was opposed to Charles, whom he confined in Carisbrooke Castle.

Carisbrooke Castle

From Carisbrooke, Charles continued to try to bargain with the various parties, eventually coming to terms with the Scottish Presbyterians that he would allow the establishment of Presbyterianism in England as well as Scotland for a trial period. The Royalists rose in July 1648 igniting the Second Civil War, and as agreed with Charles the Scots invaded England. Most of the uprisings in England were put down by forces loyal to Parliament after little more than skirmishes, but uprisings in Kent, Essex and Cumberland, the rebellion in Wales and the Scottish invasion involved the fighting of pitched battles and prolonged sieges. But with the defeat of the Scots at the Battle of Preston, the Royalists lost any chance of winning the war.

Charles was moved to Hurst Castle at the end of 1648, and thereafter to Windsor Castle. In January 1649, in response to Charles's defiance of Parliament even after defeat, and his encouraging the Second Civil War while in captivity, the House of Commons passed an Act of Parliament creating a Court for Charles's Trial. After the first Civil War, the parliamentarians accepted the premise that the King, although wrong, had been able to justify his fight, and that he would still be entitled to limited powers as King under a new constitutional settlement. It was now felt that by provoking the Second Civil War even while defeated and in captivity, Charles showed himself incorrigible, dishonorable, and responsible for unjustifiable bloodshed.

The idea of trying a king was a novel one; previous monarchs had been deposed, but had never been brought to trial as monarchs. The High Court of Justice established by the Act consisted of 135 Commissioners but only about half of that number ever sat in judgment (all firm Parliamentarians); the prosecution was led by Solicitor General John Cooke.

Trial of Charles I

His trial on charges of high treason and "other high crimes" began on 20 January 1649, but Charles refused to enter a plea, claiming that no court had jurisdiction over a monarch. He believed that his own authority to rule had been given to him by God and by the traditions and laws of England when he was crowned and anointed, and that the power wielded by those trying him was simply that which grew out of a barrel of gunpowder. In fact, when urged to enter a plea, he stated his objection with the words: "I would know by what power I am called hither, by what lawful authority...?" The court, by contrast, proposed an interpretation of the law that legitimized the trial. Over a period of a week, when Charles was asked to plead three times, he refused. It was then normal practice to take a refusal to plead as pro confess: an admission of guilt, which meant that the prosecution could not call witnesses to its case. However, the trial did hear witnesses. Fifty-nine of the Commissioners signed Charles's death warrant, possibly at the Red Lion Inn in Stathern, Leicestershire on 29 January 1649.

When Cooke began to read the indictment, Charles I tried to stop him using the poke of his cane. The ornate silver tip of the cane fell off and Cooke refused to pick it up. After a long pause, King Charles I stooped to retrieve it. This is considered an important moment that may symbolize the divine monarch bowed before the human law.

After the ruling, he was led from Saint James's Palace, where he was confined, to the Palace of Whitehall, where an execution scaffold had been erected in front of the Banqueting House.

Saint James's Palace and the Mall: 1715

Where Charles I spent his last night in 1649.

Palace of Whitehall with an Execution Scaffold

It's impossible to describe how revolutionary this action was. Parliament had declared itself supreme over the king, who, in European political theory, ruled by the election of God. If something or someone is supreme over the king, why should a people need a king? This was frightening new territory. When Charles was publicly executed, the gathered masses remained absolutely mute. Executions were normally raucous and festive affairs, full of shouting and laughing and whooping, but the execution of the king was too hard to take. No one said a word and many wept openly. They were experiencing the first great shock of a brave new world.

Charles was beheaded on Tuesday 30 January 1649, though at the time the New Year did not occur until March, so his death is often recorded as occurring in 1648. At the execution it is reputed that he wore two cotton shirts as to prevent the cold weather causing any noticeable shivers that the crowd could have mistaken for fear or weakness. He put his head on the block after saying a prayer and signaled the executioner when he was ready; he was then beheaded with one clean stroke. His last words were, "We shall go from a corruptible to an incorruptible Crown, where no disturbance can be."

Philip Henry records that moments after the execution, a moan was heard from the assembled crowd, some of whom then dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, thus starting the cult of the Martyr King. However, no other eyewitness source, including Samuel Pepys, records this. Henry's account was written during the Restoration, some 12 years after the event though Henry was 19 when the King was executed and he and his family were Royalist propaganda writers.

The executioner was masked, and there is some debate over his identity. It is known that the Commissioners approached Richard Brandon, the Common Hangman of London, but that he refused, and contemporary sources do not generally identify him as the King's Headsman. Ellis's Historical Inquiries, however, names him as the executioner, contending that he stated so before dying. It is possible he relented and agreed to undertake the commission, but there are others who have been identified. An Irishman named Gunning is widely believed to have beheaded Charles, and a plaque naming him as the executioner is on show in the Kings Head Pub in Galway, Ireland. William Hewlett was convicted of regicide after the Restoration. In 1661, two people identified as "Dayborne and Bickerstaffe" were arrested but then discharged. Henry Walker, a revolutionary journalist, or his brother William, were suspected but never charged. Various local legends around England name local worthies. An examination performed in 1813 at Windsor suggests that the execution was done by an experienced headsman.

It was common practice for the 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. In an unprecedented gesture, one of the revolutionary leaders, Oliver Cromwell, allowed the King's head to be sewn back onto his body so the family could pay its respects. Charles was buried in private on the night of 7 February 1649, inside the Henry VIII vault in Saint George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. The royal Retainers Sir Thomas Herbert, Capt. Anthony Mildmay, Sir Henry Firebrace, William Levett Esq. and Abraham Dowcett (sometimes spelled Dowsett) conveyed the King's body to Windsor. The King's son, King Charles II, later planned an elaborate royal mausoleum, but it was never built.

Saint George's Chapel at Windsor Castle: 1848

Saint George's Chapel is rightly considered one of the most beautiful examples of Perpendicular (late-medieval) Gothic architecture in England. The Chapel was begun in 1475 by Edward IV, and finished 50 years later during the reign of Henry VIII.

The chapel is the official home of the Order of the Garter, the oldest and most prestigious chivalric institution in England. Members of the order are obliged to display their "achievements" in the chapel. These "achievements" include a banner depicting their heraldic coat of arms, an enameled stall plate, sword, crest, and helmet. When a member dies the insignia are returned to the monarch, but the stall plates remain in place in the chapel, providing a memorial and heraldic record. The Garter Stalls were carved between 1478 and 1485.

Within Saint George's are the tombs of 10 monarchs, including Edward IV, Charles I, George V and Queen Mary, and George VI. Also buried here is Henry VIII, who lies beside his favorite wife, Jane Seymour. Notable is the tomb of Henry VI, near the high altar. After Henry's death in 1471, miracles were reported by visitors to the devout king's tomb, and the chapel became a popular place of pilgrimage.

The Choir Center - Henry VIII's Vault

Charles I was executed in 1649, wearing two shirts lest his shivering in the cold should be mistaken for fear (one shirt is now in the Royal Library). The King's burial was one of the more dramatic scenes in the history of St George's. He was brought to the looted chapel in thick falling snow and lowered into a small vault in the center of the choir, which already contained the coffins of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. When this vault was opened in December 1888, for the return of some relics, the black velvet pall, probably given by a Royalist, was still resting on the coffin.

Following the Restoration of the monarchy the repair of the buildings began. It was a long and protracted affair running into the 1680's. The canons provided much of the money for the work and the buildings of the college were extensively restored.

Ten days after Charles's execution, a memoir purporting to be from Charles's hand appeared for sale. This book, the Eikon Basilike (Greek: the "Royal Portrait"), contained an apologia for royal policies, and it proved an effective piece of royalist propaganda. William Levett, Charles's groom of the bedchamber, who accompanied Charles on the day of his execution, swore that he had personally witnessed the King writing the Eikon Basilike. John Cooke published the speech he would have delivered if Charles had entered a plea, while Parliament commissioned John Milton to write a rejoinder, the Eikonoklastes ("The Iconoclast"), but the response made little headway against the pathos of the royalist book.

Various prodigies were recorded in the contemporary popular press in relation to the execution - a beached whale at Dover died within an hour of the King; a falling star appeared that night over Whitehall; a man who had said that the King deserved to die had his eyes pecked out by crows.

With the monarchy overthrown, power was assumed by a Council of State, which included Oliver Cromwell, then Lord General of the Parliamentary Army. The Long Parliament (known by then as the Rump Parliament) which had been called by Charles I in 1640 continued to exist until Cromwell forcibly disbanded it in 1653. Cromwell then became Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland; a monarch in all but name: he was even "invested" on the royal coronation chair. Upon his death in 1658, Cromwell was briefly succeeded by his son, Richard Cromwell. Richard Cromwell was an ineffective ruler, and the Long Parliament was reinstated in 1659. The Long Parliament dissolved itself in 1660, and the first elections in twenty years led to the election of a Convention Parliament which restored Charles I's eldest son to the monarchy as Charles II.

The Colony of Carolina in North America was named for Charles I, as was the major city of Charleston. Carolina later separated into North Carolina and South Carolina, which eventually declared independence from Great Britain during the formation of the United States. To the north in the Virginia Colony, Cape Charles, the Charles River, Charles River Shire, and Charles City Shire were named for him. Charles personally named the Charles River after himself. Charles City Shire survives almost 400 years later as Charles City County, Virginia. The Virginia Colony is now the Commonwealth of Virginia (one of the four U.S. states that are called commonwealths), and retains its official nickname of "The Old Dominion" bestowed by Charles II because it had remained loyal to Charles I during the English Civil War.

English furniture produced during the reign of Charles I is distinctive and is commonly characterized as Charles I period.

Archbishop William Laud described Charles as "A mild and gracious prince who knew not how to be, or how to be made, great."

Ralph Dutton says - "In spite of his intelligence and cultivation, Charles was curiously inept in his contacts with human beings. Socially, he was tactless and diffident, and his manner was not helped by his stammer and thick Scottish accent, while in public he was seldom able to make a happy impression."

Speech before the execution of Charles I at the Scaffold

There's speculation that a greedy hand tore the famous pearl from his ear as soon as the beheading of Charles I execution.

At least they let him make a speech...not so for King Louis during the French Revolution...there they drowned out his words with loud drum rolls.

The speech before the execution of Charles I:

I shall be very little heard of anybody here...Indeed I could hold my peace very well, if I did not think that holding my peace would make some men think that I did submit to the guilt, as well as to the punishment; but I think it is my duty to God first, and to my country, for to clear myself both as an honest man, and a good King and a good Christian.

I shall begin first with my innocency. In troth I think it not very needful for me to insist upon this, for all the world knows that I never did begin a war with the two Houses of Parliament, and I call God to witness, to whom I must shortly make an account, that I never did intend for to incroach upon their privileges, they began upon me, it is the militia they began upon, they confess that the militia was mine, but they thought it fit for to have it from me.

God forbid that I should be so ill a Christian, as not to say that God's judgments are just upon me: many times he does pay justice by an unjust sentence, that is ordinary: I will only say this, that an unjust sentence that I suffered to take effect, is punished now by an unjust sentence upon me, that is, so far I have said, to show you that I am an innocent man.

Now for to show you that I am a good Christian: I hope there is a good man that will bear me witness, that I have forgiven all the world, and even those in particular that have been the chief causers of my death: who they are, God knows, I do not desire to know, I pray God forgive them.

But this is not all, my charity must go farther, I wish that they may repent, for indeed they have committed a great sin in that particular: I pray God with St. Stephen, that this be not laid to their charge, nay, not only so, but that they may take the right way to the peace of the kingdom, for my charity commands me not only to forgive particular men, but my charity commands me to endeavor to the last gasp the peace of the kingdom...

...for the people and truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever, but I must tell you, that their liberty and their freedom consists in having of Government; those laws, by which their life and their goods may be most of their own.

It is not for having share in government (Sir) that is nothing pertaining to them; a subject and a sovereign are clean different things, and therefore until they do that, I mean, that you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves. Sirs, it was for this that now I am come here: if I would have given way to an arbitrary way, for to have all laws changed according to the power of the sword, I needed not to have come here, and therefore I tell you (and I pray God it be not laid to your charge) that I am a martyr of the people.

In troth, Sirs, I shall not hold you much longer, for I will only say thus to you, that in truth I could have desired some little time longer, because I would have put then that I have said in a little more order, and a little better digested than I have done, and therefore I hope you will excuse me.

I have delivered my conscience, I pray God that you do take those courses that are best for the good of the kingdom, and your own salvations.

...In troth Sirs, my conscience in religion I think is very well known to all the world, and therefore I declare before you all, that I die a Christian, according to the profession of the Church of England, as I found it left me by my father, and this honest man I think will witness it.

...I have a good cause, and a gracious God on my side...I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.

Hopefully, he received the incorruptible crown he longed for in his speech before the execution of Charles I.

Stuart Coat of Arms of England

This page is the work of Senex Magister

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