Execution of King Charles I (Commentary)

Execution of King Charles I (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Execution of King Charles I

Q1: Why did Charles refuse to defend himself against the charges put forward by Parliament?

A1: King Charles believed that he was God's representative on earth and therefore no court of law had the right to pass judgement on him. Charles therefore refused to defend himself against charges put forward by Parliament.

Q2: Select information from the sources that suggest Charles believed that he was not guilty of starting the English Civil War.

A2: King Charles (source 3) claims that it was Parliament that had started the war. Charles suggests that if people "looked at the dates of what happened" they would agree with him.

Q3: Study source 8. Why have some historians said that this is a work of pro-Royalist propaganda?

A3: It is claimed that source 8 is based on the account of the executioner, Richard Brandon. Although a man called "Richard Brandon" was a public executioner, it is not known if he actually carried out this act as the man was wearing a mask. The pamphlet suggests that Brandon was punished by God for the crime of killing the king. It points out: "About 6 of the clock at night, he returned home to his wife living in Rosemary Lane, and gave her the money, saying, That it was the dearest money that ever he earned in his life, for it would cost him his life."

Q4: Compare the information on Charles' execution in sources 1, 5, 6, 7 and 8. Do you think these sources provide accurate information on the execution?

A4: John Rushworth provides a detailed account of Charles I's execution (source 7). Rushworth's account is also supported by other evidence produced at the time. For example, Rushworth reports that Charles said "I shall be very little heard by anyone here." We know from other evidence that soldiers were ordered to keep the crowd from standing too close to the scaffold so that they would not be able to hear any speech that Charles tried to make.

Source 1 was painted by an unknown artist soon after the execution. Source 5 first appeared in a pamphlet produced by supporters of Charles. In the pamphlet it is claimed that Richard Brandon was punished by God for executing Charles. In this way, the Royalists were claiming that God supported Charles over Cromwell. In fact, the executioner wore a mask and it has never been revealed who carried out the execution. This pamphlet was used as pro-Royalist propaganda and is probably an unreliable source of information on the execution. For example, the executioner in the picture is not wearing a mask. The crowds in both sources are much closer to the scaffold than they were at the time of the execution.

The Trial of King Charles I

O n 1 January 1649, the Rump Parliament passed an ordinance for the trial of King Charles I. He was charged with subverting the fundamental laws and liberties of the nation and with maliciously making war on the parliament and people of England. In a reversal of the traditional definition, Parliament declared that it was treason for a king to wage war upon his own subjects. When the House of Lords refused to give its assent to the ordinance, the House of Commons declared itself to be the supreme authority in the land with powers to pass laws without the consent of the King or the Lords.

A High Court of Justice was specially convened for the trial, which was held in the Painted Chamber of the Palace of Westminster. A total of 135 commissioners were nominated to sit in judgement of the King, but around fifty refused to participate and several more withdrew once the proceedings had begun.

Although the commissioners of the High Court were anxious that the trial should be seen to be open and public, stringent security measures were enforced. Soldiers were stationed to control the crowds, guards were posted on the roofs, cellars were searched. President Bradshaw wore a steel-lined bullet-proof hat in case of an assassination attempt.

T he trial opened on the afternoon of 20 January 1649, with further sessions on the 22nd and 23rd. With quiet dignity the King exasperated the Commissioners by refusing to answer the charges against him. He did not recognise the jurisdiction of the High Court and challenged the basis on which the purged House of Commons could claim to represent the people of England. Each session ended with Bradshaw ordering the soldiers to remove the King—thus emphasising the overriding presence of the Army in the proceedings and underlining the King's claim that the present administration was a worse threat to the liberty and welfare of the people of England than he had ever been.

On 24 January, thirty-three witnesses against the King were heard by a sub-committee of the High Court and the following day their depositions were read out in a public session. The depositions proved the King's personal participation in the wars, gave evidence of his approval of various atrocities and demonstrated his intention of stirring up and continuing the wars. On 26 January, the commissioners drafted the sentence, condemning Charles Stuart as a "tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy to the Commonwealth of England".

The final session of the trial was held on 27 January. Bradshaw's 40-minute address to the prisoner asserted that even a king was subject to the law, and that the law proceeded from Parliament. Furthermore, Charles Stuart had broken the sacred reciprocal bond between king and subject. By making war on his own people, he had forfeit his right to their allegiance. Declaring Charles guilty of the charges against him, Bradshaw ordered the sentence of death to be read out. To his great dismay, Charles was not allowed to speak and was abruptly led away from the court to await his execution.


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Legal history: England & common law tradition: Commonwealth/Protectorate 1649-1660

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"why king" beats anarchy: People need an authority.(it save ɺving to vote every four years (save money. ) )They LOVE strong leaders and Love the pompt and circumstance that goes with it. It does brighten up a boring day. 'tis a weakness of 'uman nature stops one from thinking as long as there is not too much pain attached . 'tis my thought from the scuppers:

David, monarchy, whether absolute or constitutional has been around for a very long time. Was not Jesus, through Mary descended from the royal house of David? Perhaps it is its antiquity which gives it the mystique which it enjoys to this day. Is it not Lady Bracknell in Wilde's play who gives Ernest a bit of a hard time when she cannot quite get to grips with his family tree? The cult of the ancestor is an integral aspect of many cultures,
and in a monarchical system the good , the bad and the ugly are all accounted for , therefore one need never be taken by surprise. Future monarchs serve tough apprentiships for their future role. Elected representatives frequently disappoint, but today's monarchs stand above political bickering and sincerely carry the interests of their people in their hearts.

Why Charles I had to die

When Charles I was put on trial in January 1649, ordering his execution was unthinkable for many of his enemies. Yet, within a matter of days, those same enemies had sent him to the scaffold. Leanda de Lisle chronicles the brinkmanship, the bloodletting and the plots that persuaded parliament that it had no choice but to kill a king

This competition is now closed

Published: January 30, 2021 at 7:05 am

The Painted Chamber in the Palace of Westminster was a wonder of the 13th century. But the faded images were now obscured by tapestries the medieval world barely intruded into the new on 8 January 1649, when men in military buff coats or plain Puritan suits sat at trestle tables and debated the fate of their king.

Two days earlier a high court had been established that would for the first time try a king of England. Six years into a series of civil wars between forces loyal to the king and their parliamentary enemies, this was justified on the practical grounds of preventing Charles from raising further “commotions, rebellions and invasions”. It was also a matter of principle: that the king should have no impunity from the law.

The 135 judges who had been appointed by the House of Commons were mostly army officers and radical MPs. Fifty-three attended this meeting, including the leading parliamentarian general Thomas Fairfax and his subordinate Oliver Cromwell.

Charles was to be charged with having “a wicked design totally to subvert the ancient and fundamental laws and liberties of this nation, and, in their place, to introduce an arbitrary and tyrannical government”: crimes, it was declared, that deserved “exemplary and condign punishment” – in other words, death.

There was no certainty of outcome. Executing the king risked provoking foreign reprisals, or a popular rising. On the other hand, if Charles accepted the legality of the tribunal, he would be accepting that he had no veto over the Commons’ decisions. He could be returned to the throne subject to parliament, “a sword always over his head… [and]… grown grey in the documents of misfortune”. Yet, as Cromwell reportedly warned, if the king refused to plead, then, in order to confirm the supreme power of the Commons, they would have to “cut off his head with the crown on it”.

The wrong Protestant

How had it come to this? The answer can be traced back to the 1550s when Britain had two Catholic queens. To justify their efforts to overthrow them, Protestants had argued that monarchs drew their right to rule from the people – and that the people therefore had the right to resist, even to kill, those they judged tyrants, or of the “wrong religion”.

Charles was Protestant, but for some he was the wrong kind of Protestant: his love of beauty in worship idolatrous his attachment to church government by bishops, popish. During the early years of his reign his leading ministers had stood as surrogates for attacks on the king’s policies. One was murdered, another executed for treason by Act of Parliament. Eventually the mutual mistrust between Charles and his MPs had paved the way to civil war.

But there was still no talk of killing the king. In 1642 parliament claimed it was acting, not against the rightful authority of the crown, but as England’s highest court seizing a form of power of attorney. The aim was to ‘rescue’ Charles from evil counsellors, who supposedly held him in their power, and the commission for parliament’s leading general called for the “preservation of the king’s person”. But then, that same year, the Civil War erupted and, as the casualties mounted, the bitterness grew. By 1645, with the advent of a crack parliamentarian fighting force, the New Model Army, and more aggressive leadership under General Fairfax, the phrase calling for the preservation of Charles’s life had been dropped.

It would have been convenient for parliament if Charles had been killed in battle as his ancestor James IV of Scots had been at the battle of Flodden in 1513. But instead Charles’s armies were defeated and he had been imprisoned.

Since 1646 Charles had been playing his enemies against each other, holding out for the best terms he could get under which he would be restored as king. In October 1647, the leadership of the New Model Army called for Charles to be tried as a “man of blood”. This was a biblical reference – “the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of the man that shed it”. But there was another, more traditional, way to dispose of a monarch: murder.

In the Middle Ages, deposed kings had met mysterious deaths in prison that were ascribed to natural causes. This had encouraged the nation to unite around their successor. It would now get round the difficulties of a trial – for in English law treason remained an action against a king not by one. So in November 1647, when Charles received warnings he was to be assassinated, he had believed them, and had fled captivity. He was soon caught, and his flight was seen as an act of bad faith.

Anger against Charles grew after he encouraged more bloodshed, by supporting a royalist uprising and a Scots invasion in his cause in 1648. At a prayer meeting in Windsor that April, the New Model Army had passed a resolution to call “Charles Stuart that man of blood to account”. Yet, after these royalist and Scots forces were defeated, parliament had continued to negotiate the terms of Charles’s restoration. The picture changed again, however, on 6 December 1648, when the army purged the House of Commons of those MPs opposed to a trial.

A twisted history

So far the only precedent for the trial of a monarch was that of Charles’s Catholic grandmother Mary, Queen of Scots in 1586. Then, law, history and fact had been twisted to argue that a Scottish monarch owed the English monarch a duty of obedience so Mary could be found guilty of treason against her Tudor cousin, Elizabeth I. Now law, history and fact were twisted again.

The remaining rump of MPs declared it treason for an English king “to levy war against parliament and the kingdom of England”. This was rejected in the Lords, so the Lords were made irrelevant.

On 4 January the Commons declared, “that the people are, under God, the original of all just power” – just as Protestant rebels against Britain’s Catholic queens had claimed in the last century. And the declaration continued with a new assertion: as the people’s representatives, the Commons MPs held this power in trust, and their acts alone had the force of law. At a stroke they had broken the traditional constitutional trinity of king, Lords and Commons. But what had replaced it?

The Commons looked frail in a Westminster guarded by soldiers who had purged its MPs. And even Fairfax had no answer. One of the purged MPs had reminded him of a biblical warning: “Who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord’s anointed, and be innocent?” Fairfax had believed that Cromwell backed him on an outcome to the trial short of Charles’s execution, even if the king refused to plead. Death in battle was one thing judicial murder another. Now, however, Fairfax began to grasp the ruthlessness of his subordinate as a result, he would never attend a meeting of the judges again. But nor would he publicly oppose the trial, for that would risk tearing apart his beloved New Model Army.

When that trial came, it would bring to a head the intransigence and the bitterness that had characterised the king’s relationship with parliament over the past seven years. Those few days at the end of January 1649 when Charles faced his accusers would determine his fate – and his country’s.

Fear of the cut-throat

The judges who remained after Fairfax’s departure elected a veteran London radical, John Bradshawe, as their lord president and agreed the trial would take place at Westminster Hall. The space was cleared and a raised dais built for the judges at the southern end of the hall. On it were benches covered in red baize, a raised chair and a desk. Facing these was another chair, covered in red velvet. It was here that Charles would sit.

On 20 January Charles was escorted under guard out of the back of his lodging next to the palace. Inside, a roll call of the judges then began. Many names were greeted by silence – but not Fairfax’s. Wishing to remind the court that not all parliamentarians backed Cromwell, a masked Lady Fairfax shouted: “He has more wit than to be here!”

Charles entered Westminster Hall just after 2pm, through a doorway close to where the judges sat: a slight figure dressed in black silk and with a long, grey beard. He had refused the barber parliament had appointed, fearful the man could one day cut his throat. For Charles, his murder still seemed a far more likely fate than a death sentence.

The sergeant of arms conducted the king to the railed off area known as the bar. Charles stood in a tall hat. It remained on his head as a reminder that no one in the court was his equal, so no one in the court was legally able to be his judge.

Charles’s gaze was directed at the court. Then he turned round. Behind a wooden partition and an iron railing was a line of guards armed with halberds – pikes with axe blades. Charles looked up at the far corners of the room where there were galleries accessed from private houses. These were filled with people of high status. Charles looked down, his eyes sweeping the lowlier spectators, before he faced the court again.

The act of the Trial of Charles Stuart King of England was read out and Charles accused as “a tyrant, traitor, murderer and a public and implacable enemy to the Commonwealth of England”.

Bradshawe addressed the king: “Charles Stuart, king of England, the Commons of England, being assembled in parliament, being deeply sensible of the calamities that have fallen upon this nation, (which is fixed upon you as the principal author of it), have resolved to make inquisition for blood.” It was for this that they had “constituted this high court of justice, before which you are brought”.

The 40-year-old prosecuting counsel, John Cooke, who stood on Charles’s right, prepared to speak, but Charles tapped him on the shoulder with his cane. “Hold,” he said. Cooke moved to continue, and on the third attempt Charles’s cane struck him hard enough to send its silver head crashing to the ground. A hush fell across the room. Charles waited for someone to pick it up. No one bent for their king. So he retrieved it himself.

Charles could now have argued that all he did was in self-defence, but he did not take that bait. “I would know by what power I am called hither?” He believed the threat of the death sentence was an act of brinkmanship in the negotiations for his restoration as king, and that he still had cards to play. And he was right. Another war was now brewing in Ireland that only Charles could prevent. But he did not understand their red line: that first he had to accept their jurisdiction. So Charles reminded the court that he was at the point of concluding treaty negotiations with parliament and, that being the case, he wanted to know: what was their authority?

Bradshawe retorted that Charles was being tried “in the name of the people of England, of which you are elected king”. “No,” Charles returned, “England was never an elected kingdom.” And if the people were represented by parliament, which was a court, where was parliament, Charles wanted to know? “I see no House of Lords here that may constitute a parliament.” “That is in your apprehension,” Bradshawe snapped. “We are satisfied who are your judges.”

Going to the brink

On the Monday Bradshawe again asked Charles to plead. Charles again asked what authority was he being tried by? Bradshawe repeated that the judges sat by the authority of the Commons. “The Commons of England was never a court of judicature. I would know how they came to be so?” Charles demanded. On the third day, Charles was asked to plead once more and once more Charles asked on what authority he was called.

By now pressure to halt the trial was growing. Ministers fulminated from pulpits against the sin of regicide, while the Scots, French and Dutch ambassadors made veiled threats about what they might do if he were to be executed. Charles was, after all, a king of Scots, the uncle of the king of France and father-in-law of the Prince of Orange.

The prosecuting counsel, John Cooke, was as frustrated as Bradshawe. If Charles pleaded, he could be convicted, leaving the Rump parliament to commute his sentence, subject to his good behaviour, in a supreme act of parliamentary sovereignty. But Charles had not pleaded. That night a man stopped Cooke on his way home, asking what to expect from the trial at this crucial juncture. Cooke replied bitterly: “The king must die and monarchy must die with him.”

War crimes and aggression

In refusing to accept the jurisdiction of the court, Charles had denied that the Commons was the superior power in the kingdom. The cost of keeping Charles alive – accepting the king’s superiority over them – was now greater than that of his death. He had left them with no choice but to cut off his head.

The next day witness statements were read out to help justify what was to come. They included tales of war crimes and aggression. By the following day, 26 January, the judges had agreed that Charles would be executed if he refused a last offer to plead. Cromwell judged Charles’s fate divine providence.

On the morning of Saturday 27 January, Charles was brought back into the hall, and Bradshawe reminded the court that Charles was brought before them on a charge “of treason and other high crimes… in the name of the people of England”. Lady Fairfax’s voice rang out from the gallery: “Not half, not a quarter of the people of England. Oliver Cromwell is a traitor!” But the guards in the gallery dragged her out.

Bradshawe then offered Charles a last opportunity to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the court. Charles instead asked “that I may be heard in the Painted Chamber before the Lords and Commons?” The hour had come to negotiate – or so Charles hoped. But in asking to see the Lords, he was again denying the supremacy of the Commons. The sentence was now handed down.

The prisoner was addressed as one “Charles Stuart”, “tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy”, and, as such, he was to be “put to death by severing his head from his body”. The court stood. Charles now knew there was to be no negotiation. “Will you hear me a word, sir?” he asked. “No, sir,” replied Bradshawe. “You are not to be heard after the sentence.”

But Charles I was heard again, uttering his last words on the scaffold. Those words echoed the phrase stitched on his standard at the outbreak of civil war: “Give Caesar His Due.” A “subject and a sovereign were clean different things”, he said. A sovereign alone had a divine right to rule. But he wanted the people’s “liberty and freedom as much as anybody”. These lay in the rule of law, he argued, that he had defended in court at the cost of his life. As such, “I am a martyr of the people”, he said.

In reality Charles’s failed kingship had seen more deaths in England as a percentage of population than would die in the trenches of the First World War. If he was not a traitor and murderer, he was not a martyr either. But he was right on one matter: the Rump parliament and the army had taken an axe to the law. And when his head fell on 30 January 1649, England faced a new tyranny.

Timeline: the demise of Charles I

August 1642 | Charles raises his standard at Nottingham. The commission for parliament’s leading general, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, calls for the “preservation of the king’s person”. He is to be rescued from evil counsellors.

March/April 1645 | Sir Thomas Fairfax replaces Essex as the leading general of a reformed army – the New Model Army. The phrase calling for “the preservation of the king’s person” in Essex’s commission is removed.

May 1646 | Charles accepts military defeat and orders his armies to lay down their arms. Negotiations for the terms of Charles’s restoration to his thrones in Scotland and in England begin.

October 1647 | Radical elements in the New Model Army are frustrated by parliament’s failure to persuade Charles to agree terms, and by the king’s willingness to play his divided enemies off against each other. They demand he is tried as the cause of the civil war and “a man of blood”.

December 1647 | Charles secretly reaches terms with the Scots and plots a new war.

March – August 1648 | The New Model Army is forced to fight a second civil war and a Scots invasion. They pass a resolution at a prayer meeting to try Charles as a “man of blood”. Royalist forces are defeated.

6 December 1648 | Under Colonel Thomas Pride, troops from the New Model Army purge parliament of MPs who wish to continue negotiating with the king and who oppose the trial the army leadership now supports.

1 January 1649 | The purged Commons passes an ordinance to establish a high court of justice and declare it treason for a king of England to “levy war against parliament and the kingdom”. This is rejected in the Lords as illegal.

4 January 1649 | The Commons declare “That the people are, under God, the original of all just power”. As the peoples’ representatives, the Commons MPs (without the Lords) hold this power in trust, and their acts alone have the force of law.

8 January 1649 | Charles’s judges meet for the first time. It is hoped Charles will plead innocent. He can then be found guilty of non-capital offences, or pardoned, and restored safely to the throne. But Oliver Cromwell warns that if Charles refuses to recognise the court, they will have to carry out the threat to execute him. Fairfax does not support this and backs out.

20 January 1649 | The trial opens. The judges are fearful that executing Charles will risk uprisings at home, war in Ireland and retribution from the European powers. But he refuses to plead.

27 January 1649 | Charles has refused to plead on each day of his trial. To ensure superiority of the Commons, the judges have to pass the death penalty. He is condemned and sentence is passed that he “be put to death by severing his head from his body”.

30 January 1649 | Charles I is executed in front of Banqueting House at the Palace of Whitehall.

Leanda de Lisle’s book White King: The Tragedy of Charles I (Vintage, 2019) has been awarded the Historical Writers’ Association non-fiction crown. She worked as a historical consultant on Charles I and a Nation Divided


The second son of King James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark, Charles was born in Dunfermline Palace, Fife, on 19 November 1600. [1] At a Protestant ceremony in the Chapel Royal of Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh on 23 December 1600, he was baptised by David Lindsay, Bishop of Ross, and created Duke of Albany, the traditional title of the second son of the King of Scotland, with the subsidiary titles of Marquess of Ormond, Earl of Ross and Lord Ardmannoch. [2]

James VI was the first cousin twice removed of Queen Elizabeth I of England, and when she died childless in March 1603, he became King of England as James I. Charles was a weak and sickly infant, and while his parents and older siblings left for England in April and early June that year, due to his fragile health, [3] he remained in Scotland with his father's friend Lord Fyvie, appointed as his guardian. [4]

By 1604, when Charles was three-and-a-half, he was able to walk the length of the great hall at Dunfermline Palace without assistance, and it was decided that he was strong enough to make the journey to England to be reunited with his family. In mid-July 1604, Charles left Dunfermline for England where he was to spend most of the rest of his life. [5] In England, Charles was placed under the charge of Elizabeth, Lady Carey, the wife of courtier Sir Robert Carey, who put him in boots made of Spanish leather and brass to help strengthen his weak ankles. [6] His speech development was also slow, and he retained a stammer for the rest of his life. [7]

In January 1605, Charles was created Duke of York, as is customary in the case of the English sovereign's second son, and made a Knight of the Bath. [8] Thomas Murray, a presbyterian Scot, was appointed as a tutor. [9] Charles learnt the usual subjects of classics, languages, mathematics and religion. [10] In 1611, he was made a Knight of the Garter. [11]

Eventually, Charles apparently conquered his physical infirmity, [11] which might have been caused by rickets. [6] He became an adept horseman and marksman, and took up fencing. [10] Even so, his public profile remained low in contrast to that of his physically stronger and taller [b] elder brother, Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, whom Charles adored and attempted to emulate. [12] However, in early November 1612, Henry died at the age of 18 of what is suspected to have been typhoid (or possibly porphyria). [13] Charles, who turned 12 two weeks later, became heir apparent. As the eldest surviving son of the sovereign, Charles automatically gained several titles (including Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay). Four years later, in November 1616, he was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. [14]

In 1613, Charles's sister Elizabeth married Frederick V, Elector Palatine, and moved to Heidelberg. [15] In 1617, the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, a Catholic, was elected king of Bohemia. The following year, the Bohemians rebelled, defenestrating the Catholic governors. In August 1619, the Bohemian diet chose as their monarch Frederick V, who was leader of the Protestant Union, while Ferdinand was elected Holy Roman Emperor in the imperial election. Frederick's acceptance of the Bohemian crown in defiance of the emperor marked the beginning of the turmoil that would develop into the Thirty Years' War. The conflict, originally confined to Bohemia, spiralled into a wider European war, which the English Parliament and public quickly grew to see as a polarised continental struggle between Catholics and Protestants. [16] In 1620, Charles's brother-in-law, Frederick V, was defeated at the Battle of White Mountain near Prague and his hereditary lands in the Electoral Palatinate were invaded by a Habsburg force from the Spanish Netherlands. [17] James, however, had been seeking marriage between the new Prince of Wales and Ferdinand's niece, Habsburg princess Maria Anna of Spain, and began to see the Spanish match as a possible diplomatic means of achieving peace in Europe. [18]

Unfortunately for James, negotiation with Spain proved generally unpopular, both with the public and with James's court. [19] The English Parliament was actively hostile towards Spain and Catholicism, and thus, when called by James in 1621, the members hoped for an enforcement of recusancy laws, a naval campaign against Spain, and a Protestant marriage for the Prince of Wales. [20] James's Lord Chancellor, Francis Bacon, was impeached before the House of Lords for corruption. [21] The impeachment was the first since 1459 without the king's official sanction in the form of a bill of attainder. The incident set an important precedent as the process of impeachment would later be used against Charles and his supporters: the Duke of Buckingham, Archbishop William Laud, and the Earl of Strafford. James insisted that the House of Commons be concerned exclusively with domestic affairs, while the members protested that they had the privilege of free speech within the Commons' walls, demanding war with Spain and a Protestant Princess of Wales. [22] Charles, like his father, considered the discussion of his marriage in the Commons impertinent and an infringement of his father's royal prerogative. [23] In January 1622, James dissolved Parliament, angry at what he perceived as the members' impudence and intransigence. [24]

Charles and Buckingham, James's favourite and a man who had great influence over the prince, [25] travelled incognito to Spain in February 1623 to try to reach agreement on the long-pending Spanish match. [26] In the end, however, the trip was an embarrassing failure. [27] The Infanta thought Charles to be little more than an infidel, and the Spanish at first demanded that he convert to Roman Catholicism as a condition of the match. [28] The Spanish insisted on toleration of Catholics in England and the repeal of the penal laws, which Charles knew would never be agreed by Parliament, and that the Infanta remain in Spain for a year after any wedding to ensure that England complied with all the terms of the treaty. [29] A personal quarrel erupted between Buckingham and the Count of Olivares, the Spanish chief minister, and so Charles conducted the ultimately futile negotiations personally. [30] When Charles returned to London in October, without a bride and to a rapturous and relieved public welcome, [31] he and Buckingham pushed a reluctant King James to declare war on Spain. [32]

With the encouragement of his Protestant advisers, James summoned the English Parliament in 1624 so that he could request subsidies for a war. Charles and Buckingham supported the impeachment of the Lord Treasurer, Lionel Cranfield, 1st Earl of Middlesex, who opposed war on grounds of cost and who quickly fell in much the same manner as Bacon had. [33] James told Buckingham he was a fool, and presciently warned his son Charles that he would live to regret the revival of impeachment as a parliamentary tool. [34] An under-funded makeshift army under Ernst von Mansfeld set off to recover the Palatinate, but it was so poorly provisioned that it never advanced beyond the Dutch coast. [35]

By 1624, an increasingly ill James was finding it difficult to control Parliament. By the time of his death in March 1625, Charles and the Duke of Buckingham had already assumed de facto control of the kingdom. [36]

With the failure of the Spanish match, Charles and Buckingham turned their attention to France. [37] On 1 May 1625 Charles was married by proxy to the fifteen-year-old French princess Henrietta Maria in front of the doors of Notre Dame de Paris. [38] Charles had seen Henrietta Maria in Paris while en route to Spain. [39] The married couple met in person on 13 June 1625 in Canterbury. Charles delayed the opening of his first Parliament until after the marriage was consummated, to forestall any opposition. [40] Many members of the Commons were opposed to the king's marriage to a Roman Catholic, fearing that Charles would lift restrictions on Catholic recusants and undermine the official establishment of the reformed Church of England. Although he told Parliament that he would not relax religious restrictions, he promised to do exactly that in a secret marriage treaty with his brother-in-law Louis XIII of France. [41] Moreover, the treaty loaned to the French seven English naval ships that would be used to suppress the Protestant Huguenots at La Rochelle in September 1625. [42] Charles was crowned on 2 February 1626 at Westminster Abbey, but without his wife at his side because she refused to participate in a Protestant religious ceremony. [43]

Distrust of Charles's religious policies increased with his support of a controversial anti-Calvinist ecclesiastic, Richard Montagu, who was in disrepute among the Puritans. [44] In his pamphlet A New Gag for an Old Goose (1624), a reply to the Catholic pamphlet A New Gag for the New Gospel, Montagu argued against Calvinist predestination, the doctrine that salvation and damnation were preordained by God. Anti-Calvinists—known as Arminians—believed that human beings could influence their own fate through the exercise of free will. [45] Arminian divines had been one of the few sources of support for Charles's proposed Spanish marriage. [46] With the support of King James, Montagu produced another pamphlet, entitled Appello Caesarem, in 1625 shortly after the old king's death and Charles's accession. To protect Montagu from the stricture of Puritan members of Parliament, Charles made the cleric one of his royal chaplains, increasing many Puritans' suspicions that Charles favoured Arminianism as a clandestine attempt to aid the resurgence of Catholicism. [47]

Rather than direct involvement in the European land war, the English Parliament preferred a relatively inexpensive naval attack on Spanish colonies in the New World, hoping for the capture of the Spanish treasure fleets. Parliament voted to grant a subsidy of £140,000, which was an insufficient sum for Charles's war plans. [48] Moreover, the House of Commons limited its authorisation for royal collection of tonnage and poundage (two varieties of customs duties) to a period of one year, although previous sovereigns since Henry VI had been granted the right for life. [49] In this manner, Parliament could delay approval of the rates until after a full-scale review of customs revenue. [50] The bill made no progress in the House of Lords past its first reading. [51] Although no Parliamentary Act for the levy of tonnage and poundage was obtained, Charles continued to collect the duties. [52]

A poorly conceived and executed naval expedition against Spain under the leadership of Buckingham went badly, and the House of Commons began proceedings for the impeachment of the duke. [53] In May 1626, Charles nominated Buckingham as Chancellor of Cambridge University in a show of support, [54] and had two members who had spoken against Buckingham—Dudley Digges and Sir John Eliot—arrested at the door of the House. The Commons was outraged by the imprisonment of two of their members, and after about a week in custody, both were released. [55] On 12 June 1626, the Commons launched a direct protestation attacking Buckingham, stating, "We protest before your Majesty and the whole world that until this great person be removed from intermeddling with the great affairs of state, we are out of hope of any good success and do fear that any money we shall or can give will, through his misemployment, be turned rather to the hurt and prejudice of this your kingdom than otherwise, as by lamentable experience we have found those large supplies formerly and lately given." [56] Despite Parliament's protests, however, Charles refused to dismiss his friend, dismissing Parliament instead. [57]

Meanwhile, domestic quarrels between Charles and Henrietta Maria were souring the early years of their marriage. Disputes over her jointure, appointments to her household, and the practice of her religion culminated in the king expelling the vast majority of her French attendants in August 1626. [58] Despite Charles's agreement to provide the French with English ships as a condition of marrying Henrietta Maria, in 1627 he launched an attack on the French coast to defend the Huguenots at La Rochelle. [59] The action, led by Buckingham, was ultimately unsuccessful. Buckingham's failure to protect the Huguenots—and his retreat from Saint-Martin-de-Ré—spurred Louis XIII's siege of La Rochelle and furthered the English Parliament's and people's detestation of the duke. [60]

Charles provoked further unrest by trying to raise money for the war through a "forced loan": a tax levied without parliamentary consent. In November 1627, the test case in the King's Bench, the "Five Knights' Case", found that the king had a prerogative right to imprison without trial those who refused to pay the forced loan. [61] Summoned again in March 1628, on 26 May Parliament adopted a Petition of Right, calling upon the king to acknowledge that he could not levy taxes without Parliament's consent, not impose martial law on civilians, not imprison them without due process, and not quarter troops in their homes. [62] Charles assented to the petition on 7 June, [63] but by the end of the month he had prorogued Parliament and re-asserted his right to collect customs duties without authorisation from Parliament. [64]

On 23 August 1628, Buckingham was assassinated. [65] Charles was deeply distressed. According to Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, he "threw himself upon his bed, lamenting with much passion and with abundance of tears". [66] He remained grieving in his room for two days. [67] In contrast, the public rejoiced at Buckingham's death, which accentuated the gulf between the court and the nation, and between the Crown and the Commons. [68] Although the death of Buckingham effectively ended the war with Spain and eliminated his leadership as an issue, it did not end the conflicts between Charles and Parliament. [69] It did, however, coincide with an improvement in Charles's relationship with his wife, and by November 1628 their old quarrels were at an end. [70] Perhaps Charles's emotional ties were transferred from Buckingham to Henrietta Maria. [71] She became pregnant for the first time, and the bond between them grew stronger. [72] Together, they embodied an image of virtue and family life, and their court became a model of formality and morality. [73]

Parliament prorogued

In January 1629, Charles opened the second session of the English Parliament, which had been prorogued in June 1628, with a moderate speech on the tonnage and poundage issue. [77] Members of the House of Commons began to voice opposition to Charles's policies in light of the case of John Rolle, a Member of Parliament whose goods had been confiscated for failing to pay tonnage and poundage. [78] Many MPs viewed the imposition of the tax as a breach of the Petition of Right. When Charles ordered a parliamentary adjournment on 2 March, [79] members held the Speaker, Sir John Finch, down in his chair so that the ending of the session could be delayed long enough for resolutions against Catholicism, Arminianism and tonnage and poundage to be read out and acclaimed by the chamber. [80] The provocation was too much for Charles, who dissolved Parliament and had nine parliamentary leaders, including Sir John Eliot, imprisoned over the matter, [81] thereby turning the men into martyrs, [82] and giving popular cause to their protest. [83]

Personal rule necessitated peace. Without the means in the foreseeable future to raise funds from Parliament for a European war, or the help of Buckingham, Charles made peace with France and Spain. [84] The following eleven years, during which Charles ruled England without a Parliament, are referred to as the personal rule or the "eleven years' tyranny". [85] Ruling without Parliament was not exceptional, and was supported by precedent. [d] Only Parliament, however, could legally raise taxes, and without it Charles's capacity to acquire funds for his treasury was limited to his customary rights and prerogatives. [87]


A large fiscal deficit had arisen in the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. [89] Notwithstanding Buckingham's short-lived campaigns against both Spain and France, there was little financial capacity for Charles to wage wars overseas. Throughout his reign Charles was obliged to rely primarily on volunteer forces for defence and on diplomatic efforts to support his sister, Elizabeth, and his foreign policy objective for the restoration of the Palatinate. [90] England was still the least taxed country in Europe, with no official excise and no regular direct taxation. [91] To raise revenue without reconvening Parliament, Charles resurrected an all-but-forgotten law called the "Distraint of Knighthood", in abeyance for over a century, which required any man who earned £40 or more from land each year to present himself at the king's coronation to be knighted. Relying on this old statute, Charles fined individuals who had failed to attend his coronation in 1626. [92] [e]

The chief tax imposed by Charles was a feudal levy known as ship money, [94] which proved even more unpopular, and lucrative, than tonnage and poundage before it. Previously, collection of ship money had been authorised only during wars, and only on coastal regions. Charles, however, argued that there was no legal bar to collecting the tax for defence during peacetime and throughout the whole of the kingdom. Ship money, paid directly to the Treasury of the Navy, provided between £150,000 to £200,000 annually between 1634 and 1638, after which yields declined. [95] Opposition to ship money steadily grew, but the 12 common law judges of England declared that the tax was within the king's prerogative, though some of them had reservations. [96] The prosecution of John Hampden for non-payment in 1637–38 provided a platform for popular protest, and the judges found against Hampden only by the narrow margin of 7–5. [97]

The king also derived money through the granting of monopolies, despite a statute forbidding such action, which, though inefficient, raised an estimated £100,000 a year in the late 1630s. [98] [f] One such monopoly was for soap, pejoratively referred to as "popish soap" because some of its backers were Catholics. [100] Charles also raised funds from the Scottish nobility, at the price of considerable acrimony, by the Act of Revocation (1625), whereby all gifts of royal or church land made to the nobility since 1540 were revoked, with continued ownership being subject to an annual rent. [101] In addition, the boundaries of the royal forests in England were restored to their ancient limits as part of a scheme to maximise income by exploiting the land and fining land users within the reasserted boundaries for encroachment. [102] The focus of the programme was disafforestation and sale of forest lands for conversion to pasture and arable farming, or in the case of the Forest of Dean, development for the iron industry. Disafforestation frequently caused riots and disturbances including those known as the Western Rising. [103]

Against the background of this unrest, Charles faced bankruptcy in mid-1640. The City of London, preoccupied with its own grievances, refused to make any loans to the king, as did foreign powers. In this extremity, in July Charles seized silver bullion worth £130,000 held in trust at the mint in the Tower of London, promising its later return at 8% interest to its owners. [104] In August, after the East India Company refused to grant a loan, [105] Lord Cottington seized the company's stock of pepper and spices and sold it for £60,000 (far below its market value), promising to refund the money with interest later. [106]

Throughout Charles's reign, the English Reformation was constantly in the forefront of political debate. Arminian theology emphasised clerical authority and the individual's ability to reject or accept salvation, which opponents viewed as heretical and a potential vehicle for the reintroduction of Roman Catholicism. Puritan reformers thought Charles was too sympathetic to the teachings of Arminianism, which they considered irreligious, and opposed his desire to move the Church of England in a more traditional and sacramental direction. [107] In addition, his Protestant subjects followed the European war closely [108] and grew increasingly dismayed by Charles's diplomacy with Spain and his failure to support the Protestant cause abroad effectively. [109]

In 1633, Charles appointed William Laud Archbishop of Canterbury. [110] They initiated a series of reforms to promote religious uniformity by restricting non-conformist preachers, insisting the liturgy be celebrated as prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer, organising the internal architecture of English churches to emphasise the sacrament of the altar, and re-issuing King James's Declaration of Sports, which permitted secular activities on the sabbath. [111] The Feoffees for Impropriations, an organisation that bought benefices and advowsons so that Puritans could be appointed to them, was dissolved. [112] Laud prosecuted those who opposed his reforms in the Court of High Commission and the Star Chamber, the two most powerful courts in the land. [113] The courts became feared for their censorship of opposing religious views and unpopular among the propertied classes for inflicting degrading punishments on gentlemen. [114] For example, in 1637 William Prynne, Henry Burton and John Bastwick were pilloried, whipped and mutilated by cropping and imprisoned indefinitely for publishing anti-episcopal pamphlets. [115]

When Charles attempted to impose his religious policies in Scotland he faced numerous difficulties. Although born in Scotland, Charles had become estranged from his northern kingdom his first visit since early childhood was for his Scottish coronation in 1633. [116] To the dismay of the Scots, who had removed many traditional rituals from their liturgical practice, Charles insisted that the coronation be conducted using the Anglican rite. [117] In 1637, the king ordered the use of a new prayer book in Scotland that was almost identical to the English Book of Common Prayer, without consulting either the Scottish Parliament or the Kirk. [118] Although it had been written, under Charles's direction, by Scottish bishops, many Scots resisted it, seeing the new prayer book as a vehicle for introducing Anglicanism to Scotland. [119] On 23 July, riots erupted in Edinburgh upon the first Sunday of the prayer book's usage, and unrest spread throughout the Kirk. The public began to mobilise around a reaffirmation of the National Covenant, whose signatories pledged to uphold the reformed religion of Scotland and reject any innovations that were not authorised by Kirk and Parliament. [120] When the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in November 1638, it condemned the new prayer book, abolished episcopal church government by bishops, and adopted presbyterian government by elders and deacons. [121]

Bishops' Wars

Charles perceived the unrest in Scotland as a rebellion against his authority, precipitating the First Bishops' War in 1639. [122] Charles did not seek subsidies from the English Parliament to wage war, but instead raised an army without parliamentary aid and marched to Berwick-upon-Tweed, on the border of Scotland. [123] Charles's army did not engage the Covenanters as the king feared the defeat of his forces, whom he believed to be significantly outnumbered by the Scots. [124] In the Treaty of Berwick, Charles regained custody of his Scottish fortresses and secured the dissolution of the Covenanters' interim government, albeit at the decisive concession that both the Scottish Parliament and General Assembly of the Scottish Church were called. [125]

The military failure in the First Bishops' War caused a financial and diplomatic crisis for Charles that deepened when his efforts to raise funds from Spain, while simultaneously continuing his support for his Palatine relatives, led to the public humiliation of the Battle of the Downs, where the Dutch destroyed a Spanish bullion fleet off the coast of Kent in sight of the impotent English navy. [126]

Charles continued peace negotiations with the Scots in a bid to gain time before launching a new military campaign. Because of his financial weakness, he was forced to call Parliament into session in an attempt to raise funds for such a venture. [127] Both English and Irish parliaments were summoned in the early months of 1640. [128] In March 1640, the Irish Parliament duly voted in a subsidy of £180,000 with the promise to raise an army 9,000 strong by the end of May. [128] In the English general election in March, however, court candidates fared badly, [129] and Charles's dealings with the English Parliament in April quickly reached stalemate. [130] The earls of Northumberland and Strafford attempted to broker a compromise whereby the king would agree to forfeit ship money in exchange for £650,000 (although the cost of the coming war was estimated at around £1 million). [131] Nevertheless, this alone was insufficient to produce consensus in the Commons. [132] The Parliamentarians' calls for further reforms were ignored by Charles, who still retained the support of the House of Lords. Despite the protests of Northumberland, [133] the Short Parliament (as it came to be known) was dissolved in May 1640, less than a month after it assembled. [134]

By this stage Strafford, Lord Deputy of Ireland since 1632, [136] had emerged as Charles's right-hand man and together with Laud, pursued a policy of "Thorough" that aimed to make central royal authority more efficient and effective at the expense of local or anti-government interests. [137] Although originally a critic of the king, Strafford defected to royal service in 1628 (due in part to Buckingham's persuasion), [138] and had since emerged, alongside Laud, as the most influential of Charles's ministers. [139]

Bolstered by the failure of the English Short Parliament, the Scottish Parliament declared itself capable of governing without the king's consent, and in August 1640 the Covenanter army moved into the English county of Northumberland. [140] Following the illness of the earl of Northumberland, who was the king's commander-in-chief, Charles and Strafford went north to command the English forces, despite Strafford being ill himself with a combination of gout and dysentery. [141] The Scottish soldiery, many of whom were veterans of the Thirty Years' War, [142] had far greater morale and training compared to their English counterparts. They met virtually no resistance until reaching Newcastle upon Tyne, where they defeated the English forces at the Battle of Newburn and occupied the city, as well as the neighbouring county of Durham. [143]

As demands for a parliament grew, [144] Charles took the unusual step of summoning a great council of peers. By the time it met, on 24 September at York, Charles had resolved to follow the almost universal advice to call a parliament. After informing the peers that a parliament would convene in November, he asked them to consider how he could acquire funds to maintain his army against the Scots in the meantime. They recommended making peace. [145] A cessation of arms, although not a final settlement, was negotiated in the humiliating Treaty of Ripon, signed in October 1640. [146] The treaty stated that the Scots would continue to occupy Northumberland and Durham and be paid £850 per day until peace was restored and the English Parliament recalled, which would be required to raise sufficient funds to pay the Scottish forces. [147] Consequently, Charles summoned what later became known as the Long Parliament. Once again, Charles's supporters fared badly at the polls. Of the 493 members of the Commons returned in November, over 350 were opposed to the king. [148]

Tensions escalate

The Long Parliament proved just as difficult for Charles as had the Short Parliament. It assembled on 3 November 1640 and quickly began proceedings to impeach the king's leading counsellors of high treason. [149] Strafford was taken into custody on 10 November Laud was impeached on 18 December John Finch, now Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, was impeached the following day, and he consequently fled to the Hague with Charles's permission on 21 December. [150] To prevent the king from dissolving it at will, Parliament passed the Triennial Act, which required Parliament to be summoned at least once every three years, and permitted the Lord Keeper and 12 peers to summon Parliament if the king failed to do so. [151] The Act was coupled with a subsidy bill, and so to secure the latter, Charles grudgingly granted royal assent in February 1641. [152]

Strafford had become the principal target of the Parliamentarians, particularly John Pym, and he went on trial for high treason on 22 March 1641. [153] However, the key allegation by Sir Henry Vane that Strafford had threatened to use the Irish army to subdue England was not corroborated and on 10 April Pym's case collapsed. [154] Pym and his allies immediately launched a bill of attainder, which simply declared Strafford guilty and pronounced the sentence of death. [155]

Charles assured Strafford that "upon the word of a king you shall not suffer in life, honour or fortune", [156] and the attainder could not succeed if Charles withheld assent. [157] Furthermore, many members and most peers were opposed to the attainder, not wishing, in the words of one, to "commit murder with the sword of justice". [158] However, increased tensions and an attempted coup by royalist army officers in support of Strafford and in which Charles was involved began to sway the issue. [159] The Commons passed the bill on 20 April by a large margin (204 in favour, 59 opposed, and 230 abstained), and the Lords acquiesced (by 26 votes to 19, with 79 absent) in May. [160] On 3 May, Parliament's Protestation attacked the "wicked counsels" of Charles's "arbitrary and tyrannical government". While those who signed the petition undertook to defend the king's "person, honour and estate", they also swore to preserve "the true reformed religion", parliament, and the "rights and liberties of the subjects". [161] Charles, fearing for the safety of his family in the face of unrest, assented reluctantly to Strafford's attainder on 9 May after consulting his judges and bishops. [162] Strafford was beheaded three days later. [163]

Additionally in early May, Charles assented to an unprecedented Act that forbade the dissolution of the English Parliament without its consent. [164] In the following months, ship money, fines in distraint of knighthood and excise without parliamentary consent were declared unlawful, and the Courts of Star Chamber and High Commission were abolished. [165] All remaining forms of taxation were legalised and regulated by the Tonnage and Poundage Act. [166] The House of Commons also launched bills attacking bishops and episcopacy, but these failed in the Lords. [167]

Charles had made important concessions in England, and temporarily improved his position in Scotland by securing the favour of the Scots on a visit from August to November 1641 during which he conceded to the official establishment of presbyterianism. [168] However, following an attempted royalist coup in Scotland, known as "The Incident", Charles's credibility was significantly undermined. [169]

Irish rebellion

In Ireland, the population was split into three main socio-political groups: the Gaelic Irish, who were Catholic the Old English, who were descended from medieval Normans and were also predominantly Catholic and the New English, who were Protestant settlers from England and Scotland aligned with the English Parliament and the Covenanters. Strafford's administration had improved the Irish economy and boosted tax revenue, but had done so by heavy-handedly imposing order. [170] He had trained up a large Catholic army in support of the king and had weakened the authority of the Irish Parliament, [171] while continuing to confiscate land from Catholics for Protestant settlement at the same time as promoting a Laudian Anglicanism that was anathema to presbyterians. [172] As a result, all three groups had become disaffected. [173] Strafford's impeachment provided a new departure for Irish politics whereby all sides joined together to present evidence against him. [174] In a similar manner to the English Parliament, the Old English members of the Irish Parliament argued that while opposed to Strafford they remained loyal to Charles. They argued that the king had been led astray by malign counsellors, [175] and that, moreover, a viceroy such as Strafford could emerge as a despotic figure instead of ensuring that the king was directly involved in governance. [176]

Strafford's fall from power weakened Charles's influence in Ireland. [177] The dissolution of the Irish army was unsuccessfully demanded three times by the English Commons during Strafford's imprisonment, [161] until Charles was eventually forced through lack of money to disband the army at the end of Strafford's trial. [178] Disputes concerning the transfer of land ownership from native Catholic to settler Protestant, [179] particularly in relation to the plantation of Ulster, [180] coupled with resentment at moves to ensure the Irish Parliament was subordinate to the Parliament of England, [181] sowed the seeds of rebellion. When armed conflict arose between the Gaelic Irish and New English, in late October 1641, the Old English sided with the Gaelic Irish while simultaneously professing their loyalty to the king. [182]

In November 1641, the House of Commons passed the Grand Remonstrance, a long list of grievances against actions by Charles's ministers committed since the beginning of his reign (that were asserted to be part of a grand Catholic conspiracy of which the king was an unwitting member), [183] but it was in many ways a step too far by Pym and passed by only 11 votes – 159 to 148. [184] Furthermore, the Remonstrance had very little support in the House of Lords, which the Remonstrance attacked. [185] The tension was heightened by news of the Irish rebellion, coupled with inaccurate rumours of Charles's complicity. [186] Throughout November, a series of alarmist pamphlets published stories of atrocities in Ireland, [187] which included massacres of New English settlers by the native Irish who could not be controlled by the Old English lords. [188] Rumours of "papist" conspiracies circulated in England, [189] and English anti-Catholic opinion was strengthened, damaging Charles's reputation and authority. [190] The English Parliament distrusted Charles's motivations when he called for funds to put down the Irish rebellion many members of the Commons suspected that forces raised by Charles might later be used against Parliament itself. [191] Pym's Militia Bill was intended to wrest control of the army from the king, but it did not have the support of the Lords, let alone Charles. [192] Instead, the Commons passed the bill as an ordinance, which they claimed did not require royal assent. [193] The Militia Ordinance appears to have prompted more members of the Lords to support the king. [194] In an attempt to strengthen his position, Charles generated great antipathy in London, which was already fast falling into lawlessness, when he placed the Tower of London under the command of Colonel Thomas Lunsford, an infamous, albeit efficient, career officer. [195] When rumours reached Charles that Parliament intended to impeach his wife for supposedly conspiring with the Irish rebels, the king decided to take drastic action. [196]

Five members

Charles suspected, probably correctly, that some members of the English Parliament had colluded with the invading Scots. [197] On 3 January 1642, Charles directed Parliament to give up five members of the Commons – Pym, John Hampden, Denzil Holles, William Strode and Sir Arthur Haselrig – and one peer – Lord Mandeville – on the grounds of high treason. [198] When Parliament refused, it was possibly Henrietta Maria who persuaded Charles to arrest the five members by force, which Charles intended to carry out personally. [199] However, news of the warrant reached Parliament ahead of him, and the wanted men slipped away by boat shortly before Charles entered the House of Commons with an armed guard on 4 January. [200] Having displaced the Speaker, William Lenthall, from his chair, the king asked him where the MPs had fled. Lenthall, on his knees, [201] 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." [202] Charles abjectly declared "all my birds have flown", and was forced to retire, empty-handed. [203]

The botched arrest attempt was politically disastrous for Charles. [204] No English sovereign had ever entered the House of Commons, and his unprecedented invasion of the chamber to arrest its members was considered a grave breach of parliamentary privilege. [205] In one stroke Charles destroyed his supporters' efforts to portray him as a defence against innovation and disorder. [206]

Parliament quickly seized London, and Charles fled the capital for Hampton Court Palace on 10 January, [207] moving two days later to Windsor Castle. [208] After sending his wife and eldest daughter to safety abroad in February, he travelled northwards, hoping to seize the military arsenal at Hull. [209] To his dismay, he was rebuffed by the town's Parliamentary governor, Sir John Hotham, who refused him entry in April, and Charles was forced to withdraw. [210]

In mid-1642, both sides began to arm. Charles raised an army using the medieval method of commission of array, and Parliament called for volunteers for its militia. [211] The negotiations proved futile, and Charles raised the royal standard in Nottingham on 22 August 1642. [212] By then, Charles's forces controlled roughly the Midlands, Wales, the West Country and northern England. He set up his court at Oxford. Parliament controlled London, the south-east and East Anglia, as well as the English navy. [213]

After a few skirmishes, the opposing forces met in earnest at Edgehill, on 23 October 1642. Charles's nephew Prince Rupert of the Rhine disagreed with the battle strategy of the royalist commander Lord Lindsey, and Charles sided with Rupert. Lindsey resigned, leaving Charles to assume overall command assisted by Lord Forth. [214] Rupert's cavalry successfully charged through the parliamentary ranks, but instead of swiftly returning to the field, rode off to plunder the parliamentary baggage train. [215] Lindsey, acting as a colonel, was wounded and bled to death without medical attention. The battle ended inconclusively as the daylight faded. [216]

In his own words, the experience of battle had left Charles "exceedingly and deeply grieved". [217] He regrouped at Oxford, turning down Rupert's suggestion of an immediate attack on London. After a week, he set out for the capital on 3 November, capturing Brentford on the way while simultaneously continuing to negotiate with civic and parliamentary delegations. At Turnham Green on the outskirts of London, the royalist army met resistance from the city militia, and faced with a numerically superior force, Charles ordered a retreat. [217] He overwintered in Oxford, strengthening the city's defences and preparing for the next season's campaign. Peace talks between the two sides collapsed in April. [218]

The war continued indecisively over the next couple of years, and Henrietta Maria returned to Britain for 17 months from February 1643. [219] After Rupert captured Bristol in July 1643, Charles visited the port city and laid siege to Gloucester, further up the river Severn. His plan to undermine the city walls failed due to heavy rain, and on the approach of a parliamentary relief force, Charles lifted the siege and withdrew to Sudeley Castle. [220] The parliamentary army turned back towards London, and Charles set off in pursuit. The two armies met at Newbury, Berkshire, on 20 September. Just as at Edgehill, the battle stalemated at nightfall, and the armies disengaged. [221] In January 1644, Charles summoned a Parliament at Oxford, which was attended by about 40 peers and 118 members of the Commons all told, the Oxford Parliament, which sat until March 1645, was supported by the majority of peers and about a third of the Commons. [222] Charles became disillusioned by the assembly's ineffectiveness, calling it a "mongrel" in private letters to his wife. [223]

In 1644, Charles remained in the southern half of England while Rupert rode north to relieve Newark and York, which were under threat from parliamentary and Scottish Covenanter armies. Charles was victorious at the battle of Cropredy Bridge in late June, but the royalists in the north were defeated at the battle of Marston Moor just a few days later. [224] The king continued his campaign in the south, encircling and disarming the parliamentary army of the Earl of Essex. [225] Returning northwards to his base at Oxford, he fought at Newbury for a second time before the winter closed in the battle ended indecisively. [226] Attempts to negotiate a settlement over the winter, while both sides re-armed and re-organised, were again unsuccessful. [227]

At the battle of Naseby on 14 June 1645, Rupert's horsemen again mounted a successful charge against the flank of Parliament's New Model Army, but Charles's troops elsewhere on the field were pushed back by the opposing forces. Charles, attempting to rally his men, rode forward but as he did so, Lord Carnwath seized his bridle and pulled him back, fearing for the king's safety. Carnwath's action was misinterpreted by the royalist soldiers as a signal to move back, leading to a collapse of their position. [228] The military balance tipped decisively in favour of Parliament. [229] There followed a series of defeats for the royalists, [230] and then the siege of Oxford, from which Charles escaped (disguised as a servant) in April 1646. [231] He put himself into the hands of the Scottish presbyterian army besieging Newark, and was taken northwards to Newcastle upon Tyne. [232] After nine months of negotiations, the Scots finally arrived at an agreement with the English Parliament: in exchange for £100,000, and the promise of more money in the future, [g] the Scots withdrew from Newcastle and delivered Charles to the parliamentary commissioners in January 1647. [234]


Parliament held Charles under house arrest at Holdenby House in Northamptonshire until Cornet George Joyce took him by threat of force from Holdenby on 3 June in the name of the New Model Army. [235] By this time, mutual suspicion had developed between Parliament, which favoured army disbandment and presbyterianism, and the New Model Army, which was primarily officered by congregationalist Independents, who sought a greater political role. [236] Charles was eager to exploit the widening divisions, and apparently viewed Joyce's actions as an opportunity rather than a threat. [237] He was taken first to Newmarket, at his own suggestion, [238] and then transferred to Oatlands and subsequently Hampton Court, while more ultimately fruitless negotiations took place. [239] By November, he determined that it would be in his best interests to escape – perhaps to France, Southern England or to Berwick-upon-Tweed, near the Scottish border. [240] He fled Hampton Court on 11 November, and from the shores of Southampton Water made contact with Colonel Robert Hammond, Parliamentary Governor of the Isle of Wight, whom he apparently believed to be sympathetic. [241] Hammond, however, confined Charles in Carisbrooke Castle and informed Parliament that Charles was in his custody. [242]

From Carisbrooke, Charles continued to try to bargain with the various parties. In direct contrast to his previous conflict with the Scottish Kirk, on 26 December 1647 he signed a secret treaty with the Scots. Under the agreement, called the "Engagement", the Scots undertook to invade England on Charles's behalf and restore him to the throne on condition that presbyterianism be established in England for three years. [243]

The royalists rose in May 1648, igniting the Second Civil War, and as agreed with Charles, the Scots invaded England. Uprisings in Kent, Essex, and Cumberland, and a rebellion in South Wales, were put down by the New Model Army, and with the defeat of the Scots at the Battle of Preston in August 1648, the royalists lost any chance of winning the war. [244]

Charles's only recourse was to return to negotiations, [245] which were held at Newport on the Isle of Wight. [246] On 5 December 1648, Parliament voted by 129 to 83 to continue negotiating with the king, [247] but Oliver Cromwell and the army opposed any further talks with someone they viewed as a bloody tyrant and were already taking action to consolidate their power. [248] Hammond was replaced as Governor of the Isle of Wight on 27 November, and placed in the custody of the army the following day. [249] In Pride's Purge on 6 and 7 December, the members of Parliament out of sympathy with the military were arrested or excluded by Colonel Thomas Pride, [250] while others stayed away voluntarily. [251] The remaining members formed the Rump Parliament. It was effectively a military coup. [252]

Charles was moved to Hurst Castle at the end of 1648, and thereafter to Windsor Castle. [254] In January 1649, the Rump House of Commons indicted him on a charge of treason, which was rejected by the House of Lords. [255] The idea of trying a king was a novel one. [256] The Chief Justices of the three common law courts of England – Henry Rolle, Oliver St John and John Wilde – all opposed the indictment as unlawful. [257] The Rump Commons declared itself capable of legislating alone, passed a bill creating a separate court for Charles's trial, and declared the bill an act without the need for royal assent. [258] The High Court of Justice established by the Act consisted of 135 commissioners, but many either refused to serve or chose to stay away. [259] Only 68 (all firm Parliamentarians) attended Charles's trial on charges of high treason and "other high crimes" that began on 20 January 1649 in Westminster Hall. [260] John Bradshaw acted as President of the Court, and the prosecution was led by the Solicitor General, John Cook. [261]

Charles was accused of treason against England by using his power to pursue his personal interest rather than the good of the country. [263] The charge stated that he, "for accomplishment of such his designs, and for the protecting of himself and his adherents in his and their wicked practices, to the same ends hath traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament, and the people therein represented", and that the "wicked designs, wars, and evil practices of him, the said Charles Stuart, have been, and are carried on for the advancement and upholding of a personal interest of will, power, and pretended prerogative to himself and his family, against the public interest, common right, liberty, justice, and peace of the people of this nation." [263] Presaging the modern concept of command responsibility, [264] the indictment held him "guilty of all the treasons, murders, rapines, burnings, spoils, desolations, damages and mischiefs to this nation, acted and committed in the said wars, or occasioned thereby." [265] An estimated 300,000 people, or 6% of the population, died during the war. [266]

Over the first three days of the trial, whenever Charles was asked to plead, he refused, [267] stating his objection with the words: "I would know by what power I am called hither, by what lawful authority. " [268] He claimed that no court had jurisdiction over a monarch, [256] that his own authority to rule had been given to him by God and by the traditional laws of England, and that the power wielded by those trying him was only that of force of arms. Charles insisted that the trial was illegal, explaining that,

no earthly power can justly call me (who am your King) in question as a delinquent . this day's proceeding cannot be warranted by God's laws for, on the contrary, the authority of obedience unto Kings is clearly warranted, and strictly commanded in both the Old and New Testament . for the law of this land, I am no less confident, that no learned lawyer will affirm that an impeachment can lie against the King, they all going in his name: and one of their maxims is, that the King can do no wrong . the higher House is totally excluded and for the House of Commons, it is too well known that the major part of them are detained or deterred from sitting . the arms I took up were only to defend the fundamental laws of this kingdom against those who have supposed my power hath totally changed the ancient government. [269]

The court, by contrast, challenged the doctrine of sovereign immunity and proposed that "the King of England was not a person, but an office whose every occupant was entrusted with a limited power to govern 'by and according to the laws of the land and not otherwise'." [270]

At the end of the third day, Charles was removed from the court, [271] which then heard over 30 witnesses against the king in his absence over the next two days, and on 26 January condemned him to death. The following day, the king was brought before a public session of the commission, declared guilty, and sentenced. [272] Fifty-nine of the commissioners signed Charles's death warrant. [273]

The Trial and Execution of Charles I

The trial and execution of Charles took place in January 1649, with his death marking the end of Stuart rule in England until the restoration of the monarchy 11 years later. After Charles’ execution, Oliver Cromwell, whose signature can be seen on Charles I's death warrant, gradually established himself the ruler of England.

The trial of Charles I was unprecedeted as there were, at the time, no precedents or rules in place that could be used within the trial of royalty. As a result, Dutch lawyer Isaac Dorislaus was forced to write an order that could be used in court as a framework to structure the trial. This framework was based on the law of the Roman Empire that was used to empower military to overthrow any leader deemed by them to be tyrannical.

Once the order was created, the trial of Charles I could begin. The trial started on 20 January 1649 in London, where he was accused of being a "tyrant, traitor and murderer and a public and implacable enemy to the Commonwealth of England".

Initially, there were supposed to be 135 judges in attendance at the trial, but only 68 were recorded as having attended. This is likely due to the fact that many had no rish to be involved in the trial of a member of the royal family. Similarly, there were many MPs who were unhappy supporting such a trial, although they had all been removed from Parliament by the army in December 1648 as part of 'Pride's Purge'. Those MPs left formed what was known as the 'Rump' Parliament, which was 46 men who were counted by Oliver Cromwell as supporters. Even so, only 26 of these MPs had voted to try the king, signalling how revolutionary this decision had been.

The execution of Charles I

The Chief Judge of Charles' trial, John Bradshaw, acted as head of the High Court of Justice. Aware that the trial was incredibly unpopular, he was reportedly concerned that he may be targeted by murderers for his role. As such, he made himself a hat that was lined with metal to provide him with protection if he were attached.

At the beginning of the trial, Bradshaw read out the following charge against the king, and so marked the start of one of the most famous trials in history:

"Out of a wicked design to erect and uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will, and to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people of England."

The trial was held in a hall that was lined with soldiers, although it was never established whether this was to keep MPs safe or to prevent the escape of Charles I, who had already escaped capture before. Either way, the King made no attempt to defend his actions due to his belief in the divine right of kings - he believed that no king should be put on trial by members of the public and had no respect for the process that took place before him. This was reflected in his refusal to remove his hat in court, which was a display of disrespect for the judges.

Without any defence, Charles' trial was short and it did not take long for him to be found guilty and have his punishment declared. On 27 January 1649 Bradshaw announced the judgment of the court:

“He, the said Charles Stuart, as a tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy to the good of this nation, shall be put to death by severing of his head from his body."

Once this verdict was delivered, however, Charles began to plead his case. But this was in vain, and he was told it was too late. The judge set his date of execution as 30 January 1649.

The day of the execution was a Tuesday, with reports stating that it was cold, grey day. The King was given permission to go for a walk with his dog in St James’s park before he was given his last meal, which was bread and wine.

However, execution proceedings were delayed as several executioners had refused to execute the former king despite being offered masks to hide their identities. Eventually, a man and his assistant were paid £100 to carry out the act.

At around two o’clock, Charles was led to the scaffold. He was worried that any shivering would be perceived as fear and so requested that he could wear thick underclothes to protect him from the cold. On the scaffold Charles gave a last speech to the crowd:

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

It was reported at the time that a large groan travelled through the crowd when he was beheaded, with one observer described the noise as "such a groan by the thousands then present, as I never heard before and I desire I may never hear again".

Charles’ dead body was subjected to a number of humiliating rituals as part of his punishment. After paying, those in attendance were allowed to dip handkerchiefs in his blood as many people believed that royal blood could be used to heal wounds of cure illness.

On the 6 February 1649, parliament abolished monarchy, stating:

"The office of the king in this nation is unnecessary, burdensome and dangerous to the liberty, society and public interest of the people."

The Council of State replaced the monarchy, with Oliver Cromwell named as its first chairman.

During the Restoration of 1660, when Charles II came to throne, the new king hunted down all those who had signed his father’s death warrant and executed them as regicides. The executioners managed to evade the wrath of the new monarch, however, as no one ever discovered who the two men were.

Scott was the first to die…

Like the other three Scott had been allowed a visit from his family, an excruciating ordeal for all involved. He had been a parliamentary radical for a long time. He had always favoured a tough stance against Charles during the Civil War and was vociferous in his support for the King’s execution. Later he would oppose Cromwell’s power as Lord Protector just as vehemently.

When Charles II took the throne Scott fled to Flanders but returned when Charles appeared to be making promises to remain merciful. Scott’s proud words in Parliament that he was proud of the regicide – combined with the evidence of informers – meant that he was doomed as soon as the vengeful Charles settled into power.

Like many of Charles I’s regicides, and indeed the King himself, he faced the executioner with remarkable courage. Once on the scaffold Scott launched into a speech about liberty and the righteousness of his cause. The sheriff presiding over the execution abruptly cut him off and the outraged Scott cried “It’s hard [that] an Englishman may not have liberty to speak.” Shortly afterwards, he met his grisly end.

The Trial and Execution of Charles I

Charles I was the first of our monarchs to be put on trial for treason and it led to his execution. This event is one of the most famous in Stuart England’s history – and one of the most controversial. No law could be found in all England’s history that dealt with the trial of a monarch so the order setting up the court that was to try Charles was written by a Dutch lawyer called Issac Dorislaus and he based his work on an ancient Roman law which stated that a military body (in this case the government) could legally overthrow a tyrant. The execution of Charles, led to an eleven year gap in the rule of the Stuarts (1649 to 1660) and it witnessed the rise to supreme power of Oliver Cromwell – whose signature can be clearly seen on the death warrant of Charles.

Charles was put on trial in London on January 1st 1649. He was accused of being a

He was to be tried by 135 judges who would decide if he was guilty or not. In fact only 68 turned up for the trial. Those that did not were less than happy about being associated with the trial of the king. In fact, there were plenty of MPs in Parliament who did not want to see the king put on trial but in December 1648, these MPs had been stopped from going into Parliament by a Colonel Pride who was helped by some soldiers. The only people allowed into Parliament were those who Cromwell thought supported the trial of the king. This Parliament was known as the “Rump Parliament” and of the 46 men allowed in (who were considered to be supporters of Cromwell), only 26 voted to try the king. Therefore even among those MPs considered loyal to Cromwell, there was no clear support to try Charles.

The Chief Judge was a man called John Bradshaw. He sat as head of the High Court of Justice. He was not one of the original 135 judges but none of the 68 that did turn up wanted to be Chief Judge and the job was given to Bradshaw, who was a lawyer. He knew that putting Charles on trial was not popular and he actually feared for his own life. He had made for himself a special hat which had metal inside it to protect his head against an attack. It was Bradshaw who read out the charge against Charles that he

“out of a wicked design to erect and uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will, and to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people of England. “

The hall where the king was tried was packed with soldiers – to protect the judges or to make sure that the king did not escape? The public was not allowed into the hall until after the charge had been read out. Why would the government do this if their case against Charles was good?

At the trial, Charles refused to defend himself. He did not recognise the legality of the court. He also refused to take off his hat as a sign of respect to the judges who did attend. This seemed to confirm in the minds of the judges that Charles, even when he was on trial for his life, remained arrogant and therefore a danger to others as he could not recognise his own faults.

Bradshaw announced the judgment of the court : that

“he, the said Charles Stuart, as a tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy to the good of this nation, shall be put to death by severing of his head from his body.”

When the judgment of the court was announced, Charles finally started to defend himself. He was told that his chance had gone and the king of England was bundled out of the court by the guarding soldiers.

His date of execution was set for January 30th1649.

The execution of Charles I

Charles was executed on a Tuesday. It was a cold day. Charles was allowed to go for a last walk in St James’s park with his pet dog. His last meal was bread and wine. However, there was a delay in his execution.

The man who was to execute Charles refused to do it. So did others. Very quickly, another man and his assistant was found. They were paid £100 and were allowed to wear masks so that no-one would ever know who they were.

At nearly 2.00 o’clock in the afternoon, Charles was led to the scaffold which was covered in black cloth. He had asked to wear thick underclothes under his shirt as he was very concerned that if he shivered in the cold, the crowd might think that he was scared. Charles gave a last speech to the crowd but very few could hear him. He said:

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

It is said that when he was beheaded a large groan went up throughout the crowd. One observer in the crowd described it as “such a groan by the thousands then present, as I never heard before and I desire I may never hear again.”

Even in death, Charles found no dignity. Spectators were allowed to go up to the scaffold and, after paying, dip handkerchiefs in his blood as it was felt that the blood of a king when wiped onto a wound, illness etc. would cure that illness.

On the 6th February, 1649, the monarchy was abolished. Parliament stated that

“the office of the king in this nation is unnecessary, burdensome and dangerous to the liberty, society and public interest of the people.”

What became known as a Council of State was set-up instead of the monarchy and Oliver Cromwell was its first chairman.

When Charles II returned to become king of England in 1660, those men who had signed his father’s death warrant (and were still alive) were tried as regicides (the murderer of a king) and executed. Anyone associated with the execution of Charles was put on trial. The only people to escape were the executioners as no-one knew who they were as they wore masks during the execution.