Endgame - Regicide
Once the decision had been taken to put Charles on trial, the outcome was a foregone conclusion. On January 20th 1649, a High Court of Justice convened to try Charles for attempting to subvert England's ancient liberties and replace them with arbitrary, tyrannical government. 135 Parliamentary Commissioners participated in what was effectively a 'show trial'.
A believer in divine right monarchy, Charles refused to acknowledge the court's legitimacy or respond to the charges. Eventually he was removed from Court and the charges read out in his absence. After three days of internal consultation and private interview of witnesses, Charles returned to the Court on 27th January to hear the verdict - guilty. Realising too late what was happening, he protested his innocence but it was all in vain. The Parliamentary Commissioners then convened to sign the Death Warrant and when Richard Ingoldsby proved unwilling to write, Cromwell grabbed his hand and forced him to sign his name.
Bowing to the inevitable, Charles met his end with great fortitude. On 30th January 1649, he climbed the specially - erected scaffold outside Banqueting House to face execution. Re-affirming his allegiance to Anglicanism and his innocence of the charges, executioner Brandon then severed his head with one clean blow. A low moan issued from the watching crowd: the English people had executed their sovereign - what next?
The execution of Charles I is a truly remarkable event in British history. No British monarch has been executed by will of the 'people' before or since. Charles' execution represented more than just the death of an individual, it also symbolised the death of the divine right theory, and the birth of modern constitutional politics.
Civil War: The Endgame
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Sunday, 7th January 2001
Last updated on: Sunday, 7th January 2001
- Body text - Copyrighted: The Open University
- Image 'Picture showing execution of King Charles I' - Copyrighted: Wark Clements
- Image 'Execution of Charles I' - Copyrighted: Used with permission
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