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The Execution of Charles I

Updated Sunday, 7th January 2001

A historic moment as the state beheads its head of state: The Execution of Charles I

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Charles approached his death with beatific fortitude. Luckily for his posthumous reputation and the future survival of the British monarchy, Charles met his end with the air of a true martyr.

To the end he never compromised on the principle of monarchy. Incarcerated at St. James's palace awaiting his execution, he refused to see friends and accepted only visits from his close family. He gently explained to his weeping son Henry, 'Sweetheart, now they will cut off thy father's head...and perhaps make thee a king.'

But he warned the boy never to accept the throne while his elder brother lived and never to accept it from the hands of the Stuarts' enemies. 'I will sooner be torn in pieces first!', responded the child. He then instructed his daughter Princess Elizabeth to always remain true to the Protestant religion and guard against Popery. Despite all the insinuations and slander, Charles was never a Catholic.

At 5 a.m. on the morning of January 30th 1649, Charles rose, prayed with the Laudian prelate Bishop Juxon and requested two shirts. The weather was bitterly cold and Charles did not want people to think he was shivering through fear. He groomed himself and dressed immaculately, readying himself for his betrothal to God and the English nation.

At 10 a.m., an armed guard came for him. Charles was a dead man walking. He left St. James's Palace, strode across St. James's Park, through Horseguards Parade and then entered Whitehall. He was marched to the Banqueting House, the same Banqueting Hall in which he had enjoyed so many wonderful evenings of masques and play with Henrietta Maria. In front of it now stood a scaffold draped in black.

In his room in Whitehall, he ate some bread and a glass of wine before returning to prayer. At 2pm he walked out of a window of the Banqueting House on to the newly erected scaffold with Juxon by his side. He gave a short speech justifying his course, restating his innocence and professing his true Protestant faith and adherence to the Church of England.

'I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.' He placed his greying hair in a white satin cap and laid down his head on the executioner's block. To Juxon he said his last word, 'Remember.' His head was struck from his body in one fell blow by axeman Brandon. As his severed held was held up to the crowd, a low, awful groan arose. The people had murdered their monarch- what would happen next?

 

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