Regicide: The Execution of Charles I


On January 27, the trial of Charles I, King of England concluded and the following verdict was read out:

“That the king, for the crimes contained in the charge, should be carried back to the place from whence he came, and thence to the place of execution, where his head should be severed from his body.”

Three days later, Charles walked out to a scaffold erected outside of Banqueting House in Whitehall for his execution. The scaffold was built up to a second-story window of the House, allowing for the assembled crowd to view the King’s death.

To his people he said:

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

“It is not for having share in government, sirs; that is nothing pertaining to them; a subject and a sovereign are clear different things. And therefore until they do that, I mean that you do put the people in that liberty, as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves.

“Sirs, it was for this that now I am come here. If I would have given way to an arbitrary way, for to have all laws changed according to the power of the sword, I needed not to have come here; and therefore I tell you (and I pray God it be not laid to your charge) that I am the martyr of the people.”

After speaking briefly with the executioner and saying a few words to himself, Charles knelt and gave the sign. His head was severed in one strike, held up to the crowds to confirm his death, and then placed with his body in a waiting black velvet-lined coffin. Eye witnesses claim that people began to try and capture his blood where it pooled as souvenir.

Banqueting House

After Charles’s death, the British monarchy was temporarily abolished and a Republic was formed under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. In practice it would last for 10 years, however staunch Royalists argued that it was impossible for the throne to be empty and that since the bill to abolish the monarchy was never passed by the House of Lords, it couldn’t be law.

Nevertheless, Charles’s family, living in exile on the continent since his death, were called to return to England and his son, Charles II, would be crowned king on April 23, 1661. At the time of the Restoration, 31 of the 59 “Regicides,” members that voted in favor of Charles I’s execution were still living. While a general pardon was given to the former king’s opponents, the Regicides were pointedly excluded. On a case-by-case basis, Charles II had each Regicide pardoned, imprisoned or executed for the part they played in the death of his father.

Death warrant of Charles I

For more, see From Normandy to Windsor


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