A King is Felled

English King Charles I (LEO Design)

Charles I by Anthony Van Dyck

While we’re talking about Tragic Monarchs, let’s turn to England’s Charles I.  On this day in 1649, King Charles I was beheaded after being convicted of High Treason.

Born the second son of James I (who was already King of the Scots), Charles moved to England when his father acquired the English crown.  When he succeeded his father in 1625, Charles quarrelled much with the parliaments of England and Scotland.  It seemed the parliaments did not embrace Charles’s notion of The Divine Right of Kings—whereby Charles could rule by his conscience alone.

Between 1642 and 1646, Charles waged battle against the armies of the parliaments of England and Scotland—a period known as the English Civil War.  This weakened the King and allowed Oliver Cromwell to consolidate power.

In 1649, the king was tried, convicted and sentenced to execution for 30 January.  As it was a cold day, the King asked for two shirts, lest the people think he was shaking with fear.  He walked from St. James’s Palace to the execution scaffold erected before Whitehall.  He delivered a statement, said a prayer, laid his neck upon the executioner’s block, and signaled that he was ready.  His head was removed with one clean strike.  Typical of the times, his head was held-up in exhibition, but the customary words—”Behold the head of a traitor!”—were not used, probably because the hooded executioner did not want his voice heard (thus, his identity revealed).   The next day, the King’s head was sewn back onto his body and he was buried in a lead coffin in Henry VIII’s vault at Windsor Castle.  The authorities had refused his burial request at Westminster Abbey.


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