Charles I of England Scotland and Ireland lost his head on this day in 1649. He was condemned to death for being ‘a tyrant, traitor, murderer and public enemy to the good of this nation’.
Following a battle between Charles I’s supporters – the Cavaliers – and Parliament’s supporters the Roundheads, led by Oliver Cromwell, the king was captured and sent to trial accused of treason for exercising his royal right to rule without the aid of Parliament. Up to that point he had refused to be beholden to his government when he needed money so he’d just got on with it for 11 years.
But his rule was seen as tyranny. Charles showed a knack for angering entire sections of society. Without a parliament he needed money, so he fined the aristocracy for failing to come to his coronation. He then ressurrected archaic taxes such as ship money, while angering the Scots with his moves to impose the Book of Common Prayer in church.
Naturally the government didn’t sit back and let him get on with it. They passed laws and, having failed to resist his actions, they formed a New Model Army of Parliamentarians under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell. The two factions went head to head. Following a series of civil wars, Charles’s army was defeated and he was captured and imprisoned.
Trial and retribution
Following his trial Charles was found guilty of high treason and sentneced to be executed. But long line of executioners refused to behead their monarch. Finally two people agreed on the proviso that they wore masks to conceal their identities. They were paid the kingly sum of £100 for their efforts.
Proud to the last, Charles was said to have worn a thick cotton shirt – it was January so he wouldn’t be seen to be shivering as he didn’t want the crowd to mistake him as being frightened or weak. It took just one slice of the blade to decapitate the deposed monarch.
Apparently there was a groan as the execution took place. And following his execution, some say the paying public were then permitted to dip their hankies in Charles’s blood as it was believed to be a cure-all for illnesses or wounds.
Alec Guiness donned the dodgy wig to play Charles as he squares up to Richard Harris’ Cromwell in Ken Hughes’ 1970 film “Cromwell” and although its pretty good I don’t like the look on Harris’ face after the execution scene. I can’t work out if he’s pleased or a little but gutted…but maybe that’s the point.