In 1649 the English Parliament executed their anointed monarch King Charles I. It was to be the first and only time an anointed king was put on trial and executed as a traitor to his country. Nevertheless, was parliament right in doing this? Was it legal to put on trail a man who placed himself above the law and second to only but God in England, something that many believed also?The following is a breakdown on the trail, the arguments and the legality of what happened in England. A decision, which led to the only time England, would be a commonwealth under the leadership of Cromwell.
It was a cold day and Charles had put on two shirts so as not to shiver. He was walked along through St James Park and up through the Holbein gate into his Privy apartments where he was encouraged to have a small bite to eat and some wine. Just before two o’clock and along with his friend Bishop Juxon Charles walked through his magnificent Banqueting House under the celling and out the double doors. There he found a small opening which had been made and stepped out onto the platform to the awaiting crowd outside. Giving a speech ending in the words of ‘I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown’ King Charles placed his head onto the very low block and spread his arms out, an indication that he was ready. Then the axe fell, and in one blow his head was removed from his body. Thus ending the reign and life of King Charles I of England. It was the 30th January, 1649.
But why was he executed?
Charles was executed for being a tyrant and a traitor to his country, well that is what the law stated.
Reasons for Civil war:
Conflict had been building up for many years in England and Scotland between Charles and his parliament.Eventually this conflict led to a Civil War in 1642 in England between Charles and his supporters – nicknames the Cavaliers, and parliament eventually led by Oliver Cromwell, nicknamed the Roundheads.Charles and parliament clashed with polices of finance, religion and Charles belief to rule by Divine Right. He insisted and believes that he did not have to explain himself to parliament.
Eventually there was no other option but War and Charles fled the capital in fear for his families lives and eventually would raise his stranded at Nottingham castle on 22nd August 1642.
New model Army:
There were many battles in this time and some the royalist had victory and others the Roundheads. What was the turning point however was the formation of the New Model Army by Cromwell and the battle of Naseby in 1645 and this marked a turning point in the Civil war.
Eventually Charles handed himself into the Scots who handed him over to the English Parliament where he was held prisoners. While being help prisoner at Hampton Court Palace he managed to escape and thought he could find safety on the Isle of Wight and Carisbrooke Castle.However, the governor there informed Parliament and Charles was held prisoner there.While Parliament tried to negotiate with Charles and neither really wanting to budge Charles was in secret negations with the Scots to try an d persuade them to come to his aid and therefore sending England into another Civil War.
This betrayal brought parliament to the decision to put Charles on trial for his crimes against his country.
A special act was passed to create a High Court of Justice to trail a King, as the law stated that to try a king was illegal, and so it had to be made legal.150 Judges were appointed to trial the king. These people were selected from the army, aldermen and citizens of London.Charles was brought to St James Palace on the 19th January 1649 and was no longer treated as a king. He was never left on his own or permitted to see anyone other than his guardsIt had been decided before the trial even started that if Charles refused the authority of the court and did not put in a plea then he would be declared guilty.The trail lasted for 7 days in the painted Chamber at Westminster Palace.King Charles was only present for the first 3 days and the last for sentencing.
A 12 noon, a procession entered the vast enticing hall to begin the trail that would ultimately establish the supremacy of parliament over the crown, increase religious freedoms with the Toleration Act of 1650 and lead to the independence of the judiciary in 1652.
The Charge against Charles was that he was a Tyrant and was also guilty for all the damages, deaths, rapes, burnings etc. that had been committed in the Civil war.
King Charles response:
‘England was never an elective kingdom, but an hereditary kingdom for near these thousand years; therefore let me know by what authority I am called hither: I do stand more for the liberty of my people than any here that come to be my pretended judges.’
He wanted one ‘warranted by the word of God…or warranted by the constitution of the kingdom’
The public response:
Upon being led away after the first day of being on trial there was a mixed reaction from the crowd. Although most were against him and were calling him a tyrant some were still for him weather through loyalty or just because he was their sovereign.
It took 14 days for the Court to come up with an official charge against the king.
They stated were that he had declared war and made war on his own people; something a king should never do due to the bond between a monarch when anointed and their subjects.
The end of Monarchy:
Before Charles could be executed parliament realised that they had to do something to prevent his son, Charles, Prince of Wales inheriting the throne and so they passed a law stating that there could be no successor.
The Death Warrant: 59 members of the Court signed the Death Warrant on 29th January 1649.
The original document is now in the Government archives and is not on display for public viewing. However a facsimile is on display in the Royal Gallery in the Houses Parliament.
Given the nature of the prisoner, the executioner could not be allowed for until the morning when the sentence was to be carried out. At the order of Colonel Hewson, troops went to the house of the public executioner, Richard Brandon and found him at home; but his assistant Ralph Jones could not be found. So a very reluctant Brandon was taken alone under arrest with what equipment he could carry and someone still had to be found to fill in for the headman’s assistant. It was to rmain a matter of conjecture whether it was Brandon, who brought the axe, was the man who used it. It was most probably Brandon who did the execution as the kings head was expertly severed by a heavy blow that sliced clean through.
So was this a legal trial? if so was it a fair one? If it was then the sentence was correct by the laws of the day. Traitors were executed and Charles was declared a traitor of his country, even though he was a king.If Charles was right in the Court and therefore the trial being illegal then regicide was committed. It is my personal belief that even if the Court was legal and Charles accepted the legality of it (which he probably would never have done anyway) then he would never had been given a fair trial. Those people who now held the reins of power, I.E Cromwell wanted him dead and they pushed it to have their way.The arguments for the trail being illegal is what Charles states, the Court was only made up of certain members and only one House was represented. The Court and Cromwell knew this, before the trail they sought out legal advice and upon hearing what they did not they altered the facts and decided upon a plan of action which they stuck through throughout the trial. Bradshaw gives the same answers again and again to Charles and become flustered and at some points has Charles taken away from the Court to prevent Charles trying to sway people’s minds. Many even in the Court themselves were dubious about the legality of the Court and although wanted the king to be punished for his wrongs knew that they were in the wrong and that Charles was still there king and therefore to put him on trial and execute him was going against their country’s laws. It was illegal to try anyone with the court that had been put together to try Charles.So what of the Court, their arguments against the king and the legality of it all? Well by law the House of Lords needed to be presented to make any acts passed legal and therefore as they were not present when the act was passed to make the High Court legal Charles trail was an illegal one. However, in the defiance of the Court what Charles had done against his people was too illegal so therefore it could be said that they were just following in his footsteps and by his example. Charles had made an oath to his country and broke that oath by declaring war on his people and so technically should had been punished for his crimes as king.On his coronation as part of his oath he was asked by the Bishop present the following to which he agreed:
A. So Charles had in effect broken his oath and vow to his people. Does this therefore justify putting him on trial (albeit an illegal one) and punishing him for his crimes? I believe in a way it does. The Charles did declare war on his people and neglected and ignored the rules of his realm which he should have been upholding. He should have been punished for what he had done but two wrongs do not make a right. The trial given to Charles was a biased premeditated one where the verdict was already decided by many before it had begun. The members of the high Court should have known better and should have kept by the laws of their country. The agreement Charles made in the Treaty of Newport should had been what was followed. This was agreed by both sides and accepted. Those who did not accept it then went on and basically began to act as Charles had done.