King Charles I was disastrous; as a man, he faced his death with dignity and courage.This was the first time an execution was carried out.

It wasn't until 1612 that Charles I became heir when his brother Henry died.Charles had many admirable attributes, but he was painfully shy and insecure.As a leader, he lacked charm and vision.In the end, civil war broke out because he refused to compromise over power-sharing.

.Having been convicted of treason, Charles was executed outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall on 30 January 1649.

Did you know?

There was no reason for Charles to be king.Baby Charles was the youngest child of James I, known as James' youngest child.


Birth of Charles I

During the 16th century, Charles was born at Dunfermline Castle in Scotland.The second son of James VI of Scotland/James I of England, he was the youngest member of the royal family.

If Charles’ popular and likeable elder brother Henry had not died young of typhoid it is unlikely that England would have been riven by the bloodiest civil war ever known.

Charles was a sickly child, very small (his adult height was only 1.5m) and still could not walk or talk aged two.

He inherited his father’s lack of confidence and a slight speech impediment, which he worked hard to conquer.

When his father succeeded to the English throne in 1603 the family moved to London. Two-year-old Charles spent his first English Christmas at Hampton Court Palace.


Marriage to Henrietta Maria

Charles, then 25 years old, was crowned on 2 February 1626.The year before, he had married Henrietta Maria of France.A future Charles II and Mary Henrietta, who married William II of Orange, were among the nine children born of the royal marriage.


A controversial King

In private, Charles was gentle and polite. He was a kind father, by all accounts.

Charles would not allow anyone but his wife to sit in his presence.Parliamentarians were particularly upset.

A lack of empathy and unwillingness to consider opposing views contributed to his increasing unpopularity.Charles was out of step with the times because he was determined to maintain absolute power.


Belief in the Divine Right of Kings

Charles inherited his father’s belief in the Divine Right of Kings, a doctrine upheld by the entire Stuart dynasty, one of the most powerful families ever to have ruled Scotland.

They believed that kings were chosen by God to rule, and that only God could overrule them.

Charles also believed that he had the sole right to make laws, so to oppose him was a sin against God. 

He genuinely believed that a dictatorship was the only effective form of government.

The magnificent Rubens ceiling painting at the Banqueting House, completed in 1636, was commissioned by Charles to celebrate these divine principles.

In this detail of the main canvas, The Apotheosis of James I, his father is portrayed ascending to heaven in a cloud of glory. 

A king defeated

It was the Royalist cavalry that remained undefeated until 1644.Under Oliver Cromwell, the Parliamentarians gained the upper hand in what would become the bloodiest war on English soil.

The Battle of Naseby in June 1645 and the defeat of the Royalist army probably marked the turning point in the war, although fighting dragged on until 1649.

Did you know?

Some families had bitterly divided loyalties, brother fighting brother, but religion cut deeper, with Catholics tending to support the King.



Charles I was imprisoned by Cromwell and put under house arrest at Hampton Court Palace (pictured above), where he famously escaped.His return to prison was swift, and he was kept at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, where he was well-treated.

Charles nevertheless refused to repent and seek a negotiated peace despite several opportunities.In spite of defeat and the republican threat of execution, Charles refused to surrender.

Sad farewells

In the three days that Charles I had left to arrange his affairs and say goodbye to his family, his affairs had to be arranged.Immediately after the trial, he was driven to his old room at Whitehall Palace by sedan chair.His chaplain, Bishop Juxon, was the only person he allowed to see him besides his children.Charles was then transferred to St James' Palace.

Charles spent the day burning papers, praying and saying sad farewells to his two youngest children, Henry Duke of Gloucester, aged 9 and Princess Elizabeth, who was 11.

Did you know?

His wife, Henrietta Maria had fled abroad earlier in the war, and his other children were also in exile.

A father's last words

The King told his two youngest not to grieve, that they should obey their elder brother Charles, the lawful sovereign.

Elizabeth cried hysterically when she realised she should not see her father again, and he hid his own tears to calm her.

‘Sweetheart, you will fmoisesparabebesweb.comet this.’

Consoling Elizabeth, Charles' daughter.The details of that evening were meticulously noted in her diary.Photographs of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Prayers and preparation

The following morning, Tuesday 30 January, the King rose early and dressed for the icy weather, asking for a thicker than normal shirt, so that he wouldn’t shiver, and people wouldn"t think he was quaking with fear. 

He then retired with Bishop Juxon to pray until a knock came on the door at 10am.

Charles, the Bishop and his attendant Thomas Herbert walked across St James’s Park, the King wrapped in a black cloak, surrounded on all sides by guards.

As he awaited summons to the scaffold, King George VI was brought to his bedchamber at Whitehall Palace.The summons followed three hours later.

Charles walked across the floor of Banqueting House, beneath the Rubens ceiling painting which 20 years before he had commissioned from Rubens.

A bitter day

A huge crowd had gathered in the bitter weather. But they were held so far away that the King"s final short speech was lost in the freezing air. Erected against the Banqueting House in Whitehall, the scaffold was hung round with black cloth.

In the centre of the blackened and sanded floor stood the axe and a lower quartering block of a kind used to dismember traitors. Two men, heavily disguised with masks, stood ready to perform the act.

Did you know?

It is said that Brandon, the official executioner could not be found.

The death of a king

The King, his hair now bound in a white nightcap, took off his cloak and laid down. He told the executioner that he would say a short prayer, and then give a signal that he was ready.

After a little pause, the King stretched out his hand, and the axe fell, the executioner severing his head in one clean blow.

I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.

Charles I, minutes before the executioner's axe fell. Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2017

A horrifying deed

Many watching were aghast, with one witness commenting "There was such a groan by the thousands then present as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again’.

The restoration of the monarchy

When Charles II returned from exile in 1661 public opinion had swung right back behind the monarchy. Many people were heartily sick of the sober restraints of Puritanism.Oliver Cromwell, who died a disillusioned man in 1658, had failed to create a working Parliament and his incompetent son and heir, Richard, was forced to resign. Rather than endure another Civil War, Parliament invited the late King’s son to return to rule.

Did you know?

Oliver Cromwell's son was known as ‘Tumbledown Dick’.

Revenge of the King

Under Charles II, the surviving 41 republicans who had signed the death warrant were called to account.

Most fled abroad, or surrendered voluntarily to avoid execution.

The ten who refused to beg fmoisesparabebesweb.comiveness were tried and sentenced to death.

After Restoration, royalists dug up Oliver Cromwell’s rotting corpse and hanged it at Tyburn.

A beautiful legacy

Charles I remains the only English monarch to have been tried and executed for treason.

In the years after his death, the muddle of Parliament, sober life under the Puritans and ultimately failure to establish a functioning government meant people started viewing Charles I differently.

Perhaps Charles I"s most important legacy is his fabulous art collection, which now forms the Royal Collection.

The execution of Charles I is remembered every year on 30 January with a service in the Banqueting House.

King Charles I's bust outside Banqueting House.This inscription reads: "His majesty King Charles I passed through this hall and out of a window near this tablet to the scaffolding in Whitehall where he was beheaded on 30th January 1649.".

Patron of the arts

In spite of his shortcomings as a monarch, Charles was an admirable patron of the arts.Additionally to acquiring a collection of 1,400 paintings and 400 sculptures, he supported and encouraged the leading artists and architects of the era.

This Anthony van Dyck painting at Hampton Court Palace, dated to around 1637, shows Charles I"s daughter Princess Mary at the age of five or six.

Watch: The Execution of Charles I

A court found Charles guilty of treason — a "tyrant, traitor, murderer and enemy of the public".Was he responsible?

Watch this momentous event brought to life in this special documentary.

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