Today is the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I.
I have ambivalent thoughts about this. To a degree, I feel some sentimentality, though this is fuelled by the romance of Alexandre Dumas’s novel Twenty Years After when two of the musketeers, Athos and Aramis, were sent to rescue the King. It was my first introduction to the English Civil War, and the scene made a lasting impression on me—blood dripping between the gaps in the scaffold, landing on Athos who had been moments away from spiriting the King away.
But that was fiction.
On one hand, Charles I was stubborn and unyielding. He was duplicitous when it suited him. Mind you, this is no different from any ruler determined to keep their power, including Cromwell. Game of Thrones makes an art of this skill.
Charles was ill suited to wear the crown, though this was not entirely his fault. He had never been groomed to be King. His older brother Henry, the Prince of Wales, was earmarked for that honour until his untimely death.
And then there was this whole divine right to rule belief that he refused to compromise on. This made it impossible for him to accept defeat.
As testimony to this core belief, Charles commissioned the master, Peter Paul Rubens, for a series of paintings to decorate the ceiling of the Banqueting House, which reinforced the myth of his father’s near divinity. (Aside: I give him points for choosing Rubens. The paintings are exquisite and have the distinction of being the only Rubens on public display outside a museum). The irony is that this building served as the venue for his execution.
On the other hand, I’m outraged that the King’s trial and verdict were rigged. Call me naïve, but if one is trying to create an ideal, new order, executing a military coup really doesn’t scream democracy.
In order for the Grandees of the New Model Army to secure the vote to execute Charles, they first purged every moderate from Parliament. This was known as Pride’s Purge, named for the officer who executed the order, Colonel Thomas Pride. In the end, just fifty-nine commissioners signed the King’s death warrant.
Finally, what of the man? Though the King was reviled by many of his subjects, Charles Stuart was beloved by his family. He was a devoted husband to his wife, Henrietta Maria, even though she wasn’t the kindest of hearts. He loved his children and had true affection for them. He did not consider them as mere pawns to be moved across a dynastic board.
But perhaps more telling was that his eldest son proved his willingness to sacrifice everything to save his father. Prior to Charles’s execution, the Prince of Wales, later Charles II, sent to Parliament and Oliver Cromwell each a carte blanche which they rejected.
Clearly the depth of his son’s love was only surpassed by the hate of his enemies.
Tell me your thoughts. Which side would you have been on?