Parliament appointed a High Court of Justice in January 1649. King Charles I was charged with high treason against the people of England for his part in the English Civil War. The King’s trial opened on 20 January. He refused to answer the charges, saying that he did not recognise the authority of the High Court, but he was found guilty of the charges against him and sentenced to death on 27 January 1649. The King was beheaded on a scaffold outside the Banqueting House at Whitehall on 30 January.
From a chapter named “Royal Demise”
January 30, 1649 – London, England – 9:30am – St. James’ Park
It was a bitter morning in London, with temperatures hovering in the low thirties. It was so cold that the Thames froze over. The sky was overcast, a harbinger of things to come.
King Charles knelt beside his dog; a brown and white spaniel named Rogue, and caressed his ears. “Never fear, my friend. Someone will care for you.” The dog gazed at him with innocent eyes. Charles knew that he would never see him again.
“My King!” William Juxon cried. The Bishop of London looked stricken. “I would be pleased to take him to your family or keep him myself if need be.”
Charles looked up. “Thank you, friend.” The old man was a devoted companion. “May God smile upon you.” The King stroked the dog’s back and planted a kiss on his head. Then he struggled to stand, relying upon his weak ankles.
“Let me help, your Majesty!” The Bishop reached out to assist him.
Charles waved a hand. “Nay, let me do it.” After a few more attempts he was upright, facing the Bishop. He gazed at the sky and sighed. “Such a beautiful morning.”
Juxon raised his eyebrows.
The King smiled. “Ah… I know that it is not. Humor me. For it is the last morning that I will ever see.”
“Oh…” The Bishop was close to tears, “I wish that was not true.”
The King squeezed his shoulder. “Weep not for me. For this is my second marriage day. Before night I hope to be espoused to my blessed Jesus.”
Juxon wept openly.
Charles barely heard him. Now that he’d said goodbye to the dog, he obsessed on events that led up to his predicament. After a long incarceration, he’d escaped to the Isle of Wight. Betrayed by the island’s governor, he’d been confined to Carisbrooke Castle. From this location, he bargained with various royalist parties and signed a secret treaty with the Scots. His offer was simple. If they would invade England on Charles’ behalf and restore him to the throne, he would tolerate Presbyterianism. Factions of royalist Scots invaded England, sparking a brutal second civil war. They were soundly defeated.
After failed negotiations, the King was moved to Hurst Castle in late 1648, then to Windsor Castle. For encouraging a civil war while in captivity, the monarch was accused of high treason. The House of Commons passed an Act of Parliament to create a court for his trial.
Charles had thought that this action would fail. It was dangerous to accuse a King of treason. Indeed, many potential commissioners refused to serve. Then the unthinkable happened. In early January, he’d been put on trial before sixty-eight commissioners who urged him to enter a plea. Charles refused, claiming that no court had jurisdiction over a monarch. He argued that his authority to rule had been given to him by God when he was crowned and the trial was illegal. Three times he refused to enter a plea! It was seen as an admission of guilt. The trial proceeded, witnesses were heard, and fifty-nine of the commissioners signed his death warrant.
The Chief Judge had delivered the sentence, “Charles Stuart is a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good of this nation. He shall be put to death by severing his head from his body.”
The memory infuriated him. When the sentence was passed, I tried to defend myself. They would not hear me! I was taken from the court by armed soldiers like a common criminal. He’d been granted a few days to make peace with God and say goodbye to his family.
The Bishop of London helped him to prepare for the ordeal, joining him for morning prayers and administering the Sacrament. He read the lesson for the day, ‘The Passion of the Christ’. Charles found it reassuring. Like Christ the Savior, he was ready to endure this final humiliation to meet his maker. Some thought him guilty. But God would absolve him of wrongdoing.
His family was another story. His two oldest sons and younger daughter were living in Paris, under the protection of the exiled Stuart court. It gave him comfort that his son James had escaped parliamentary custody to travel to France, disguised as a woman. His bloodline would continue and eventually prevail. The only ones left in London were his wife Henrietta, his thirteen-year-old daughter Elizabeth, and nine-year-old son Henry. He hadn’t seen his wife in more than four years. They’d quarreled over fundamental issues, one being her unfaithfulness. Therefore, he’d snubbed his wife and allowed only his daughter and son to visit.
Charles got revenge. His last words to his daughter were “Tell your mother that my thoughts never strayed from her, and that love should be the same to the last. I have always been faithful to her.” This innocuous message pleased his children, but he knew that it would wound his wife. He’d investigated her infidelity and found that she betrayed him. He confronted her with evidence and extracted a confession about that traitorous Scot, Lord Gordon. He gritted his teeth. How many more were there? French whore!
Colonel Thomlinson approached. The uniformed man was in charge of the two companies of infantry guarding him. He stroked his beard nervously. “It is time, Your Majesty.”
The King unconsciously touched his neck. They will escort me to my death. Breathe, Charles! Dignity is required. You must not show fear. He had dressed in thick underclothes so that he would not shiver from the cold. It could be interpreted as a sign of weakness.
“Your Majesty,” the Colonel repeated. “The signal has been given. We must go.” The guards raised the Colors and began to beat drums. A young boy accepted the leash and led the spaniel away.
The King’s bowels churned. He’d eaten no breakfast, but instead had taken the Sacrament. Nothing more. He did not want to vomit. Oh, how he wished for a swig of laudanum! Charles looked around. He was surrounded by soldiers. No one would rescue him. There was no chance of escape. “I am ready.”
Ah… But a handful of his supporters were there as well. He saw them remove their caps to travel bare-headed as he would. The Bishop, his attendant Thomas Herbert, and a few more… Such brave men.
Bishop Juxon placed a hand on his shoulder. “Come, your Majesty.”
Charles watched as his partisans lined up before and after him. For an instant, he felt protected by his friends. The foot soldiers formed a barrier around them as they began to walk across the park with Colors flying and drums beating. The Palace of Whitehall loomed in the distance. He could see a large crowd gathered around it.
Charles held his head high. His outward manner was calm, but his mind was a raging storm. How dare they do this to a King!
The procession left the park and passed crowds of curious onlookers gathering to see the execution. They took the stairs up into the Gallery, then into the Cabinet Chamber. There the King continued his Devotion with the Bishop. To avoid fainting from hunger, he drank a glass of wine and ate a piece of bread at noon. Another hour passed.
Charles thought that it was cruel to make him wait. He’d been informed of a delay. The official executioner refused to do the deed. There then followed a frantic search to find someone to take his place. Finally, they’d located a man and his assistant who agreed to do it masked.
The King hoped that he knew what he was doing. An unskilled ax man could take three blows to sever a head. Charles swallowed hard. He wished that it was over.
The story continues in Dark Destiny, book three in the Dark Birthright trilogy.
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