Killing the King

The Execution of Charles I >> note 1

[Click on image to enlarge] Charles I's execution took place on a stage erected just outside the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall, where he and his court had performed in many masques. The irony of that would not have been lost on the spectators, as it surely was not on Andrew Marvell, whose Horatian Ode (NAEL 8, 1.1712–16) describes this scene, referring to Charles as the "Royal actor."

At right is a 1649 German engraving of the execution of Charles; the unknown artist probably worked from second-hand descriptions.


Tuesday, 30 January 1649.

About ten in the morning the King was brought from St. James's walking on foot through the Park, with a regiment of foot part before and part behind him, with colors flying, drums beating, his private guard of partizans >> note 2 with some of his gentlemen before and some behind bareheaded, Dr. Juxon next behind him, and Colonel Thomlinson (who had the charge of him) talking with the King bareheaded, from the Park up the stairs into the gallery [in Whitehall], and so into the cabinet chamber where he used to lie, where he continued his devotion, refusing to dine (having before taken the Sacrament), only about an hour before he came forth he drank a glass of claret wine and ate a piece of bread about twelve at noon.

From thence he was accompanied by Dr. Juxon, Colonel Thomlinson, and other officers formerly appointed to attend him, and the private guard of partizans and musketeers on each side, through the Banqueting House, adjoining to which the Scaffold was erected between Whitehall Gate and the gate leading into the gallery from St. James's.

The Scaffold was hung round with black and the floor covered with black, and the Ax and Block laid in the middle of the Scaffold. There were divers companies of foot and troops of horse placed on the one side of the Scaffold towards King Street and on the other side towards Charing Cross, and the multitudes of people that came to be spectators [were] very great.

The King being come upon the Scaffold looked very earnestly on the Block and asked Colonel Hacker if there were no higher, and then spake thus, directing his speech chiefly to Colonel Thomlinson.

King: I shall be very little heard of anybody here, I shall therefore speak a word unto you here. Indeed I could hold my peace very well, if I did not think that holding my peace would make some men think that I did submit to the guilt as well as to the punishment. But I think it is my duty to God first, and to my country, for to clear myself both as an honest man, a good king, and a good Christian.

I shall begin first with my innocency. In truth, I think it not very needful for me to insist long upon this, for all the world knows that I never did begin a war with the two houses of Parliament. And I call God to witness — to whom I must shortly make an account — that I never did intend for to encroach upon their privileges. They began upon me: it is the Militia they began upon. They confessed that the Militia was mine, but they thought it fit to have it from me. And to be short, if anybody will look to the dates of commissions — of their commissions and mine — and likewise to the declarations, will see clearly that they began these enormous troubles, not I. So that as [to] the guilt of these enormous crimes that are laid against me, I hope in God that God will clear me of it. I will not; I'm in charity. God forbid that I should lay it upon the two Houses of Parliament. There is no necessity of [doing so] either. I hope they are free of this guilt, for I do believe that ill instruments >> note 3 between them and me have been the chief cause of all this bloodshed, so that by way of speaking, s I find myself clear of all this bloodshed, so that by way of speaking, as I find myself clear of this, I hope and pray God that they may too. Yet for all this, God forbid that I should be so ill a Christian as not to say that God's judgments are just upon me. Many times he does pay justice by an unjust sentence; that is ordinary. I will only say this, that an unjust sentence >> note 4 that I suffered for to take effect, is punished now by an unjust sentence upon me. that is, so far as I have said, to show you that I am an innocent man.

Now for to show you that I am a good Christian. I hope there is (pointing to Dr. Juxon) a good man that will bear me witness that I have forgiven all the world and even those in particular that have been the chief causers of my death. Who they are, God knows; I do not desire to know. I pray God forgive them. But this is not all — my charity must go further. I wish that they may repent, for indeed they have committed a great sin in that particular. I pray God with St. Stephen that this be not laid to their charge — nay not only so, but that they may take the right way to the peace of the kingdom, for my charity commands me not only to forgive particular men, but my charity commands me to endeavor to the last gasp the peace of the kingdom. So, sirs, I do wish with all my soul, and I do hope there is some here (turning to some gentlemen that wrote) will carry it further, that they may endeavor the peace of the kingdom.

Now, sirs, I must show you both how you are out of the way and [I] will put you in the way. First you are out of the way, for certainly all the way you have ever had yet — as I could find by anything — is in the way of conquest. Certainly this is an ill way. For conquest, sirs, in my opinion is never just, except there be a good just cause, either for matter of wrong or just title. And then if you go beyond it, the first quarrel that you have to it, that makes it unjust at the end that was just at the first. But if it be only a matter of conquest, then it is a great robbery; as a pirate said to Alexander the Great that he was a great robber, he [the pirate] was but a petty robber. And so, sirs, I do think the way that you are in is much out of the way. Now, sirs, for to put you in the way. Believe it, you will never do right, nor God will never prosper you, until you give God His due, the King his due — that is, my successors — and the people their due. I am as much for them as any of you. You must give God his due by regulating rightly His Church (according to His Scripture) which is now out of order. For to set you in a way particularly, now I cannot; but only this: a national synod freely called, freely debating among themselves, must settle this, when that every opinion is freely and clearly heard. For the King, indeed I will not — (then turning to a gentleman that touched the Ax he said, "Hurt not the Ax that may hurt me," meaning if he did blunt the edge) — for the King, the laws of the land will clearly instruct you in that. Therefore, because it concerns my own particular, I only give you a touch of it. For the people — and truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever — but I must tell you that their liberty and their freedom consists in having of government those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having a share in government, sirs; that is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things. And therefore until they do that — I mean, that you do put the people in that liberty as I say — certainly they will never enjoy themselves. Sirs, it was for this that now I am come here. If I would have given way to an arbitrary way for to have all laws changed according to the power of the sword, I need not have come here. And therefore I tell you — and I pray God it be not laid to your charge — that I am the martyr of the people.

In truth, sirs, I shall not hold you much longer, for I will only say this to you, that in truth I could have desired some little time longer because that I would have put this that I have said in a little more order and a little better digested than I have done. And therefore I hope you will excuse me. I have delivered my conscience. I pray God that you do take those courses that are best for the good of the kingdom and your own salvations.

Dr. Juxon: Will Your Majesty, though it may be very well known Your Majesty's affections to religion, yet it may be expected that you should say somewhat for the world's satisfaction.

King: I thank you very heartily, my lord, for that I had almost forgotten it. In truth, sirs, my conscience in religion, I think is very well known to all the world. And therefore I declare before you all that I die a Christian according to the profession of the Church of England as I found it left me by my father. And this honest man (pointing to Dr. Juxon) I think will witness it.

Then turning to the officers, the King said: Sirs, excuse me for this same. I have a good cause, and I have a gracious God. I will say no more.

Then turning to Colonel Hacker, he said: Take care they do not put me to pain. And, sir, this, and it please you —

But then a gentleman coming near the Ax, the King said: Take heed of the Ax, pray take heed of the Ax!

Then the King speaking to the Executioner said: I shall say but very short prayers, and when I thrust out my hands . . .

Then the King called to Dr. Juxon for his nightcap, and having put it on, he said to the Executioner, "Does my hair trouble you?" who desired him to put it all under his cap, which the King did accordingly by help of the Executioner and the Bishop.

Then the King turning to Dr. Juxon said: I have a good cause, and a gracious God on my side.

Dr. Juxon: There is but one stage more. This stage is turbulent and troublesome. It is a short one. But you may consider it will soon carry you a very great way — it will carry you from Earth to Heaven, and there you shall find a great deal of cordial joy and comfort.

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

Dr. Juxon: You are exchanged from a temporal to an eternal crown — a good exchange.

The King then said to the Executioner, "Is my hair well?" Then the King took off his cloak and his George, >> note 5 giving his George to Dr. Juxon, saying, "Remember" (it is thought for to give it to the Prince). The King put off his doublet, and being in his waistcoat put his cloak on again, then looking upon the Block said to the Executioner, "You must set it fast."

Executioner: It is fast, sir.

The King: It might have been a little higher.

Executioner: It can be no higher, sir.

The King: When I put out my hands this way (stretching them out), then . . .

After that, having said two or three words (as he stood) to himself with hands and eyes lifted up, immediately stooping down laid his neck upon the Block, and then the Executioner again putting his hair under his cap, the King said (thinking he had been going to strike), "Stay for the sign!"

Executioner: Yes I will, and it please Your Majesty.

And after a very little pause, the King stretching forth his hands, the Executioner at one blow severed his head from his body. Then when the King's head was cut off, the Executioner held it up and showed it to the spectators.

And his body was put in a coffin covered with black velvet for that purpose, and conveyed into his lodgings there. And from thence it was carried to his house at St. James's, where his body was put in a coffin of lead laid there to be seen by the people.

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