The Death Sentence of Charles I

The Death Sentence of Charles I

On January 27th 1649, the High Court of Justice meeting in Westminster Hall, announced its death sentence at the end of the trial of Charles I. Found guilty of treason Charles was sentenced to death “by the severing of his head from his body”. The full judgement read as follows:


“Whereas the Commons of England assembled by Parliament, have by their late Act authorised and constituted us an High Court of Justice for the trying and judging of the said Charles Stuart for the crimes and treasons in the said Act mentioned… pursuance of the said Act, a charge of high treason and other high crimes was, in behalf of the people of England, exhibited against him, and read openly unto him, wherein he was charged, that he, the said Charles Stuart, being admitted King of England, and therein trusted within a limited power to govern by, and according to the law of the land and otherwise; and by his trust, oath and office, being obliged to use the power committed to him for the good and benefit of the people, and for the preservation of their rights and liberties; yet, nevertheless, out of a wicked design to erect and uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will, and to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people, and to take away and make void the foundations thereof, and of all redress and remedy of misgovernment, which by the fundamental constitutions of this Kingdom were reserved on the people’s behalf in the right and power of frequent and successive Parliaments; he, the said Charles Stuart…hath traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament, and people therein represented…..This Court is fully satisfied in their judgements and consciences, that he has been guilty of the wicked design and endeavours in the said charge set forth…………..and that he hath been and is the occasioner, author, and continuer of the said unnatural, cruel, and bloody wars, and therein guilty of high treason, and of the murders, rapines, burnings, spoils, desolations, damage, and mischief to this nation acted and committed in the said war, and occasioned thereby. For all which treasons and crimes this Court doth adjudge that he, the said Charles Stuart, as a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good people of this nation, shall be put to death by the severing of his head from his body.”  


The whole session was fraught with problems that invariably emanated from the public gallery. When John Bradshaw reminded the court that Charles had been charged with treason in the name of the people of England, a woman’s voiced shouted out:


“Not half, not a quarter of the people of England. Oliver Cromwell is a traitor.”


The regicide Colonel Axtell, in charge of the security in Westminster Hall, ordered that muskets should be levelled at the spectators’ gallery. He also ordered troops into the gallery to arrest the lady involved but she had gone before they could do so.


Bradshaw was further disturbed by a member of the High Court itself. Charles had asked to address the Court at the last minute. Bradshaw refused this request much to the consternation of John Downes who protested so much that Bradshaw had no alternative but to adjoin the Court for about 30 minutes. During the recess it is said that Oliver Cromwell berated Downes so much that Downes went to the Speaker’s Room “to ease his heart with tears”. However, the experience did not stop Downes signing the death warrant some days later.


Charles, once again, attempted to address the Court after the sentence had been read out. Bradshaw ordered that guards should remove the King from the Court. In fact, the law was on Bradshaw’s side as by law a man who had been condemned to death was technically dead in law and therefore could not speak after the passing of the death sentence. Also as Charles had refused to recognise the Court throughout the proceedings, Bradshaw argued that he could not address something he did not recognise.

MLA Citation/Reference

"The Death Sentence of Charles I". 2014. Web.

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