The Execution of Charles I
The way writers described this execution of Charles I is interesting in
itself though most of the accounts below were written many years after 1649.
This was written by Laurence Echard in 1720.
last scene of the tragedy happened on a very cold day - a day melancholy and
dismal beyond any that England had ever yet beheld…..Charles looked round upon
the vast throngs of people, who with bleeding hearts and weeping eyes pressed to
behold this dismal spectacle…his head was at one blow severed from his body……..none
of the kings of England ever left the world with more open marks of sorrow and
The venerable Archbishop Usher, from a window, swooned at the sight
of the fatal blow, as at a prodigy too great for Heaven to permit, or the Earth
to behold. And as the rumour of his death spread throughout the kingdom, women
miscarried, many of both sexes fell into palpitations, swoonings and melancholy
and some, with sudden consternation, expired."
This was written by Bulstrode Whitelock in 1682.
"For the king, turning to the gentleman that touched
the axe said "Hurt not the axe that may hurt me."
John Rushworth wrote the following:
day his majesty was brought from St James, about 10 in the morning, walking on
foot through the park, with a regiment of foot for his guard, with colours
flying, drums beating, his private guard of partisans, with some of his
gentlemen before, and some behind, bear-headed.
king came upon the scaffold, noticed the great crowd of people, walked around
the scaffold and looked earnestly at the block, asked if it could not be set
higher, then spoke to those present on the scaffold. After which, the king
stooping down, laid his head upon the block, and after a little pause,
stretching forth his hands, the executioner at one blow severed his head from
his body. Then his head was put in a coffin."
White Kennet wrote the following:
last words to his daughter Elizabeth were, "He bid her tell her mother,
that his thoughts had never strayed from her, and that love should be the same
to the last. The king asked the executioner "Is my hair well? And taking
off his cloak and (Order of St) George, he delivered his George to the bishop
saying "Remember". Then putting off his doublet, and being in his
waistcoat, he put on his cloak again, and looking upon the block, said to the
executioner "You must set it fast. Being told by him it could be now no
higher, the king said "When I put out my hands, then".
And saying a few words to himself as he stood, with hands and eyes lift up,
immediately stooping down, he laid his head upon the block, and the executioner
again putting his hair under his cap, his majesty think he had been going to
strike, bad him "Stay for the sign"; to which the executioner said,
"Yes I will and it please your Majesty."
So, after a short pause, his majesty stretching forth his hands, the executioner
(who was all the while in a mask) at one blow severed his head from his body,
which being held up and showed to the astonished people, was with his body put
in a coffin covered with black velvet, and carried into the Lodging Chamber in
Whitehall. It must be dreadfully remembered, that the
cruel powers did suspect that the king would not submit his head to the block,
and therefore to bring him down to violence to it, they had prepared hooks and
staples to haul him as a victim to the slaughter.
By the example of his Savior, he resisted not, he disappointed their wit, and
yielded to their malice."
The following was written by Lord
Clarendon in 1816 in his book "The History of the Rebellion
and Civil Wars in England". In it, Clarendon never mentions the
execution of Charles directly but constantly refers to what happened as a
most execrable murder that was ever committed since that of our blessed
Savior.....is so well known.....that the farther mentioning it....would afflict
and grieve the reader.......he was the worthiest of gentlemen, the best master,
the best friend, the best husband, the best father, the best Christian, that the
age in which he lived produced.
And if he were not the greatest king, if he were without some parts and
qualities which have made some kings great and happy, no other prince was ever
happy who was possessed of half his virtues and endowments, and so much without
any kind of vice.
David Hume, writing in the "History
of England" claims that Charles said the following to his daughter
Elizabeth just before his execution:
king gave her in charge to tell the queen, that during the whole course of his
life, he had never once, even in thought, failed in his fidelity towards her,
and that his conjugal tenderness and his life should have equal duration."
Of the execution itself, Hume wrote:
said) "I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown: where no
disturbance can have place." At one blow was his head severed from his
body. A man in a (mask) performed the office of executioner. Another, in like
disguise, held up to the spectators the head, streaming with blood, and cried
aloud "This is the head of a traitor."
It is impossible to describe the grief, indignation, and astonishment which took
place.....throughout the whole nation, as soon as the report of this fatal
execution was conveyed to them........women are said to have cast forth the
untimely fruit of their womb: others fell into convulsions, or sunk into such a
melancholy as attested them to their grave: Nay, some unmindful of themselves,
as though they could not, or would not survive their beloved prince, it is
reported, suddenly fell down dead."