John Bradshaw was the chief judge in the trial of Charles I and the man who pronounced the death sentence on the king. Like others labelled a regicide, John Bradshaw’s remains were dug up and symbolically hanged in 1660 on the Restoration of Charles II.
John Bradshaw was born in 1602 in Stockport. He was educated at Stockport Grammar School and went on to excel in law. In 1627, Bradshaw was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn. He worked in Cheshire as a provincial barrister before moving to London to work. Bradshaw made a good name for himself and was employed by Parliament as a prosecutor during and after the English Civil War.
In 1647, Bradshaw was appointed Chief Justice for Chester and many in the profession viewed him as a competent man within his field. He was appointed to the commission set up to try Charles I. Many others in the legal field were also appointed but a large number failed to turn up. Bradshaw became President of the commission – but he was absent when he was selected and had no opportunity to refuse the position.
During the trial, Bradshaw wore a steel lined hat, as he feared he would be assassinated. However, he did believe in what he was doing and generally maintained a good court. Charles was given the legal right to defend himself but failed to do so. It was Charles who angered the court by refusing to stand or take off his hat in a mark of respect of the court. Such actions were bound to anger those already less than content with what the king had done. There were disruptions, almost certainly pre-planned, to the court’s proceedings but Bradshaw generally dealt with them well.
The leaders of Parliament was clearly impressed with the way Bradshaw handled himself during the trial and in the same year that Charles was executed, Bradshaw was appointed President of the Council of State of the Commonwealth.
Bradshaw was a firm believer in the authority of Parliament. When Cromwell seized power in 1653, Bradshaw berated him.
“Sir, we have heard what you did at the House this morning, and before many hours all England will hear it. But, sir, you are mistaken to think that the Parliament is dissolved, for no power under heaven can dissolve them but themselves. Therefore take you notice of that.”
In 1654, Bradshaw was elected Member of Parliament for Stafford. However, he refused to subscribe to the ‘recognition of the government’’ which Cromwell had imposed on all MP’s. Between 1654 and 1658, Bradshaw retired from all forms of politics but returned to Parliament in 1659 where he served on the Council of State. However, he was very ill at this time and died in the same year.
Bradshaw was buried in Westminster Abbey but his body was dug up and hanged on a gibbet after the return of Charles II.