The execution of Charles I, 30 January 1649

30 January 2011

[As for the people,] truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever; but I must tell you that their liberty and freedom consist in having of government, those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government, sirs; that is nothing pertaining to them; a subject and a sovereign are clear 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 needed not to 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. . .

And to the executioner he said, ‘I shall say but very short prayers, and when I thrust out my hands -‘

Then he called to the bishop for his cap, and having put it on, asked the executioner, ‘Does my hair trouble you?’ who desired him to put it all under his cap; which, as he was doing by the help of the bishop and the executioner, he turned to the bishop, and said, ‘I have a good cause, and a gracious God on my side.’

The bishop said, ‘There is but one stage more, which, though turbulent and troublesome, yet is a very short one. 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 to your great joy the prize you hasten to, a crown of glory.’

The king adjoins, ‘I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.’

The bishop: ‘You are exchanged from a temporal to an eternal crown, – a good exchange.’

Then the king asked the executioner, ‘Is my hair well?’ And taking off his cloak and George [the jeweled pendant of the Order of the Garter, bearing the figure of St. George], he delivered his George to the bishop. . .

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.’

The executioner: ‘It is fast, sir.’

King: ‘It might have been a little higher.’

Executioner: ‘It can be no higher, sir.’

King: ‘When I put out my hands this way, then – ‘

Then having said a few words to himself, as he stood, with hands and eyes lift up, immediately stooping down he laid his neck upon the block; and the executioner, again putting his hair under his cap, his Majesty, thinking he had been going to strike, bade him, ‘Stay for the sign.’

Executioner: ‘Yes, I will, and it please your Majesty.’

After a very short pause, his Majesty stretching forth his hands, the, executioner at one blow severed his head from his body; which, being held up and showed to the people, was with his body put into a coffin covered with black velvet and carried into his lodging.

His blood was taken up by divers persons for different ends: by some as trophies of their villainy; by others as relics of a martyr; and in some hath had the same effect, by the blessing of God, which was often found in his sacred touch when living.“‘

An account by an eyewitness to the execution of Charles I on this day in 1649. The King, concerned that people would think him weak or afraid had donned two shirts that morning so that he would not be seen to shiver in the cold January air.

The body of Charles I was buried on the 7th February in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where it lies alongside Henry VIII.


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