Off with his Head! The Demise of Charles I


King_Charles_I_by_Gerrit_van_Honthorst_smOn the 30th January 1649, King Charles I was executed, bringing a temporary end to the English monarchy.

King Charles’ problems began with his marriage to the Roman-Catholic French princess Henrietta Maria in 1625, which did not please his Protestant subjects. Then, in 1637 he totally misunderstood the mood of his Scottish subjects, when he attempted to impose an Anglican form of worship on the largely Scottish Presbyterian population. The result was a series of riots, which became so serious they led to general unrest across Scotland.

Charles was forced to recall Parliament in 1640 to request funding to fight the Scottish uprising. However, this “Short Parliament” refused Charles’ financial demands. The continuing civil unrest in the north forced Charles to ask Parliament for help again in December 1640, who again refused assistance.

Not only did Parliament dislike Charles and his demands for money, but they impeached his two main ministers, Laud and Strafford, for treason. Parliament then went further, and abolished two of the country’s ancient courts, (the Star Chamber and the High Commission), which Charles had been using to raise money illegally.

King Charles tried to arrest the leaders of Parliament’s Members of the Commons, John Hampden and John Pym, who’d blocked his plans, but failed. Soon armed conflict broke out between the King and Parliament, tipping the whole of England into Civil War.

For the next six years Civil War was fought between King Charles’ Royalists, and Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians (the Roundheads). After many battles, the war finally ended with the Royalists defeated at the Battle of Preston in August 1648.

Although Charles had been defeated on the battlefield, he still believed he should not give up any of his power, which he believed had been given to him by God. King Charles tried to start another campaign by forming an alliance with Scotland. This led to Cromwell insisting that Charles be tried for high treason against the realm of England.

At his trial, Charles claimed the court was illegal, and he refused to enter a plea. Ignoring him, however, the court declared the King guilty and sentenced him to death. Shortly thereafter, the King would walk to the axeman’s block.

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Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.

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