'The Execution of King Charles the First - Execution of King Charles I, artist unknown
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The words of King Charles I, spoken on the scaffold outside the Banqueting Hall on Whitehall, London, on the day of his execution, Tuesday 30 January 1649
The details of the day's grim happenings and a full transcript of King's speech (which had been recorded in shorthand) were memorialised in a number of popularly published pamphlets, such as King Charls his speech made upon the scaffold…
The publisher, Peter Cole, rushed to register his pamphlet with the Stationers’ Company on 31 January 1649, the day immediately following the execution, so as to take advantage of a market eager for accounts of the king’s
final hours. So speedily was the pamphlet rushed into print that no one noticed that the date of the event was erroneously given as being in January 1648!
Although many members of the public had attended the
execution, the distance
between the crowd and and scaffold plus an icy winter wind had prevented all but a few from hearing any of his words, something which Charles comments upon in the published speech: ‘I shall
be very little heard of anybody here…’. However, thanks to Bishop William Juxon, who recorded his words in shorthand, and through the published
pamphlet, the King was heard as he finally answered the charges that had been brought against him at his trial in the Great Hall at Westminster, wishing ‘to clear myself both as an honest man, and a good King, and a
Here, with astonishing immediacy, is an eyewitness account of the regicide as Londoners would have read it within 24 hours its happening...
Made upon the
Immediately before his
On Tuesday the 30 of Ian. 1648
VVith a Relation of the maner of
his going to Execution
Published by Special Authority.
Printed by Peter Cole, at the sign of the
Printing-Press in Cornhil, near the
Royal Exchange. 1649.
About ten in the Morning the King was brought from St. James's, walking on foot through the Park, with a Regiment of Foot, part before and part behind him, with Colours flying, Drums beating, his private Guard of Partizans with some of his Gentlemen before and some behind bareheaded, D. J U X O N next behind him and Col. Thomlinson (who had the charge of him) talking with the King bareheaded from the Park, up the stairs into the Gallery, and so into the Cabinet-Chamber where he used to lie, where he continued at his Devotion, refusing to dine, (having before taken the Sacrament) only about an hour before he came forth, he drank a glass of Claret wine, and eat a piece of bread about twelve at noon.
(It is observed the King desired to have the use of the cabinet and the little room next it where there was a trap door.)
From thence he was accompanied by Dr. Juxon, Col. Thomlinson and other officers formerly appointed to attend him and the private guard of partizans, with musketeers on each side, through the Banqueting house adjoining to which the scaffold was erected between Whitehall Gate and the Gate leading into the gallery from St. James's: The Scaffold was hung round with black and the floor covered with black and the Ax and Block laid in the middle of the Scaffold. There were divers companies of Foot, and Troops of Horse placed on the one side of the Scaffold towards Kings-Street and on the other side towards Charing Cross, and the multitudes of people that came to be Spectators, very great.
The King being come upon the Scaffold, look'd very earnestly upon the Block and ask'd Col. Hacker if there were no higher; and then spake thus (directing his speech chiefly to Col: Thomlinson).
King. I shall be very little heard of anybody here, I shall therefore speak a word unto you here. Indeed I could hold my peace very well, if I did not think that holding my peace would make some men think that I did submit to the guilt as well as to the punishment. But I think it is my duty to God first and to my country for to clear myself both as an honest man and a good King, and a good Christian. I shall begin first with my innocence. In troth I think it not very needful for me to insist long upon this, for all the world knows that I never did begin a War with the two Houses of Parliament. And I call God to witness, to whom I must shortly make an account, that I never did intend for to encroach upon their privileges. They began upon me, it is the Militia they began upon, they confest that the Militia was mine, but they thought it fit for to have it from me. And, to be short, if any body will look to the dates of Commissions, of their commissions and mine, and likewise to the Declarations, will see clearly that they began these unhappy troubles, not I. So that as the guilt of these enormous crimes that are laid against me I hope in God that God will clear me of it, I will not, I am in charity. God forbid that I should lay it upon the two Houses of Parliament; there is no necessity of either, I hope that they are free of this guilt; for I do believe that ill instruments between them and me has been the chief cause of all this bloodshed; so that by way of speaking, as I finde my self clear of this, I hope (and pray God) that they may too; yet for all this, God forbid that I should be so ill a Christian as not to say that Gods Judgments are just upon me. Many times he does pay Justice by an unjust Sentence, that is ordinary; I will onely say this, That an unjust Sentence (Strafford) that I suffered for to take effect, is punished now by an unjust Sentence upon me; that is, so far as I have said, to shew you that I am an innocent man.
Now for to shew you that I am a good Christian; I hope there is (pointing to D. Juxon) a good man that will bear me witness that I have forgiven all the world, and even those in particular that have been the chief causes of my death. Who they are, God knows, I do not desire to know, God forgive them. But this is not all, my charity must go further. I wish that they may repent, for indeed they have committed a great sin in that particular. I pray God, with St. Stephen, that this be not laid to their charge. Nay, not only so, but that they may take the right way to the peace of the kingdom, for my charity commands me not only to forgive particular men, but my charity commands me to endeavour to the last gasp the Peace of the Kingdom. So, Sirs, I do wish with all my soul, and I do hope there is some here (turning to some gentlemen that wrote) that will carry it further, that they may endeavour the peace of the Kingdom. Now, (Sirs) I must show you both how you are out of the way and will put you in a way; first, you are out of the way, for certainly all the way you have ever had yet, as I could find by anything, is by way of conquest. Certainly this is an ill way, for Conquest, (Sir) in my opinion, is never just, except that there be a good just Cause, either for matter of wrong or just Title, and then if you go beyond it, the first quarrel that you have to it, that makes it unjust at the end that was just at the first: But if it be only matter of Conquest, there is a great Robbery; as a Pirat said to Alexander, that He was the great Robber, he was but a petty Robber: and so, Sir, I do think the way that you are in, is much out of the way. Now Sir, for to put you in the way, believe it you will never do right, nor God will never prosper you, until you give God his due, the King his due (that is, my Successors) and the People their due; I am as much for them as any of you: You must give God his due by regulating rightly His Church (according to the Scripture) which is now out of order. For to set you in a way particularly now I cannot, but onely this. A national synod freely called, freely debating among themselves, must settle this, when that every opinion is freely and clearly heard.
For the King, indeed I will not, (then turning to a Gentlemen that touched the Ax, said, Hurt not the Ax, that may hurt me) [meaning if he did blunt the edg] For the King:) The Laws of the Land will clearly instruct you for that; therefore, because it concerns My Own particular, I onely give you a touch of it.
For the people. And truly I desire their Liberty and Freedom as much as any Body whomsoever. But I must tell you, That their Liberty and Freedom, consists in having of Government; those Laws, by which their Life and their gGods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government (Sir) that [9/10] is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a soveraign are clean 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.
Introth, Sirs, I shall not hold you much longer, for I will only say thus to you. That in truth I could have desired some little time longer, because I would have put then that I have said in a little more order, and a little better digested than I have done. And, therefore, I hope that you will excuse Me.
I have delivered my Conscience. I pray God, that you do take those courses that are best for the good of the Kingdom and your own Salvations.
Will Your Majesty (though it may be very well known Your Majesties Affections to Religion, yet it may be expected, that You should) say somewhat for the Worlds satisfaction.
I thank you very heartily (my Lord) for that, I had almost forgotten it. Introth, Sirs, My Conscience in Religion, I think, is very well knowne to all the World; and, therefore, I declare before you all that I die a Christian, according to the profession of the Church of ENGLAND, as I found it left me by my father. And this honest man [pointing to Dr. Juxon] I think will witness it. Then turning to the Officers said, Sirs, excuse me for this same. I have a good Cause, and I have a gracious God; I will say no more. Then turning to Colonel Hacker, he said, Take care that they do not put Me to pain, and Sir this, and it please you: But then a Gentleman coming near the Ax, the King said, Take heed of the Ax. Pray take heed of the Ax.
Then the King, speaking to the Executioner said, I shall say but very short Prayers, and when I thrust out my hands... Then the King called to Dr. Juxon for His Night-Cap, and having put it on said to the Executioner, Does My Hair trouble you? Who desired Him to put it all under His Cap, which the King did accordingly, by the help of the Executioner and the Bishop: then the King turning to Dr. Juxon said, I have a good Cause, and a gracious GOD on my side.
There is but one Stage more. This Stage is turbulent and troublesome; it is a short one: But You may consider it will soon carry You a very great way; it will carry You from Earth to Heaven; and there you shall finde a great deal of Cordial, Joy, and Comfort.
I go from a corruptible, to an incorruptible Crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the World.
You are exchanged from a Temporal to an eternal Crown; a good exchange.
The King then said to the Executioner, is My Hair well: Then the King took off His Cloak and His George, giving His George to Dr. Juxon, saying, Remember„. (It is thought for to give it to the Prince.) Then the King put off His Dublet and being in His Wastecoat, put His Cloak on again; then looking upon the block, said to the Executioner, You must set it fast.
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 (Stretching them out) then...
After having said two or three words (as he stood) to Himself with hands and eyes lift up. Immediately stooping down, laid His Neck on the Block: And then the Executioner again putting his Hair under his Cap, the King said, Stay for the signe. (Thinking he had been going to strike)
Executioner. Yes, I will, and it please Your Majesty.
And after a very little pawse, the King stretching forth his hands, The Executioner at one blow, severed his head from his Body.
That when the Kings head was cut off, the Executioner held it up, and shewed it to the Spectators.
And his Body was put in a Coffin, covered with black Velvet, for that purpose.
The Kings body now lies in His Lodging Chamber at Whitehall.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
'The Execution of King Charles I' by Ernest Crofts RA, 1847-1911
[The low height of executioner's block had been determined lest the King had struggled and had need to be tied down. As the preceding account shows no such eventuality occurred and the King conducted himself with astonishing composure.]