(November 19, 1600 - January
30, 1649) was King of Scotland, England, and Ireland (March 27, 1625 -
January 30, 1649), and is most notable for being the only British monarch
to be overthrown and beheaded. He was the son and successor of James VI
Born at Dunfermline Palace (his father at this time being King of Scotland
but not yet of England, he was an underdeveloped child (he is listed in
the Guinness Book of Records
as Britain's shortest king) and was
not regarded with the same confidence as his elder brother, Henry, Prince
of Wales. However, when Henry died of typhoid in 1612, Charles suddenly
found himself the heir to two thrones and was created Prince of Wales in
1616. He was greatly influenced by his father's favourite, George Villiers,
Duke of Buckingham, who took him on an expedition to Spain in 1623 to look
for a suitable bride; the quest was unsuccessful, because the Spanish demanded
he convert to Roman Catholicism.
He came to the throne while much of Europe was moving towards domination
by all-powerful monarchs, such as Louis XIV of France. Charles would attempt
to pursue similar policies but would be limited by a robust parliamentary
opposition. There was widespread opposition to many of Charles' actions.
These included the use of the Court of the Star Chamber to suppress dissent;
a policy of taxation without the approval of Parliament; and a religious
policy that was seen by the Puritans as attempting to bring the Anglican
Church closer to Roman Catholicism.
On June 13, 1625 he married Henrietta Maria de Bourbon, daughter of
King Henry IV of France. Together, they had nine children, four sons and
Charles James Stuart, Duke of Cornwall - (March 13, 1629 - March 13, 1629).
King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland - (May 29, 1630 - February
Mary Stuart, later wife of William II, Prince of Orange- (November 4, 1631
- December 24, 1660).
King James II of England and Ireland/James VII of Scotland - (October 14,
1633 - September 6, 1701).
Elizabeth Stuart - (December 29, 1635 - September 8, 1650).
Anne Stuart - (March 17, 1637 - November 5, 1640).
Catherine Stuart - (June 29, 1639 - June 29, 1639).
Henry, Duke of Gloucester - (July 8, 1640 - September 13, 1660).
Henrietta Anne Stuart, later by marriage Duchess of Orleans - (June 16,
1644 - June 30, 1670).
Although the marriage seems to have been a successful one, it was never
popular with the British people.
Conflict with Parliament became intense over the issue of the Huguenots.
The expedition to relieve La Rochelle under Buckingham had been disastrous.
The Commons passed resolutions against arbitrary taxes, and arbitrary arrest,
and passed the Petition of Right. Villers was assassinated by John
Felton on August 23 1629. Parliament tried to pass further motions obnoxious
to the king, and was dissolved on March 29 1629. The years that followed
were called the eleven years' tyranny. Charles was barely able to
keep government functioning without further taxes being voted, and was
forced to rely on inventive methods of raising finance. One of these was
After the death of Villiers, two new men assumed growing importance
in the government: Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford and William Laud.
Laud, made archbishop of Canterbury, was instrumental in a policy of imposing
a strict conformity on the Church: but it was a conformity in line with
his Arminianism, and was met with continued hostility by the Puritans.
England, however, remained quiet and even prosperous, until Charles tried
in 1637 to impose this same conformity on the Scots.
The result was the revival of the National Covenant and the first of
the Bishops' Wars, which ended in a humiliating truce for Charles on June
18 1639. It was in order to raise money to subdue the Scots that he was
forced to take the fateful step of recalling Parliament in April 1640.
This Short Parliament proved unamenable to Charles's wishes, and was dissolved
on May 5. After another defeat in Scotland, Charles was once again persuaded
to recall Parliament.
This Long Parliament soon brought matters to a head, and took measures
which both threatened Charles's political position and caused him deep
personal grief. Wentworth was impeached, and, that having failed, executed
by bill of attainder. Laud was imprisoned. Charles was forced into one
concession after another - the affirmation of Presbyterianism in Scotland
and the abolition of ship money and the Star Chamber. But he could not
agree to the Militia Bill, which would have taken control of the army from
him. The threat of this and attacks on Henrietta Maria, led him to try
and seize control of events by seizing the persons of five members of Parliament
identified as the key ringleaders. By violating Parliament with an armed
force, he made the breach permanent. It was no longer safe for him to be
in London, and he went north; the Queen went abroad.
The English Civil War had not yet started, but both sides began to arm.
After futile negotiations Charles raised the royal standard (an anachronistic
medieval gesture) in Nottingham on August 22 1642. Charles set up court
at Oxford, from where his government controlled roughly the north and west
of England, Parliament remaining in control of London and the south and
east. The war went on indecisively through 1643 and 1644, until the Battle
of Naseby tipped the miliary balance desively in favour of Parliament.
There followed the Siege of Oxford, from which Charles escaped in April
1646. He put himself into the hands of the Scottish Presbyterian army at
Newark, who delivered him to Parliament as part of a deal in January 1647.
He was imprisoned at Holdenby House in Northamptonshire, until cornet George
Joyce took him by force to Newmarket in the name of the army. At this time,
mutual suspicion had developed between the army and Parliament, a suspicion
that Charles was eager to exploit.
He was then transferred first to Oatlands and then to Hampton Court,
where more involved but fruitless negotiations went on. He was persuaded
that it would be in his best interests to escape - perhaps abroad, perhaps
to France, or perhaps to the custody of Robert Hammond, Parliamentary governor
of the Isle of Wight. He decided on the last course, believing Hammond
to be sympathetic, and fled on November 11. Hammond, however, was appalled
and confined him in Carisbrooke Castle.
Here he continued to try and bargain with the various parties, eventually
coming to terms with the Scottish Presbyterians that he would allow the
establishment of Presbyterianism in England as well as Scotland for a trial
period. The Royalists rose in July 1648, and the Scots invaded. When the
Scottish armies were finally defeated at the Battle of Preston, pressure
grew in the army for Charles to be put on trial.
This was a novel idea; monarchs had been deposed before, but never brought
to trial as monarchs. The leaders of the plan to execute the king
(the result of the trial being a foregone conclusion), were determined
that this would be no act done in a corner, and Charles was tried in his
person as King of England. On January 20, 1649, the trial began. Many of
the famous names of the opposition to his name refused to have any part
in it; he was tried by an illegal parliament of 135 members. His trial
lasted from January 19 to January 27, 1649. He was convicted of treason
against the state by 68 votes that found him guilty to 67 votes for acquittal.
Some sources claim that the deciding vote belonged to Cromwell who chose
to vote last. Charles was beheaded on January 30, 1649 by Richard Brandon,
a professional hangman. His death warrant refers to him as "Charles Stuart,
King of England".
Parliament asserted its legal authority even over the monarch, rather
than claiming that he was no longer king. Oliver Cromwell would become
''Lord Protector" of England, a position which was a virtual dictatorship.
King Charles I is buried in the Henry VIII vault at Windsor Castle. There
are several Episcopalian churches dedicated to Charles I as "King and Martyr,"
in England, Canada, and the United States of America. A commemoration of
Charles I was added to the Book of Common Prayer by Charles II upon the
Restoration, observed on January 30. The commemoration was removed by order
of Queen Victoria in her capacity as head of the Church of England. In
the Restoration, his eldest surviving son regained the thrones of Scotland,
England, and Ireland as Charles II.
At his trial, "I demand to know by what authority, I mean lawful authority
I am called here. Remember, I am your King, your lawful King. And what
sins you bring upon your heads, and the judgement of God upon this land,
think well upon it, before you go from one sin to a greater one. I have
a trust committed to me by God, by lawful inheritance. I will not betray
it to answer to a new and unlawful authority."
A subject and a sovereign are clean different things. 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 ... that I am the martyr of the people.
The TV special "Blackadder: The Cavalier Years" features a surreal version
of the events leading to his execution.
Charles's life has more often been treated seriously in novels and plays
and on film.