Execution of King Charles I (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Execution of King Charles I

Q1: Why did Charles refuse to defend himself against the charges put forward by Parliament?

A1: King Charles believed that he was God's representative on earth and therefore no court of law had the right to pass judgement on him. Charles therefore refused to defend himself against charges put forward by Parliament.

Q2: Select information from the sources that suggest Charles believed that he was not guilty of starting the English Civil War.

A2: King Charles (source 3) claims that it was Parliament that had started the war. Charles suggests that if people "looked at the dates of what happened" they would agree with him.

Q3: Study source 8. Why have some historians said that this is a work of pro-Royalist propaganda?

A3: It is claimed that source 8 is based on the account of the executioner, Richard Brandon. Although a man called "Richard Brandon" was a public executioner, it is not known if he actually carried out this act as the man was wearing a mask. The pamphlet suggests that Brandon was punished by God for the crime of killing the king. It points out: "About 6 of the clock at night, he returned home to his wife living in Rosemary Lane, and gave her the money, saying, That it was the dearest money that ever he earned in his life, for it would cost him his life."

Q4: Compare the information on Charles' execution in sources 1, 5, 6, 7 and 8. Do you think these sources provide accurate information on the execution?

A4: John Rushworth provides a detailed account of Charles I's execution (source 7). Rushworth's account is also supported by other evidence produced at the time. For example, Rushworth reports that Charles said "I shall be very little heard by anyone here." We know from other evidence that soldiers were ordered to keep the crowd from standing too close to the scaffold so that they would not be able to hear any speech that Charles tried to make.

Source 1 was painted by an unknown artist soon after the execution. Source 5 first appeared in a pamphlet produced by supporters of Charles. In the pamphlet it is claimed that Richard Brandon was punished by God for executing Charles. In this way, the Royalists were claiming that God supported Charles over Cromwell. In fact, the executioner wore a mask and it has never been revealed who carried out the execution. This pamphlet was used as pro-Royalist propaganda and is probably an unreliable source of information on the execution. For example, the executioner in the picture is not wearing a mask. The crowds in both sources are much closer to the scaffold than they were at the time of the execution.