‘I Go From A Corruptible To An Incorruptible Crown’ …King Charles I (1600- 1649)


These are the last words spoken by King Charles I just before his execution by beheading in January 1649. This act of regicide concluded a reign characterised by conflicts between the King and Parliament that had led to civil war in England and, ultimately, to a period during which the English monarchy was abolished.
Charles I, the son of James VI of Scotland, was 25 when he acceded to the throne and in the same year he married the French Roman Catholic Princess Henrietta Maria. Charles’ reign was beset with problems from the start. His marriage did not please his Protestant country and he was soon at odds with Parliament over money. Royal revenues having been eroded during the previous century, English monarchs were dependent for grants from Parliament. When Parliament attempted to use its power to coerce Charles into granting it greater powers, he resisted and in 1629 dissolved Parliament and ruled without it for 11 years, raising money by other means.
Although Charles was brave, sincere, a loyal husband and father and a great patron of the arts, he was also reserved, shy, inflexible, politically deceitful, over-confident and a poor strategist. He was deeply religious and also influenced by his wife, who believed strongly in absolute monarchy. This did not help his cause as King in a country where Parliament wanted to move towards constitutional monarchy.
In 1637 Charles came into conflict with the Scots while trying to impose an Anglican form of worship on the mainly Presbyterian population. This led to the ‘Bishops’ Wars which forced Charles to recall Parliament to access funds to squash the Scottish uprising. This ‘Short Parliament’ was dissolved after a month when it refused to give Charles the money. Continuing unrest in the north and in Ireland meant Charles then had to recall Parliament and the struggle between them for authority eventually led to outright conflict and the outbreak of civil war in 1642.
The Royalist forces fought the Parliamentarians (the Roundheads) over a period of six years, during which the fortunes of each side fluctuated but finally the Royalists were crushed. The Parliamentarian army, headed by Oliver Cromwell, accused Charles of being ‘the grand author of our troubles’, holding him responsible for the bloodshed of the Civil Wars. He was charged with treason but would not accept the legal validity of the court, or case, against him, and refused to speak in his own defence. Cromwell pushed through the death warrant and Charles I went bravely to his death.
I shall be very little heard of anybody 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 innocency. In troth I think it not very needful for me to insist 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 incroach upon their privileges, they began upon me, it is the militia they began upon, they confess that the militia was mine, but they thought it fit for to have it from me.
God forbid that I should be so ill a Christian, as not to say that God’s judgements are just upon me: many times he does pay justice by an unjust sentence, that is ordinary: I will only say this, that an unjust sentence that I suffered to take effect, is punished now by an unjust sentence upon me, that is, so far I have said, to show you that I am an innocent man.
Now for to show you that I am a good Christian: I hope there is 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 causers of my death: who they are, God knows, I do not desire to know, I pray God forgive them.
But this is not all, my charity must go farther, 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 …
… 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 their freedom consists 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 (Sir) that is nothing pertaining to them, a subject and a sovereign 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.
In truth 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 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 .
… In truth Sirs, my conscience in religion I think is very well known 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 I think will witness it .
… I have a good cause, and a gracious God on my side … I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.