Today marks 363 years since the execution of Charles Stuart, king of England, Scotland and Ireland, on a scaffold built next to the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall in London.
After seven long years, two wars, countless bloodshed and a country torn by suspicion and fear, the king was brought to the anonymous executioner’s block – which was too low, the normal block having been lost – wearing two shirts, since he feared the cold might make him shiver and people would think him afraid.
Surrounded by large numbers of soldiers, who faced the crowd rather than the scaffold, his last speech reached only those with him on the scaffold. His hair wrapped up in cap he was wearing, he placed his head on the block after saying a prayer and signalled the executioner when he was ready by thrusting out his arms.
He was beheaded with one clean stroke.
As mentioned on Wikipedia: “It was common practice for the head of a traitor to be held up and exhibited to the crowd with the words “Behold the head of a traitor!” Although Charles’ head was exhibited, the words were not used. In an unprecedented gesture, one of the revolutionary leaders, Oliver Cromwell, allowed the King’s head to be sewn back onto his body so the family could pay its respects. Charles was buried in private on the night of 7 February 1649, inside the Henry VIII vault in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. The royal retainers Sir Thomas Herbert, Capt. Anthony Mildmay, Sir Henry Firebrace, William Levett Esq. and Abraham Dowcett (sometimes spelled Dowsett) conveyed the King’s body to Windsor.”
With the monarchy overthrown, the Commonwealth of England was declared with a Council of State at its head. The bloody Third English Civil War and the Cromwellian invasions of Ireland and Scotland were still to come.
We re-enact this period to keep these memories alive, to ensure that people don’t forget how our nation was formed, and the people whose lives and deaths granted us our freedom. We’re a Parliamentarian regiment, but it’s not about claiming one side was right and the other was wrong, and the anniversary of Charles’ death is a good time to remember that.
To finish, it should come as no surprise to anyone when I say that the 1970 film Cromwell was a pile of rubbish (particularly in relation to the Earl of Manchester and the Battle of Naseby) but the scene showing Charles’ last moments and says goodbye to his children includes a lot of authentic detail and is quite genuinely touching.