On 27th March 1625, Charles Stuart became King Charles I. His reign would last until 1649, when his own people would execute him for treason.
With a profound belief that kings are appointed by God to rule by divine right, Charles found himself at constant loggerhead with Parliament. His eleven-year ‘Personal Rule’ stored up deep resentments among the emerging middle class and gentry, and his religious reforms alienated many. Eventually, it was a rebellion in Ireland and the revolt of the Presbyterian Covenanters in Scotland against those reforms that lit the blue touchpaper of civil war. His authority weakened, disagreements with Parliament and fears of the London mob saw Charles flee the city with his family. On 22 August 1642 he raised his standard at Nottingham, declaring that he was officially at war with his own Parliament.
After defeat in the first Civil War, his deal with the Scots sparked a second Civil War, with an even more total defeat. Exasperated by Charles’ unwillingness to compromise, a cabal of MPs convened a court and tried the King for treason against his own people. Found guilty, Charles was condemned and the “cruel necessity” of his execution took place in January 1649. Charles Stuart, who had never meant to be king, was 48 years old when he died. His death ushered in the first and only English republic.
While there has been a general effort to rehabilitate his reputation in recent years, the Revolutions podcast described him as “a terrible leader, a terrible judge of character, he had terrible political instincts, almost no friends and was so insufferably pigheaded that he more or less forced his own subjects to behead him, even after they presented him with 72 different ways to get out of it and go back to being King like, y’know, everyone wanted”. Whether you take the side of King or Parliament, Charles was a fascinating man full of “contradictions and controversy” as historian John Philipps Kenyon puts it, and his actions had a profound effect on the history of the British Isles far beyond the scaffold.
And he was, of course, 5’6″ at the start of his reign but only 4’8″ tall at the end of it…