The Trial of Charles I

Sean Kelsey reconsiders the events of January 1649 and argues the trial was skilfully appropriated by rump politicians in paving the way for the new Commonwealth.

Charles I's death warrant.

The trial of Charles I stands out as probably one of the most remarkable, certainly one of the most dramatic events in the early modern history of the British Isles. It is best known as the gripping first scene of the fifth act in the tragedy of a doomed king. Charles was notoriously shy of the public arena. Yet in this, his darkest hour, he turned in the finest performance of his entire career. Famously, he overcame a life-long speech impediment to castigate his accusers in tones which ring down the ages: 'I do stand more for the liberty of my subjects than any that come here to be my pretended judges,' he declared.

Contemporaries compared the King's tribulations with Christ's suffering at the hands of the Pharisees. Newsbook accounts produced at the time, even official versions, whatever else they tell us about the events of that fateful week, certainly convey a morbidly idolatrous obsession with the royal actor. By a singular curiosity of grammar, even the High Court's own record preserves a living image of the King's first appearance before his judges. The past-tense narrative gives way momentarily to the present and Charles lives once more in the recollection of that Saturday morning, January 20th, 1649, when he was brought to the Bar and,

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