Charles I was put on trial at Westminster Hall in January 1649. His trial followed nine years of civil war when the King and his Royalist party were defeated by the Parliamentarian army commanded by Thomas Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell.
The court disagreed with the King’s views and sentenced him to death ‘by the severing of his head from his body’. Oliver Cromwell was one of 59 Parliamentarians to sign his death warrant.
The execution at Whitehall
On 30 January 1649, the King was led through the Banqueting House to a scaffold erected outside in Whitehall. The normal executioner could not be found nor the usual block, so a lower block was used and a hooded man, whose identity to this day remains unknown, took the axe.
Dr Juxon, the Bishop of London, stood with the King on the scaffold. He said ‘You haste to a crown of glory’ and the King replied: ‘I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown where no disturbance can be’.
The King gave his cloak and the badge of his Garter to the Bishop and lay full length with his head on the low block. With one blow the executioner severed his head from his body.
Charles the martyr
‘A groan as I never heard before, and desire I may never hear again’ went up from the crowd watching the unimaginable event – the killing of the Lord’s anointed sovereign.
This realisation and the dignity with which the King conducted himself on the scaffold created a great wave of emotion for the dead monarch. Charles I was recognised as a martyr and 30 January was remembered as Charles the Martyr day.