Execution of Charles I

Execution of Charles I

Portrait of Charles I

The Banqueting House is probably most famous for the single most significant event which took place here - the execution of King Charles I.

A grim procession

Charles I by Sir Anthony van Dyck, c1635. This painting was sent to Gian Lorenzo Bernini in Rome to assist in the making of a marble bust of the King.

In 1649, after years of struggle between the authority of Parliament and the power of the King, which culminated in the Civil War (1642-9), Charles I was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. After his trial and condemnation carpenters began setting up a scaffold against the walls of the Banqueting House.

A grim procession

At ten o'clock in the morning on 30 January a grim procession set off from St James's Palace to Whitehall, the King surrounded by an escort of halberdiers. At the appointed hour he was led out through the galleries of the palace and into the Banqueting House.

From here he stepped directly on to the scaffold from an upstairs window, specially removed for the occasion. Although the King was hidden from the majority of the crowd by black drapery, neighbouring rooftops were thronged with spectators.

The execution of Charles I (detail) by an unknown artist.

The King’s final speech

Finding it impossible to address the crowd, the King spoke to those about him on the scaffold including shorthand reporters who were able to record his final speech. He asserted at length the principles for which he was to die and his personal loyalty to the Church of England.

The execution

Then the King took off his cloak, giving it to Bishop Juxon, the Bishop of London, and laid his head upon the block. After a little pause, stretching forth his hands, the Executioner at one blow severed his head from his body.

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