Banqueting House commemorates Charles I’s execution with new display
This January, Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that cares for the Banqueting House on Whitehall, invites visitors to view a new permanent display about the execution of Charles I.
The display, which will be installed in time for the anniversary of Charles’s execution, will lead visitors close to the spot where he stepped out on to the specially constructed scaffold and met his untimely death. Through a series of interpretation, the display will tell the story of the events leading up to the King’s execution, which visitors will be able to read as they climb the stairs to the main hall. These events not only led to Charles’s death, but culminated in Civil War, political unrest and, ultimately, the abolition of the British monarchy and the birth of the Commonwealth of England. Underneath the magnificent full-length portrait of Charles I by Daniel Mytens, a dramatic film will show the final few hours of the man who fought tirelessly for the divine right of Kings as he bids farewell to his children and burns his personal papers in preparation for death.
As visitors follow the new display up the grand stairs, watch the emotive film, and gaze up at this opulent ceiling on the anniversary of his death, they are thrust into the past, an age of decadence, royalty and revolution.
Following nine years of Civil War, Charles I eventually surrendered and was put on trial in January 1649. His enemies put him on trial for tyranny and treason, the verdict was guilty, the sentence – death. ‘By the severing of his head from his body’, Charles’s fate was decided. As he stepped out of a window, on the 30 January 1649, and on to the scaffold outside Banqueting House, he announced “I go from a corruptible, to an incorruptible Crown; where no disturbance can be.” As the axe fell, ‘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, created a great wave of emotion for the dead monarch. Charles I was recognised as a martyr and 30 January is remembered as Charles the Martyr day.
The Banqueting House is the only remaining complete building of Whitehall Palace, the sovereign’s principal residence until 1698 when it was destroyed by fire. Designed by Inigo Jones for James I, the Banqueting House was originally built for occasions of state, plays and masques. The magnificent ceiling paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens were commissioned by Charles to celebrate his father’s life, wise government and the divine right of Kings. Ironic, therefore, that Charles would have walked underneath this ceiling moments before his execution.
Entrance to this new permanent display is included in the palace’s admission price.
Notes to editors
Historic Royal Palaces is the independent charity that looks after the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace. We help everyone explore the story of how monarchs and people have shaped society, in some of the greatest palaces ever built. We receive no funding from the Government or the Crown, so we depend on the support of our visitors, members, donors, volunteers and sponsors.
These palaces are owned by The Queen on behalf of the nation, and we manage them for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. We believe in four principles. Guardianship: giving these palaces a future as long and valuable as their past. Discovery: encouraging people to make links with their own lives and today’s world. Showmanship: doing everything with panache. Independence: having our own point of view and finding new ways to do our work. Registered charity number 1068852.
Some files are provided in PDF format - you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view these files.