Friday, October 2, 2015

Who Wants to Kill a King?

by Anthony Anglorus

How did the English come to execute their king? This is a question which many with an interest in history ask, and there is never a clear answer, despite the fact that the evidence is clearly available and well documented.

In reality, only a very small handful of people sought his death. The general populace simply wanted life to return to normal so that they could ply their various trades in peace. If asked, some might have wanted him to be brought down a peg or two, but most simply wanted to live their (usually miserable) lives without interference. Those of Royalist persuasion obviously wanted him back on the throne and even the majority of Parliamentarians only sought that he be deposed or his powers curbed.

But within the ranks of the Parliamentarians, there was a small coven of individuals who wanted him dead. Amongst these was the firebrand General Henry Ireton, who also happened to be Oliver Cromwell’s son-in-law.

Oliver Cromwell himself was in the group who sought simply to curb the powers of the King. Indeed, he put considerable effort into trying to persuade Charles to accept a reduction of powers. But at some point, he gave up trying. One can only surmise, but the logical answer as to why this happened is that after a particularly difficult session with the King, he spent some time with Ireton - perhaps at a family dinner - who persuaded him that the King could never be trusted to honour an agreement even if one was possible. However it happened, Cromwell suddenly became one of those determined to see the King executed.

But what was Cromwell like? He was something of a chameleon; at times almost kindly, at other times downright vicious. The Irish remember him mostly for his later brutality at Drogheda, where he ordered the butchery of every soldier and most civilians - and even some soldiers who had surrendered and been promised safe passage. The English have a soft spot for him, tending to overlook his shortcomings but highlight the fact that he was instrumental in putting in place the modern system of a parliamentary democracy with a Royal head of state. But most of all, in reality, he was the consummate politician as we know them today.

In contrast, Sir Thomas Fairfax was an utterly lamentable politician. Contrary to popular belief, Cromwell was not head of the New Model Army at this time; it was General Sir Thomas Fairfax. Fairfax was in fact the most successful of the Parliamentarian Generals during the Civil War and was a determinedly honourable man. His wife was an outspoken Royalist who later twice disrupted the King’s trial and was ejected forcibly from the chamber. He was himself of the opinion that the King needed to be brought down a peg or two but was strongly opposed to the concept of rule without a King and certainly not in favour of his execution.

Charles was an arrogant man who truly believed that he had a God-given right and duty to rule. Given that this was an extremely religious time, the phrase ‘God-given’ carried more weight then than it would today. His father, James I, had been possibly more arrogant still so it is easy to see where it came from. As a ruler, he was not particularly effective, probably even poor, but he certainly was not an evil man. Devious in many ways, he was also sometimes extremely rigidly honourable, as in when he refused an opportunity to escape captivity because he had given his parole to the senior officer guarding him that he would not seek to escape.

In November 1648, Cromwell was campaigning in North-East England, mopping up the last shreds of Royalist opposition when he was ordered by Parliament to return to London. For reasons forever lost in the mists of time, he obeyed this order, but deliberately prevaricated. He moved south slowly, even taking the time to take his army across England to visit Pontefract, where another general was engaged in a long siege. All was under control there, no interventions were sought, needed or given, but he spent a couple of days there before resuming his slow journey south.

Meanwhile, in London his son-in-law had either forged or tricked Fairfax into signing an order for Parliament to be blockaded, and it was enacted on 6th December in an action immortalised as ‘Pride’s Purge’, named after the Colonel who had the task of standing with Lord Grey in the House of Commons doorway.
Lord Grey had drawn up a list of members of Parliament separating out those who would probably vote for a bill to place the King on trial, those who would not and those who would be so opposed to it that they would represent a danger even from outside. As the Members arrived at the doorway, admission was refused to those who would oppose, granted to those who might vote for the bill and those who represented a danger were arrested.

Inside the House, once there was a quorum the debate began, and the bill ultimately passed.

Under English Law, a bill passed by the House of Commons must then be passed by the House of Lords, and only then does it go to the Monarch for final ratification and signature - a system in place then for centuries and still in place today. As the King was under arrest, a bill was also passed removing the need for the King’s signature.

When the bill reached the Lords, they firmly voted against it, and then, fearing physical reprisals, they declared a holiday for themselves and rapidly dispersed.

Meanwhile, by an amazing coincidence (or perhaps not), Cromwell had finally arrived in London the day after Pride’s Purge, claiming no prior knowledge of the violation of democracy that it represented but also announcing that he approved of the outcome.

Once the Commons learned that their bill had been rejected by the Lords, they reacted by passing a further bill that the House of Lords were no longer necessary for the passage of Laws in England, and that the Commons alone were the source of governance. It was then easy to pass the laws they wanted to bring the King to trial.

One should note at this point that under English Law at that time, there was no provision in Law for the Monarch to be brought to account; the Monarch was the source of all law and therefore could not be brought to account under the law. Subsequently this was changed, although Parliament has not interfered with the Monarch in recent times.

It took several weeks to prepare for the trial. The hall had to be completely refurbished and a suitable judge appointed. All of the senior legal minds knew that the trial was illegal under English Law, and to a man they went away on holiday. Finally, they appointed John Bradshaw, a junior lawyer who himself refused at first, but was eventually persuaded - and was extraordinarily enthusiastic in his post thereafter.

Come the day of the opening of the trial, Bradshaw turned up with body armour beneath his robes and surrounded by numerous bodyguards. Troops lined the courtroom, all facing the public gallery. A roll call of the selected commissioners was made, and when Fairfax’s name was called, there was no reply - he was absent. From the public gallery came a cry ‘Aye, he hath too much wit to be here!’. The heckler was hustled from the gallery, but not before she had been identified as Lady Fairfax.

The trial continued over several days. The King contested the legality of the trial, but Bradshaw overruled him and carefully avoided giving the King any opportunity to defend himself. At one point, the King requested the right to address the House of Commons and Lords together, but Bradshaw denied it, causing John Downes, one of the commissioners, to leap to his feet and question the morality of such a denial. Cromwell ordered him to sit down and shut up, but he persisted, causing a temporary adjournment of the proceedings while the commissioners talked in private. When they emerged, the protesting commissioner was missing along with several others. The predetermined outcome was reached with the predetermined sentence laid down ‘in the name of the people of England’, at which point a voice rang out from the Gallery.

“This is not for the people of England, nay, barely any would condone this."

Again, the heckler was hustled from the gallery, this time at gunpoint, and again was identified as Lady Fairfax.

Sentence was to be carried out a few days later on January 30th, 1649, and the King was held in a nearby apartment.

At his London home, Fairfax (who was, remember, Cromwell’s superior officer) was receiving pleas and protests from the City Fathers (London) and numerous foreign embassies, all pleading for a remission of sentence. On the morning of the execution, once he had seen the last of the ambassadors, Fairfax went to the site of the execution with the intent of forcing a deferral of sentence. The actual execution had been delayed while Parliament passed a law making it illegal to declare Charles’ son (also named Charles) as King once the execution took place. As Fairfax arrived, Cromwell had just returned with the new law, which was being read out to the assembled crowd.

Guessing Fairfax’s intentions, Cromwell gave the nod to the officer responsible for overseeing the execution, then took Fairfax into the chapel "for some peace and quiet". Whilst discussing matters, a huge groan was heard from outside - a witness to the execution described the sound as one "I have never heard before and wish never to hear again." This occurred at the moment the executioner’s assistant held up the King’s severed head for all to see, announcing "behold, the head of a traitor".

The King was dead.


Whilst the execution is not directly the story I have written, it is a pivotal point in both British History and also my novel, which is about a Royalist highwayman who was active at that time and indeed had become a folk hero. There is more detail there than here, and if you want to know more you should read The Prince of Prigs published by Bygone Era Books and available in paperback ($17.95) and e-book ($4.99). The sterling price fluctuates with the rate of exchange but is around £11.95 and £3.33.

My working life was spent far from both History and Literature initially. But I did enjoy reading, and as I tired of Science Fiction, I started reading Historical Fiction - and I was hooked.

From then onwards, I would enjoy the history of the world wherever I travelled, indeed I avoided anywhere lacking historical content.

I had been ‘guided’ towards accountancy, and this was my career from around age In 2000, I moved my office to Leicestershire and it was here that I learned about one George Davenport, ill-fated highwayman of the late 18th Century.

Once I reached the first stage of my retirement in 2009, I found myself with more time on my hands, and I decided to research this character. As I delved, a fascinating story emerged, and I resolved to write his story, a task which eventually became “The Other Robin Hood”, available from Smashwords and Amazon.

This was my first real attempt at writing a book, and it showed; I made numerous mistakes. But I knew what they were, and resolved that the next book would be free of them. I decided to stick within the ‘highwayman’ genre, and did extensive research on the history of highwaymen. Eventually I alighted upon Captain James Hind.

I tell the real-life story of the Captain on my webpage, but for the novel, I wrote his story from age around 32. This was because there is little to catch the eye in a rebellious teenager, which was how he started. I decided to weave in a bit about events surrounding him, then I wove in another highwayman and before I knew it, I had the elements in place to write a satisfying conclusion to the book.

Numerous rejections later, I had enough comments to reorganise the opening chapters, and once that was done, I immediately got interest from two publishers. Bygone Era Books responded first, I liked the contract, and so I was suddenly a Published Author! The Prince of Prigs was released on 6th July, 2015.

As I am now in my sixties, retirement beckons. But I shall continue writing until my last breath, and we are currently creating a writing room in our retirement home in rural France.

At the point of writing this, I have just started writing the sequel. Whilst there was enough material in the true story to mean that much of The Prince of Prigs is simply a dramatisation of the truth, the absence of subsequent information gives me a blank canvas, one which I hope to fill with a book at least as good as the opener.

Watch This Space!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.