With the King at Oxford - Alfred J. Church

Of the King's Death

The sentence of death on the King I had looked for, but that it would indeed be executed I could not believe. But when I said so much to John Ellgood I found that he thought otherwise.

"Philip," said he, "I have seen more of these men than you. Of those who stood in arms against the King many desire nothing more than to protect the liberties of this realm against him, or, if you would rather have it so, against his ill-counsellors. These at the first prevailed; but 'tis otherwise now. In civil troubles the more violent ever gain the upper hand. What befell the more moderate sort we saw with our own eyes when Colonel Pride and his men laid violent hands upon some fifty members of the House of Commons. They that now bear rule, of whom the Lieutenant-General Cromwell is the chief, are resolved to have no truce with kingship. Whether they seek the good of their country or their own aggrandizement I know not, but so it is. And they know full well that after the King's death, of truce or peace there can be no more talk. On this, therefore, they are steadfastly resolved."

"But the kings," I said, the kings of France and Spain, will they suffer it?"

"I doubt," answered he, "whether they would so much as stir a finger to hinder it. But whether they would or no, there will be no time or space of action. Be sure that execution will follow sentence right speedily."

And so indeed it was. Before three days had passed since the pronouncing of the sentence, 'twas all finished. Of the kings, too, John Ellgood spake but too truly. Their ambassadors said not a word to hinder the King's death. Indeed, the only word of remonstrance came, not from a king, but from a republic, the States of the Dutch being, by their envoy, very earnest with the Parliament that they should not take the King's life.

As for our hopes of delivering His Majesty by force of arms or stratagem, they were at an end, so closely and strongly was the King guarded. Yet were we loath to depart, hoping even against hope to the very end that the people, ay, and the very soldiers, might rise against this monstrous deed.

Of that which I shall now write down, part I heard from the lips of Sir Thomas Herbert, who was gentleman of the body to the King, and indeed had been so from his first surrender by the Scots, and partly from a certain Doctor Farrer, a physician who stood very near to the scaffold.

This is the narration of Sir Thomas Herbert:

"For awhile after the King came to London he dined publicly in the Presence Chamber, and was served after the usual state—the carver, server, cup-bearer, and gentleman-usher attending and doing their offices—being given on the bended knee. But this was changed by command of the generals, and thereafter the dishes were brought up by soldiers; the cup was no longer given upon the knee. At first His Majesty was much discomposed, saying that no king had ever wanted such observance, and asking, 'Is there anything more contemptible than a despised prince?' But his remedy was to restrict his diet to as few dishes as possible, and to eat in private.

"Of the trial, if that mockery of justice may be so called, there is no need for me to speak. You yourselves saw it. You would hear of His Majesty's behaviour in private. On the day when sentence was pronounced, in the evening, the King gave me a ring from his finger ('twas an emerald set between two diamonds), and bade me go with it to a lady living in King Street, in Westminster (that I knew afterwards to be the King's laundress), and give it to her without saying anything. Being arrived at the lady's house I delivered her the ring. She took me into a parlour and there left me, and in a short while returned with a little cabinet that was closed with three seals. The next day, after prayers, which the Bishop had daily with the King, His Majesty broke the seals open and showed us what was contained in it; there were diamonds and jewels, for the most part broken Georges and Garters. 'You see,' said he, 'all the wealth now in my power to give to my two children.'

"The next day, being the twenty-ninth day of January, came the Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Gloucester her brother, to take farewell of the King their father, and to ask his blessing. The Princess, being the elder, was most sensible of her father's condition, as appeared by her sorrowful look and excessive weeping; and her little brother, seeing his sister weep, took the like impression. The King took them both upon his knees, and gave them his blessing, and admonished them of their duty to the Prince his successor and to their other relations. Then he gave them all the jewels, save the George that he wore, which was cut in an onyx with great curiosity, and was set about with twenty fair diamonds, and the like number on the reverse.

"That same day the Bishop of London preached before the King, taking for his text, Romans ii 16: 'Of that day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ;'  and, after the sermon, continued with the King till it was some hours past dark.

"After the Bishop was gone to his lodging, the King continued two hours more in meditation and prayer. He then bade me sleep on a pallet by his bedside. I took small rest, but the King slept four hours, and awaking two hours before dawn opened his curtain to call me. And perceiving that I was disturbed in my sleep, for there was a light that burned all night, being a cake of wax set in a silver basin, he called me and bade me rise. 'For,' said he, 'I will get up, having a great work to do this day.' In a little while he said, 'This is my second marriage day; I would be as trim to-day as may be, for before night I hope to be espoused to my Lord.' He then appointed what clothes he would wear, and said, 'Let me have a shirt on more than ordinary, by reason that the season is so sharp as may probably make me quake. I would not have men think it fear. I fear not death. I bless God I am prepared.'

"Then I besought the King's pardon if I had been negligent in my service. After this the King delivered me his Bible, in the margin of which he had written annotations, and charged me to give it to the Prince. He also commanded me to give to the Duke of York his large ring sundial of silver, a jewel which he had much prized; and he gave commandment about sundry books to be given to diverse persons.

"After this I withdrew, and the King was for about an hour in private with the Bishop. The Bishop read to him, after prayers, the twenty-seventh chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, which relates the passion of our Saviour. The King asked the Bishop if he had made choice of that chapter as being applicable to his present condition. The Bishop answered, 'May it please your gracious Majesty, it is the proper lesson for the day;' whereupon the King was much affected.

"After this Colonel Hacker knocked at the door, and, coming in, said in a trembling manner, ''Tis time to go to Whitehall, when your Majesty may have some further time to rest.' For a short while the King was private, afterwards he took the Bishop by the hand and said, 'Let us go;' and when he had passed through the garden into the park, he took from my hand a little silver clock, which he had bidden me carry, and gave it to me to keep in memory of him.

"There were several companies of horse and foot in the park, making a guard on either side as the King passed; and there was also a guard of halberdiers, some going before, and some following after; and the drums beat, making such a noise that one could hardly hear what another spoke.

"Being come to Whitehall the King passed into his bedchamber; and after prayer he bade me bring him some bread and wine, which being brought, the King broke the manchet and ate a mouthful of it, and drank a glassful of claret wine. After that I saw the King no more, for I could not bear to look upon the violence they would offer him upon the scaffold."

Here follows what I heard from Master Farrer:

"The King seeing that his voice could not reach the people, spoke what was in his mind to the gentlemen upon the scaffold, justifying himself for all that he had done, save for contenting to the death of my Lord Strafford, and forgiving his enemies. While he was speaking one of the gentlemen touched the edge of the axe, thereupon the King said, 'Hurt not the axe; that may hurt me.'

"The Bishop asked him that, for the world's satisfaction, he would say something of his affection for religion. The King said, 'I die a Christian according to the profession of the Church of England, as I found it left me by my father.' Then, turning to Colonel Hacker, he said, 'Take care that they do not put me to pain.' Also to a gentleman that came near the axe he said twice, with much earnestness, 'Touch not the axe.' Then, speaking to the executioner, he said, 'I shall say but very short prayers, and after that thrust out my hands.'

"The Bishop said, 'There is but one stage more. This stage is turbulent and troublesome, but you may consider it will carry you a very great way; it will carry you from earth to Heaven.'

"Then the King said, 'I go from a corruptible crown to an incorruptible, where no disturbance can be.'

Charles I of England


"Then he took off his cloak and his George, giving his George to the Bishop, and said at the same time, 'Remember!' and this done, laid his head upon the block; and I noted that his eye was as quick and lively as ever I have seen it."

But what I myself saw and heard may be told in few words. The scaffold had been made against the wall of the Palace of Whitehall, by the banqueting chamber, and the King, coming through one of the windows of this same chamber, stepped upon it. It was hung about with black, and in the midst was a block and an axe, and by the block stood two men that had their faces covered with masks. A great number of soldiers stood about the scaffold, so that the people could not come near it; but the street and the tops of the houses and the windows were filled with such a multitude of people as I should think had scarcely before been gathered together. I could see the King speaking to them that were on the scaffold, and to the man that had the axe, and to the Bishop that stood by his side. After that I could see that he put his hair under his cap, for he had put a night-cap on his head, the headsman and the Bishop helping him. Then he knelt down, and laid his head upon the block. This done, there was silence for the space of about a minute, and the King stretched out his hands. Thereupon the headsman let fall the axe, which with one blow divided the head from the body. Then the other man that was masked took up the head by the hair, and cried out in a loud voice, "This is the head of a traitor!" to which all the people answered with such a dismal groan as was never heard before.