With the King at Oxford - Alfred J. Church

Of the Trial of the King

On the twenty-eighth day of December, we, being according to our wont in the Commons' House, heard read the report of a Committee to which had been committed the matter of the King's trial. It ran thus, to put it in a few words, that "Charles Stuart" (for so they entitled his gracious Majesty) "had acted contrary to his trust in setting up his standard and making war against the Parliament;" and this report was debated on the day following, and it was resolved that he should be tried on this same charge, and to the same Committee was given the business of choosing who should be his judges.

This same day there happened a thing which showed of how resolute and fierce a temper were they who had the chief power at this time. We had had some converse with one Pitcher, that had been a major in the King's army and was then lying hid in London, being intent indeed on the same business with which we were occupied. We counselled him to depart, for indeed his life was already forfeit. He had been in the King's garrison at Worcester, and had engaged not to bear arms any more against the Parliament. Nevertheless, he had been found in arms in the late fighting at Pembroke. And having been yet again spared on condition that he should depart from this realm, nor return thither for the space of two years without leave first had, he still delayed in London. I told him that it was a desperate matter, and that he had best depart; but he was obstinate to remain.

Nay," said he, "who can say what will happen in the space of two years, even to the doing of his gracious Majesty to death? There I can avail nothing; here, perchance, I may do some good. Though it may be but the thousandth part of a chance, I will even risk my life upon it." And this he did, even to the losing of it. How it fell out I know not, whether one that saw him at Worcester or Pembroke knew him again, or whether he betrayed himself—for he was ever bold, even to rashness, in his speech—but 'tis certain he was taken at a tavern in Westminster, and the next day shot in St. Paul's Churchyard. I cannot name them that did it; but it was proof, if indeed proof were needed, that they who sought to help the King carried their lives in their hands.

On the first day of January the Commons' House voted that the King had been guilty of high treason in levying war against the Parliament.

The same night John Ellgood and I, walking near to Charing Cross, saw a mighty strange sight which was as a comedy in the midst of a tragedy. There met us a company of soldiers, and with them a whole posse  of players, habited in their robes, as kings, and judges, and queens, and as the other characters that are wont to be seen upon the stage. We heard that the Lord General had commanded this to be done, and that the players still performing their plays against the ordinance of Parliament, the soldiers had taken them as they were from Drury Lane and Salisbury Court.

On the fourth day of January, the Lords having rejected the ordinance concerning the trial of the King, the Commons declared that whatsoever was passed by them had the force of law, and this they did without any man saying "Nay I"

On the ninth day of the same month we, being in Westminster Hall (for we were always intent to see and hear what might happen), saw the Serjeant-at-Arms, bearing the mace upon his shoulder, having certain officers with him and six trumpeters, and a guard of horse and foot, ride into Westminster Hall and there proclaim, "If any man has aught against Charles Stuart, King of England, let him come before the Commissioners appointed for the trial of the said Charles Stuart at this time to-morrow and make it known."

At length, on the nineteenth day of January, the trial was indeed begun, taking place in Westminster Hall, at the upper end, where the Courts of Chancery and King's Bench were wont to be held, the two courts being thrown into one for the greater convenience of the numbers that were likely to be assembled. And on this same day of the month they brought His Majesty from Windsor to the Palace of St. James, guarding him with no small care against a rescue, which, indeed, they had no small reason to fear.

It was permitted to all to enter the place of sitting, but the Hall and all the approaches thereto were very strongly kept with soldiers. John Ellgood and I attended this day and daily afterwards, having short swords and pistols under our cloaks, that we might be ready for any occasion that might arise; but our hopes were daily diminished, for though there were many that misliked the whole business, the dread of the army was upon them, and they dared not so much as stir a finger. Nevertheless, when men were content to sit in silence, yet there was a woman that had courage to speak out her mind, for when the list of Commissioners was read aloud, and the Crier gave forth the name of Thomas Lord Fairfax, being next after the name of the President of the Court, there was heard a voice, "He has more wit than to be here;" and, afterwards, when (the impeachment being read aloud) the reader pronounced the words—" by the authority of Parliament and of all the good people of England," the same voice spake again, "No, nor the hundredth part of them." Thereupon there was no small confusion; and it has been said by some that the officer of the guard commanded his men that they should fire upon the place from which this voice proceeded. But I heard no such order given, nor do I believe it; for who would dare thus to imperil the innocent along with the guilty? It was the Lady Fairfax, wife to the Lord General, that thus cried out. She was of the lineage of the Veres, an ancient house to whose honour her behaviour was conformable.

The next day the King was brought before the Court, and I, who had not seen him for nigh upon three years, noted that his aspect was somewhat changed, as, indeed, it might well be with his troubles. There was set for him a chair of crimson velvet, behind which there stood some thirty men, carrying halberds. The judges, of whom there were present some sixty (which was not the half of them that had been first named), sat in hat and cloak, the President wearing black. The King came in very stately, not moving his hat to the judge, but looking on them and on the spectators with a stern regard. Then, the crier having proclaimed silence, the President said:

"Charles Stuart, King of England, the Commons of England, being deeply sensible of the calamities that have been brought upon this nation, which are fixed upon you as the principal author of them, have resolved to make inquisition for blood;" and more to the same effect,

When the President had made an end, Master Coke, that was Solicitor for the Commonwealth, standing with two others upon the King's right hand, offered to speak. But the King, having a staff in his hand, laid it lightly upon his shoulder, as if he would bid him stay. This he did twice, and the second time the gold head of the staff dropped off, at which it was noted by some that were in the Court that the King manifestly changed colour.

Then the President ordered Master Solicitor to proceed, who said: "My Lord, I am come to charge Charles Stuart, King of England, in the name of the Commonwealth, and desire that the charge may be read" and so gave it to the Clerk. Thereat the King cried, "Hold;" nevertheless, the Clerk continuing to read, he sat down and so remained silent, till about the end, when he smiled, but looking very stern and severe. When the hearing was ended, the President said:

"Sir, the Court expects that you will make an answer to this charge."

Thereat the King answered: "I would know by what authority I am brought hither?"

PRESIDENT: "By authority of the people of England, whose elected King you are."

THE KING: "The kingdom of England has never been elective, but hereditary for near these two thousand years. I stand here more for the liberty of my people than do my pretended judges."

PRESIDENT: "'Tis well known how you have misused this trust. The Court must proceed."

THE KING: "I do not come as submitting to this Court. I was brought here by force. I see no House of Lords here; nor can there be a Parliament without a King."

Many times did the President command him to answer, and he refused, saying that he should betray his trust in so doing. Thereupon he was remanded to St. James' Palace. As he went he pointed to the sword, which, with the mace, lay upon the table, and said, "I fear not that." There was a great shout as he walked down the Hall: "God save the King," and another, but not so loud, of "Justice, justice!" It is tedious to tell all that passed between the President and the King on the days following. Indeed, it was ever the same, the President desiring that the King should plead, and affirming that no prisoner could be suffered to deny the authority of the Court by which he was tried, and the King, on the other hand, being resolute to deny that he could be lawfully judged by them that pretended to do so. And this contention endured throughout three days. All that were present noted that the King, who commonly had a certain hesitancy in his speech, now spake with as much freedom as could be desired. At the last the President said:

"Sir, this is the third time that you have publicly disowned this Court, and put an affront upon it; how far you have preserved the privileges of the people, your actions have spoken it; and truly, Sir, men's intentions ought to be known by their actions; you have written your meaning in bloody characters throughout the whole kingdom. But, Sir, you understand the pleasure of the Court. Clerk, record the default; and, gentlemen, you that took charge of the prisoner, take him back again."

THE KING: "I will say this one word more to you; if it were my own particular, I would not say any more, nor interrupt you."

PRESIDENT: "Sir, you have heard the pleasure of the Court, and you are (notwithstanding you will not understand it) to find that you are before a court of justice."

On the fifth day of the trial, so called, and on the day following, the Court sat not in Westminster Hall, as before, but in the Painted Chamber, where they heard witnesses. John Ellgood and I were not present, access to the chamber not being so ready as to the Hall, but we heard that witnesses, two score and more in number, of all, ranks and conditions, were examined, and testified to certain acts of war on the part of the King, beginning with the setting up of his standard at Nottingham, and proceeding through all parts of the late war. All this, methinks, was matter of common notoriety, and might conveniently have been spared.

On the seventh day of the trial, being the twenty-seventh of January, we were betimes in the Hall, which was crowded beyond all that had been before, all being now convinced that this great tragedy was drawing to an end. The President was in scarlet, having before been habited in black. His Majesty came in, covered as before, whereat some of the soldiers that were set on guard cried, "Justice! Execution!" He said:

"I desire a word to be heard, and I hope I shall give no occasion of interruption."

PRESIDENT: "You may answer in your time. Hear the Court first."

THE KING "I desire to be heard, and 'tis only a word. A hasty judgment is not so soon recalled."

PRESIDENT: "You shall be heard before judgment is given."

Charles I of England


The President then declared that the Court, having considered the crimes laid to the charge of the prisoner, and found them to be proved, were agreed upon a sentence to be pronounced against him. But in respect that he doth desire to be heard before sentence be read and pronounced, the Court had resolved that they will hear him. Then, turning to the King, he said, "If that which you say be to question the Court's jurisdiction, you shall not be heard in it. But if you have anything to say in defence of the thing charged, the Court has given me a command to let you know they will hear you."

THE KING: "This many a day all things have been taken away from me, but that which is dearer to me than my life, which is my conscience and my honour. If I had respect to my life more than the peace of the kingdom, and the liberty of the subject, certainly I should have made a particular defence for myself."

After this he went on to ask that he might be permitted to say something to the Lords and Commons assembled in the Painted Chamber, to whom, he said, he had somewhat of no small import to say.

The Court withdrew to consider this, but returning in half-an-hour's time, the President said, "'Tis an excellent maxim in law 'Nulli negabimus, nulli vendemus, nulli deferemus justitiam.' There must be no more delay with you, Sir. We are now to proceed to sentence and judgment."

After more disputing of the same sort the President commanded silence. Which done, the Clerk read the sentence, which was: "Whereas the Commons of England have appointed a Court for the trial of Charles Stuart, King of England, and whereas a charge of high treason and other crimes was read, the Court doth adjudge that the said Charles Stuart, as a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and a public enemy, shall be put to death by the severing of his head from his body."

All the Court stood up to signify their assent.

THE KING: "Will you hear me a word, Sir?"

PRESIDENT: "Sir, you are not to be heard after sentence."

KING: "No, Sir?"

PRESIDENT: "No, Sir; by your favour, Sir. Guard, withdraw your prisoner."

KING: "By your favour, Sir, hold the sentence."

But when nothing availed he said: "I am not suffered to speak. Expect what justice other people will have."

While His Majesty was being taken away by the guards, as he passed down the stairs, the soldiers scoffed at him, casting the smoke of their tobacco, which was very distasteful unto him, and blowing their pipes in his way; and as he passed there were some who cried, "Justice, justice!" to whom he said, "Poor soldiers, for a piece of money they would do so for their commanders." But all the soldiers, though they had the Parliament's pay, were not so minded; for one of them cried—but whether this day or another I know not—"God bless the King," and when his officer struck him with a cane, the King said, "Methinks the punishment is greater than the offence."