Historian Explores the Impact of Royal Execution

Darren Oldridge at Commandery 1
Professor Darren Oldridge at The Commandery

Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Worcester, Darren Oldridge, is delivering a talk examining the execution of Charles I and how it was depicted by contemporary writers.

His talk, titled ‘The Royal Martyr in the English Revolution’ takes place at The Commandery, in Worcester, at 2pm on Saturday, April 29.

“It is easy to forget that Britain was once a republic,” said Professor Oldridge. “But in 1649 the first King Charles was executed for allegedly overthrowing ‘the rights and liberties of the people’. For the next eleven years the nation was governed without a king. The sensational death of Charles I produced a whirlwind of news and comment at the time. Royalists lauded the king’s heroic bearing on the scaffold, while John Milton condemned him as a ‘pseudo-martyr’. I will be looking at these accounts in depth in my talk.”

The dramatic end of the King’s reign came when he was executed by Parliament in 1649. Charles I had believed in the Divine Right of Kings, that kings were chosen by God to rule, and that he therefore was not accountable to the representatives of his people. His conflict with Parliament resulted in a bitter English Civil War between Royalists and Parliamentarians over many years.

In 1649 Charles I was tried for tyranny and treason and sentenced to death. This was the first time a king had been publicly tried and executed. Following a period in exile, when the country was governed as a republic and eventually led by Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector, Charles’ son, Charles II, returned to become king in 1660.

Professor Oldridge will present extracts from contemporary pamphlets and books describing the King’s death and its aftermath. As part of the talk, the audience can hold pamphlets printed at the time that give accounts of the King’s execution, by both royalists and republicans, and read them for themselves. These include the charges against Charles, and also works published soon after the execution, both lauding and condemning him.

“Though royalist accounts of Charles’ death were not passed by the censor, they nonetheless appear to have circulated quite freely,” said Professor Oldridge. “Interestingly, there seems to have been a broad consensus that the king ‘died well’. The parliamentarian poet Andrew Marvell acknowledged this in his ode to Cromwell in 1650.

“Oddly enough, the king’s execution may have contributed to the eventual restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Charles’ brave conduct in the moments before his death encouraged the legend of his martyrdom and gave potent ammunition to royalist propagandists. The idea of the ‘royal martyr’ has persisted to this day.”

For tickets visit The Commandery website. For those purchasing a talk ticket there is the option to stay and explore The Commandery for half price admission.