Why was Charles I executed?

Charles I was executed on 30 January 1649 on a scaffold outside the Banqueting House, Whitehall. In this talk Professor Edward Vallance asks whether his condemnation and death were the pre-determined outcome of his trial or was the king’s death the result of demands for justice from the Parliamentarian army and its civilian supporters.

He argues that Charles’ execution was about more than providing a resolution to the years of failed negotiations with the king. Instead, Charles’ death was the outcome of extensive demands for justice from the army and some of its civilian supporters. The form of justice demanded, however, meant that the trial was about more than punishing one king, it was about establishing the supremacy of the House of Commons as the representative of England’s sovereign people.
To understand why the king’s death was seen as necessary to achieve a political settlement, we need to appreciate the repeated failures of various parties to negotiate with Charles I. Although the Royalists had been comprehensively defeated in the First Civil War, the king correctly identified that his opponents were increasingly divided. By pitting them against each other, Charles hoped to recover his political authority – instead it lead to scaffold and Regicide.

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The World Turned Upside Down
The World Turned Upside Down - The British Civil Wars 1638-1651
Why was Charles I executed?
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Contributor

Ted Vallance

Director of the Graduate School, University of Roehampton

Ted Vallance is Professor of History at the University of Roehampton. He is the author of four books, most recently Loyalty, Memory and Public Opinion in England,…

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Sources

Norah Carlin, Regicide or Revolution? What Petitioners Wanted, September 1648-February 1649 (Breviary Stuff Publications, 2020) (Important collection of petitions for justice, with very valuable introduction).