The Day Charles I Met His Fate: A Glimpse into History

On a cold winter’s morning, the 30th of January 1649, the streets before Whitehall buzzed with anticipation. Men, women, and children gathered, eager witnesses to a momentous event that would forever change the course of their nation’s history. It was the day they were to witness the execution of their king, Charles I.

A Majestic Setting for a Tragic End

As the clock struck ten, the rhythmic beats of military drums signaled the arrival of the King. Surrounded by soldiers, Charles I marched across St James’s Park towards the grand Palace of Whitehall. Despite the chill in the air, the King requested two shirts, determined to dispel any notions of fear. He declared, “The season is so sharp as probably may make me shake, which some observers may imagine proceeds from fear. I would have no such imputation.”

A King’s Final Moments

At two o’clock, Charles I entered Inigo Jones’s Banqueting House, passing beneath Rubens’s magnificent ceiling, which celebrated his father and the monarchy. From an upper window, he made his way onto a somberly draped scaffold. Two executioners, disguised beyond recognition, awaited him, along with a black velvet-covered coffin and a low wooden block. Donning a cap and tucking his long hair beneath it, the King knelt in prayer one last time alongside Bishop Juxon. Addressing the crowd, Charles’s words were muffled by the presence of Parliamentarian troops, ensuring that only fragments reached the ears of the onlookers.

“I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world,” he proclaimed.

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Removing his cloak, gloves, and garter badge, he handed them to the Bishop. With profound bravery, Charles I placed his neck upon the block, extending his hands as a signal to the executioner.

The Final Blow

In an instant, with a single swing of the axe, the King’s head was severed from his body. The sound that followed was not one of cheers, but of a collective groan that echoed through the crowd, forever haunting the memory of those present. Some viewed the execution with approval, while others were filled with dismay. Officials promptly dispersed the onlookers, but a few individuals rushed forward, eager to collect gruesome souvenirs. They dipped their handkerchiefs into the royal blood, either as trophies of their villainy or as relics of a martyr. Exactly one week later, the monarchy was officially abolished.

Samuel Pepys: A Witness to History

Among the crowd stood Samuel Pepys, a curious 15-year-old who had played truant from St Paul’s School that day. In retrospect, Pepys, in his diary, admits to his affiliation with the Republican camp, writing, “He did remember that I was a great roundhead when I was a boy, and I was much afeared that he would have remembered the words that I said the day the King was beheaded that, were I to preach upon him, my text should be ‘The memory of the wicked shall rot’.”

Now, in the aftermath of the Restoration, Pepys wisely kept his Republican sympathies to himself, basking in the opportunities presented by a resurgent London.

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