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Charles (1625 - 1649)
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Charles (1625 - 1649)JAMES I'S ELDEST SON, Prince Henry, died in 1612, leaving his brother Charles as heir to the throne. Slightly built, with a hesitation in his speech, Charles grew to be reserved yet courteous, interested in the arts, and a lover of horses and hunting. He proved a dutiful husband to Henrietta Maria, the French wife he married soon after becoming king on 27 March 1625.

Charles shied away from extremes in religious matters. Nor had he any wish to haggle with Parliament over money, putting his trust in strong counsellors: the Duke of Buckingham; Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford; Archbishop Laud. But Charles's foreign policy went badly wrong: expensive wars with France and Spain had disastrous results.

Parliament refused to vote more taxes, Buckingham was assassinated in 1629, and the Scots 'Covenanters' went to war with their own king. Infuriated, Charles dismissed the 'Short Parliament' but was forced to call another (the 'Long Parliament') in 1640. The Commons turned on Strafford, charging the king's minister with treason, and Charles had to condemn his loyal servant to death. Growing in confidence, Parliament then demanded that Charles give up command of the army. 'By God, not for an hour,' the king retorted.

'Truly I desire [the people’s] liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever.'
Charles I, speaking shortly before his execution


So a mild monarch was sucked into civil war. Charles had few allies in Parliament, or London, and his clumsy attempts at strong leadership - for example, by arresting Members of Parliament - backfired badly. When in 1642 the king raised his standard to fight, he was in Nottingham. London was Parliament's.

For seven years of war, Charles showed personal courage, but no real strategy. Captured in 1647, he might have escaped to France but instead ended in prison on the Isle of Wight. Then, rather than try for a compromise settlement, he tried to 'divide and rule', again pinning his hopes on the Scots, who handed him over to Parliament. Tried in Westminster Hall 'as a tyrant and a traitor', Charles faced his accusers with calm dignity. Sentenced to death, he was beheaded outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall. To the end he remained dismissive of Parliament's right to try him: 'a king cannot be tried by any superior jurisdiction on earth'.

DEATH OF A KING
Philip Henry, an undergraduate at Oxford, saw the execution of Charles I, on Tuesday 30 January 1649. 'I stood among the crowd in the street before Whitehall gate where the scaffold was erected, and saw what was done... The blow I saw given, and can truly say with a sad heart, at the instant whereof,
I remember well, there was such a groan by the thousands there present as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again.'


HENRIETTA MARIA
Charles was a fond husband and father. His queen had five children: two sons (later Charles II and James II) and three daughters, of whom the eldest (Mary) was to be mother of William III.

Charles (1625 - 1649)


CHARLES ON HORSEBACK
The court painter Sir Anthony Van Dyck shows a confident yet sensitive king, ruling a land at peace. This was how Charles I wistfully wanted his subjects to see him.

Charles (1625 - 1649)


THE BIRDS HAVE FLOWN!
Confrontation in the House of Commons (4 January 1642) when Charles demanded the surrender of five MPs he considered rebel ringleaders. The five had slipped away; and both sides realized that war must follow.

Charles (1625 - 1649)




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