Letters and Speeches of Charles 1

Sources and commentary by Professor Peter Gaunt.

Charles I’s letter to Lords Jermyn and Culpepper and John Ashburnham, written from Newcastle, 22 July 1646

Source: From the Clarendon Mss in the Bodleian Library, reproduced in Charles Petrie, The Letters, Speeches and Proclamations of King Charles I (London, 1935)

[Charles makes clear he is under pressure from both the Scots and the English parliament to accept the terms for settlement they were proposing, but says he is determined not to give way on key points.] Now, as for your advice to me, you speak my very soul in everything but one; that is, the church. Remember your own rule not to expect to redeem that which is given away by Act of Parliament. Shall I then give away the church? And excuse me to tell you that I believe you do not understand what this is that you are content (I confess not upon very easy terms) I should give away. I will begin to show you, first, what it is in point of policy; and first, negatively. It is not the change of church government which is chiefly aimed at (though that were too much), but it is by that pretext to take away the dependency of the church from the crown, which, let me tell you, I hold to be of equal consequence to that of the militia; for people are governed by the pulpit more than the sword in times of peace. Nor will the Scots be content with the alteration of government except the Covenant be likewise established, the which does not only make good all their former rebellions, but likewise lays a firm and fruitful foundation for such pastimes in all times to come. Now, for the theological part: I assure you the change would be no less and worse than if Popery were brought in, for we should have neither lawful priests nor sacraments duly administered, nor God publicly served, but according to the foolish fancy of every idle person; but we should have the doctrine against kings fiercer set up than amongst the Jesuits.

In a word, set your hearts at rest; I will less yield to this than the militia, my conscience being irreconcilably engaged against it. Wherefore, I conjure you as Christians to assist me particularly in this also. Yet I say not the Scots are to be shaken off; but to be sought with all possible industry, usque ad aras; nor do I mislike your fancy concerning the Prince of Wales treating with the Independents, wherein I give you full liberty (according to your own cautions) to try your fortunes, though I believe it will not hit…

Charles I’s letter to Lords Jermyn and Culpepper and John Ashburnham, written from Newcastle, 19 August 1646

Source: From the Clarendon Mss in the Bodleian Library, reproduced in Charles Petrie, The Letters, Speeches and Proclamations of King Charles I (London, 1935)

Yours of the 17th I received upon Monday last, which gave me much contentment, finding that the answer that I have given to the propositions doth concur fully with your judgment. And now you must not take it ill that I preach constancy to you as much as you have done to me. For, as you had reason to do so, because of the company I am in, I believe to have no less, considering how your judgements have been abused by a fallacious treaty concerning church government, which the Scots have thought to make use of as a shoehorn to draw on all their ends. For which there is not so infallible a way under heaven as the establishing of Presbyterian government with the extirpation of episcopacy (they scorn the notion to settle the one, except the other be totally abolished); for thereby the doctrine of rebellion is made canonical, their former acts approved and mine condemned. Besides how can I keep that innocency which you (with so much reason) oft and earnestly persuade me to preserve, if I should abandon the church? Believe it, religion is the only firm foundation of all power; that cast loose, or depraved, no government can be stable. For where was there ever obedience where religion did not teach it? But which is most of all, how can we expect God’s blessing if we relinquish His church? And I am most confident that religion will much sooner regain the militia than the militia will religion.

Thus in my harsh, brief way (not having time to make large discourses) I do my endeavours to make your judgment concur with mine in this particular; as they do in all the rest. For albeit, I believe that my letters upon this point may have silenced you by way of obedience, yet I am not satisfied unless your reasons be likewise convinced…

Charles I’s letter to the Prince of Wales, written from Newcastle, 26 August 1646

Source: From the Clarendon Mss in the Bodleian Library, reproduced in Charles Petrie, The Letters, Speeches and Proclamations of King Charles I (London, 1935)

As I know that you are not now to learn that chiefest particular duty of a king is to maintain the true religion (without which he can never expect to have God’s blessing), so I assure you that this duty can never be right performed without the church is rightly governed, not only in relation to conscience, but likewise for the necessary subsistence of the crown. For, take it as an infallible maxim from me, that as the church can never flourish without the protection of the crown, so the dependency of the church upon the crown is the chiefest support of regal authority. This is that which is so well understood by the English and Scots rebels, that no concessions will content them without the change of church government, by which that necessary and ancient relation which the church hath had to the crown is taken away. Wherefore, my first direction to you is to be constant in the maintenance of the episcopacy, not only for the reasons above said, but likewise to hinder the growth of Presbyterian doctrine, which cannot but bring anarchy into any country wherever it shall come for any time.

Next to religion, the power of the sword is the truest judge and greatest support of sovereignty which is unknown to none (as it may be that of religion is to some). Wherefore, concerning this, I will only say that whosoever will persuade you to part with it, does but in a civil way desire you to be no king; reward and punishment (which are the inseparable effects of regal power) necessarily depending upon it, and without which a king can neither be loved nor feared of his subjects.

I will end this letter with a negative direction, which is never to abandon the protection of your friends upon any pretence whatsoever.

Charles I’s letter to the Prince of Wales, written from Newport, 29 November 1648

Source: From John Rushworth, Historical Collections, reproduced in Charles Petrie, The Letters, Speeches and Proclamations of King Charles I (London, 1935)

By what hath been said, you may see how long we have laboured in search of peace. Do not you be discouraged to tread those ways, to restore yourself to your right; but prefer the way of peace. Show the greatness of your mind, rather to conquer your enemies by pardoning than punishing. If you saw how unmanly and unchristianly this implacable disposition is in our evil-willers, you would avoid that spirit. Censure us not for having parted with too much of our own right; the price was great; the commodity was security to us, peace to our people. And we are confident another parliament would remember how useful a king’s power is to a people’s liberty.

Of how much have we divested ourself, that we and they might meet again in a due parliamentary way to agree the bounds for prince and people! And in this, give belief to our experience, never to affect more greatness or prerogative than what is really and intrinsically for the good of our subjects (not satisfaction to favourites). And if you thus use it, you will never want means to be a father to all and a bountiful prince to any you would be extraordinarily gracious to. You may perceive all men trust their treasure, where it returns them interest; and if princes, like the sea, receive and repay all the fresh streams and rivers trust them with, they will not grudge, but pride themselves, to make them up an ocean.

These considerations may make you a great prince, as your father is now a low one; and your state may be so much the more established, as mine hath been shaken. For subjects have learnt (we dare say) that victories over their princes are but triumphs over themselves; and so, will be more unwilling to hearken to changes hereafter.

The English nation are a sober people; however at present under some infatuation. We know not but this may be the last time we may speak to you or the world publicly. We are sensible into what hands we are fallen; and yet we bless God we have those inward refreshments, that the malice of our enemies cannot disturb. We have learnt to own ourself by retiring into ourself, and therefore can the better digest what befalls us; not doubting but God can restrain our enemies’ malice, and turn their fierceness unto His praise.

To conclude, if God give you success, use it humbly and far from revenge. If He restore you to your right upon hard conditions, whatever you promise, keep. Those men which have forced laws, which they were bound to observe, will find their triumphs full of troubles. Do not think anything in this world worth obtaining by foul and unjust means. You are the son of our love; and, as we direct you to what we have recommended to you, so we assure you, we do not more affectionately pray for you (to whom we are a natural parent) than we do, that the ancient glory and renown of this nation be not buried in irreligion and fanatic humour; and that all our subjects (to whom we are a political parent) may have such sober thoughts as to seek their peace in the orthodox profession of the Christian religion, as it was established since the Reformation in this kingdom, and not in new revelation; and that the ancient laws, with the interpretation according to the known practices, may once again be a hedge about them; that you may in due time govern, and they be governed, as in the fear of the Lord.

Charles I’s speech on the scaffold, given outside the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall, 30 January 1649

Source: King Charles, his speech made on the scaffold in Whitehall-Gate (1649)

King: I shall be very little heard of anybody here. I shall therefore speak a word unto you here [the people about him on the scaffold]. Indeed I could hold my peace very well, if I did not think that holding my peace would make some men think that I did submit to the guilt as well as to the punishment. But I think it is my duty to God first and to my country for to clear myself both as an honest man and a good king and a good Christian. I shall begin first with my innocency. In truth I think it not very needful for me to insist long upon this, for all the world knows that I never did begin a war with the two Houses of Parliament. And I call God to witness, to whom I must shortly make an account, that I never did intend for to encroach upon their privileges. They began upon me, it is the militia they began upon, they confessed that the militia was mine, but they thought it fit for to have it from me. And, to be short, if anybody will look to the dates of commissions, of their commissions and mine, and likewise to the declarations, will see clearly that they began these unhappy troubles, not I. So that as the guilt of these enormous crimes that are laid against me, I hope in God that God will clear me of it. I will not, I am in charity, God forbid that I should lay it upon the two Houses of parliament; there is no necessity of either, I hope that they are free of this guilt. For I do believe that ill instruments between them and me has been the chief cause of all this bloodshed. So that, by way of speaking, as I find myself clear of this, I hope (and pray God) that they may too. Yet, for all this, God forbid that I should be so ill a Christian as not to say God’s judgments are just upon me. Many times He does pay justice by an unjust sentence, that is ordinary. I will only say this, that an unjust sentence that I suffered for to take effect is punished now by an unjust sentence upon me. That is, so far as I have said, to show you that I am an innocent man.

Now for to show you that I am a good Christian. I hope there is a good man [pointing to Juxon] that will bear me witness that I have forgiven all the world, and even those in particular that have been the chief causers of my death. Who they are, God knows, I do not desire to know, I pray God forgive them. But this is not all, my charity must go further. I wish that they may repent, for indeed they have committed a great sin in that particular. I pray God with St Stephen that this be not laid to their charge. Nay, not only so, but that they may take the right way to the peace of the kingdom, for my charity commands me not only to forgive particular men, but my charity commands me to endeavour to the last gasp the peace of the kingdom. So, sirs, I do wish with all my soul, and I do hope there is some here [looking at those making notes] will carry it further, that they may endeavour the peace of the kingdom.

Now, sirs, I must show you both how you are out of the way and will put you in a way. First, you are out of the way, for certainly all the way you have ever had yet, as I could find by anything, is in the way of conquest. Certainly this is an ill way, for conquest, sirs, in my opinion is never just, except there be a good just cause, either for matter of wrong or just title. And then if you go beyond it, the first quarrel that you have to it, that makes it unjust at the end that was just at the first. But if it be only matter of conquest, then it is a great robbery…

Now, sirs, for to put you in the way. Believe it you will never do right, nor God will never prosper you, until you give God his due, the king his due (that is, my successors) and the people their due, I am as much for them as any of you.

You must give God His due by regulating rightly His church (according to His scripture) which is now out of order. For to set you in a way particularly now I cannot, but only this – a national synod freely called, freely debating among themselves, must settle this, when that every opinion is freely and clearly heard.

…For the king, the laws of the land will clearly instruct you for that. Therefore because it concerns my own particular, I only give you a touch of it.
For the people, and truly I desire their liberty and freedom as much as anybody whomsoever, but I must tell you that their liberty and freedom consists in having of government those laws by which their life and their goods may be most their own. It is not for having share in government, sir, that is nothing pertaining to them. A subject and a sovereign are clean different things, and therefore until they do that, I mean, that you do put the people in that liberty as I say, certainly they will never enjoy themselves.

Sirs, it was for this that now I am come here. If I would have given way to an arbitrary way, for to have all laws changed according to the power of the sword, I needed not to have come here. And, therefore, I tell you, and I pray God it be not laid to your charge, that I am the martyr of the people.

In truth, sirs, I shall not hold you much longer, for I will only say this to you. That in truth I could have desired some little time longer, because I would have put this that I have said in a little more order, and a little better digested than I have done. And, therefore, I hope that you will excuse me.

I have delivered my conscience. I pray God that you do take those courses that are best for the good of the kingdom and your own salvation.

Juxon: Will your Majesty, though it may be very well known your Majesty’s affections to religion, yet it may be expected that you should say somewhat for the world’s satisfaction in that particular.

King: I thank you very heartily, my lord, for that I had almost forgotten it. In truth, sirs, my conscience in religion, I think, is very well known to the world and therefore I declare before you all that I die a Christian according to the profession of the Church of England as I found it left me by my father, and this honest man [Juxon] I think will witness it… [Then addressing the officers on the scaffold] Sirs, excuse me for this same, I have a good cause and I have a gracious God. I will say no more… [After making ready for execution, he said to Juxon] I have a good cause and a gracious God on my side.

Juxon: There is but one stage more. This stage is turbulent and troublesome, it is a short one. But you may consider it will soon carry you a very great way, it will carry you from earth to heaven, and there you shall find a great deal of cordial joy and comfort.

King: I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world.

Juxon: You are exchanged from a temporal to an eternal crown, a good exchange.

    Professor Gaunt asks students to consider the following questions:

  • Who wrote the letters? Was it Charles himself or did someone write them for him?
  • What do the letters tell us about the negotiating stance and position Charles was adopting?
  • Why was he adopting that stance, especially in being so firm in rejecting Scottish-style Presbyterianism in the opening letters?
  • Was he being consistent and how does he explain and justify his apparent change of position and the concessions he offered in 1648?
  • What do the letters tell us about Charles I’s approach and character and was he being sincere in what he wrote?
  • What it shows about Charles I’s approach, character and sincerity.
  • How does he seek to defend/justify himself and the position he had adopted?
  • What thoughts did he offer about the future of the country and how realistic?