The road to regicide, 1646-1649

Sources and commentary by Dr David Smith.

Comments have been added to show how a number of source extracts can build up a more complete picture.

1 “I have long ago resolved rather to shipwreck my person, than either my conscience or honour.”
Charles I to William Murray, 22 October 1646

2 “I made that base sinful concession concerning the Earl of Strafford, for which, and also that great injustice to the church in taking away the bishops’ votes in Parliament, though I have been most justly punished, yet I hope that God will so accept of my hearty (however weak) repentance, and my constant adhering to my conscience, that at last his mercy will take place of his justice. But a new relapse, as my abjuration of episcopacy, or my promise without reserve for the establishing of Presbyterian government, will both procure God’s further wrath upon me, as also make me inconstant in all my other grounds.”
Charles I to Henrietta Maria, November 1646

3 [Charles rejects] the proposition touching the militia [because] “… thereby he conceives he wholly parts with the power of the sword entrusted to him by God and the laws of the land for the protection and government of his people, thereby at once divesting himself and disinheriting his posterity of the right and prerogative of the Crown which is absolutely necessary to the kingly office, and so weakening monarchy in this kingdom that little more than the name and shadow of it will remain.”
Charles I’s third answer to the Newcastle Propositions, 12 May 1647

Extracts 1,2,3 – give the Kings attitude to the situation in 1646. Words like ‘prerogative’[3] give the idea of monarchical rights and the emphasis in the sources is on his powers as invested by God and power as the law of the land – hence any revocation of these powers would weaken monarchy as a whole. They also show that by 1647 the king wasn’t in immediate danger – the hostility of the army was focused on parliament not the King.

4 “We were not a mere mercenary army, hired to serve any arbitrary power of a state, but called forth and conjured by the several Declarations of Parliament to the defence of our own and the people’s just rights and liberties. … And we cannot but be sensible of the great complaints that have been made generally to us of the kingdom, from the people where we march, of arbitrariness and injustice to their great and insupportable oppressions.”
The Declaration of the Army, presented to Parliament, 14 June 1647

Extract 4 – is from the army . .. the famous declaration that they are no ‘mere mercenary’ army, but see themselves as the guardian of the peoples rights and liberties.

5 “That Parliaments may biennially be called and meet at a certain day. … Each biennial Parliament to sit 120 days, unless adjourned or dissolved sooner by their own consent; afterwards to be adjournable or dissolvable by the King; and no Parliament to sit past 240 days from the first meeting. … An act to be passed to take away all coercive power, authority and jurisdiction of bishops and all other ecclesiastical officers whatsoever, extending to any civil penalties upon any.”
The Heads of the Proposals, 1 August 1647

Extract 5 – is from parliament, probably the most generous terms Charles is offered. The Heads actually suggested weakening parliament by rejecting the idea of a ‘LONG’ parliament in the future.

6 “That the people of England, being at this day very unequally distributed by counties, cities and boroughs for the election of their deputies in Parliament, ought to be more indifferently proportioned according to the number of the inhabitants. … That the people do of course choose themselves a Parliament once in two years; … That the power of this and all future representatives of this nation is inferior to theirs who choose them; … These things we declare to be our native rights, and therefore are agreed and resolved to maintain them with our utmost possibilities against all opposition whatsoever.”

The first Agreement of the People, 28 October 1647

Extract 6 – questions who the true voice of the people is – the heads came from an elite group of officers whereas the Agreement is from the Levellers and contains the view that the people should be involved in elections – it’s their ‘native rights’.

7 “Truly [the First Agreement of the People] does contain in it very great alterations of the very government of the kingdom, alterations from that government that it hath been under, I believe I may almost say, since it was a nation – I say, I think I may almost say so.”
Cromwell at the Putney Debates, 28 October 1647

Extract 7 – contains Cromwell’s conservative response to leveller ideas.

8Rainsborough: I really think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, sir, I think it’s clear that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own counsel to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under.”
Ireton: “I think that no person hath a right to an interest or share in the disposing of the affairs of the kingdom, and in determining or choosing those that shall determine what laws we shall be ruled by here – no person hath a right to this, that hath not a permanent fixed interest in this kingdom, and those persons together are properly the represented of this kingdom, and consequently are to make up the representers of this kingdom.”
Thomas Rainsborough and Henry Ireton at the Putney Debates, 29 October 1647

Extract 8 – explains why Cromwell was wary of the revolutionary nature of Leveller ideas – this is the revolutionary claim that people aren’t bound to a government that haven’t elected. Ireton’s response is clear –people who vote must have a ‘fixed interest’ in the nation [probably property]

9 “His Majesty believes it clear to all understandings, that these Bills contain, as they are now penned, not only the divesting himself of all sovereignty, and that without possibility of recovering it, either to him or his successors, except by repeal of these Bills, but also the making his concessions guilty of the greatest pressures that can be made upon the subject; as in other particulars, so by giving an arbitrary and unlimited power to the two Houses for ever, to raise and levy forces for land and sea service, on what persons, without distinction or quality, and to what numbers, they please. “
Charles I’s reply to the Four Bills, 28 December 1647

Extract 9 -Characteristic of Charles’ responses in 1647 – the Commons are taking on arbitrary powers whereas his power is god given and hence legitimate.

10 “We declared our intentions [to preserve] monarchy, and they still are so, unless necessity enforce an alteration. It’s granted the King has broken his trust, yet you are fearful to declare you will make no further addresses. Where will the people know to have you? A not owning of God in these troubles hath caused a protraction of the war … Look on the people you represent, and break not your trust, and expose not the honest party of the kingdom, who have bled for you, and suffer not misery to fall upon them for want of courage and resolution in you, else the honest people may take such courses as nature dictates to them.”
Cromwell’s speech in the House of Commons in support of the Vote of No Addresses, 3 January 1648.

Extract 10 – shows a huge shift in Cromwell’s view after the engagement – he realises Charles cannot be trusted to keep his word. Honest often used by Cromwell to mean godly so this contains a warning too. If the king betrays the godly people of England they might ‘take such courses’.. ie rise against him.

11 “[We] review[ed] our actions again, by which means we were, by a gracious hand of the Lord, led to find out the very steps … by which we had departed from the Lord, and provoked him to depart from us; which we found to be those cursed carnal conferences, [which] our own wisdom, fears and want of faith had prompted us the year before to entertain with the King and his party … [God] did direct our steps, and presently we were led and helped to a clear agreement among ourselves, not any dissenting, that it was the duty of our day, with the forces we had, to go out and fight against those potent enemies which that year in all places appeared against us, with an humble confidence in the name of the Lord only, that we should destroy them; also enabling us then, after serious seeking his face, to come to a very clear and joint resolution … that it was our duty, if ever the Lord brought us back again in peace, to call Charles Stuart, that man of blood, to an account for that blood he had shed, and mischief he had done to his utmost, against the Lord’s cause and people in these poor nations.”
William Allen, A Faithful Memorial of that remarkable Meeting of many Officers of the Army [held at Windsor Castle on 29 April 1648] (London, 1659)

Extract 11 – shows the solidifying of feeling against the king ‘man of blood’. The use of his name implies a lack of respect – the idea that he should be made to account for his behaviour. The idea is still strongest in the army.

12 “We demand the speedy reintroduction of our imprisoned King to sit personally in the House of Peers: that that supreme Court of the kingdom may be no longer called Master without a head…We demand that…the common birthright of us all, the laws, may be restored to their former purity, and that we may enjoy them without corrupt glosses and comments of their arbitrary power, or unequal ordinances and practices between them and their committees;…that our ancient liberties may not lie at the mercy of those that have none, nor enlarged and repealed by votes and revotes of those that have taken too much liberty to destroy the subjects.”
Declaration of the County of Dorset, 15 June 1648

Extract 12 – shows the reaction in some parts of the country – the feeling that the army has overstepped the mark… ‘arbitrary’ is applied to Parl, not the king.

13 “Surely, Sir, [the victory at Preston] is nothing but the hand of God, and wherever anything in this world is exalted, or exalts itself, God will pull it down, for this is the day wherein He alone will be exalted. It is not fit for me to give advice, nor to say a word which use should be made of this, more than to pray you, and all that acknowledge God, that they would exalt Him, and not hate His people, who are as the apple of His eye, and for whom even Kings shall be reproved; and that you would take courage to do the work of the Lord, in fulfilling the end of your magistracy, in seeking the peace and welfare of the people of this land.”
Cromwell to William Lenthall, Speaker of the House of Commons, 20 August 1648

Extract 13 – Cromwell stiffens his resolve by his belief that god is on his side… the side of army and parliament. Certainly, its clear that officers in the army now felt they had a battle mandate to bring Charles to account.

14 “That the capital and grand author of our troubles, the person of the King, by whose commissions, commands or procurement, and in whose behalf, and for whose interest only, of will and power, all our wars and troubles have been, with all the miseries attending them, may be speedily brought to justice for the treason, blood and mischief he is therein guilty of.”
Remonstrance of the Army, 16 November 1648

Extract 14 – this is justified by the belief that the king defied Gods clear will in giving the victory to Parl in the first civil war – so fighting a second civil war is a more serious crime, especially as it led to a foreign [Scottish] invasion.

15 “The House of Commons did vote all those traitors that did adhere to, or bring in, the Scots in their late invading of this kingdom under [the] Duke [of] Hamilton, and not without very clear justice, this being a more prodigious treason than any that had been perpetrated before. Because the former quarrel on their part was that Englishmen might rule over one another; this to vassalise us to a foreign nation. And their fault who have appeared in this summer’s business [=the second Civil War] is certainly double to theirs who were in the first, because it is the repetition of the same offence against all the witnesses that God has borne, by making and abetting to a second war.”
Cromwell to Robert Jenner and John Ashe, 20 November 1648.

Extract 15 – Cromwell makes it clear that the Scots involvement is a clear reason why Charles must be brought to account.

16 “As to outward dispensations, if we may so call them, we have not been without our share of beholding some remarkable providences, and appearances of the Lord. His presence hath been amongst us, and by the light of His countenance we have prevailed … If thou wilt seek, seek to know the mind of God in all that chain of Providence, whereby God brought thee thither, and that person to thee.”
Cromwell to Colonel Robert Hammond, 25 November 1648.

Extract 16 – Cromwell believed there was a pattern of events leading to a trial, engineered by God.

17 “That the people are, under God, the original of all just power;…that the Commons of England in Parliament assembled, being chosen by and representing the people, have the supreme power in this nation; and…that whatsoever is enacted and declared for law by the Commons in Parliament assembled has the force of law…although the consent and concurrence of the King and House of Lords be not had thereunto.”
Resolutions passed by the House of Commons, 4 January 1649.

Extract 17 – revolutionary claim from parliament that the people are the fount of power. This allows the Commons to set up a court to try the king.

18 “The said Charles Stuart is guilty of levying war against the said Parliament and people, and [of] maintaining and continuing the same, for which in the said charge he stands accused. And … he hath been and is the occasioner, author, and continuer of the said unnatural, cruel and bloody wars, and therein guilty of all the treasons, murders, rapines, burnings, spoils, desolations, damage, and mischief to this nation, acted or committed in the said war or occasioned thereby. For all which treasons and crimes, this Court doth adjudge that he, the said Charles Stuart, as a tyrant, traitor and murderer, and public enemy to the good people of this nation, shall be put to death by the severing of his head from his body.”
Sentence of the High Court of Justice upon Charles I, 27 January 1649

Extract 18 – the sentence that was signed by 59 regicides. Some later said they were forced to sign….

19 “Although some of them after, for excuse, belied themselves, and said they were under the awe of the army and over persuaded by Cromwell, and the like, yet it is certain that all men herein were left to their free liberty of acting, neither persuaded nor compelled.”
Lucy Hutchinson, Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson

Extract 19 – … but Lucy Hutchinson disagrees.

20 “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 never did begin a War with the two Houses of Parliament…I never did intend for to encroach upon their privileges. … I will only say this, that an unjust sentence that I suffered 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. 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 … 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.”
Charles I’s speech on the scaffold, 30 January 1649

Extract 20 – Charles’ justifications for his actions. Reference to Strafford betrays his ancient guilt. Charles portrays self as victim and says parliament is the arbitrary power. He creates the legacy he wants of Charles the victim and martyr. This is a potent legacy because it paves the way for a restoration of monarchy if republicanism fails.

In total the sources provide a powerful narrative of the 3 main players attitude to Charles from despair in 1646 and repeated attempts to negotiate with him. Then we see a hardening of attitudes, a consideration of some of the revolutionary ideas coming out of the army and the growing idea of Charles as a bloody tyrant deserving to be tried for his crimes. At the same time Charles is creating his own narrative of himself as the victim of an overweening parliament which creates its own arbitrary power in order to destroy him.