The Trial of Charles I, 1649

On Saturday, being the 20th day of January 1648, The Lord President of the High Court of Justice with near fourscore of the Members of the said Court, having sixteen Gentlemen with Partisans, and a Sword and a Mace, with their, and other Officers of the said Court marching before them, came to the place ordered to be prepared for their sitting, at the West end of the great Hall at Westminster, where the Lord President in a Crimson Velvet Chair, fixed in the midst of the Court, placed himself, having a Desk with a Crimson Velvet Cushion before him; the rest of the Members placing themselves on each side of him upon the several Seats, or Benches, prepared and hung with Scarlet for that purpose, and the Partisans dividing themselves on each side of the Court before them.

The Court being thus sat, and silence made, the great Gate of the said Hall was let open, to the end, That all persons without exception, desirous to see, or hear, might come into it, upon which the Hall was presently filled, and silence again ordered.

This done, Colonel Thomlinson, who had the charge of the Prisoner, was commanded to bring him to the Court, who within a quarter of an hour's space brought him attended with about twenty Officers, with Partisans marching before him, there being other Gentlemen, to whose care and custody he was likewise committed, marching in his Rear. Being thus brought up within the face of the Court, The Sergeant at Arms, with his Mace, receives and conducts him straight to the Bar, having a Crimson Velvet Chair set before him. After a stern looking upon the Court, and the people in the Galleries on each side of him, he places himself, not at all moving his Hat, or otherwise showing the least respect to the Court; but presently rises up again, and turns about, looking downwards upon the Guards placed on the left side, and on the multitude of Spectators on the right side of the said great Hall. After Silence made among the people, the Act of Parliament for the Trying of Charles Stuart, King of England, was read over by the Clerk of the Court; who sat on one side of a Table covered with a rich Turkey Carpet, and placed at the feet of the said Lord President, upon which table was also laid the Sword and Mace.

After reading the said Act, the several names of the Commissioners were called over, every one who was present, being eighty, as aforesaid, rising up and answering to his Call.

Having again placed himself in his Chair, with his face towards the Court, Silence being again ordered, the Lord President stood up and said:

Lord President: Charles Stuart, King of England; The Commons of England Assembled in Parliament, being deeply sensible of the Calamities that have been brought upon this Nation (which is fixed upon you as the principal Author of it) have resolved to make inquisition for Blood, and according to that Debt and Duty they owe to Justice, to God, the Kingdom, and themselves, and according to the Fundamental Power that rests in themselves, They have resolved to bring you to Trial and Judgment; and for that purpose have constituted this High Court of Justice, before which you are brought.

This said, M. Cook Attorney for the Commonwealth (standing within a Bar on the right hand of the Prisoner) offered to speak, but the King having a staff in his Hand, held it up, and laid it upon the said M. Cook's shoulder two or three times, bidding him hold; Nevertheless, the Lord President ordering him to go on, he said:

M. Cook. My Lord, I am commanded to charge Charles Stuart, King of England, in the name of the Commons of England, with Treason and high Misdemeanors; I desire the said Charge may be read.

The said Charge being delivered to the Clerk of the Court, the Lord President ordered it should be read, but the King bid him hold; Nevertheless, being commanded by the Lord President to read it, the Clerk began. The Charge of the Commons of England, against Charles Stuart, King of England, Of High Treason, and other High Crimes, exhibited to the High Court of Justice. . . .

The Charge being read the Lord President replied:

Lord President. Sir, you have now heard your Charge read, containing such matter as appears in it; you find, that in the close of it, it is prayed to the Court, in the behalf of the Commons of England, that you answer to your Charge. The Court expects your Answer.

The King. I would know by what power I am called hither. . . . by what Authority, I mean, lawful; there are many unlawful Authorities in the world, Thieves and Robbers by the highways: but I would know by what Authority I was brought from thence, and carried from place to place, (and I know not what), and when I know what lawful Authority, I shall answer: Remember, I am your King, your lawful King, and what sins you bring upon your heads, and the Judgment of God upon this Land, think well upon it, I say, think well upon it, before you go further from one sin to a greater; therefore let me know by what lawful Authority I am seated here, and I shall not be unwilling to answer, in the meantime I shall not betray my Trust: I have a Trust committed to me by God, by old and lawful descent, I will not betray it to answer a new unlawful Authority, therefore resolve me that, and you shall hear more of me. . . . I will stand as much for the privilege of the house of Commons, rightly understood, as any man here whatsoever. I see no House of Lords, here that may constitute a Parliament, and (the King too) should have been. Is this the bringing of the King to his Parliament? Is this the bringing an end to the Treaty in the public Faith of the world? Let me see a legal Authority warranted by the Word of God, the Scriptures, or warranted by the Constitutions of the Kingdom, and I will answer.

Lord President. Sir, you have held yourself, and let fall such Language, as if you had been no ways Subject to the Law, or that the Law had not been your Superior. Sir, The Court is very well sensible of it, and I hope so are all the understanding People of England, That the Law is your Superior, that you ought to have ruled according to the Law, you ought to have done so. Sir, I know very well your pretence hath been that you have done so, but Sir, the difference hath been who shall be the Expositors of this Law, Sir, whether you and your Party out of Courts of Justice shall take upon them to expound Law, or the Courts of Justice, who are the Expounders; nay, the Sovereign and the High Court of Justice, the PARLIAMENT of England, that are not only the highest expounders, but the sole makers of the Law. Sir, for you to set yourself with your single judgment, and those that adhere unto you, to set yourself against the highest Court of Justice, that is not Law.

Sir, as the Law is your Superior; so truly Sir, there is something that is Superior to the Law, and that is indeed the Parent or Author of the Law, and that is the People of England, For Sir, as they are those that at the first (as other Countries have one) did choose to themselves the Form of Government, even for justice sake, that Justice might be administered, that Peace might be preserved, so Sir, they gave Laws to their Governors, according to which they should Govern, and if those Laws should have proved inconvenient, or prejudicial to the Public, they had a power in them and reserved to themselves to alter as they shall see cause. . . .This we learn, the end of having Kings, or any other Governors, it's for the enjoying of Justice, that's the end. Now Sir, if so be the King will go contrary to that End, or any other Governor will go contrary to the end of his Government; Sir, he must understand that he is but an Officer in trust, and he ought to discharge that Trust, and they are to take order for the animadversion and punishment of such an offending Governor.

This is not Law of yesterday Sir, (since the time of the division betwixt you and your People) but it is Law of old; and we know very well the Authors and the Authorities that do tell us what the Law was in that point upon the Election of Kings, upon the Oath that they took unto their People; and if they did not observe it, there were those things called Parliaments; the Parliaments were they that were to adjudge (the very words of the Author) the plaints and wrongs done of the King and the Queen, or their Children, such wrongs especially when the People could have no where else any remedy. Sir, that hath been the People of England's case, they could not have their remedy elsewhere but in Parliament. . . .

Sir, that road we are now upon by the command of the highest Courts hath been and is to try and judge you for these great offenses of yours. Sir, the Charge hath called you Tyrant, a Traitor, a Murderer, and a public Enemy to the Commonwealth of England. Sir, it had been well, if that any or all these terms might rightly and justly have been spared, if any one of them at all.

King: Ha!

The Lord President commands the sentence to be read. Make an O yes, and command silence while the sentence is read. O yes made. Silence commanded. The Clerk read the sentence, which was drawn up in parchment.

Whereas the Commons of England in Parliament had appointed them an High Court of Justice for the trying of Charles Stuart, King of England, before whom he had been three times convented, and at the first time a Charge of High Treason, and other Crimes and Misdemeanors, was read in the behalf of the Kingdom of England, etc.

Here the Clerk read the Charge.

Which Charge being read unto him as aforesaid, he the said Charles Stuart was required to give his Answer, but he refused so to do, and so expressed the several passages at his Trial in refusing to answer.

For all which Treasons and Crimes this Court doth adjudge, That he said Charles Stuart, as a Tyrant, Traitor, Murderer, and a public Enemy, shall be put to Death, by the severing his Head from his Body.

After the sentence read, the Lord President said; This sentence now read and published, it is the act, sentence, judgement, and resolution of the whole Court.

Here the Court stood up, as assenting to what the President said.
King Charles, His Trial (London, 1649)

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