The execution of King Charles I on 30 January 1649 was a pivotal moment in British history. But the significance of the event, and the posthumous reputation of the beheaded king, were hotly debated over subsequent months and years. While the regicides presented Charles as a traitor, the counter-image was of a royal martyr put to death by mere rebels. Charles himself contributed to this struggle, at once through his measured performance on the scaffold and through Eikon Basilike, a book probably co-authored by the King. This battle over reputation would have a critical impact on the subsequent course of British history.

 

Key Questions:

  • How was the execution of Charles I represented to the English people?
  • What was at stake in the battle to establish a dominant narrative of Charles’s trial and execution?
  • To what extent did positive images of Charles – as a godly man, even a martyr – influence perceptions of monarchy over the years of the Interregnum?

 

Further Reading:

  • Clive Holmes, Why Was Charles I Executed? (London: Continuum, 2007).
  • David Norbrook, Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric, and Politics, 1627-1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
  • Jason Peacey, ed., The Regicides and the Execution of Charles I (London: Palgrave, 2001).

Unless otherwise noted, images in this film are reproduced by courtesy of the Ashmolean Museum and the Bodleian Libraries at the University of Oxford.