The decision to execute Charles I
Charles' fate was sealed in the spring of 1648, just as parliament passed the Vote of No Address and the army continued its radical stance of having a say in a settlement of the civil war. There were three key reasons why, by 1649, Charles was put on the chopping block.
- He didn't accept his loss in the First Civil War (1642-46)
- His belief of his own indispensability
- The weakness of the `conservative parliamentarians'
The first civil war was fought to bring the King to rule by the constitution as the people saw it, not as the absolutist many people saw Charles as. They were fighting against absolutism and Roman Catholic influences, not the sovereign. A large number of people thought that he was led astray by `evil councillors' - Digby and Henrietta Maria. If these key people whispering the Charles' ear could be removed then they were sure Charles would negotiate an acceptable settlement.
`Divide and conquer' was Charles' motto after he was defeated in 1646, he raised the white flag not to the English, but to the Scottish! This was most probably his first move in splitting up his enemies and playing them off against each other. The Scottish, of course, had joined the war in hopes of forcing the establishment of a Presbyterian Church in England.
He seemed to take a less frank stance with the Scots and gave them hopes of their favoured settlement but really he was only telling mince pies to buy himself some more time to play other enemies off against each other. He decided to play a dangerous game, and in the end he paid the ultimate price.
Whilst he was giving the Scots false hope, he received the Propositions of Newcastle from the Parliament in London. They laid down that Presbyterianism would be the state Church with no other church tolerated, parliament was to control the army for 20 years (so Charles couldn't use it against them when he came back) and all of Charles' major supporters be punished. Of course, Charles responded to this in the same way he'd responded to all recent propositions; he didn't make a clear rejection and was quoted saying `How to make a handsome denying answer is all the difficulty.' in private conversation.
He made a miscalculation of mammoth proportions, he believed that any settlement of peace would revolve around him and therefore he must be involved. He hoped that by setting one enemy against another he could be the arbitrator between them. He simply could not conceive of a settlement that didn't include him.
Some would argue that the reason the army started to play politics was because they were scared of the `conservative parliamentarians' caving in to Charles and accepting a settlement that would leave him with too much power. Aside from that, the army had fought a war! They wanted to make sure that their bloodshed actually achieved something, it was looking as though Charles would revert back to his absolute catholic tendencies as soon as he were to get back into power.
In the spring of 1646 Charles launched another attack on parliament and was promptly smashed by The New Model Army. He was not to be trusted! At the Windsor Prayer Meeting, one Colonel Goffe, an ally of Cromwell, was quoted to say:
Our duty, if ever the Lord bought to an account for the blood he had shed, and mischief he had done, against the Lord's cause and the people in the poor nations.
Even after this the conservative Presbyterians tried to reopen negotiations with Charles, Pryde's purge got rid of them so they were no longer in a position to negotiate. The Army was in power! They were determined it was time to try the King, it was to be a show-trial as the sentence was already decided on.
The view on Charles was becoming more and more negative, instead of him being viewed as a key figure representing order in any settlement, he'd become viewed as the key figure in continuing disorder. If there was going to be a stable settlement then it would have to be without Charles, the army and Cromwell (he and Ireton were the army's commanders) decided that Charles I had to be executed out of sheer political necessity.
He was executed by a small minority of the political nation, nevertheless they were a minority with power.
In the last resort Charles was executed not because he was King, but because he was Charles I: stubborn, devious and uncomprehending
This series of essays (Decision to..) were written in preparation of exams in a weeks time. Wish me luck. Please feel free to /msg me with suggestions of what I could add, remove, edit, etc. Anything that is inaccurate I'd appreciate it if you gave me your opinion :)