Stories From English History: II - Alfred J. Church

The Window In Whitehall

The King was condemned on January 27. On the 29th he took leave of the two of his children that were in England—the Princess Elizabeth, who was then thirteen years old, and the Duke of Gloucester, who was but eight. There had been some talk of making the boy King, so that the chiefs of the Parliament might rule in his name (his two elder brothers were not in England). Charles took the child on his knee, and said to him, "Sweetheart, now will they cut off thy father's head." The boy looked at him very earnestly. He went on, "Heed, my child, what I say; they will cut off my head, and perhaps make thee a king. But mark what I say: you must not be a king so long as your brothers Charles and James live; therefore I charge you, do not be made a king by them." "I will be torn in pieces first," said the boy. He made the boy promise that he would never consent to be king while his elder brothers were alive. Then giving them some jewels, the only riches, he said, he could bestow on them, he sent them away. Dr. Juxon, Bishop of London, was with him till late. When the Bishop had gone, he spent two hours more in meditation and prayers. The gentleman who was with him related that that though he himself could not sleep, the King slept quietly for four hours. About five in the morning—"two hours before dawn"— the King opened his curtain and called to him. "I will get up," he said, "for I have a great work to do this day"; and shortly after, "This is my second marriage day; I would be as trim to-day as may be, for before night I hope to be espoused to my Lord." He then chose the clothes that he would wear, taking care to have an extra shirt, for he said, "The season is so sharp as may probably make me quake. I would not have men think it fear; I fear not death. I bless God I am prepared."

After this he gave directions for certain books which he wished to be distributed, a Bible among them, with notes written by him in the margin, which he wished the Prince of Wales to have.

Bishop Juxon now came to read and pray with him. The Bishop read the 27th chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel, which contains the story of the Crucifixion of Our Lord. The King wanted to know whether he had chosen it. "May it please your Majesty," he answered, "it is the proper Lesson for the day."

The officer who had been sent to fetch him to the place of execution now knocked at the door. " 'Tis time," he said, "to go to Whitehall, where your Majesty may have some further time to rest." For a short time the King was left by himself; then, taking the Bishop by the hand, he said, "Let us go."

The way to Whitehall—it was at St. James's Palace that he had been since his coming to London—was lined on either side by soldiers. The drums were beaten without ceasing, so that it was scarcely possible to hear what was said.

Charles I of England


The scaffold had been made outside one of the windows in Whitehall Palace, near the Banqueting Hall, looking westward on to what is now Parliament Street. The people were so far off that the King, perceiving that his voice could not reach them, said what he had to say to the gentlemen about him. He justified what he had done; at the same time he forgave his enemies. One of his gentlemen touched the edge of the axe. "Hurt not the axe," said the King, "that may hurt me." The Bishop then begged him to say something about religion. "I die a Christian," said the King, "according to the profession of the Church of England, as I found it left by my father."

He begged the officer to take care that he was not put to pain, and twice warned the gentlemen near that they should not hurt the axe. To the executioner he said, "I shall say but short prayers, and then stretch forth my hands."

"There is but one stage more," said the Bishop. "This stage is turbulent and troublesome, but you may consider it will convey you a very great way—it will carry you from earth to heaven."

The King answered, "I go from a corruptible crown to one incorruptible, where no disturbance can be."

The scaffold was hung with black, and in the middle stood a block, with an axe leaning against it. Two men with masks on their faces stood by. The King put his hair into the cap which he had on his head, the Bishop and the executioner helping him. Then he knelt down and laid his head upon the block. The executioner severed it with one blow. The other masked man took it up, and cried in a loud voice, "This is the head of a traitor!" A great groan was the answer.

Whether the king deserved to die or not, it is certain that it was a great error to kill him, an error which put back the cause of freedom in England by many years.

"He nothing common did or mean

Upon that memorable scene,

But with his keener eye

The axe's edge did try;

Nor called the gods with vulgar spite

To vindicate his helpless right,

But bowed his comely head

Down, as upon a bed."