104. RECORDS OF THE TRIAL OF CHARLES I (1649)

(A) Act Erecting a High Court of Justice (6 January)

The act of the commons of England assembled in parliament for erecting of a high court of justice for the trying and judging of Charles Stuart, king of England. Whereas it is notorious that Charles Stuart, the now king of England, not content with those many encroachments which his predecessors had made upon the people in their rights and freedoms, hath had a wicked design totally to subvert the ancient and fundamental laws and liberties of this nation and in their place to introduce an arbitrary and tyrannical government, and that, besides all other evil ways and means to bring this design to pass, he hath prosecuted it with fire and sword, levied and maintained a cruel war in the land against the parliament and kingdom ...: for prevention therefore of the like or greater inconveniences, and to the end no chief officer or magistrate whatsoever may hereafter presume traitorously and maliciously to imagine or contrive the enslaving or destroying of the English nation, and to expect impunity for so doing; be it ordained and enacted by the commons in parliament, and it is hereby ordained and enacted by the authority thereof, that Thomas Lord Fairfax, Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton [and others] shall be and are hereby appointed and required to be commissioners and judges for the hearing, trying, and adjudging of the said Charles Stuart. And the said commissioners, or any twenty or more of them, shall be ... constituted an high court of justice to meet and sit at such convenient time and place as by the said commissioners ... under their hands and seals shall be appointed and notified by public proclamation in the Great Hall or Palace Yard at Westminster ...; and to take order for the charging of him, the said Charles Stuart, with the crimes and treasons above mentioned, and for the receiving of his personal answer thereunto, and for the examination of witnesses upon oath ... or otherwise, and taking any other evidence concerning the same; and thereupon, or in default of such answer, to proceed to final sentence according to justice and the merit of the cause, and such final sentence to execute or cause to be executed speedily and impartially.... And Thomas Lord Fairfax, the general, and all officers and soldiers under his command, and all officers of justice and other well-affected persons, are hereby authorized and required to be aiding and assisting unto the said court in the due execution of the trust hereby committed. Provided that this act, and the authority hereby granted, do continue in force for the space of one month from the making hereof, and no longer.

Firth and Rait, Acts and Ordinances, I, 1253 f.

(B) The King's Refusal to Recognize the Court (21 January)

Having already made my protestations, not only against the illegality of this pretended court, but also that no earthly power can justly call me, who am your king, in question as a delinquent, I would not any more open my mouth upon this occasion more than to refer myself to what I have spoken, were I in this case alone concerned; but the duty I owe to God in the preservation of the true liberty of my people will not suffer me at this time to be silent. For how can any free-born subject of England call life or anything he possesseth his own, if power without right daily make new and abrogate the old fundamental laws of the land — which I now take to be the present case? ...

There is no proceeding just against any man but what is warranted either by God's laws or the municipal laws of the country where he lives. Now I am most confident this day's proceeding cannot be warranted by God's laws; for, on the contrary, the authority of obedience unto kings is clearly warranted and strictly commanded in both the Old and New Testament.... Then for the law of this land, I am no less confident that no learned lawyer will affirm that an impeachment can lie against the king, they all going in his name. And one of their maxims is that the king can do no wrong....

How the house of commons can erect a court of judicature, which was never one itself (as is well known to all lawyers), I leave to God and the world to judge. And it were full as strange that they should pretend to make laws without king or lords' house, to any that have heard speak of the laws of England. And admitting, but not granting, that the people of England's commission could grant your pretended power, I see nothing you can show for that; for certainly you never asked the question of the tenth man in the kingdom; and in this way you manifestly wrong even the poorest ploughman, if you demand not his free consent....

Thus you see that I speak not for my own right alone ... , but also for the true liberty of all my subjects — which consists, not in the power of government, but in living under such laws, such a government, as may give themselves the best assurance of their lives and property of their goods ... Besides all this, the peace of the kingdom is not the least in my thoughts. And what hope of settlement is there so long as power reigns without rule or law, changing the whole frame of that government under which this kingdom hath flourished for many hundred years? ... And believe it, the commons of England will not thank you for this change; for they will remember how happy they have been of late years under the reigns of Queen Elizabeth, the king my father, and myself, until the beginning of these unhappy troubles, and will have cause to doubt that they shall never be so happy under any new. And by this time it will be too sensibly evident that the arms I took up were only to defend the fundamental laws of this kingdom against those who have supposed my power hath totally changed the ancient government.

Thus, having showed you briefly the reasons why I cannot submit to your pretended authority without violating the trust which I have from God for the welfare and liberty of my people, I expect from you either clear reasons to convince my judgment ... , or that you will withdraw your proceedings.

This I intended to speak in Westminster Hall on Monday, January 22; but against reason was hindered to show my reasons.

Rushworth, Historical Collections, VII, 1403.

(C) The Sentence of the Court (27 January)

... The commons of England assembled in parliament have by their late act ... authorized and constituted us an high court of justice for the trying and judging of ... Charles Stuart for the crimes and treasons in the said act mentioned; by virtue whereof the said Charles Stuart hath been three several times convented before this high court.... The first day ... a charge of high treason and other high crimes was, in the behalf of the people of England, exhibited against him and read openly unto him, wherein he was charged that he ... , being admitted king of England and therein trusted with a limited power to govern by and according to the law of the land and not otherwise ... , nevertheless, out of a wicked design to erect and uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will and to overthrow the rights and liberties of the people ... , hath traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present parliament and people therein represented ...; and that, by the said cruel and unnatural war so levied, continued, and renewed, much innocent blood of the free people of this nation hath been spilt, many families undone, the public treasure wasted, trade obstructed and miserably decayed, vast expense and damage to the nation incurred, and many parts of the land spoiled, some of them even to desolation.... Whereupon the proceedings and judgment of this court were prayed against him as a tyrant, traitor, and murderer, and public enemy to the commonwealth, as by the said charge more fully appeareth. To which charge ... he, the said Charles Stuart, was required to give his answer, but he refused so to do ...; upon which his several defaults, this court might justly have proceeded to judgment against him.... Yet, nevertheless, this court, for its own clearer information and further satisfaction, have thought fit to examine witnesses upon oath and take notice of other evidences touching the matters contained in the said charge....

Now, therefore ... , this court is in judgment and conscience satisfied that he, the said Charles Stuart, is guilty of levying war against the said parliament and people and maintaining and continuing the same, for which in the said charge he stands accused; and, by the general course of his government, counsels, and practices ... , this court is fully satisfied in their judgments and consciences that he has been and is guilty of the wicked design and endeavours in the said charge set forth.... For all which treasons and crimes this court doth adjudge that he, the said Charles Stuart, as a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and public enemy to the good people of this nation, shall be put to death by severing of his head from his body.

Ibid., VII, 1418 f.


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