Gateway to the Classics: Stories From English History, Book II by Alfred J. Church
Stories From English History, Book II by  Alfred J. Church

In Westminster Hall

There were two parties among those who were on the side of the Parliament. Some hoped that the King might be compelled to rule better; others were resolved to get rid of kings altogether, and now came the time for the latter to prevail. We shall see this from what happened on December 5, 1648. There had been now for nearly two years, ever since the Scotch gave Charles up to the Parliament, many letters passing backwards and forwards, and many conferences, between the Parliament and the King. At last, on the day mentioned above, the House of Commons, after a debate which lasted all the night, resolved that "the King's concessions to the Parliament are a sufficient ground for settling the peace of the kingdom." But this did not suit the views of Cromwell and the other leaders of the army. They sent down soldiers the next day to take possession of the way into the House. These soldiers were under the command of a certain Colonel Pride. He had a list of members who were known to favour the King, and as any of these came up to the House, he was seized by the soldiers and led away. This business was called "Pride's Purge." The House of Commons was "purged," as Cromwell and his friends said, of those who were not really in earnest.


Trial of Charles I. in Westminster Hall.

About three weeks afterwards the House, or what was left of it, resolved that as "Charles Stuart had acted contrary to his trust in setting up his standard, he should be tried." On January 1 it voted that Charles Stuart had been guilty of high treason, and on the 19th of the same month the judges that were to try him were called together. More than a hundred judges had been named, but many of them did not come. When the name of Lord Fairfax was called, a voice from the gallery called out, "He has more wit than to be here;" and when afterwards the clerk said, "By the authority of Parliament, and of all the good people of England," it cried again, "No, nor the hundredth part of them."

The next day the King was brought before the judges, who sat in hat and cloak. A chair of crimson velvet was put for him; he sat down without removing his hat. The accusation that he had brought great troubles upon the kingdom was then read. When one of the lawyers was about to speak, the King laid his staff gently on his shoulder, as if to bid him be silent. He did it again, and the gold head of the staff dropped off. The King was seen to grow pale.

"You are expected," said the President, "to make an answer to this charge."

King . "By what authority am I brought here?"

President . "By authority of the people of England, whose elected King you are."

K. "The Monarchy of England has been for nigh two thousand years by inheritance, not by election."

P. " 'Tis well known that you have misused this trust. The court must proceed."

K. "I have been brought here by force. This is no Parliament, for I see no House of Lords; nor can there be a Parliament without a King."

This was repeated many times, the President requiring that the King should plead, the King refusing. As he walked out of the court some shouted "God save the King!" others "Justice! Justice!"

The same thing happened on the second and two following days. On the fifth the trial went on. Witnesses were called to testify that the King had set up his standard, and that various acts of war had been committed by him. The sixth day was occupied in the same way. On the seventh the King, on coming in, demanded to be heard. The President, answering that he should be allowed to speak before sentence was pronounced, went on to say that the Court was agreed that the charges brought against Charles Stuart had been proved. This done, he said to the King, "If you question our right to try you, we will not hear you; but if you desire to defend yourself, then you may speak."

The King said that he had something to say to the Lords and Commons, and desired that he might be allowed to speak to them. His judges, of course, he refused, as before, to acknowledge. The President would not allow what he asked, and proceeded to give sentence. "The Court adjudge that Charles Stuart, as a tyrant, traitor, murderer, and a public enemy, shall be put to death by the severing of the head from the body."

K. "Will you hear me a word?"

P. "Sir, you are not to be heard after sentence."

K. "No, sir?"

P. "No, sir; by your favour, sir. Guard, withdraw your prisoner."

K. "By your favour, sir, hold the sentence."

Then, finding it all useless, he cried, "I am not suffered to speak. Expect what justice others will have."

Some of the soldiers as he passed them treated him rudely, blowing the smoke from their pipes in his face. This was not, however, the temper of all. One soldier cried "God bless the King!" his officer struck him with a cane. The King said, "Methinks that the punishment is greater than the offence."

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