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The book that chronicled the bloody revenge of Charles II

a tatty frontispiece from a book

This book dates to 1660 and details the fate of 29 regicides held to account for the murder of Charles I. © National Civil War Centre

The book that celebrated the grisly demise of the regicides of Charles I

This grisly book was published in 1660 and details the fate of 29 regicides who signed King Charles I death warrant.

After his capture following the Royalist defeat in the Civil War in 1645, the trial of Charles I eventually began in Westminster Hall on January 20 1649, before a High Court of Justice established by the House of Commons.

He was charged with having governed outside of the law and waging war on Parliament, but refused to plead and even questioned the authority of the court. The trial went ahead and the King was found guilty of High Treason, with a sentence of death by beheading pronounced on January 27.

While some previous monarchs had met with premature and bloody deaths, none had been tried by a court set up by Parliament.

A total of 59 commissioners (judges) signed the king’s death warrant with the sentence being carried out on January 30 1649, outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall.

It was Colonel Francis Hacker who led the king to the scaffold and oversaw the king’s beheading. It is said that Hacker held the Death Warrant until the House of Lords ordered him to surrender it in 1660.

a photo of a document with signatures and seals all over it

The Death Warrant of Charles I. Parliamentary Archives. CC by SA

When King Charles II was invited to resume the monarchy in 1660 after the collapse of the Commonwealth, one of the conditions specified was that he signed an act of indemnity to pardon those who had supported parliament and the republic. In 1660 Parliament passed the Indemnity and Oblivion Act, which granted amnesty to many Parliamentarians of the Civil War and the Interregnum,

However 104 people were excluded from the indemnity – of these 49 individuals and the two executioners faced the capital charge.

Historians disagree on the extent to which the new king was bent on revenge for those who had directly colluded to execute his father in 1649, but Parliament pursued the matter with tenacity and a special court was set up in October 1660 to try those regicides and their close associates who had not escaped abroad or died.

The book published the same year reports on the “justice” meted out to 29 fearful captives over a two week period for the reader’s “satisfaction, information and posterity.”

The trial of Colonel Francis Hacker, whose buff coat is displayed at the National Civil War Centre, was held on October 15 1660.

Hacker was a Parliamentarian Commander who as well as being present on the scaffold and supervising the execution, signed the order to the executioner. At his trial he offered little defence, except to say he “was a soldier, and under command.”

He was condemned to hang even though his role was effectively limited to guarding Charles I and accompanying him to the scaffold.

a photo of a long sleeved collarless tan leather coat with string fastening to the front

Colonel Hacker’s buff coat. © National Civil War Centre

a page of text written in ye olde English

The section detailing the bloody demise of Major General Harrison. © National Civil War Centre

But Hacker got off lightly; his fellow commonwealth military figure, Thomas Harrison, who was a signatory to the Death Warrant, was one of several who died a more gruesome death, which the book describes with grim relish:

“Being half dead, he was cut down by the common executioner, his privy members cut off before his eyes, his Bowels burned, his Head severed from his body, and his Body divided into Quarters.”

Harrison’s head was then set on a pole at Westminster Hall and his body parts hung on the City Gates.

A total of 11 men were executed in the same manner, with a further four being either hanged or beheaded. Others escaped with life imprisonment, fines and the seizure of their properties and titles whilst a few more died while awaiting execution. Others were pardoned whilst a lucky few escaped abroad, where they were pursued by agents of the king.

There were even a series of posthumous executions; Oliver Cromwell, John Bradshaw, (the judge who was presided over the trial of Charles I), and Henry Ireton (Cromwell’s son-in-law and Parliamentarian general) were all exhumed and their bodies hanged and beheaded.

The trio of rotting heads were also placed on spikes outside Westminster Hall, where the trial of Charles I had taken place.

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