Tag Archives: Mary

The Regicide of Charles I

On this day in 1649 the king was executed by order of the English Parliament, having been handed over to them by the Army of the Scottish Parliament, in return for some £100, 000.

Chas I 2                                                   Charles I of Scotland and England

This was the third time in Scotland’s long and illustrious history that the anointed monarch had met their death under an English blade. At least in the case of James IV it was on the battlefield. Whereas with Mary, as with Charles now, it was done on the executioner’s block. An outcome disguised, however thinly, as the lawful conclusion of the just implementation of due legal process.

Execution of Chas 1 on his way

  Charles is led to his execution

In May 1646 Charles had surrendered himself to the Scots’ Army which was besieging Newark. Since the destruction of the Royalist army at the Battle of Naseby the previous year, which had tipped the military balance decisively in Parliament’s favour, Charles had been holed up in the besieged city Of Oxford. He had escaped from there in April, with no real idea of what course of action to take. Eventually he had thrown himself on the tender mercies of the Covenanting Army, in the absence of any real alternative as the remaining military options in Scotland and in Ireland were without any prospect of success. The memorable Year of Victories campaign led by Bonnie Dundee’s kinsman, the Marquis of Montrose, having finally run out of steam at Philiphaugh the previous November.

montrose                            The Marquis of Montrose. Charles’ Captain General in Scotland

Charles Stuart’s belief was probably that the Scots would see him first and foremost as King of Scots and succour him. And that their religious convictions would be subservient to this greater loyalty. The Covenanters, for their part, assumed that he had come to them in recognition that taking the Covenant was the only option now open to him and so he was prepared to sign up. In this both parties were deeply mistaken. The Covenanting leadership nevertheless bent with a will to the task of persuading their king of the merits of their beliefs and he was solemnly preached at many times a day for the next few months by such fine examples of tolerance and broad outlook as Alexander Henderson.

Alexander Henderson                                                         Alexander Henderson

But Charles Stuart had not come to the ruin of; his dynasty, the prospects of his native land or the hopes of his loyal subjects by even considering the possibility of compromise of his divine right to rule or the abandonment of his pursuit of what he felt was in his own interests. And so the months of his captivity passed with no progress on either side.

The English Parliament worked steadily towards their own clearly understood goals which were to see the king handed over to them and the Scottish Army return whence it came, so that it might pose no further threat to their security and cease to be a continuing drain on their finances in supporting it in position.

If his nine months of captivity by the Scots had seemed a tortured and unending period of non progress, the next two years would better that. Once in the hands of the English Parliament he was held in various locations as the relationship between Parliament and the New Model Army dissolved in rancorous recrimination and sectarian disagreement.

Charles sought to capitalise on these differences, unsuccessfully. There was an abortive escape attempt and he managed to sign a secret treaty with those Covenanted Scots who were prepared to see him restored to the throne of Scotland as long as Presbyterianism was then imposed on his English subjects for the next three years.

This treaty, the Engagement of ill-renown, led to a full scale invasion of England by another Scottish Army under the Duke of Hamilton., which was crushed at Preston by Cromwell’s notable cross Pennine flank attack.

Battle of Preston

The First Battle of Preston (1648). The Scottish Army is crushed by Cromwell.

By December 1648 the English Parliament was happy to continue negotiations with the king probably for ever. Cromwell, however, strengthened by his recent military success against the Scots, organised the arrest of those members of Parliament who were unsupportive of the New Model Army. The Rump Parliament was formed by the remainder and thus an effective military coup d’état was carried out.

Charles was duly tried for treason against his English Parliament. Subjecting the monarch to a criminal trial had never been attempted before, neither in England nor in Scotland. The Chief Justices of the three common law courts of England each considered such an indictment as unlawful. The Rump Parliament declared itself capable of legislating alone on the issue and promptly passed the necessary act declaring royal assent unnecessary. After three days the process was concluded and the guilty verdict handed down.

trial of Charles I

The Trial of Charles I

And so at 2 pm on 30th January the king was publicly beheaded in Whitehall. In a departure from the established custom of the times where the severed head (and limbs) of executed traitors were publicly displayed for many years, pour encourager les autres, Charles head was sewn back onto his body and the corpse promptly embalmed.

Cromwell_before_the_Coffin_of_Charles_I                                      Oliver Cromwell inspects the corpse of Charles I

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The English Convention Parliament (1689) – King James’ Usurpation Legitimised.

James II succeeded to the throne of the three kingdoms in 1685 following the death of his brother Charles II. The three years of his reign were an unhappy time for all as the king’s Catholicism left him unprepared to compromise even a little with the growing religious demands of his mostly Protestant subjects, particularly in Scotland.

James II                                                                   King James II

Dissatisfaction led to intrigue and conspiracy as William of Orange’s ambition for the crown coincided with the desire of many of the men of influence at the Royal Court to replace James with a suitably protestant successor.

Amid much scheming in both Dutch and English courts, towards the end of 1688, a plan was hatched to usurp James. And so, on 5th November William of Orange landed at Brixham at the head of an uninvited army of some 40,000 men, twice the size of the Spanish Armada,

Landing of William of Orange

William of Orange lands at Torbay

On the 9th November William’s forces seized Exeter after the magistrates had fled. And on 18th November Plymouth surrendered to the Dutch. There was a brief skirmish at Wincanton where a small force of James’ English army defeated a small party of Dutch scouts before retreating.

However, as the days went on there were widespread political and military defections to William as James was abandoned by subjects, friends and family.

As the Dutch army marched towards London, James, with characteristic indecision, first fled the capital only to return on being discovered in flight.

However, by 17th December with William and his forces on the verge of entering London there could be no other recourse than the king abandoning his throne and leaving for exile. On this day James was attended by Bonnie Dundee and Colin Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Balcarres, the last 2 nobles of his court who remained loyal to the Stuarts.

(c) Traquair Charitable Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Colin Lindsay, 3rd Earl of Balcarres

The three of them walked for a while in the Mall. James briefed Balcarres to attend to the civil affairs of Scotland and told Dundee he would receive a commission to command his army. And he left them trudging disconsolately off into exile.

So James was gone and William had arrived, without any major fighting much to the satisfaction of the miscreants involved. However, such a usurpation was unprecedented and had no easy resolution from the constitutional viewpoint.

William refused to simply take the crown as de facto king, preferring that the whole arrangement be properly documented and he gave instructions for an assembly of peers to be called. This gathering, on 22 January 1689, has become known as the Convention Parliament. Its purpose was to justify the overthrow of the properly anointed monarch and as such it had no legal standing.

For three weeks month arguments were heard as to the various proposals for monarchical arrangements going forward. Should William rule alone, or his wife, Mary who was James’s sister? Should, in fact, the throne pass to James and Mary’s sister Anne, who was satisfyingly protestant and who did, in the fullness of time, inherit the throne. Arguments were also put forward for a republic and the small voices of the loyal bishops proposed that James should be conditionally restored to the throne of his fathers.

De Hooghe's image of William III addressing the convention 'Parliament'

William of Orange addresses the Convention Parliament

It was, however, duly determined that since England was a protestant kingdom only a protestant could rule. The Commons agreed that the throne had become vacant due to the king’s abdication but the Lords rejected this as abdication was then a term of no legal standing. And furthermore that if the throne had become vacant then it should pass to the next in line which would be Mary.

Eventually, amidst the tawdry postulating over how best to tie up the loose ends of the whole debased affair, the Lords proposed that William and Mary should rule jointly, and the Commons agreed on the basis that William alone would hold the regal power.

William IIIs coronation

Coronation of William III and II and Mary II

On 13th February William and Mary were duly proclaimed joint monarchs of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland. And on 23rd February, with the same deft touch, the new King William retrospectively converted the Convention into a legitimate Parliament by dissolving it and summoning it again to pass the Crown and Parliament Recognition Act 1689.

He further ordered that a similar assembly be called in Edinburgh in order that he might be properly anointed monarch there. And it was this Convention of the Three Estates which opened on 14 March 1689 from which Bonnie Dundee withdrew and left to eventually raise the standard for the King and commence the campaign which ended at Killiecrankie.

And so a key turning point was reached in the History of Scotland. Within 20 years we would witness such events as the Massacre of Glencoe, the Darien disaster and finally and fatally, Parliamentary union with all that has come to pass from there.

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