The trial of Charles I

An image depicting the trial of Charles I in Westminster Hall

The trial of Charles I was one of the most momentous events ever to have taken place in Westminster Hall. Kings have been deposed and murdered, but never before had one been tried and condemned to death whilst still King.

The trial of Charles I in Westminster Hall

Sound of trumpets

Following the end of the Civil War Charles I was brought to trial in Westminster Hall on 9 January 1649. The Serjeant at Arms rode into the Hall carrying the mace and accompanied by six trumpeters on horseback. The King's trial was proclaimed to the sound of trumpets and drums, at the south end of the Hall.

Bringing the King through a large crowd at the north was too great a risk; on the other hand, it was important that the trial be held in public. The court was divided from the public by a wood partition from wall to wall, backed by railings, and guards were stationed on the leads.

The King appeared before his judges four times, charged with tyranny and treason. The exchanges always took a similar form with the King challenging the court's authority and its right to try him.

Peculiar nature of the trial

The peculiar nature of the trial reflects not simply the fact that a King was on trial but that both the King and his judges took their stand on what are still crucial principles - the King on his right to trial by a properly constituted court acting on the basis of established law, and his accusers on the need to call to account a King they had described as a tyrant who shed the blood of his people.

The King's persistence disconcerted the judges, but there was little doubt about the outcome, and the death sentence was proclaimed on 27 January.

Regicides

Eleven years later, after the restoration of the monarchy (under Charles II), many of the surviving regicides were tried in the Hall, and nine were condemned and executed.

The bodies of the key men who ordered the execution of Charles I - Oliver Cromwell, John Bradshaw and Henry Ireton - were exhumed and their heads stuck on poles on one of the Hall's towers. Cromwell's remained there for more than 20 years.

Glossary links

Did you know?

John Bradshaw, the chairman of the Parliamentary Commissioners who tried Charles I in Westminster Hall, wore a bullet-proof hat during the trial for protection.

Art in Parliament

View images from the Parliamentary Art Collection.

Biographies

You can access biographies of

Charles I
Oliver Cromwell
John Bradshaw
Henry Ireton

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.

Also within Living Heritage

Learn more about the events leading up to and following the trial of Charles I