6 Jul 2015

The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:10 pm on 6 July 2015
Killers of the King. The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I.

King Charles I. Photo: Bloomsbury

It was a dark time in English history. In 1642, parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell, tired of the absolute power of King Charles I, fought a bloody civil war with Royalists who stood by the Monarchy.

Charles I would be found guilty of high treason and executed. His son Charles II would reclaim the throne and seek vengeance against the men who ordered the execution of his father.

Lord Charles Spencer

Lord Charles Spencer Photo: Justin Creedy Smith.

Much has been written about this period in English history. Lord Charles Spencer, the 9th Earl Spencer and brother of Princess Diana, is an historian who had written books about this period before.

He tells Afternoons with Simon Mercep he stumbled on the idea for this latest book, Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I, accidentally.

“I was on this obscure website called Executed Today about four years ago. It told me a bit part player from one of the earlier books I’d written on this period had been put to death exactly 350 years before I stumbled across this website for being a killer of the king.”

Spencer says he knew the story of Cromwell, but not the others when he started looking into it. “ I found endless stories, gripping personal stories set against this vengeance tale” Spencer says. “I don’t want to sound corny but I saw it as a 17th century Game of Thrones in a way.”

The book describes the global manhunt by Charles II to find the men responsible for his father’s death.

“Of course the penalty was going to be hanging, drawing and quartering which is basically being mutilated until you are fortunate enough to die. They ran for their lives and they scattered around the world.” Spencer explains.

Killers of the King. The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I.

Killers of the King. The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I. Photo: Bloomsbury

Lord Spencer can trace his own family roots to both sides of the conflict, descending from both Charles II through his mistresses and Sir Hardress Waller who signed the death warrant. “He was so boring I couldn’t really get him into the book” Spencer says.

As an historian, Spencer says he knew the trial of Charles I was unfair and unconstitutional. But he says he changed his perspective on the men who signed the death warrant while writing the book.

“At the end of the day I totally understood why these men felt they had to put him to death. They did it for totally patriotic reasons. You think you know a subject and you delve into it and find so much more”.

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