Charles I | 10 Interesting Facts On The Executed King


Charles I was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625 until his execution in 1649. He had a turbulent relationship with the Parliament of England which led to the English Civil War. Here are 10 interesting facts about one of the most controversial monarchs of England.


#1 Charles I became king due to the death of his elder brother

Charles was born in Dunfermline Palace, Fife, Scotland on 19 November 1600. He was the second surviving son of James VI, King of Scotland and Anne, daughter of King Frederick II of Denmark. Queen Elizabeth I of England died childless in 1603 and James VI ascended the throne of England as James I. When his elder brother Henry died at the age of 18 in 1612, Charles became first in line of succession to the English, Irish and Scottish thrones. After the death of his father, Charles I became monarch of the three kingdoms on 27 March 1625.

Charles, King James and Queen Anne
Engraving of Charles and his parents, King James and Queen Anne by Simon de Passe


#2 He had a stammer

Charles was a weak and sickly child and his speech development was slow. With age he was able to overcome his physical infirmity and became an adept horseman, marksman and fencer. However he retained a stammer for the rest of his life. Charles was a good linguist and developed a great love for art. He invited famous artists Van Dyck and Rubens to work in England and spent a fortune on paintings by the masters such as Titian and Raphael.

King Charles I by Van Dyck
Portrait of King Charles I by Van Dyck


#3 Charles I married Henrietta Maria who was a Roman Catholic

Charles I married Henrietta Maria of France on 13 June 1625. While Charles was Protestant, Henrietta Maria was Roman Catholic. Due to this there remained mistrust about the king’s sincerity towards the Protestant cause throughout his reign. Apart from the first few years which were marred by constant quarrels, Charles and Henrietta had a happy marriage. They had nine children but two of them died shortly after birth. Two of their sons Charles II and James II went on to rule the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.

Portrait of Henrietta Maria
Portrait of Henrietta Maria by Van Dyck


#4 Charles ruled without the parliament during the Eleven Years’ Tyranny

Charles I had a troubled relationship with the Parliament of England since the beginning of his rule mainly due to finances and balance of power. In early years of his reign, England was involved in expensive and ultimately unsuccessful campaigns against Spain and France. Realizing he could reign without the parliament if he could avoid war, Charles I dissolved the parliament in March 1629 and made peace with Spain and France. He ruled without parliament till 1640, a period which some scholars refer to as the Eleven Years’ Tyranny.

Charles I of England
Engraving of Charles I of England


#5 His decision to impose a tax known as Ship Money was hugely unpopular

Book of Common Prayer
Book of Common Prayer

During Personal Rule or Eleven Years’ Tyranny, Charles developed various schemes to raise funds by non-parliamentary means. The most famous among them is Ship Money, a tax on the residents of the coastal areas of England which was usually levied only during wars. Charles decision to levy Ship Money during peacetime faced fierce resistance. Though it was hugely unpopular, Ship money was a financial success and a great help for Charles to meet peacetime government expenditures in the 1630s.

#6 Scottish Bishop Wars forced Charles I to call the parliament again

In 1637, Charles I attempted to reform the Church of Scotland mainly by imposing on it the Book of Common Prayer. This led to the Scottish Bishops’ Wars which forced Charles I to call the parliament in 1640, thus bringing an end to the Eleven Years’ Tyranny. In return for assisting the king, the parliament ensured that it could not be dissolved without its own consent, no more than three years could elapse between parliaments and Ship Money and other taxes levied by Charles I were abolished.


#7 His disagreements with the parliament led to the English Civil War

Parliament was dominated by critics of Charles I and the Irish Uprising of 1641 raised tensions between the two further with disagreements over who would command the army to suppress it. Boiling point was reached when Charles entered the parliament to arrest five of its members by force but being pre-informed they escaped. He was further humiliated when the Speaker famously refused to give their whereabouts. Charles left London in January 1642 to raise an army and regain control by force which led to the English Civil War.

William Lenthall
William Lenthall – Speaker of Parliament who humbled Charles I


#8 His capture marked the end of the First English Civil War

First major battle of the English Civil War between the Royalist forces of Charles I and the Parliamentarian army was fought in October 1642 at Edge Hill, Warwickshire. For a couple of years the war continued indecisively before the Parliamentarian army began to dominate it. During Siege of Oxford in 1646, Charles was forced to escape by disguising as a servant. He arrived at a camp of a Scottish army besieging Newark. After nine months the Scots left for home, handing over Charles to the English parliament in exchange for £100,000.

Battle of Naseby
Painting depicting the Battle of Naseby which turned the first English Civil War decisively in favor of the Parliamentarian army


#9 Charles I plotted the Second English Civil War in captivity

While in captivity Charles was able to negotiate a secret treaty with the Scots in December 1647. By the treaty, the Scots were to invade England on Charles’ behalf and restore him in return for his acceptance of Presbyterianism in Scotland. This led to the Second English Civil War which ended with Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Preston in August 1648. In December of the same year, the Rump Parliament was formed in which all the members who were opposed to the trial of Charles I for treason were removed.

Charles I's Beheading
German print of Charles I’s beheading


#10 Charles I is the only English king to be executed

After the Chief Justices of Courts deemed the accusation against Charles I as unlawful, the Rump Parliament passed a bill creating a separate court for Charles’s trial and declared the bill an act without the need for royal assent. On 27 January 1649, Charles I was declared guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. He was executed on 30 January 1649 outside the Banqueting House on Whitehall, London. England became a republic till 1660, the year in which monarchy was restored to Charles I’s eldest son, Charles II.

14 thoughts on “Charles I | 10 Interesting Facts On The Executed King”

Leave a Comment