Charles I Goes on Trial
By 1648 Cromwell was convinced that no peaceful settlement could be reached in England until Charles I was removed from the scene. Charles even in captivity had plotted with those he hoped would come to his aid, whatever the consequences for the English people. But no English law could be found against which Charles’s crimes could be measured: so a principal from Roman law was invoked instead, thanks to Dutch lawyer Isaac Dorislaus, whereby it was held lawful for a body such as the army or Parliament to remove a tyrant.
The trial took place – under very strict security – in the Painted Hall of the Palace of Westminster. But just as only 26 of the 46-man Rump Parliament could be influenced to vote for the trial, so only 68 of the 135 judges appointed turned up; and none of them wished to serve as Chief Justice, so John Bradshaw was added to the list at its head.
When the trial opened in the afternoon of January 20 1649 Charles tried to interrupt the charge of high treason being read against him; he got so irate at being ignored that he broke his silver-topped cane over the shoulder of prosecutor John Cooke; Charles then ordered Cooke to pick the tip up, which the lawyer refused. A more effective symbol of the King’s loss of authority is hard to imagine, nor a more heartening one for those doubters involved: the King was human; and what is more, an arrogant fool.
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