Reading an old post by @daintyballerina recently, which featured an account of the ‘last words’ of King Charles before his execution, reminded me of a series of letters send by the King and Prince Charles in the lead up to the King’s execution. To modern eyes they seem highly formal, concerned in restating ideological positions, but I think that some of the emotion and desperation does seep through in the detail. While accounts of the execution are compelling, the letters give us a first hand glimpse into the concerns and fears of father and son in the midst of events that had spiralled from their control.
On hearing that his father was to be tried the 18 year old Prince Charles wrote a desperate letter to General Fairfax and his Council of War in England. It’s unsurprising that the the letter was utterly ineffective, the tone in which it is written is unlikely to have endeared him to his enemies, though it is fair to say that it would have played to their doubts. The letter is significant in demonstrating both the dawning comprehension of what was to come and the powerless position that the heir to throne was now in. The letter shows that Charles is not part of any official negotiations and claims to be gaining his news through the press. The Prince was to become a better politician and a more eloquent letter writer in his future years, but this letter shows us the desperation of a young man to save his father from the mortal fate that was now sharply coming into focus. With the letter Charles included a single sheet of paper, blank except for his signature at the bottom (see picture above). It was an invitation for the Council to impose any condition on him in return for his father’s life. As we will see in the second post in this series, the King would have been appalled by his son’s action in this respect, but Charles was clearly desperate to save his father.
The Hague, January 13.23, 1648/9.
We have no sources of information regarding the health and present condition of the King, our father, but the common gazettes which come into this country, our servant, Symons, whom we lately sent to present our humble respects to His Majesty, not having been able to obtain permission to do so, or to see him. We have reason to believe that, at the end of the time assigned for the treaty made with his Majesty in the Isle of Wight, His Majesty has been withdrawn from that island to Hurst Castle, and thence conducted to Windsor, with some intention of proceeding against him with rigour, or of deposing him from the royal dignity given him by God alone, who invested his person with it by a succession undisputed, or even of taking his life; the mere thought of which seems so horrible and incredible that it has moved us to address these presents to you, who now have power, for the last time, either to testify your fidelity, by reinstating your lawful King, and to restore peace to the kingdom – an honour never before given to so small a number as you- or to be the authors of misery unprecedented in this country, by contributing to an action which all Christians think repugnant to the principles of their religion, or any fashion of government whatever, and destructive of all security. I therefore conjure you to think seriously of the difference there is in the choice you make, and I doubt not you will choose what will be most honourable and most just, and preserve and defend the King, whereto you are by oath obliged. It is the only way in which any of you can promise himself peace of conscience, the favour and good will of His Majesty, the country, and all good men, and more particularly of your friend.