Home > Uncategorized > A Coffin For King Charles: The Trial and Execution of Charles I

A Coffin For King Charles: The Trial and Execution of Charles I

Source: Cicely Veronica Wedgwood, A Coffin For King Charles: The Trial and Execution of Charles I (Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1981).

[page 111]

[Chapter Six: The King on Trial: January 20-23, 1649]

… The King was more zealously guarded here [Cotton House] than at St. James’s or at Windsor. Neither HUNCKS nor HACKER had the education

[page 112]

and good manners which distinguished TOMLINSON; they permitted noisy and inconsiderate conduct to the troops under their command, several of whom were always just outside the King’s room, with license to open the door and keep watch on him at any time. They smoked and talked, unchecked, while on duty and had no orders to remove their hats in the King’s presence or show any mark of respect.7

[page 173]

7. HERBERT’s Narrative, in Stevenson, p. 188; evidence at the trial of HACKER, State Trials, V, p. 1179. [Thomas] HERBERT says the soldiers were not in the same room, but several contemporary news-sheets (e.g. Perfect Occurrences, Jan. 18-25) assert that they were; so also Clarendon. The bad behaviour of the soldiers was emphasised by the Royalists and denied by the Army. HUNCKS, who gave evidence against his old comrades, HACKER and AXTELL, in 1660, asserted that they had let the troops behave badly. AXTELL and HACKER both implied on the scaffold that HUNCKS had borne false witness, and AXTELL is reported as saying that HUNCKS was more uncivil to the King than anyone. State Trials, V, pp. 1289-90. None of this evidence is worth much, but I am inclined to think that the rude behaviour of the soldiers has been somewhat exaggerated. The maintenance of a reasonable civility towards the prisoner was the evident intention of CROMWELL and the other leaders.

[page 113]

[Chapter Six: The King on Trial: January 20-23, 1649]

Spectators already filled the lower part of the room [Westminster Hall]. The galleries directly above the judges’ seats were crammed, and some enterprising people had scrambled up into the embrasures of the high Gothic windows. There seems to have been no system of checking the identity of spectators, even in the galleries which overlooked the judges, though Colonel AXTELL, in command of the soldiers in the Hall, was seen to let in some favoured persons and to push out others.11

[page 228]

11. The watchers sitting on the window-sills are depicted in the engraving reproduced in this book which I believe to have been done from sketches made on the spot. For AXTELL’s occasional exclusion of some spectators or inclusion of others, see State Trials, V, p. 1152.

[page 117]

[Chapter Six: The King on Trial: January 20-23, 1649]

While the King was on his way, [John] PHELPS read the roll-call, the Commissioners who were present rising to their names. As he called on Lord [Thomas] FAIRFAX, a masked lady in one of the nearer galleries raised her voice in protest, but her words were quickly submerged by the clerk’s continued reading of the list and the movements along the benches as the Commissioners rose to their names.18 Not until much later would it become known that the speaker was the wife of FAIRFAX and that, answering for

[page 118]

her husband, she had cried out: “He has more wit than to be here,” or, as some versions have it, that “the Lord FAIRFAX was not there in person, that he never would sit among them and they did him wrong to name him.”

[page 229]

18. Clarendon, XI, p. 235, gives the shorter version; the longer and less convincing version is interpolated into Rushworth, p. 1395. A woman’s voice would not carry very far in Westminster Hall, and PHELPS was — it can safely be assumed — reading very fast, partly to get the roll-call over before the King came, but still more to cover up the fact that less than half the Commissioners were present. At the trial of AXTELL in 1660, there was considerable confusion as to the time, nature and even the day on which the famous interruptions of Lady FAIRFAX were made. See State Trials, V, pp. 1152-3.

[page 143]

[Chapter Seven: The King Condemned: January 24-27, 1649]

… there was a brief tussle before the King gave way, on the understanding that he would be heard later, and [John] BRADSHAW addressed the Court:

Gentlemen, it is well known to all, or most, of you here present, that the prisoner at the bar hath been several times convened and brought before the Court to make answer to a charge of treason and other high crimes exhibited against him in the name of the people of England—

At this moment there was a stir in one of the galleries where two masked ladies sat side by side, and one of them called out: “Not half, not a quarter of the people of England. Oliver CROMWELL is a traitor.” Colonel AXTELL, who was in charge of security in the Hall, ordered his men to level their muskets at her. Some said that they heard him shout, “Down with the whores.” Her companions in the gallery were as anxious to silence her as Colonel AXTELL was, and within seconds she was hustled out, and BRADSHAW resumed his interrupted speech.

Not very many people can have heard the exact words which had

[page 144]

been hurled at the heads of BRADSHAW and CROMWELL, though there was of course no doubt of their general bearing. The identity of the speaker was even more obscure; it was unknown to the man who had sold her the seat, and her face was visible to no-one. Colonel AXTELL cannot have recognized her, and the newspapers which briefly commented on the interruption of a “malignant lady” may have thought that she was indeed — as was rumoured — Lady [Catherine] NEWBURGH or even the voluble Mrs. [Mary] POPE.

The masked interrupter was Lady FAIRFAX, who had come, accompanied by her friend, Mrs. NELSON, to relieve her conscience, and perhaps also to relieve her husband’s. Who in that crowded Court recognised her voice? CROMWELL, very possibly, since he knew her well, and some of the colonels — though evidently not AXTELL, for he would hardly have threatened to fire on the wife of his General. Few in the Hall or among the audience can have realised that the significance of the interruption lay not in the words but in the identity of the speaker. If FAIRFAX had permitted or authorised his wife to make this disturbance, it could be the signal that he himself was about to intervene. But the caution with which she concealed her identity suggests that this strong-minded lady was acting without her husband’s knowledge.24

[page 232]

24. State Trials, V, pp. 1150, 1152-3. Clarendon and Rushworth, both published long after the Restoration, do not indicate that the identity of Lady FAIRFAX was ever in question, but the evidence given at AXTELL’s trial makes it clear that she cannot have been known to many.

[page 153]

[Chapter Seven: The King Condemned: January 24-27, 1649]

“I may speak after the sentence–” he [Charles I] began; “by your favour, Sir, I may speak after the sentence ever.” Then in growing agitation as the guards closed in, “By your favour, hold! The sentence, Sir — I say, Sir, I do–”

The guards were all round him, ready to take him away by force. Then he found his voice for one last word: “I am not suffered for to speak: expect what justice other people will have.”

As he went out, his servant John JOINER heard Colonel AXTELL give his men the signal to cry out, so that he left the Hall to shouts of “Execution! Justice! Execution!”29 “Poor creatures,” he said with a smile, “for sixpence they will say as much of their own commanders.” The narrow corridors on the way back were thickly lined with hostile troops, some of whom blew smoke in his face as he passed.

[page 233]

29. JOINER’s evidence at AXTELL’s trial, State Trials, V, p. 1153.

[page 173]

[Chapter Eight: King Charles The Martyr: January 28-30, 1649]

… The three to whom the death-warrant had been directed, HACKER, HUNCKS, and PHAYRE, had to sign the order for the execution itself, and over this, in the morning of the 30th, trouble had arisen. At the time it was concealed, but after the Restoration HUNCKS, giving evidence against his old comrade in arms, called up the wrangling scene….

In a small room in Whitehall, [Henry] IRETON and [Thomas] HARRISON lie in bed together — which suggests an early hour in the morning; close to the door is a table with pen and ink, and the order lying upon it. CROMWELL, HACKER, PHAYRE and HUNCKS make a crowd in the room. Voices are raised in argument: HUNCKS — the unsuitably named Hercules HUNCKS — had lot his nerve. No, he will not sign. CROMWELL shouts at him; he is “a froward, peevish fellow.” Colonel AXTELL appears in the doorway, and speaks: “Colonel HUNCKS, I am ashamed of you; the ship is now coming in to harbour and will you strike sail before we come to anchor?”40

HUNCKS did not sign, and eleven years later he would stand, obsequiously voluble, in the witness box while Francis HACKER listened in stubborn resignation and Daniel AXTELL, in a cold sweat, denied that any such thing had happened.

[page 236]

40. State Trials, V, pp. 1149-50, 1180-1. HUNCKS, in evidence in 1660, gave the time as immediately before the King’s execution but this does not tally with what is known of the movements of HARRISON and CROMWELL. An earlier hour is strongly indicated.

[page 207]

[Chapter Ten: Epilogue: The Regicides]

But most of those who had been concerned with the death of the King were still alive in 1660. Forty-one out of the fifty-nine who had igned the warrant were living. So were others who had been too close to the King’s death to hope for mercy from his son [Charles II] — Hugh PETER, who had so vehemently preached against him; Daniel AXTELL, who had commanded the guards in Westminster Hall; Matthew TOMLINSON, who had been responsible for him as a prisoner from the time he arrived at Windsor until he went to the scaffold; Francis HACKER, Robert PHAYRE and Hercules HUNCKS, the three to whom the death warrant had been directed.

TOMLINSON had been careful not to sign the death warrant, and now produced the evidence of the Royalist Henry SEYMOUR that the King had spoken well of his civil behaviour. Charles II and his advisers, anxious to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, were willing to accept the excuses of any of their one-time enemies who would co-operate with the new goverment. TOMLINSON secured a full pardon and sealed it by giving evidence against his old comrades in arms, AXTELL and HACKER, both of whom were executed. Hercules HUNCKS bought his dishonoured life in the same way. “That poor wretch Lieutenant Colonel HUNCKS,” said AXTELL on his way to death, had been the uncivilest of all to the King, but now gave evidence to hang his comrades.2

[page 242]

2. Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report V; State Trials, V, pp. 1148, 1190, 1289.

[page 211]

In the end only nine of the Regicides suffered the hideous death designed by the law for the traitors — the ghastly business of half hanging, followed by disembowelling and quartering while still alive. They were CROMWELL’s brother-in-law, John JONES, Adrian SCROOPE, Thomas HARRISON, John CAREW, Thomas SCOT and Gregory CLEMENT, and, after their recapture two years later, [John] OKEY, [John] BARKSTEAD and [Miles] CORBET.

Four who had not signed the death warrant were also executed: John COOK, Hugh PETER, Daniel AXTELL and Francis HACKER…

[page 212]

… AXTELL and HACKER died with the resigned courage of soldiers; AXTELL spoke briefly and with dignity for both of them, because HACKER had little command of words.17 He had been boorish with the King, but, after all, his lack of breeding was not his fault.

[page 243]

17. State Trials, V, pp. 1289-90.

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