Charles I (center, in blue sash) before the Battle of Edge Hill, 1642, during the English Civil Wars; the young Prince of Wales (later Charles II) and Duke of York (later James II) can be seen on the left as both were present for the battle and even had to be ushered away to safety as the Royalist lines faltered
Through the first three years of the war, neither side could gain a decisive advantage. The Parliamentary and Scots Army won a number of significant engagements, as did the Royal forces. After the Battle of Naseby in 1645, however, the Royal forces suffered a succession of defeats as the Parliamentary army—redesigned and in the field as “The New Model Army”, led by Lord Fairfax and his best general, Oliver Cromwell—finally surrounded Oxford. The King escaped the encirclement and surrendered to the Scots, expecting good treatment and a negotiated peace with them. In 1647 the Scots were persuaded to turn over the King to Parliament.
The victory of the Parliamentarian New Model Army at the Battle of Naseby (June 14, 1645) marked the decisive turning point in the English Civil War
At first Parliament tried to negotiate with the King, offering a constitutional arrangement sharing powers. Charles rejected any compromise regarding his absolute authority, and he secretly accepted the Scottish covenant in return for recognition and assistance, known as “the Engagement,” thus provoking the Second Civil War against Parliament. General Cromwell—the most influential member of Parliament and the Army—considered Charles’s secret negotiations with the Scots, Irish and French the height of treason against England. The majority “presbyterian party” of the parliament sought further treating with the King, but Cromwell and the Army intervened after defeating the Royal forces again, and purged the legislature of all representatives not in agreement with the Army.
Death warrant of Charles I, signed and sealed by 59 of the 67 commissioners
The new “Rump Parliament” established a high court tribunal to try the King for high treason. He was held accountable for the deaths of more than 185,000 people who had perished in the wars, and for making war against his own nation. The trial began on January 19, 1649 when the Solicitor General John Cooke read the indictment. Charles refused to enter a plea, declaring the court invalid and the trial an illegal mockery of justice. His authority came from God and he was the legal crowned and anointed King; he claimed sovereign immunity from prosecution. Fifty-nine of the sixty-seven commissioners signed his death warrant, which declared that Charles would be beheaded as a tyrant, murderer, and public enemy to the people of England. His execution was carried out on January 30, 1689.
The public execution of Charles I for his many crimes against his subjects
A third Civil War broke out, with fighting in Ireland, England, and Scotland, with the utter defeat of all the armies loyal to the King by Oliver Cromwell and the New Model Army. Cromwell rejected the offer of the crown and instead established the English Commonwealth, with himself as “The Lord Protector”, which lasted about ten years. This ended with the return to England from France of exiled King Charles II: a tyrant, consummate liar, murderer, and voluptuary that put his father’s crimes in the shade—a story for another day.
Cromwell viewing the body of Charles I