Sympathy for the Devil

   As world tyrants go, King Charles I was not that evil.  England certainly had it’s share of greater villains and bullyboys.   Look at John, son to Henry II and Eleanor of Acquitaine, brother to King Richard I and bane to the fictional Robin Hood character.  One author called him “spectacularly awful as a human being as well as a king.”   Treacherous, cruel and greedy, he sent a poisoned egg to a woman of the court who had rejected him, married a twelve-year old and ditched his first wife, and drowned his young nephew, also heir to the throne, by tying a stone to him and throwing him in the Seine.  Personally.

   January 30th  marks the anniversary of the death of Charles I, the only king in England to be tried and executed by the common rabble.   His greatest sin was arrogance and a complete disregard for the voice of his people.  He disbanded the parliament three times when they wouldn’t give him the money he had asked for to support foreign wars and his own court, and, unfortunately in his case, listened to the advice of his foreign-born Catholic wife, who told him, in effect, “let them eat cake.”

   He dragged his country into a civil war that lasted seven years because he could not allow himself to concede to the most basic rights of his countrymen: freedom of speech, freedom to assemble peaceably, fair trial by a jury of equals, etc., etc.  The seeds of our own revolution were planted and fostered by the savagery and single-mindedness of the conflict.

   As a man he was shy, short and stuttered.  He was, by the standards of the day, a faithful husband and a loyal father.  On the day of his execution, he said a solemn goodbye to his children, and walked with dignity to the block wearing two shirts in order not to shiver, which would have given the impression to the gathered throng that he was afraid.  His last words, spoken without a stutter, were reportedly, “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown.”

   In researching and writing about him for my second novel, The Traitor’s Wife, I came to experience a greater compassion for the man.  He was the product of his time, believing himself to be God’s annointed, above the laws of man.    Unfortunately for him, the enlightened world had begun its slow and painful growth away from the notion of One Man, One Rule.  This engraving of him, which I keep on my mantle, illustrates so well his arrogance, and his humanity.

“For pity’s sake, and for pity’s sake alone, did I, in one rapid movement, draw back, bringing down the ax with a clean and heavy stroke.”   The Traitor’s Wife




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