A Venetian’s account of the execution of Charles I

Giovanni Sagredo’s fascinating and seldom-quoted account of the execution of Charles I. Sagredo served as Venetian Ambassador in London and the account is taken from his Relazioni Inghilterra, a general summary of the Civil War and its consequences, lodged with the Doge and Senate in 1656. Note the sinister precautions set in place to prevent Charles resisting the axe (he didn’t). Note also the reaction of the old lion in the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London.

Observing that when brought before parliament he neither removed his hat nor responded, declaring that God and not the people was the proper judge of kings, they directed that a great scaffold should be erected on a level with a window of the royal palace, covered with black velvet, and the king taken to it. Fearing that his Majesty might resist the execution of the sentence and refuse to put his neck on the block, they fixed two iron rings in the scaffold, at his feet, through which a cord might be passed and fastened to his Majesty’s neck to compel him by main force to bow to the axe if he refused to humiliate himself voluntarily to the fatal blow. But it was not necessary to go to this extreme. The king heard of it and said they need not use force since he would submit to necessity. He then turned to the people and said that he died for the faults of others rather than his own. His death was only the beginning of misfortunes in store for England, which would one day have to render account to God for shedding the innocent blood of its king. Commending his innocent children he bowed to the axe and died with courage amid general silence and wonder, as the troops were so distributed at their posts that no one ventured to show pity, except at heart. Thus after various changes of scene the death of Charles I ended a good part of the tragedy which had England as its theatre. This unexampled act stirred not only men but the very beasts to compassion. An old lion, still alive in a cage at the Tower of London, expressed its feelings by loud roaring, not only on the day of the execution, but every year on the anniversary, exciting the attention and wonder of the people.

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