King Charles I

King Charles I (born 19th November 1600; ascended to throne 27th March 1625, till beheaded 30th January 1649)


Charles started life as the second son, “the spare,” and hence was the Duke of York, the traditional English title for the second son. But his older brother, Henry, Prince of Wales, died in 1612 at the age of 18, and Charles moved up the ladder to become Prince of Wales, and heir to the thrones of England and Scotland.

He had an inauspicious beginning, described as a weak and backward child, who possibly suffered from rickets, but did mature into what was called a “fine gentleman” of 5 foot 4 inches. In 1624 he sought a wife in Spain, recorded better in the Prado art gallery of Madrid than it is in England. The Spanish princesses would not have a “heretic,” the Catholic concept of a Protestant, and unfortunately the French would, so Charles and the young sister of King Louis XIII were betrothed. He was married to the 15 years old Henrietta-Maria within two months of his father’s death, and effectively was married also to her inseparable train of 30 priests, the dominating Mme de Saint-Georges, and the usual train of lords and ladies in waiting. Three months after accession to the throne, three weeks after his marriage, Charles came to stay at Hampton Court, but shortly thereafter, on account of the spreading epidemic of plague, moved to Windsor, though plague followed him there as well, contracted by some of the French priests, who were put in quarantine in one of the towers of the Tilt Yard at Hampton Court.

Charles’ life with Henrietta was marred by the stipulation in her marriage contract that she would be free to practise her religion, resulting in scenes in public at Hampton Court when her personal priest (confessor) would say grace at mealtimes in open competition with Charles’ chaplain. Charles also complained of his wife’s coldness towards him which he blamed on the malign influence of Mme Saint-Georges. There were problems also with the French Ambassador who thought he should be given lodgings at Hampton Court while the King was there, which was totally against precedent. However, at the Queen’s urging, the importunate Ambassador, Marquis de Blainville, and his staff were given lodgings next to the river, at considerable inconvenience and expense; they were not permitted to enter the main buildings.

So affronted was Charles by the behaviour of his young wife that in 1625 he wrote letters of complaint to Marie de Medici, Henrietta’s mother, the Queen-Mother of France. There were continuing rows between Henrietta and Charles, the result mostly of her wish to have her own household, without input from the king, and to choose how she would conduct her life. Charles’ courtiers were of the opinion if he could not govern his wife, how could he govern a kingdom? One of Charles “favourites,” George Villiers (aka the Duke of Buckingham), was refused entry into France and in retaliation reminded the 16 year old Henrietta, “Queens of England have been beheaded before now.”

To assert her status as a Catholic, Henrietta refused to be crowned Queen by the (Protestant) Archbishop of Canterbury. Stemming from this and the continued provocations, Charles in 1626 dismissed from England all of Henrietta’s French entourage, in itself almost an act of war since it broke their marriage treaty. Marshal de Bassompierre was despatched from France, went to Hampton Court to confer with King Charles, he refused the food he was offered, Charles refused to discuss any issue with him before his wife, and he reluctantly agreed to return when called for a private conference. The Marshal appears to have behaved with great diplomatic skill, to have given Charles every opportunity to behave responsibly, and it was at first reciprocated. In October 1626 at Hampton Court the King and the Marshal conferred in private, but Charles continued to insist his wife’s French priests and courtiers should go.

The king visited Hampton Court on a regular schedule, two or three times a year, not at any special season, but less frequently after his “favourite” the Duke of Buckingham was assassinated in 1628. Hampton Court‘s Great Hall particularly lent itself to theatrical performances, and Hampton Court was also a refuge against the regularly occurring plague epidemics, although the area around it was developing a “suburban” nature with residents commuting daily to London. Because of the plague, Charles remained at Hampton Court throughout the summer, fall and Christmas of 1637.

There is a description and picture of the King’s dining habits, the meals taken sometimes in public in the Great Hall, where the public sat on a dais and watched them eat. In the picture he is seated next to the Queen, the future King Charles II also at the table. A catalogue of pictures at Hampton Court was ordered in 1639, between 300 and 400 were recorded (unclear why so inexact).

Charles was resident in Hampton Court in 1641 when Parliament passed the Grand Remonstrance which catalogued the errors of his government, and there it was presented to him on December 1st. At his request seven aldermen of the City of London attended him at Hampton Court, they urged him to return to London. In February 1642 he failed in an attempt to arrest five members of the House of Commons, fled to Hampton Court, where the staff were unprepared for his return, and the King, Queen with their three eldest children all slept in the same room. The Civil War had started, the “roundheads” took control of the Tower of London with its arsenal of weapons. On January 12th 1642 Charles left Hampton Court for Windsor Castle where he felt he would be safer. In February he spent one night there, when he escorted Queen Henrietta to Dover, whence she returned to France. For the next five years, during the Civil War which officially kicked off 22nd August 1642, Charles did not visit Hampton Court.

After the 1645 battle of Naseby in which Charles was severely defeated, the Puritans came to Hampton Court and in their zeal to destroy they demolished “popish and superstitious” objects which included the altar and its rails, the stained glass windows, pictures of Christ and Mary Magdalene. In 1646 Charles surrendered to the Scots, whose King he was, but they sold him to the English who brought him, treated with respect but under guard, to Hampton Court in August 1647. Although he was confined, he was still treated as the King, he had access to his children, played tennis, and was able to ride and hunt within the property of the palace. Cromwell and his forces made their headquarters on the river at Putney, where they were in easy reach of Hampton Court, and Cromwell frequently visited and held conversation with Charles. There is every reason to believe Cromwell was trying to reach an accommodation between King and Parliament that would satisfy both parties, a document, “Heads of Proposals” was drawn up.

Although Cromwell might have wished this accommodation, others among the Puritans did not, and Charles, aware of this, believed his life was in jeopardy. He had given his parole he would not escape, he correctly withdrew this, and his guard was doubled. In November 1647, from a locked and guarded room in Hampton Court, Charles slipped across the gardens and to a boat to cross the River Thames. From there he rode by horse to Southampton and crossed the water to the Isle of Wight. He left a letter for Colonel Whalley, in charge of his captivity, to thank him for his courtesies.

At the Isle of Wight Charles gave himself into the care of the Governor of the Island, Colonel Hammond, and was lodged as a prisoner in Carisbrook Castle. The war was resumed, termed the Second Civil War, Charles was returned to London a year later and was beheaded.

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