Lindsey Davis

Rebels and traitors

Prologue — Whitehall: 30 January 1649

The King would take his dog for an early morning walk in St James's Park. What could be more civilised?

Its name was Rogue. As the eager spaniel tried to run outside, the soldiers made it go back. Its master strolled on without the dog, going to his execution as if taking daily exercise.

Other deposed monarchs suffered greater brutality. Charles Stuart of Britain was never chained, starved, imprisoned in a bare cell or tortured. People would argue whether his trial was legal, but he did have a trial and it ended abruptly only because he refused to acknowledge the process. Once condemned, generally he continued to be treated with wary good manners. No silent, black-clad assassins would arrive by night to carry out violent orders that could be denied later. King Charles faced no slow neglect in a remote castle dungeon, no thrashing head-down in a wine-butt, no red-hot poker spearing his guts. Variants of all of these tortures had been perpetrated on his subjects during the bloodshed he was charged with causing, yet he remained exempt. His accusers were determined that calling him to account would be open, 'a thing not done in a corner'.

On that bitter January Tuesday, the King was given bread and wine for breakfast. Two of his children were brought for tearful goodbyes. Then he went on his final walk, across the royal park. He had asked for two heavy shirts, in case he shivered in the cold and appeared afraid.

At about ten in the morning, he was taken from St James's Palace to Whitehall Palace fifteen minutes away. An escort of New Model Army halberdiers formed his guard, with colours flying and beating drums, while a few permitted gentlemen walked with him, bare-headed. Regiments of foot soldiers lined the route.

There were no tumbrels. No orchestrated mob spat and shouted abuse. Wearing a tall hat and the embroidered silver Order of the Garter on his dark cloak, King Charles reached the waiting crowds; he was protected by the halberdiers, but the people's mood was sombre, almost curious. Whitehall was packed. Dissidents, any known Royalists, were barred from London, so almost all of the people here were his opponents. When they first sided with Parliament, few had dreamed of an outcome like this. Few of them had sought it. Some were still uneasy.

The guard-party climbed the steps to the Holbein Gate. Its direct access to the old Palace of Whitehall brought the King to private apartments which he had last seen seven years before, when he first fled London as his subjects became rebellious.

Once indoors, he had to endure a delay of several hours. With him was the aged Bishop of London, William Juxon, who, as time went by, persuaded Charles to take some bread and a glass of claret, lest he should falter on the scaffold. Colonel Hacker, a particularly boorish Roundhead, had wanted to place two musketeers in the King's chamber, but had been prevailed upon not to do it.

Apparently, the reason for the delay was that Richard Brandon, the public executioner, had refused to act and his assistant had disappeared. There was also a problem with the execution block; the usual waist-high block could not be found, so a much lower one was brought, which was normally used only for dismembering dead traitors' bodies. However, the execution axe had arrived safely from the Tower of London. Eventually two men agreed to stand in for the executioner and his assistant. They wore masks for anonymity and their identities were kept secret.

At two o'clock in the afternoon, Colonel Hacker knocked discreetly at the door of the private apartment, then rapped again, louder. With Bishop Juxon on one side and Colonel Tomlinson who had personal charge of him on the other, the King was led along a route he knew well into the Banqueting House, created for ceremonial occasions and celebratory masques.

The cold stateroom echoed and smelled of neglect. Motes of dust drifted in the winter light that crept wanly through cracks in the boarding that covered the elegant windows. Tapestries had been looted or officially taken away. Gone were the candelabra that had once filled the great space with warmth and illumination. As he walked past his one-time throne of state, the King's way was lit only by feeble lights carried by soldiers. A crowd of onlookers murmured sympathetically, and some prayed; the soldiers on guard allowed this without annoyance.

Overhead, quite invisible in the gloom, soared the fabulous ceiling paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens which Charles had commissioned to promote his belief that he was God's appointed Lieutenant, with a Divine Right to rule. After the panels' installation, no further masques had been performed in the Banqueting House, to prevent smoke from the torches damaging the work. Had King Charles been able to see them, the magnificent paintings must have mocked. They celebrated the union of England and Scotland — personified by Charles himself as a naked infant, beneath the conjoined crowns of the very two kingdoms which in the past decade he had repeatedly set against each other as he scrambled to keep his position and his life. These florid, heavily allegorical pictures extolled his father's successful reign. Peace embraced Plenty. Reason controlled Discord. Wisdom defeated Ignorance and the serpents of Rebellion.

The party measured the length of the dark reception hall then emerged into more light through the tallest doorway at the end — the entrance through which ambassadors, courtiers, actors and musicians had once advanced to pay reverence to this monarch. He was taken out through it onto the stone staircase in the northern annexe. On the landing, a wall had been knocked out around one of the large windows. King Charles stepped outside, emerging onto a scaffold, surrounded by low posts upon which were hung black draperies. Although the swags partly hid proceedings from the street, the roofs of surrounding buildings were crammed with spectators. Down at street level, the scaffold had been lined, and then interlined, with Parliamentarian soldiers. Inevitably, the armed troops were facing the crowd.

Others, official agents, were watching the spectators, alert for any sign of trouble and seeking known faces. In uniform by the Horse Guards Yard stood a fair-haired man, just short of thirty: Gideon Jukes. He had been very busy that day and now kept to himself, shaken and avoiding contact with anyone he knew. Everywhere were soldiers whose faces he recognised. Always rather solitary, he felt himself to be a disengaged observer. Everyone around him seemed lost in the occasion. He was troubled by the event, not because he felt it to be treason, but because he feared the arrangements might go wrong. To Gideon Jukes, what had once been unthinkable was now the only course to take.

When movement caught his eye at the window, he raised his eyes to the scaffold with expectation and relief.

King Charles was met by the disguised executioner and his assistant. Heavy metal staples had been bolted to the scaffold floor in case it was necessary to chain him, but his demeanour remained quiet. Still in attendance, the Bishop of London received the King's cloak and his Order of the Garter, giving him a white silk cap. Charles removed his doublet and stood in his waistcoat. The King attempted to make a speech to the crowd, but the noise was too great. To the bishop he said, 'I go from a corruptible crown to an incorruptible one.' Then to the executioner, who was looking at him anxiously, 'Does my hair trouble you?' The executioner and the bishop together helped position the King's long hair under the cap.

Eyeing the block, the King exclaimed, 'You must set it fast.'

'It is fast, sir,' replied the executioner civilly.

'It might have been a little higher.'

'It can be no higher, sir.'

'I shall say but very short prayers, then when I thrust out my hands this way — '

The King knelt before the block. He spoke a few words to himself, with his eyes uplifted. Stooping down, he laid his head upon the block, with the executioner again tidying his hair. Thinking the man was about to strike, Charles warned, 'Stay for the sign!'

'Yes, I will,' returned the executioner, still patient. 'And it please Your Majesty'

There was a short pause. The King stretched out his hands. With one blow of the axe, the executioner cut off the King's head.

The assistant held up the head by its hair, to show to the people, exclaiming the traditional words: 'Here is

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