Death warrant of Charles I

On 6 January 1649 (New Style calendar, 1648 Old Style) the House of Commons passed an 'Act' appointing 135 commissioners to be a High Court of Justice to try King Charles I. In spite of many defections and of doubts about procedure, the court met formally for the first time on January 20th in Westminster Hall and by the 26th, after hearing depositions from 33 witnesses, the commissioners had agreed amongst themselves to condemn the king to death. On Saturday 27th their sentence was pronounced in open court.
By then the death warrant had already been drawn up, with blanks for the time and place of the execution, which a committee was left to arrange. Some signatures - perhaps the first 28 - may well have been collected at that stage. Nothing could be done on the Sunday but, once the details of the execution had been approved on Monday 29th, the blanks were filled in and the warrant was taken into the Painted Chamber where the remaining signatures were added. Ultimately, 59 of the 67 commissioners who had pronounced judgement signed the warrant.

The story that Cromwell had to browbeat some of the commissioners into signing is unproven, but certainly there had been a delay in settling arrangements which the warrant had not allowed for. It therefore became necessary to erase the dates and replace them with 'xxixth' January and 'uppon Saturday last'. Presumably also two of the original army officers to whom the warrant was addressed had refused to serve and the names of Hacker and Phayre were substituted. Other alterations may represent corrections to scribal errors though it is not clear whether Gregory Clement wrote his name over an erasure or whether his name was (incompletely) erased in 1652 because of his scandalous behaviour.

On January 30th Charles I went to execution on a scaffold erected outside the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall. The death warrant remained in Colonel Hacker's possession until the restoration of Charles II in 1660 when Hacker, then a prisoner in the Tower of London, was ordered by the House of Lords to surrender the warrant to them. Since then the document has remained in their custody. On the back of the warrant is written in a 17th-century hand: 'The bloody Warr[an]t for murthering the King'.

The document is on a piece of parchment 43.8cm x 21cm. All the seals are of red wax, some of them broken or obscured.

HLRO Main Papers (1660)



close window
back to top of page