Monday, February 9, 2015

Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer

Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I.  Charles Spencer. Bloomsbury Press.  January 2015. 352 pp.  ISBN#: 9781620409121.

King Charles I of England has become a tyrant; but this is not the same England that tolerated such mistreatment or such financial extravagance that would pauperize the government coffers.  This is the story of how Parliament plans and carries out demise of Charles I.  What is fascinating about the pre-trial and trial is that Spencer presents a King who seems innocent (Not!) while Parliament is portrayed as those who willingly or through coercion participate in the accusations of the King who dares to live in conditions beyond his financial allowance and then dares to declare actual, physical war against the “will of the common people” who are represented by members of Parliament. The power of the mob impressed itself upon this reader as all I kept thinking as I was reading was “Why was the King not allowed a team of defense lawyers or supporters at his own trial?”  This is not just 21st Century revisionist history thinking here.  Yet Spencer reveals through Charles’ speech during the trial that he believed he needed no defense since he ruled by God’s divine right and therefore was only accountable to that God.  Spencer as a true historian leaves the reader to reflect and comment on such idiocy, travesty or impressive faith!

King Charles I is beheaded in a riveting scene which Spencer excels at describing throughout the book.  Charles in this version of history elicits mostly support and sympathy.  That same sympathy will also be revealed in the following pages in which Charles’ son, Charles, returns to power after Parliament pursues and destroys other Royalists.  Another interesting facet of this presentation is the role of Oliver Cromwell which never receives the focused attention he deserved in this history; he is always mentioned as influencing other anti-Royalists, Puritans, Parliament members, and soldiers.  Later on his excessive pride and grandiosity when in control are all we learn about this man’s brief exercise of power. One can only surmise that this focus was not the purpose of Spencer’s central thesis.

The rest of the story recounts the demise of almost every single person who was involved in the original Committee planning the prosecution of Charles, including those who actually never participated in the trial or execution of the King, those who did participate in all of the above, all signatures of the death sentence, and even those who were key commanders of the military involved in moving Charles I toward his trial and death.

Spencer manages to add a very human interest side to each Parliamentary or military person targeted for revenge which is all that saves the last three-quarters of this text from being repetitively tedious!

For those interested in this historical period, Spencer offers a very readable, carefully researched and fascinating account of the end of royal abuse and the rise of popular sovereignty in 17th Century England.

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