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Terrell DG, The Trial and Execution of Charles I - the First War Crimes Tribunal (Scribd)

Terrell DG, The Trial and Execution of Charles I - the First War Crimes Tribunal (Scribd)

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Published by David G Terrell
On 30 January 1649, Charles I, King of England was executed for tyranny, treason, and murder. The event ended a revolution—and left England without a monarch for a decade. The very charges against Charles I were almost unthinkable, for “treason” did not yet possess the modern connotation of being a crime against “the state.” Between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, English law defining treason focused on the commission of personal crimes against the royal person and the usurpation or betrayal of sovereign authority, represented in the person of the ruler and not in the corporate body politic. The trial and execution of Charles I may have been England’s ultimate constitutional crisis and, over time, history has been inconsistent in its interpretation of the events. However, the trial and execution, deemed a murderous and vengeful act by some, was the first time that a “head of state” had been publically executed after a public trial for actions taken against the citizen/subjects of his country—actions now described as war crimes.
On 30 January 1649, Charles I, King of England was executed for tyranny, treason, and murder. The event ended a revolution—and left England without a monarch for a decade. The very charges against Charles I were almost unthinkable, for “treason” did not yet possess the modern connotation of being a crime against “the state.” Between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, English law defining treason focused on the commission of personal crimes against the royal person and the usurpation or betrayal of sovereign authority, represented in the person of the ruler and not in the corporate body politic. The trial and execution of Charles I may have been England’s ultimate constitutional crisis and, over time, history has been inconsistent in its interpretation of the events. However, the trial and execution, deemed a murderous and vengeful act by some, was the first time that a “head of state” had been publically executed after a public trial for actions taken against the citizen/subjects of his country—actions now described as war crimes.

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Published by: David G Terrell on Aug 19, 2010
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1
Terrell DG
 – 
 Trial and Execution of Charles I
THE TRIAL AND EXECUTION OF CHARLES I: THE FIRST WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL David G. Terrell August 22, 2010
 I do, in the name and on behalf of the people of England, exhibit and bring into this court a charge of high treason and other high crimes whereof I do accuse Charles Stuart, King of England 
 , here present.”
 
- John Cooke
1
 On 30 January 1649, Charles I, King of England was executed for tyranny, treason, and murder.
2
 The event ended a revolution
 — 
and left England without a monarch for a decade.
3
 The very charges against Charles I were almost unthinkable, for
treason
 did not yet possess the modern connotation of
 being a crime against ―the state
.
Between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, English law defining treason focused on the commission of personal crimes against the royal person and the usurpation or  betrayal of sovereign authority, represented in the person of the ruler and not in the corporate body  politic.
4
 The trial and execution of Charles I
may have been England‘s
ultimate constitutional crisis
5
 and, over time, history has been inconsistent in its interpretation of the events. However, the trial and execution, deemed a murderous and vengeful act by some, was the first time that
a ―head of state‖
had
1
 Geoffrey Robertson,
The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man Who Sent Charles I to the Scaffold,
 (London: Random House, 2005), 17.
2
 Robertson, 149.
3
 Angus Stroud,
Stuart England,
 (Florence, KY: Routledge, 1999), 128.
4
 Alan D Orr,
Treason and the State: Law, Politics and Ideology in the English Civil War,
 (West Nyack,  NY: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 1. Patricia Crawford, "Charles Stuart, That Man of Blood,"
The Journal of British Studies,
 ((The University of Chicago Press) XVI, no. 2 (Spring 1977): 41-61), 41-42.
5
 Sean Kelsey, "Staging the Trial of Charles I," In
 Regicides and the Execution of Charles I 
, by Jason Peacey (ed), 71-93, (Gordonsville, VA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001), 87.
 
2
Terrell DG
 – 
 Trial and Execution of Charles I
 been publically executed after a public trial for actions taken against the citizen/subjects of his country
 — 
actions now described as war crimes.
6
 In the years leading up to this trial, Charles I had
demonstrated habits of ―indecision, deception and prevarication‖
7
 that did little to endear him to his subjects. Over the course of two decades, he did much to create enmity with Parliament, by taking many unilateral actions that inflamed Members conscious of prerogatives guaranteed by Magna Carta. The problems became critical after 1626, when Charles I dismissed the Parliament after its members objected to the King
‘s plan to help his father 
-in-law, King Henry IV of France, to put down a protestant uprising. In 1629, after a significant backlash that included the issuance of a Petition of Right asserting protections against unlawful taxation, Charles I further alienated Parliament by soliciting additional acts to provide further financing related to various military adventures. He was again rebuffed by Parliament, increasing the animosity on both sides, and Charles I dismissed the body once again.
8
 The King
‘s financial resources remained less than he wished and he raised funds by selling
 patents of arms and mercantile monopolies and through customs duties. By 1638, being still in financial straits, Charles I once again acted without Parliamentary approval by expanding a financial levy
(‖ship money‖)
on coastal counties, used to fund the Royal Navy, to all counties
 —deeming it ―an assessment‖ to
avoid Parliamentary purview. In spite of there being no national emergency that might excuse the statutory 40-day delay to call a Parliament to
consider the action, friendly judges declared the King‘s
unlimited discretion to act for the public good.
9
 The King
‘s
tendency to absolute rule also extended into his actions as
―Defender of the Faith.‖ In
1639, he led English forces in an invasion of Scotland, one of his own domains, solely because of their
6
 Jason Peacey, "Introduction," In
 Regicides and the Execution of Charles I 
, by Jason Peacey (ed), 1-13, (Gordonsville, VA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001), 1.
7
 Christopher Durston,
Charles I,
 (Florence, KY: Routledge, 1998), 2.
8
 Robertson, 33, 35.
9
 Robertson, 48-49.
 
3
Terrell DG
 – 
 Trial and Execution of Charles I
Presbyterian religious beliefs, intent on forcing them into the Church of England. The invasion failed and Charles I, in mid 1640, once again attempted to have Parliament authorize taxation for additional military actions. The Parliament attempted to negotiate the repeal of the King
‘s ship money action but could not
 bring the King to terms; and Charles I dismissed this Parliament after only three weeks. Several months later, the King relented and called a Parliament which exacted an agreement limiting the King
‘s ability to
dismiss the representative body. The tension between King and Parliament continued until civil war  began in mid 1642 and continued until 1646, when a defeated Charles I surrendered himself to the Scots rather than to Parliament. He then attempted to make an agreement with Scottish leaders. In exchange for Scottish help in defeating Parliamentary forces and restoring him to power, the King would force the Church of England into an accommodation with the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and suppress all minority reformed religious sects objectionable to the Scots. Instead, Charles I was handed over to Parliament; escaped after some months of imprisonment; and, was recaptured less than a month later, in December 1648.
10
 Late in the war, Charles I had his private correspondence captured by the Parliamentary army. The correspondence was particularly damning because it demonstrated that the King was soliciting rebel Irish-Catholic leaders for troops to aid him against Parliamentary forces in England, and was using his wife to negotiate for funds and troops from the French-Catholic King, in exchange for religious toleration of Catholicism in England. Under existing law, the actions of soliciting a foreign invasion of England would be clear treason
 — 
 by anyone but the King.
11
 His escape and the captured correspondence convinced Parliamentary army leaders he could not be trusted.
12
 His hands-on direction of the war
demonstrated
command responsibility,
making him liable under acknowledged laws of war for the
10
 Robertson, 51, 110. James Trager,
The People's Chronology: A Year-by-Year Record of Human Events from Prehistory to the  Present,
 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1992), 234-242.
11
 Robertson, 67-68.
12
 Robertson, 101.

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