On this day in 1649 Charles I went on trial for treason and other high crimes. The monarchy was abolished and a republic called the Commonwealth of England was declared.
Charles was moved to Hurst Castle at the end of 1648, and thereafter to Windsor Castle. In January 1649, the Rump House of Commons indicted him on a charge of treason, which was rejected by the House of Lords. The idea of trying a king was a novel one. The Chief Justices of the three common law courts of England – Henry Rolle, Oliver St John and John Wilde – all opposed the indictment as unlawful. The Rump Commons declared itself capable of legislating alone, passed a bill creating a separate court for Charles’s trial, and declared the bill an act without the need for royal assent. The High Court of Justice established by the Act consisted of 135 commissioners, but many either refused to serve or chose to stay away. Only 68 (all firm Parliamentarians) attended Charles’s trial on charges of high treason and “other high crimes” that began on 20 January 1649 in Westminster Hall. John Bradshaw acted as President of the Court, and the prosecution was led by the Solicitor General, John Cook.
The court heard from over 30 witnesses against the king in his absence over the next two days, and on 26 January condemned him to death. The following day, the king was brought before a public session of the commission, declared guilty and sentenced Fifty-nine of the commissioners signed Charles’s death warrant.