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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Martyrdom of Charles the First
By Isaac Disraeli (1766–1848)
 
From the ‘Commentaries on the Reign of Charles the First’

AT Whitehall a repast had been prepared. The religious emotions of Charles had consecrated the sacrament, which he refused to mingle with human food. The Bishop, whose mind was unequal to conceive the intrepid spirit of the King, dreading lest the magnanimous monarch, overcome by the severity of the cold, might faint on the scaffold, prevailed on him to eat half a manchet of bread and taste some claret. But the more consolatory refreshment of Charles had been just imparted to him in that singular testimony from his son, who had sent a carte blanche to save the life of his father at any price. This was a thought on which his affections could dwell in face of the scaffold which he was now to ascend.  1
  Charles had arrived at Whitehall about ten o’clock, and was not led to the scaffold till past one. It was said that the scaffold was not completed; it might have been more truly said that the conspirators were not ready. There was a mystery in this delay. The fate of Charles the First to the very last moment was in suspense. Fairfax, though at the time in the palace, inquired of Herbert how the King was, when the King was no more! and expressed his astonishment on hearing that the execution had just taken place. This extraordinary simplicity and abstraction from the present scene of affairs has been imputed to the General as an act of refined dissimulation, yet this seems uncertain. The Prince’s carte blanche had been that morning confided to his hands, and he surely must have laid it before the “Grandees of the Army,” as this new order of the rulers of England was called. Fairfax, whose personal feelings respecting the King were congenial with those his lady had so memorably evinced, labored to defer for a few days the terrible catastrophe; not without the hope of being able, by his own regiment and others in the army, to prevent the deed altogether. It is probable—inexplicable as it may seem to us—that the execution of Charles the First really took place unknown to the General. Fairfax was not unaccustomed to discover that his colleagues first acted, and afterwards trusted to his own discernment.  2
  Secret history has not revealed all that passed in those three awful hours. We know, however, that the warrant for the execution was not signed till within a few minutes before the King was led to the scaffold. In an apartment in the Palace, Ireton and Harrison were in bed together, and Cromwell, with four colonels, assembled in it. Colonel Huncks refused to sign the warrant. Cromwell would have no further delay, reproaching the Colonel as “a peevish, cowardly fellow,” and Colonel Axtell declared that he was ashamed for his friend Huncks, remonstrating with him, that “the ship is coming into the harbor, and now would he strike sail before we come to anchor?” Cromwell stepped to a table, and wrote what he had proposed to Huncks; Colonel Hacker, supplying his place, signed it, and with the ink hardly dry, carried the warrant in his hand and called for the King.  3
  At the fatal summons Charles rose with alacrity. The King passed through the long gallery by a line of soldiers. Awe and sorrow seem now to have mingled in their countenances. Their barbarous commanders were intent on their own triumph, and no farther required the forced cry of “Justice and Execution.” Charles stepped out of an enlarged window of the Banqueting House, where a new opening leveled it with the scaffold. Charles came forward with the same indifference as “he would have entered Whitehall on a masque night,” as an intelligent observer described. The King looked towards St. James’s and smiled. Curious eyes were watchful of his slightest motions; and the Commonwealth papers of the day express their surprise, perhaps their vexation, at the unaltered aspect and the firm step of the Monarch. These mean spirits had flattered themselves that he who had been cradled in royalty, who had lived years in the fields of honor, and was now, they presumed, a recreant in imprisonment,—“the grand Delinquent of England,”—as they called him, would start in horror at the block.  4
  This last triumph at least was not reserved for them,—it was for the King. Charles, dauntless, strode “the floor of Death,” to use Fuller’s peculiar but expressive phraseology. He looked on the block with the axe lying upon it, with attention; his only anxiety was that the block seemed not sufficiently raised, and that the edge of the axe might be turned by being swept by the flappings of cloaks, or blunted by the feet of some moving about the scaffold. “Take care they do not put me to pain!—Take heed of the axe! take heed of the axe!” exclaimed the King to a gentleman passing by. “Hurt not the axe; that may hurt me!” His continued anxiety concerning these circumstances proves that he felt not the terror of death, solely anxious to avoid the pain, for he had an idea of their cruelty. With that sedate thoughtfulness which was in all his actions, he only looked at the business of the hour. One circumstance Charles observed with a smile. They had a notion that the King would resist the executioner; on the suggestion of Hugh Peters, it is said, they had driven iron staples and ropes into the scaffold, that their victim, if necessary, might be bound down upon the block.  5
  The King’s speech has many remarkable points, but certainly nothing so remarkable as the place where it was delivered. This was the first “King’s Speech” spoken from a scaffold. Time shall confirm, as history has demonstrated, his principle that “They mistook the nature of government; for people are free under a government, not by being sharers in it, but by the due administration of the laws.” “It was for this,” said Charles, “that now I am come here. If I could have given way to an arbitrary sway, for to have all laws changed according to the power of the sword, I need not have come here; and therefore I tell you that I am the Martyr of the People!”  6
 
 
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