The Trial of Charles I: A History in Documents
(From the Broadview Sources Series)
  • Publication Date: March 14, 2016
  • ISBN: 9781554812912 / 1554812917
  • 168 pages; 7" x 9"

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The Trial of Charles I: A History in Documents

(From the Broadview Sources Series)

  • Publication Date: March 14, 2016
  • ISBN: 9781554812912 / 1554812917
  • 168 pages; 7" x 9"

In January 1649, after years of civil war, King Charles I stood trial in a specially convened English court on charges of treason, murder, and other high crimes against his people. Not only did the revolutionary tribunal find him guilty and order his death, but its masters then abolished monarchy itself and embarked on a bold (though short-lived) republican experiment. The event was a landmark in legal history. The trial and execution of King Charles marked a watershed in English politics and political theory and thus also affected subsequent developments in those parts of the world colonized by the British.

This book presents a selection of contemporaries’ accounts of the king’s trial and their reactions to it, as well as a report of the trial of the king’s own judges once the wheel of fortune turned and monarchy was restored. It uses the words of people directly involved to offer insight into the causes and consequences of these momentous events.


“The trial of Charles I is one of the most important events in British history, and the documentary evidence surrounding it is thrilling and evocative. This wonderful new edition offers not just the colour but also the complexity of the surviving sources; it reveals the contested nature of the events themselves, as well as ongoing debates about their meaning and significance. In addition to the amazing record of the trial itself, we are presented with neglected evidence about how profoundly the king’s death affected even the most radical of contemporary commentators. As such, the book casts new and genuinely thought-provoking light on these momentous events.” — Jason Peacey, University College London

“This compendium of primary sources provides an indispensable teaching resource for studying the trial of Charles I. Kesselring’s contextual introduction guides the reader through recent controversies among historians over how to interpret the trial, while providing a list of penetrating questions to stimulate enquiry and debate. The volume’s strength lies in the different perspectives offered by its selected texts; its inclusion of an account of the regicide Thomas Harrison’s trial invites readers to explore further comparative dimensions.” — Andrew Hopper, University of Leicester

Questions to Consider

Part 1: Trying the King

  1. Title page and Extracts from John Nalson, A True Copy of the Journal of the High Court of Justice for the Tryal of K. Charles I (London, 1684)
  2. Lord President Bradshaw’s Speech: Extract from Gilbert Mabbott, A Perfect Narrative of the Whole Proceedings of the High Court of Justice (London, 1649)
  3. The Death Warrant of Charles I

Part 2: Reactions and Aftermath

  1. Acts Establishing a Republic
    1. Extracts from “An Act for the abolishing the Kingly Office in England and Ireland, and the Dominions thereunto belonging” (1649)
    2. Extracts from “An Act for the Abolishing the House of Peers” (1649)
    3. “An Act Declaring and Constituting the People of England to be a Commonwealth and Free State” (1649)
  2. A Contemporary Depiction of the King’s Execution
  3. A “Martyr” Speaks from the Grave: The King’s Eikon Basilike (London, 1649): Extracts and Frontispiece to the Eikon Basilike
  4. A Soldier’s Doubts: Extracts from Francis White, The copies of several letters contrary to the opinion of the present powers (London, 1649)
  5. Principles and Pragmatism: Extracts from John Lilburne, The legal fundamental liberties of the people of england revived, asserted, and vindicated (London, 1649)
  6. Overthrowing “Kingly Power” as well as Kings: Extracts from Gerrard Winstanley, A New Year’s Gift for the Parliament and Army (London, 1650)

Part 3: Trying the King-Killers

  1. A Contemporary Depiction of the Executions of the King and of His Judges
  2. The Trial of Major General Harrison: Extracts from Heneage Finch, An Exact and most Impartial Accompt of the Indictment, Arraignment, Trial, and Judgment (according to Law) of Twenty Nine Regicides (London, 1660)

Glossary of Key Figures and Terms
Select Bibliography

K.J. Kesselring is Professor of History and Associate Dean, Academic, at Dalhousie University. She is the author of The Northern Rebellion of 1569 and Mercy and Authority in the Tudor State, and the co-editor with Tim Stretton of Married Women and the Law: Coverture in England and the Common Law World.