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Useful Notes / Charles I

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"A subject and a sovereign are clean different things."

“Charles the First was a king of England. He was what we call a ‘dickhead’ king.”

Charles I (1600 – 1649) was the son of James I and the second king of Great Britain from The House of Stuart. Many who first saw him thought that he would be an improvement over his father.

How wrong they were.

His antagonism of Parliament and the Church of England, and his mishandling of rebellions in Scotland and Ireland sparked the English Civil War, which would end in his execution and the setting up of the Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell.

Charles was a man of good moral character, but his autocratic attitude, failure to understand politics, and lack of personal warmth made him a lot of enemies. He remains one of the most controversial and tragic figures in British history.

He is to date the only English or British monarch to ever set foot within the House of Commons.note  Notoriously, he led an armed guard to storm the House after it rejected his demands that Parliament turn over five members whom he had accused of treason over their plans to impeach his queen for plotting with fellow Catholics. The five members were pre-warned and had fled before the King and his troops arrived (leading the king to reportedly mutter the earliest recorded use of the phrase "All my birds are flown" upon seeing this), but this significantly damaged Charles's relationship with the people, suggested he was willing to turn to tyranny, and was a significant factor leading to the Civil War. To this day, the Monarch is barred from entering the Commons and, at the State Opening of Parliament, may only communicate via an emissary, "Black Rod", who initially has the doors slammed in his face as a symbolic reminder of Parliament's sovereignty.

The US states of North Carolina and South Carolina were named after him (Carolus is Latin for Charles). Maryland is named after his queen, Henrietta Maria (the story that this was a sly reference to the Virgin Mary by the province's Catholic proprietors is generally considered untrue).

Works related to Charles I:

  • To Kill A King, played by Rupert Everett. He is, of course, the titular king.
  • Played by Stephen Fry in Blackadder: The Cavalier Years. Fry based his portrayal of the king on his contemporary royal namesake, the then Prince Charles.
  • In the first Captain Alatriste book, the titular captain is recruited to waylay and assassinate a couple of Englishmen travelling through Madrid. One of them turns out to be a young Charles, visiting Spain in secret to consider marrying the Infanta of Spain.
  • A portrait of King Charles can be found in the dining hall of Downton Abbey.
  • Portrayed by Alec Guinness in the 1970 film Cromwell, opposite Richard Harris as the title character. It's not an entirely unsympathetic portrait, focusing on his good moral character and religious devotion, but it doesn't shy away from Charles' flaws either, particularly when he throws away generous terms (considering he'd just, you know, lost the civil war) in favor of plotting to start the next one like he historically did. It's Queen Henrietta Maria who gets most of the Historical Villain Upgrade into a scheming Lady Macbeth, encouraging his autocratic impulses and, later, attempting to convince him to make a Deal with the Devil to import Catholic armies to put down the insurrection.
  • Plays a major role in 20 Years After, where the musketeers mount an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to save Charles' life at the behest of his wife, living more or less in exile in France. He gets a major Historical Hero Upgrade, being presented as the innocent victim of power-mad English commoners (the heroes of the book being aristocrats to various degrees, and French).