Can Monarchs Commit Crimes? (1648 to 1649)


I want to talk about one of the most important
trials, (human trials,) in the history of the planet. It took place in January of the year 1649,
before a newly created body called the High Court of Justice. The charges? Tyranny, treason, and murder. The defendant? The King of England. This trial helped to write the legal doctrine
of Popular Sovereignty, which is the idea that political legitimacy emanates from the
people. It’s a simple idea, but it stood in stark
contrast to another legal doctrine which argued that political legitimacy emanated from God,
through the institution of monarchy. This was called Divine Right. Generally speaking, these two ideas stood
in opposition to each other. Popular Sovereignty was bottom up, Divine
Right was top down. This theoretical disagreement over the source
of political legitimacy resulted in several centuries of… troubles… and one of these
troubles was a thing called the English Civil War. The capstone to the English Civil War was
that thing I want to talk about, the Trial of Charles I, King of England, Scotland, and
Ireland. Trial of the century doesn’t begin to describe
it. This would be the trial of the millennia. But in order to fully appreciate what was
to come, some context is required. The English Civil War is notoriously complex,
some would say boring, but I would say complex. I promise to be brief. King Charles I, separately and simultaneously
the King of England, Scotland, and Ireland, believed that political legitimacy emanated
from God and manifested through Crown. Divine Right. A consequence of this belief is that Charles
saw other sources of political power as a diminishment of his own royal authority. He therefore did everything in his power to
reign without ever consulting with Parliament. This was tricky, because without the consent
of Parliament you couldn’t tax the people of England. To compensate for this, the King raised revenue
in a number of creative ways, such as diverting money that was intended for the navy, as well
as arbitrarily demanding loans from the nobility and throwing them in prison when they refused. This was exactly as popular as you might think. In time, Scotland rose in rebellion. At last, after avoiding Parliament for 11
long years, Charles was forced to, in his eyes, diminish his royal authority by asking
them for funds to raise an army. Parliament was furious. Instead of giving the King his army, they
went right for the jugular. They outlawed his creative means of raising
revenue, and then charged some of his closest political allies with treason. A short time later, Ireland rose in rebellion. Parliament then took things up a notch and
tried to take control of the military away from the King. For Charles, this was the final straw. He ordered 5 of the most radical Members of
Parliament arrested. Parliament refused to give up their own, and
there was a stand off. When they asked the local militia to seize
the capitol, the King fled north and England was engulfed in a Civil War. The fighting dragged on for four years, leading
to an unprecedented level of mobilization. The English Civil War became and remains the
deadliest conflict in English history, twice as deadly as World War 1 on a per capita basis. An entire generation of men and women were
profoundly radicalized by this event. Charles was eventually forced to flee up into
Scottish occupied territory, where he was captured and then handed over the Parliament. The King escaped and fled to the Isle of Wight,
where he was captured for a second time. From captivity, Charles was able to convince
a sympathetic Scottish army to invade England, setting off a wave of royalist uprisings across
the countryside. Let’s pause here, because this would become
an important point. After the people of England suffered World
War 1 sized casualties, the King of England turned around and asked another country to
invade. To the already radicalized English people,
“angry” doesn’t begin to describe it. Their own King had just stabbed them in the
back. At great cost, the Parliamentarians fought
what was basically a second Civil War, eventually defeating the Scots and quelling the uprisings. That brings us up to September of the year
1648. Parliament had just won two Civil Wars, and
the King was imprisoned on the Isle of Wight. The problem was that nobody knew what to do
next. Parliament was made up of two distinct bodies,
the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and unsurprisingly given the context of the
Civil War the House of Commons had been the ones driving the agenda. The Commons was split into two factions. The larger of the two was the Moderate faction,
who favoured squeezing some religious reforms out of Charles, reducing his political power,
and restoring him to the throne. The Independents on the other hand, named
after their desire for independence from the Church of England, wanted to go much further. They had a long list of demands, including
a call for a brand new electoral system where poor people were actually given the right
to vote. A radical idea for the time. You might notice that there was no Royalist
or Conservative faction. The Civil War had seen to that. So the Commons were split between the Moderates
and the Independents, with the Moderates running the show. But the really interesting dynamic is that
the English Army was also split. The officers generally favoured the Moderates,
while the rank and file, radicalized by the Civil War, mostly favoured the Independents. This made for a complicated political situation. But of course, there were heterodox views
within each of these groups, especially within the Army leadership. Lord Fairfax was the Commander-in-Chief of
the Army, firmly in the Moderate camp, favouring a negotiated settlement with the King. Oliver Cromwell was Fairfax’s second-in-command,
and kinda had a foot in each faction. He sided with the Independents when it came
to their radical religious reforms – he was quite religious himself – but he also sided
with the Moderates when it came to forcing political reforms upon the King and restoring
him to the throne. Or, at least that’s what he had believed. The experience with the Scottish invasion
had changed Cromwell, and he was no longer certain that the English people could trust
their own sovereign. Henry Ireton was another high ranking general,
and Cromwell’s son-in-law. Ireton favoured radical political reforms,
which made him an Independent. He was a firebrand, and wasn’t shy about speaking
out against the monarchy and the nobility. One contemporary described him as having “the
principles and temper of a Cassius.” *Gasp!* Cassius! We actually know what that means! But nothing’s that simple. Despite being broadly aligned on policy, the
Independents in the Commons kept on denouncing Ireton for various philosophical disagreements. For example, the most radical of the radicals
argued that private property was an invention of the Crown, and so if the Crown went away,
private property should return to the hands of the people. Ireton disagreed with this, which lead to
him being perpetually cancelled by is closest political allies. But for the time being, this fighting among
the Independents didn’t really matter, because the House of Commons was controlled by the
Moderates. They decided to send representatives from
each faction to the Isle of Wight to negotiate with the King. This team of negotiators was initially quite
successful. They got Charles to agree that Parliament
had gone to war in its “just and lawful defence,” which meant that everybody who had fought
in the Civil War would be immune from prosecution. A big win. They also got him to agree to a whole host
of political reforms. Parliament would become fully autonomous,
with the ability to pick the King’s ministers and implement their own policy. These were huge concessions. The Independents wanted radical political
reforms, and it looked like they were going to get them. The Moderates wanted to restore the King to
the throne in a reduced capacity, and it looked like they were going to get that too. A settlement seemed within reach. But then the negotiators made a key discovery. The King was an unreliable partner. He would make a big concession, and the next
day he would take it back. They were forced to go over the same points
again and again and again. The King seemed to be playing for time. When it came to religion, the two sides could
not make any progress. The negotiators, particularly the Independents,
wanted the Church of England to get rid of bishops and become more egalitarian. This, the King would not do. He would agree to a partial set of reforms
that would expire after 3 years, but nothing more. This wasn’t enough for the Independents. A less hierarchical Church of England was
central to their ideology. As discussions dragged into their second month,
the negotiators began to lose hope. At one point, two of the Moderates got down
on their knees and begged the King to just give in to their demands. If these negotiations failed, they said, the
Army, full of bloodthirsty radicals, would have no choice but to intervene. They might not bother negotiating. While this was going on, Ireton was urging
the higher ups within the Army to break off negotiations and arrest the King. Ireton and others worried that the rich people
in the House of Commons were going to sell out the poor people in the Army by restoring
the King to power. Ireton found some support among the officers,
but Fairfax, an aristocrat himself, remained steadfastly Moderate. In frustration, Ireton began going around
and gathering public support for a long list of radical demands, which included putting
the King on trial, abolishing the monarchy, and replacing the House of Commons with something
else that better represented England’s poor. He was quite successful. Public opinion began to shift, and the idea
of putting the King on trial became quite popular, especially within the Army. Fairfax and his Moderate allies started to
become nervous. After several days of debate, they decided
to speed things along by presenting their own list of demands to the King. What they wanted was basically a military
dictatorship with the King’s 8 year old son on the throne as a puppet. Charles did the right thing and flatly turned
them down. This was a big deal. Fairfax had just stabbed the negotiators in
the back. When news broke, the House of Commons and
the Army were immediately at each other’s throats. Events were moving quickly now. If the House of Commons came after the Army,
things might devolve into a third Civil War. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Fairfax
did the politically savvy thing and publicly threw his support behind the radical Independents
in the House of Commons. The Moderates were now caught between the
Independent minority and the Army. They agreed to vote on some of the more radical
Independent demands, like putting the King on trial, but then they delayed, and delayed,
and delayed again. It quickly became clear that the Moderates
were playing for time. The negotiators on the Isle of Wight were
days from an agreement. On December 1st, Fairfax made his move. A bunch of soldiers showed up on the Isle
of Wight with orders to bring the King to the mainland. The negotiators protested, but they had no
means to resist. Fairfax seized the King. On the next day, the Army marched on London. When the House of Commons learned what was
happening, the most moderate of the Moderates packed up and fled the city. Fairfax had a tiger by the tail here. He was personally a Moderate, but his Army
was out for blood. He believed that if he moved quickly and forced
a harsh settlement upon the King, he might be able to save the monarchy. Maybe. If not, the nobility might be next. Revolution was in the air. Within days, Fairfax had occupied the capitol. On the morning of December 6th, a bunch of
soldiers lead by a guy named Colonel Thomas Pride posted up just outside the House of
Commons. When Members of Parliament started showing
up, Pride checked their names against a list and refused to let any of the Moderates inside. Things got out of hand pretty quickly. Some of the members tried to force their way
into the building, at which point they were arrested by Pride’s men and taken away. This event is known to history as Pride’s
Purge. In total, over 200 members were expelled from
the House of Commons, including 45 who were arrested. Many of those who were turned away saw the
writing on the wall and fled the city. This new purged House of Commons was less
than half of its original size. People were terrified, and many feared that
the purges were not over. In the weeks that followed, most people stopped
showing up to the Commons. A legislative body that had once had approximately
500 members now meet with sometimes as few as 40. The Army had pulled off a coup d’etat. Critics of this new legislative body called
it “The Rump Parliament,” and the name stuck. But here’s the thing. Fairfax did not order Colonel Pride to do
this. Pride was acting on Ireton’s orders. Fairfax was furious. He was not what he wanted. His plan had backfired. When Cromwell, Fairfax’s second-in-command,
voiced his support for Pride’s Purge, Fairfax had no choice but to follow suit. He had effectively lost control of his Army. The radicals were running the show now, and
they were looking to Cromwell and Ireton for leadership. This new Rump Parliament, finally free of
Moderate influence, immediately got to work. On January 1st of 1649, they passed a bill
establishing a new 135 member tribunal called the High Court of Justice. This body would be empowered to put the King
on trial, with its members acting as both judges and jury. Fairfax, Cromwell, and Ireton were all appointed
to the tribunal, with the rest being split between radical Independents from the Commons
and officers from the Army. The legislation also called for a Lord President
of the High Court of Justice, who would be responsible for the day-to-day running of
the trial. They first went to some of the top legal minds
in England, who explained to them that what they were proposing was almost certainly treason. They later found a local judge by the name
of John Bradshaw who openly favoured abolishing the monarchy, and appointed him to the role. But there was a problem. The House of Lords, which was made up of prominent
members of the Church and the nobility, refused to ratify the creation of this tribunal. On January 4th, the Rump in the House of Commons
passed a resolution declaring that all legitimate political power flowed from the people, which
meant that the House of Commons had the right to exercise full sovereign authority over
all of England. Popular Sovereignty. Now things were really cookin’. According to the Rump Parliament, the House
of Lords and the King were politically irrelevant. Anything passed through the Commons became
law. When the King learned what the Commons was
done, he said in utter disbelief that no law existed under which a the King could be charged
with a crime. He was right. But it didn’t matter. They would put him on trial anyway. On January 8th, the High Court of Justice
met behind closed doors to discuss bringing charges against the King. By now it was clear that Fairfax had lost
control of his Army, and from this point forward he rarely attended meetings. Cromwell was in charge now. King Charles had asked a Scottish army in
invade England, and so the tribunal started things off by throwing around the word “treason.” One member named Sidney caused a bit of a
panic when he explained to the group that a King could not commit treason because the
technical definition of treason was “violence against the King.” And even if that wasn’t true, the High Court
of Justice had been established illegally, without the consent of the House of Lords. Cromwell, when he heard this, burst out in
anger, “I tell you we will cut off his head with the crown on it!” Sidney, responded, “I cannot stop you, but
I will keep myself clean from having any hand in this business.” The tribunal pushed forward without Sidney. It was not immediately clear what kinds of
crimes a King could be guilty of, and over several days they discussed every conceivable
scenario. They considered charging the King with the
murder of every person killed over the course of the Civil War. They considered charging him gross incompetence
for the mismanagement of the English navy. They considered charging him with the murder
of his own father, the former King. This was a totally made up thing, but it was
convenient for their purposes because it actually met the technical definition of treason. After agonizing over these questions, the
tribunal agreed on a specific set of charges that accused the King of being a tyrant, a
traitor, and a murderer, who sought to subvert the fundamental laws and liberties of the
nation. As an olive branch to the Moderates, the tribunal
agreed to limit themselves to actual crimes that had taken place during the Civil War. Nothing about the King murdering his own father. These charges hinted at some fundamental questions. Could a King commit treason against his own
kingdom? Where did political legitimacy come from? If the people rejected their King, was he
still a King? These questions will be answered with the
Trial of King Charles I.

100 thoughts on “Can Monarchs Commit Crimes? (1648 to 1649)

  1. No. Monarchs, elite, and gumby are all above the law. And you guessed it… Jeffery didn't kill himself.

  2. The culmination of the European spirit. Setting the way for the rest of the world to follow.

  3. Vox Populi – Vox Dei – is another idea, that comes as the counter argument to the rule of monarchs – that the will of the people emanates from the will of God.

  4. Hey don't forget to mention that all those little flames in Ireland came from Cromwell and his army literally killing everyone

  5. Yeah, 9 out of 10 Helens agree: This video is in no way relevant to any current events happening at this time.

  6. At around 18:30, how what Sydney allowed into the tribunal, if he was openly against it?

  7. "Can animals commit crimes?"
    17th century Englishman: well yeah of course.
    "Can monarchs commit crimes?
    17th century englishman: ok let's not get crazy now

  8. Seems like they figured out what Caesar did. Control of the army decides what is legitimate or not.

  9. No, the monarch is above the Law and can not be prosecuted or charged or arrested for anything. All laws have to be given royal assent.

  10. I never paid attention to history in school but for the last few years I've been curious and trying to track down when exactly England started transitioning power away from the king and to the parliament. I believe you just answered my question: 1649. Thank you.

  11. You are actually my best YouTube Channel over 10 Yeats and so on
    I really REALLY appreciate tour work, keep going bro?

  12. I bet Ireton being called a Cassius was Historia Civilis' casus belli to talk about the English Civil War.

  13. Divine Right vs. Popular Sovereignty.  Hmmmm.  Is that happening now in the U.S. with he impeachment of the President  (and you know what I mean with Divine Right, so don't go there).

  14. Its the wrong question>>> Can the Monarch be held accountable for the Crime?? Can the President or the Prime minister be held accountable for the crime?? The answer to that is. NO They cannot. They have compleat impunity and can commit any crime they like.

  15. Charles the I was still the king, and those who murdered him are treasonous scum.

  16. 7:56 In actuality, the crown is the invention of private property
    Private landowners created the state to justify and protect their seizure of land

  17. Of course they can, they can rule poorly which almost results in either their expulsion or their deaths.

  18. I love my country (England) so much. I cannot believe I've lucked out being born here. I don't care about people who don't like my country.

  19. Explain to me how exactly a so called "military dictatorship" is worse then a feudal dictatorship, baring in mind that even on principle European feudalism is based on a system of military might and protectionism. Charles, a man who brought war to his own Kingdoms time and time on a whim did not "do the right thing" by denying a GASP Military Dictatorship! He did what he always did, refused concession and protected his self interest and the divine right ideology that worked in his self interest.

  20. So basicaly 2 Civil wars were fought about the philosophical question whether or not a king is appointed by god or by the people. ..

    You English are strange … we germans on the other side …

    Wait…

  21. It was naive to present popular sovereignty through these events, as the rump parliament was unelected. It was a clear dictatorship.

  22. I'd love a whole series on the english civil war, It's really something I'd like to learn more about. Or the Napoleonic wars

  23. this is your best video so far
    Better pacing than the previous
    id say this is better than even the siege of alexandria

  24. Well you can't just leave it there! Gotta do the trial now haha!
    Love your stuff HC, would love to see you finish off the Alexander the Great Saga but whatever you do I'll watch. ?

  25. No one should be above the agreed social contract and law. The prosecution of king charles was morrally correct. It would pay for our current leaders to remember this.

  26. FYI – there were THREE English civil wars – the Anarchy in the 1200s, the war of the roses in the 1400s, then the one mentioned in this video.

  27. Please do a video on the reinstatement of the Monarchy after the Cromwell rule even if it doesn't have a cool reference to Rome. I rarely see it done

  28. I would've definitely been and independent. King asks a foreign army to invade, cut his head off with the crown still on it.

  29. Looking forward to that next video… I've watched the movie "Cromwell" multiple times and I just love how Charles I is often portrayed in movies as acting so superior to the rest of them… Because he kinda rightfully deserved to be… Like I remember how when I first learned the details of all of this I was just thinking that he has a really good point…

    One thing I don't get about it though is like… The English basically killed off Scotland's king… Like, Scotland had James I as their king who I believe inherited England… Then England executed his son who was still also Scotland's king… Like, feel like this should've led to a huge uprising in Scotland… Maybe it did and I just don't remember…

    I remember hearing about the rump parliament in high school, but I don't think I ever completely comprehended it and understood that it was basically a rigged up parliament with the goal of screwing over the monarchy… Kinda makes me think of the stuff Alcibiades did really…

  30. They should have charged him with being a scoundrel and buggery. Those are always good ones.

  31. This is hands down my favorite channel on this website you are the man and you are powerful

  32. So glad you're making videos again man. I absolutely love your content. I was just cruising along through this video and then right at the end I realized how relevant this is to current events. +5 relevance points.

  33. Cromwell – "Are you ready to meet your maker?"
    Charles I – "Well, I'm always absolutely fascinated to meet people from all walks of life… yes, particularly manufacturing industries."

  34. Absolutely fascinating how restrained the Britain’s were, when you consider in the 19th Century, all the way up to the modern day, how EVERY Political threat against Bolshevism, Communism, and Zionism just got immediately assassinated (eg the Tsar Royalty, Archduke Ferdinand, Huey Long, Commander Lincoln Rockwell, General Patton, Malcolm X, JFK ect ect)…

    Truly it’s amazing that they didn’t just execute him – but I suppose it’s because they:
    1) Respected the idea of Aristocracy
    2) Feared being put on trial and executed by the new king for treason
    3) Conscious of the threat of Invasion from abroad if the country took to long to appoint new leadership

    The Romans had it right though: ”Might is Right!”

  35. "Arbitrarily demanding loans from nobility"
    Ah yes, the EU4 method of budget balancing

  36. Interestingly, the English weren’t the first ones to question the divine right. Two hundred years before the English Civil War, during the Catalan Civil War, king Joan II was “officially” deposed and declared public enemy by the Catalan institutions for been a tyrant.

  37. "Can monarchs commit crimes?"
    Mate…how do you think they became a king? The very word implies criminally trampling less powerful people's rights in favor of centralized power.
    Next video: "dO rApIsT's aChIeVe ErEcTiOn?"

  38. We should have repeated Prides Purge 3yrs ago. I think most of the Nation would have supported the armed forces taking control of Parliament, and kicking out the Remainers.

  39. Spoiler Alert: The Cromwells didn't last mainly because Cromwell's son was a fancy country squire who didn't follow Rule Zero: Keep the army happy, giving Charles's son Charles II, the ability to reestablish the monarchy.

  40. Ever since starting to watch this channel I can only imagine historical figures as colored squares

  41. when i heard this, i thought the video was refering to the atrocities committed by European colonial monarchs unto their colonies

  42. 1,8%? My country lost around 28% of it's population in WWI (the numbers may be inflated, but are still enormous).
    I hope no one misunderstood me, 1,8% is still very high number and too many people died which is unfortunate. But WWI has seen much worse

  43. Thanks for an excellent addition to your already well done videos.
    I'm looking forward to the trial and Charles' conviction, though not his execution.
    Can a king commit treason? Yes, against the order, of which he is just a part.

  44. The whole BS of "divine right" is nothing more than a giant ego trip perpetuated on people by a bunch of lying thieving skunks. Look to history this divine king wants to steal his neighbors land from that devine king…So they go to war and many ordinary people get rubbed out. It wasn't the farmers that wanted to go after someone elses stuff just the born criminal class of "royals" Burn em all….Free from divine rights since 1775

  45. "Private property should be returned to the hands of the people." No wonder Karl Marx ended up in England.

  46. Popular sovereignty and divine right are not in oposision. I find shameful how the people of today are unable to understand the knowlage of the past.
    The divine right of kings does not mean that a god came down form the sky and told the king he gets to rule, what it describes is the princaple that the strongest man it the state will be its sovereign.
    Popular sovereignty does not mean any elections or anything of the sort, it describes how the people of a state affect its working trought their colective action or inaction.
    Bough of these things are universal and work at the same time to move the action of a state.

  47. Deadlyes english war just saw 3,5% of the people dying!!!! Wow! No wonder the english can not comprihed their peoples extiocntion possibility like those who have seen 20% to 25% of their people dying.

  48. Its actually really easy to lose the throne if you are the kind. Just anger your suporters, monarchists do not support bad kings when it comes to civil war.

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