Rory’s teacher Ms. Caldecott tells the class they will be debating “Did Charles I receive a fair trial?”. It’s not clear which class this is – it may be History, and Ms. Caldecott has replaced Mrs. Ness as the teacher for the subject this semester, or it may be Government.
Charles I (1600-1649) was the king of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1625 until his death. Charles was in conflict with the Parliament of England, which tried to place limits on his royal prerogative – the authority and privileges which belong to the monarch alone. Charles believed in the divine right of kings, and that he was subject to no earthly authority, but could rule as he pleased through the will of God.
From 1642, Charles fought the armies of the English and Scottish parliaments in the English Civil War, was defeated in 1645 but still refused to accept demands for a constitutional monarchy. He was tried, convicted, and executed on charges of high treason in January 1649. The monarchy was abolished before being restored in 1660.
At his trial, Charles was held responsible for all the damage done to his country during the Civil War, including the deaths of 6% of the population. He refused to plead, claiming that no court held authority over a monarch, and that his authority to rule came from God and from the laws of England. He said that the trial was illegal, and its power only came from the force of arms.
The court challenged the idea that a monarch was immune from prosecution by the state, proposing that the “king” was not a person, but an office whose occupant had to govern by the laws of the land. They went ahead with the trial without the king’s royal assent. Charles was not present to hear the evidence against him, and had no opportunity to question witnesses, so there would be material for both sides of the debate.