Killing the King
King Charles I ascended to the throne in 1625, and in the following years tensions between the king and Parliament built until they reached breaking point.
Civil war erupted in England in 1642, and after a series of defeats and imprisonment from 1647, Charles was executed on a scaffold outside Whitehall Palace on 30 January 1649. The execution of the king was an unprecedented upheaval in life and the constitutional history of the three kingdoms – England, Scotland and Ireland.
Oliver Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector for much of the following decade, before the revolution eventually failed, and Charles’s son, King Charles II, took up the throne in the restoration of the monarchy in May 1660.
The causes of the English Civil War and the issues at stake were many: philosophies of government, constitutional law, and principles of self-determination, religion and intellectual freedom. These debates and their energies are felt in the writing of the time, which circulated in manuscript and poured from the printing presses in London and beyond.
Historians have described the English Civil War as ‘a war of words and images as well as a war of swords and muskets’. It generated publications across diverse genres and media: pamphlets, broadsides, defences and vindications, martyrologies, sermons, speeches and poems. This story showcases John Emmerson’s collection of these materials, and reveals the role of words, images and texts as actors in historical events.
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