From Academic Kids

The broad definition of Regicide is the deliberate killing of a king, or the person responsible for it. In a narrower sense, in the British tradition, it refers to the judicial execution of a king after alleged due process of law.


The Regicide of Mary Queen of Scots

Before the Tudor period, English Kings were murdered while imprisoned (for example Edward II) or killed in battle by their subjects (for example Richard III), but none of these deaths are usually referred to as regicides. The word regicide seems to have come into popular use among foreign Catholics when Pope Sixtus V renewed the solemn bull of excommunication against the crowned regicide Queen Elizabeth I, for executing Mary Queen of Scots among other things. She had originally been excommunicated (Regnans in Excelsis) by Pope Pius V for reverting England to Protestantism after the reign of Mary I of England (Bloody Mary). The defeat of the Spanish Armada and the "Protestant wind" convinced most English people that God approved of Elizabeth's action. The thought of being hanged, drawn and quartered, or burnt alive, was enough to silence any English people who might have queried this line of argument.

The Regicide of Charles I of England

After The First English Civil War King Charles I was a prisoner of the Parliamentarians. They tried to negotiate a compromise with him but he stuck steadfastly to his view that he was King by Divine Right and attempted in secret to raise an army to fight against them. When it became obvious to the leaders of the Palimentarians that they could not negotiate a settlement with him and they could not trust him not to raise an army attack them, they reluctantly came to the conclusion that they would have to kill him. The House of Commons on 13 December 1648 broke off negotiations with the King. Two days later, the Council of Officers of the New Model Army voted that the King be moved from the Isle of Wight, where he was prisoner, to Windsor "in order to the bringing of him speedily to justice". In the middle of December the king was moved from Windsor to London. The Rump Parliament set up a High Court of Justice in order to try Charles I for high treason in the name of the people of England. But this bill of Parliament was not passed by the House of Lords and it did not get royal consent, so it was not lawful.

At his trial in front of The High Court of Justice on Saturday 20 January 1649 in Westminster Hall Charles asked " would know by what power I am called hither. I would know by what authority, I mean lawful [authority]". In view of the historic issues involved both sides based themselves on surprisingly technical legal grounds. Charles did not dispute that Parliament as a whole did have some judicial powers, but the House of Commons on its own could not try anybody, and so he refused to plead. At that time under English law if a prisoner refused to plead then this was treated as a plea of guilty, although this has been changed to treat it as a plea of not guiltly.

He was found guilty on Saturday 27 January 1649 and his death warrant was signed by 59 Commissioners. To show their agreement with the sentence of death all of the Commissioners who were present rose to their feet.

On the day of his execution, 30 January 1649, Charles dressed in two shirts so that he would not shiver from the cold, in case it was said that he was shivering from fear. His execution was delayed by several hours so that the House of Commons could pass an emergency bill to make it an offence to proclaim a new King and to declare the representatives of the people, the House of Commons, as the source of all just power. Charles was then escorted through the Banqueting House in the Palace of Whitehall with its ceiling painted by Peter Paul Rubens, as commissioned by the king some years earlier, to a scaffold. He forgave those who had passed sentence on him and gave instructions to his enemies that they should learn to "know their duty to God, the King - that is my successors and the people". He then gave a brief speech outlining his unchanged views of the relationship between the monarchy and the monarch's subjects ending with the words "I am the martyr of the people". His head was severed from his body with one blow and a groan went up from the crowd that witnessed the execution.

One week later the Rump, sitting in the House of Commons, passed a bill abolishing the monarchy. Ardent Royalists refused to accept it on the basis that there could never be a vacancy of the Crown. Others refused, because as the bill had not passed the House of Lords and did not have royal consent, it could not become an Act of Parliament.

The Declaration of Breda 11 years later paved the way for the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. At the restoration thirty one of the fifty nine Commissioners who had signed the death warrant were living. A pardon was given by Charles II to his opponents, but they were excluded. A number fled the country, including John Dixwell, Edward Whalley, and William Goffe who fled to New Haven, Connecticut, but those who were still available were put on trial. Six Commissioners were found guilty and suffered the fate of being hanged, drawn and quartered: Thomas Harrison, John Jones, Adrian Scroope, John Carew, Thomas Scot, and Gregory Clement. Colonel Francis Hacker who signed the order to the executioner of the king and commanded the guard around the scaffold and at the trial; the captain of the guard at the trial, Daniel Axtel who encouraged his men to barrack the King when he tried to speak in his own defence; an influential preacher Hugh Peters; and the leading prosecutor at the trial John Cook were executed in a similar manner. A further nineteen regicides served life imprisonment. The bodies of the regicides Cromwell, Bradshaw and Ireton which had been buried in Westminster Abbey were disinterred and hanged drawn and quartered. The officers of the court that tried Charles I, those who prosecuted him and those who signed his death warrant, have been known ever since the restoration as regicides.

Other regicides

Using the definition of a regicide in common usage in England, there has been one other such event since 1649: the execution of Louis XVI of France in 1793, after sentence of death by parliament.

Since Pope Sixtus V instigated a broader definition of regicide and excluding those monarchs killed in battle, there have been a number of other regicides:

  1. Henry III of France in 1589 assassinated by Jacques Clément;
  2. Henry IV of France in 1610 assassinated by Ravaillac;
  3. Gustav III of Sweden in 1792 assassinated by Jacob Anckarström;
  4. Shaka King of the Zulus, in 1828 assassinated by his half-brother and successor Dingane and accomplices
  5. Alexander II of Russia in 1881 assassinated by Ignacy Hryniewiecki, a member of Narodnaya Volya (People's Will)
  6. Queen Min of Joseon in 1895 assassinated by three mercenary killers allegedly hired Japanese minister to Korea, Miura Goro
  7. Umberto I of Italy in 1900 by an assassin;
  8. Charles of Portugal in 1908, by Alfredo Costa and Manuel Buiça, both connected to the Carbonária (the Portuguese section of the Carbonari) and the Freemasonry;
  9. George I of Greece in 1913, by Aleksander Schinas
  10. ex-Tsar Nicholas II of Russia in 1918 by the Bolsheviks.
  11. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia assasinated by his nephew Faisal ibn Musad. Assasin publicaly beheaded
  12. King Birendra of Nepal was killed in the massacre of the Nepalese royal family in 2001 by his own son, Crown Prince Dipendra.

Regicides as murders

Regicide has particular resonance within the concept of the Divine Right of Kings, whereby monarchs were presumed by decision of God to have a divinely anointed authority to rule. As such, an attack on a king by one of his own subjects was taken to amount a direct challenge to the monarch, to his Divine Right to Rule, and thus to God's will. Even after the disappearance of the Divine Right of Kings and the appearance of constitutional monarchies, the term continued and continues to be used to describe the murder of a king.

In France, the judicial penalty for regicides (i.e. those who had murdered, or attempted to murder, the King) was especially hard, even in regard to the harsh judicial practices of pre-revolutionary France. As with many criminals, the regicide was tortured so as to make him tell the names of his accomplices. However, the method of execution itself was a form of torture. Here is a description of the death of Robert-François Damiens, who attempted to kill Louis XV:

He was first tortured with red-hot pincers; his hand, holding the knife used in the attempted murder, was burnt using sulphur; molten wax, lead, and boiling oil were poured into his wounds. Horses were then harnessed to his arms and legs for his dismemberment. Damiens' joints would not break; after some hours, representatives of the Parlement ordered the executioner and his aides to cut Damiens' joints. Damiens was then dismembered, to the applause of the crowd. His trunk, apparently still living, was then burnt at the stake.

In common with earlier executions for regicides:

  • the hand that attempted the murder is burnt
  • the regicide is dismembered alive.

See also

External links


  • Wedgewood, C.V. The Trial of Charles I

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