This Day (They Killed Obi-Wan Edition)

Published:January 30, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

Having been tried, found guilty of high treason, and sentenced to death by a Parliament-appointed High Court of Justice, England’s King Charles I was executed on this day in 1649. One can find a particularly dramatic account of the event on page 2,852 of the Library of Universal History and Popular Science …* (1910):

King Charles I was taken to the place of execution, in front of the palace of Whitehall, January 30, 1649. He ascended the scaffold with a firm step; and in his last moments he reasserted his “divine rights,” and declared that “the people have no right to any part in the government, that being a thing nothing pertaining to them.” Addressing those around him, he declared himself innocent toward his people and forgave his enemies. Turning to Bishop Juxon, he said: “I go from a corruptible to an incorruptible crown, where no disturbance can take place.” The bishop replied: “You exchange a temporal for an eternal crown; a good exchange.” The king then laid his head upon the block, saying to Bishop Juxon: “Remember.” One of the executioners then cut off the king’s “gray and discrowned head”; and the other, holding it aloft, exclaimed: “This is the head of a traitor!” Many of the spectators wept at the horrid spectacle, and a groan of pity and horror proceeded from the vast multitude.

The film Cromwell (1970) follows this same script, more or less, with Alec Guinness (soon to be Obi-Wan Kenobi) as the king and Richard Harris as Oliver Cromwell. In the clip above, you’ll notice the two making eyes at one another as Charles—looking the long-haired rogue compared with his stern, black-robed accusers—walks to the butcher’s block. And perhaps it makes a weird kind of sense casting an Irishman like Harris to play the Puritan Cromwell. According to Wikipedia, the masked executioner may himself have been an Irishman, possibly named Gunning. Which explains, of course, the Kings Head pub in Galway.

* … Containing a Record of the Human Race from the Earliest Historical Period to the Present Time; Embracing a General Survey of the Progress of Mankind in National and Social Life, Civil Government, Religion, Literature, Science and Art. Complete in Twenty-Five Volumes.

IMAGES: A German engraving of Charles I’s execution; The Kings Head