The thirtieth of August, 2011: bowed his comely Head, down as upon a Bed

Tim Blanning’s magnificent The Pursuit Of Glory: Europe 1648 – 1815 (Penguin, 2008) isn’t often far from my side. I’ve just been re-reading the account of the execution of Charles I.

One thing that gets me on-side with Charles right away is that one of his first acts on being informed that Parliament had voted (by a majority of one, 361-360) was to summon a servant to fetch him David Hume’s History of England. Anyone who turns to Hume in a time of crisis can’t be all bad.

I also like that he thoroughly outwitted the Parliamentary dullards at his trial. When the charges against him were read out, his only response was to “laugh derisively”.

At the chopping-block, he conducted himself, Blanning says, “with the serene dignity and courage of which enduring myths are made”. Cavalier poet Andrew Marvell wrote:

He nothing common did or mean

Upon that memorable scene.

When the axe fell, there rose from the assembled crowd “such a groan as I never heard before, and I desire I may never hear again”, one observer wrote.

There’s an interesting fact about Charles’ execution that I – for obscure reasons of my own – have shuffled into the form of a lateral-thinking puzzle for you to enjoy. When he walked to the block on January 30, 1649, Charles was wearing two shirts. Why?

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