For other uses see Regicide (disambiguation).
The broad definition of regicide is the deliberate killing of a monarch, or the person responsible for the killing of a monarch. In a narrower sense, in the British tradition, it refers to the judicial execution of a king after alleged due process of law.
Before the Tudor period, English kings had been murdered while imprisoned (for example Edward II or Edward V) or killed in battle by their subjects (for example Richard III), but none of these deaths are usually referred to as regicide. 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 in 1587 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.
See also: List of regicides of Charles I and High Court of Justice for the trial of Charles I. 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 Parliamentarians that they could not negotiate a settlement with him and they could not trust him to refrain from raising an army against them, they reluctantly came to the conclusion that they would have to kill him. On 13 December 1648, the House of Commons 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 House of Commons of the Rump Parliament passed a Bill setting up a High Court of Justice in order to try Charles I for high treason in the name of the people of England. From a Royalist and post-restoration perspective this Bill was not lawful, since the House of Lords refused to pass it and it failed to receive Royal Assent. However, the Parliamentary leaders and the Army pressed on with the trial anyway.
At his trial in front of The High Court of Justice on Saturday 20 January 1649 in Westminster Hall, Charles asked "I 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 he maintained that 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. (This has since been changed; a refusal to plead now is interpreted as a not-guilty plea.)
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 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.
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 Assent, 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 general pardon was given by Charles II and Parliament to his opponents, but the regicides were excluded. A number fled the country. Some, such as Daniel Blagrave, fled to continental Europe, while others like John Dixwell, Edward Whalley, and William Goffe fled to New Haven, Connecticut. Those who were still available were put on trial. Six regicides 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. The captain of the guard at the trial, Daniel Axtell 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. Colonel Francis Hacker who signed the order to the executioner of the king and commanded the guard around the scaffold and at the trial was hanged. Some regicides were pardoned, while a further nineteen 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. In 1662, three more regicides John Okey, John Barkstead and Miles Corbet were also 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.
The Parliamentary Archives in the Palace of Westminster, London, holds the original death warrant of Charles I.
Under the definition of a regicide in common usage in England, there have been two other such events since 1649: the execution of Louis XVI of France in 1793, after sentence of death by the National Convention and Maximilian I of Mexico in 1867 by a Mexican court-martial.Since Pope Sixtus V's gave his broader definition of regicide and excluding monarchs killed in battle, other regicides include:
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 to 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:In common with earlier executions for regicides:
Interestingly, in both the François Ravaillac and the Damiens cases, court papers refer to the offenders as a patricide, rather than as regicide, which lets one deduce that, through divine right, the king was also regarded as "Father of the country".