Banqueting House (King Charles I execution location)


Here I am outside Banqueting House in Whitehall, London. It was here in 1649 that carpenters began setting up a scaffold against the walls ready for the public execution of King Charles 1st.


After years of struggle between the authority of Parliament and the power of the King (which led to the 1642-1949 Civil War) Charles I was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. The day before his execution his two of his children Elizabeth and Henry were allowed to visit him. He bade them a tearful farewell. At 10am on Tuesday 30th January 1649 a grim procession set off from St James's Palace to Whitehall, the 48-year-old King surrounded by an escort of halberdiers. It was cold and he wore two shirts to prevent shivers which may appear as fear.


He was taken into Banqueting House. About four hours later he was led upstairs then thorough an upstairs window which had been specially removed for the occasion.


Though his features were disguised by black drapery throngs of spectators who had gathered on the rooftops could see him. He was separated from spectators on the ground by large ranks of soldiers. Gripped by fear he felt he could not address the crowd but spoke to those about him on the scaffold including shorthand reporters who were able to record his final speech. He maintained his devotion and personal loyalty to the Church of England.


He said a prayer and lay his head on the block. He stretched out his hands to signal to the executioner that he was ready. The axe swished and the king was beheaded in one go. According to observer Philip Henry a moan "as I never heard before and desire I may never hear again" rose from the crowd. Some of them dipped their handkerchiefs in the king's blood as a memento.


It was common practice for the severed head of a traitor to be held up and exhibited to the crowd with the words "Behold the head of a traitor!" The head was exhibited but the words were not exclaimed as the executioner did not want his voice to be recognised. The king's head was sewn back onto his body which was then embalmed, placed in a lead coffin and taken for burial at Windsor Castle.


Revenge was reaped. In 1660 Charles II returned to become King of England. He ensured all the men who had signed his father’s death warrant and had associations with the death were executed. Ironically the axeman who had cut his dad’s head off escaped death as he wore a mask and nobody knew who he was. It was probably Richard Brandon who was London’s seasoned hangman at the time. He had refused to kill the king despite being offered a huge £200 however he probably did it after receiving death threats. Examination of the clean cut suggested an experienced headsman so it was probably Richard Brandon.


I looked for a wall plaque outside Banqueting House but there wasn’t one. Perhaps there should be a statue of an axeman holding the King’s head in his hand. The building is open to visitors and still used for banquets. Probably most of the people who have dined there over the years have looked up at the ceiling canvasses painted by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (commissioned by Charles I) but probably few have known the King of England was lead through the rooms minutes before his grisly end.



Outside Banqueting House a scaffold was mounted and King Charles 1st died…


Banquets are still held there under the ceilings painted by Rubens…


From Banqueting House you can see The Cenotaph….at which you just have to do a hearty salute….


Across the road is Horses Parade…