Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I by Charles Spencer
Killers of the King addresses the aftermath of the execution of Charles I of England in 1649. The book opens first to a succinct overview of the First and Second English Civil Wars and Charles I’s trial and execution.* The next distinct section follows Charles I’s parliamentary rule successor, the Commonwealth of England; Third English Civil War; and the rise of Oliver Cromwell. Both of these segments set the tone for what follows, as upon the restoration of the crown, Charles II enacted revenge of his father’s murders. The brief discussion of the Restoration could be considered the book’s third section.
The majority of the book focuses on Charles II and his Royalist allies’ desire for revenge against the Parliamentarians. These events can be further subdivided into two distinct subsections: the Trial of the Charles I’s killers and the hunt for those who evaded capture. Both subsections provide mini-bios for the regicides discussed.
The events leading up to and through the trials of the regicides is presented in a play-by-play format. Readers will see how a desire for revenge led to the issuing of warrants, changing views of what the punishment should be, the trials themselves, and finally the executions. Throughout, there was a great deal of double play involved. The details of the legal proceedings should fascinate those with an interest in law. To highlight some of the regicides feature, the predominate ones discussed were Solicitor General John Cook (lead prosecutor in Charles I’s trial), Major-General Thomas Harrison, and Colonel John Hutchinson.
Not all of the regicides were captures and brought to trial. Some managed to escape overseas. The lives of these men are followed. As part of this, readers see the diplomatic efforts Britain undertook to regain control of these men. Readers will also see who like-minded individuals in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the Americas attempted, some successfully and some not, to assist and protect the regicides. Some of the prominent escaped men included Edmund Ludlow, Major-General William Goffe, and Major-General Edward Whalley. Goffe and Whalley, his father-in-law, especially had quite the adventure!
Overall, Killers of the King was well researched and written. Lord Spencer was not afraid to use quotes from primary source documents when the original words delivered the message best. This was done with success in great amounts. As hinted from the previous statement, the book was written primarily based on primary sources, especially diaries, memoirs, and letters. Most of the published secondary source material cited was of indirect nature to the topic (ex. on Parliament, but not exclusively the instances covered in Killers of the King), making this perhaps the only book dedicated to this segment of history. I think this book would be useful for research and to go along with a course that covers the English Civil War through the Restoration to gain a greater understanding of the era.*
Written by the 9th Earl of Spencer, the younger brother of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, this historical work is Lord Spencer’s latest book on British history. It goes hand-in-hand with his earlier book Prince Rupert: The Last Cavalier which provides the Royalist story of the English Civil War through the lens of Charles I’s nephew. It is also his third work that focuses in on early modern Europe, the other being Blenheim: The Battle for Europe. I have yet to read Prince Rupert, but based on its summary I think its contents would be helpful in gaining a greater picture of the events at the beginning of Killers of the King. And Blenheim is a battle I kept meaning to read more about since it is often mentioned in conjunction with Winston Churchill’s family’s background.
I was offered this copy for review by FSB Associates.
*Collectively, all three wars are known as the English Civil War. Most American textbook simplify these into being one event along with the Commonwealth rule, ending with Charles II’s restoration. In fact, I pulled out my college textbook from World Civilizations I and II (copyright 2008) and it never mentioned there were three distance wars in the “English Civil War.”