Who would have imagined the king of England in prison? No one! It was impossible! God’s anointed one in gaol?
Yet this is where Charles 1st finds himself in 1647, incarcerated variously in Hampton Court, then Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight and finally, a brief stay in Hurst Castle.
And he was imprisoned mainly for his lies, which we’ll get to.
No one knew how to imprison a king, of course, or what the rules were. His gaoler, Robert Hammond, was also his humble subject. So how was that going to work?
And they were not hard times for the king. His captors had his royal carriage brought over to the island for trips out; and he still had a large staff serving him and 14 course meals.
This wasn’t the gulag.
He even managed an affair with his spy mistress, the remarkable Jane Whorwood.
And there were numerous escape schemes, each more bizarre than the other – though the best laid plan fell apart when the king got stuck in the window he was meant to be escaping from.
He had to fall back down into his bedroom.
And the brief back story? He had prorogued parliament in 1629 which had caused huge anger. But it made sense to Charles: if parliament couldn’t do what he wanted from it, why on earth should it exist?
Eleven years later, with nothing resolved, England endured a bloody civil war, dividing families and nation.
But even though he lost, due to the brilliant leadership of Cromwell, Charles still held all the cards. Everyone needed to be his friend – both the army and parliament, for both knew he must return to the throne.
He was the king, after all; so all should have been well for the art-loving, masque-loving monarch.
But he was a man sunk by his lying, by his inability to tell the truth. He simply did not believe the truth to be important for a king; he was beyond it.
His belief in the divine right of kings – which fed handily into his own sense of personal insecurity – made normal human behaviour irrelevant. If a lie brought him to power, the lie was good.
So he would say anything to anyone, whether to parliament or to the army, if it suited his purposes. Cromwell was in his thrall, and quite taken in…though behind his back, Charles cattily referred to Cromwell as ‘the farmer’.
And while apparently negotiating in good faith, Charles was in secret contact with the Scots, encouraging them to invade.The king of England was encouraging another nation to invade his own.
They did invade, bringing the 2nd Civil War with appalling loss of life. And again,Charles lost – though this time from the safety of his prison throne.
And it was this 2nd Civil War did for him; it curdled the milk of human kindness towards him.
No one trusted him anymore. Everything he said was a lie. And amid national trauma and rage, it was a short walk from there to the executioner’s scaffold in Whitehall…and the unthinkable: the killing of a king.
It is a story of a man obsessed by his rightful position and happy to lie to that end. People were with him…until they just couldn’t do it anymore.
His disingenuous ways dismantled both relationship and the monarchy; and made possible the impossible.
When the need for power baptises the lie, it is a dangerous blessing – for everyone.