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The King's Revenge
on 30 August 2012
If you did not know this was a factual history book, it would be easy to believe it was a historical novel - so full of espionage, plots, assassinations and excitement, it is almost hard to credit that it happened. Yet, it did. This book tells the fate of the men who dared to sit in judgement upon King Charles I, known simply as the regicides. After the death of his father, his eldest son, later Charles II, vowed vengeance on those he blamed for the execution of Charles I. When he was invited, in 1660, to return and take up his throne, he unleashed an unrelenting manhunt for all who had signed the death warrant, and even some who were involved in lesser ways.
This interesting and well written read begins with the capture of Charles I, his trial and execution. It is fair to say that even while the country was in the throes of Civil War and rebellion, many of those called to take part in the trial had decided that it was unwise to be involved and either refused to participate or made excuses why they could not attend. They were the lucky ones. For those either involved out of choice, or forced to participate, the manhunt which followed was relentless. While Cromwell was still in power he faced plots, dissent and hastily arranged assassination attempts. These included one in which an assassin had organised a fast horse for a quick getaway, only to find himself beckoned over by Cromwell, who was impressed by his mount. Too stunned to shoot, the nonplussed assassin made polite conversation, his nerves broken down by the encounter.
When Cromwell died in 1658, fifteen of the sixty nine judges responsible for the fate of Charles I were already dead. After his death, London was plunged into chaos and, when the monarchy was restored, everyone was eager to prove their loyalty to the new King. The first man who had sat in judgement of Charles I was arrested as early as April 1660 and there was a frightening time ahead for the men associated with the execution of the former king. Their properties were seized and, at first seven of the judges were selected for execution. The list should have stopped there, the amount agreed by Parliament to bear the guilt of the king's death. It didn't... First there were four more chosen for the fateful list, then twenty more and the list grew to include men who had been involved with the trial, but who had not sat in judgement on the king. Those on the list scattered abroad, went into hiding or were arrested and given show trials. The first series of trials and executions lasted only ten days and left ten men executed and thirty two indicted.
This then is another side to the story of a king best known for his many mistresses and carefree life. Charles II was relentless in his pursuit and his thirst for revenge. He unleashed his bloodhounds across the country, throughout Europe and even as far as the United States. It is a tale of early espionage, entrapment, bribery, assassination attempts and kidnapping. It is about men, such as Sir George Downing, a former Roundhead who turned traitor and wormed his way back into royal favour by arresting former comrades; and also of immense bravery, as men died for what they believed in. Later, revenge against republicans seemed to have nothing to do with the trial of the King, such as when three judges were dragged through the streets on the anniversary of the day the death sentence was passed on Charles I, none of whom had signed the death warrant or been present at the sentencing. Overall, this is a really readable account of this turbulent and exciting time. The authors complete the book with details of what happened to all the regicides and their fate and, also, it applauds what those men achieved. Yes, they were responsible for the death of a king, but they also brought about reform and provided a blueprint of today's political system. Lastly, I read the kindle version of this book and it contained illustrations at the end of the book.