Today is the anniversary of the death of King Charles I, beheaded 30 January, 1649. Mrs Daffodil has invited that keen historian of executions from the Haunted Ohio blog to discuss a few of the relics from this dire event.
Charles the Martyr, as he is known in some quarters, was perhaps second only to Marie Antoinette or Mary, Queen of Scots, in the enthusiasm of those who treasured his royal relics. A handkerchief dipped in his Majesty’s blood was sold at auction as recently as 2008. The photograph of it does not resemble the one described in this article, but as we all know, relics proliferate as a cultus grows:
A relic of King Charles I. was shown to us on Saturday, being the identical handkerchief used by that unfortunate monarch while on the scaffold awaiting his execution on the 30th of January, 1649. It is composed of three quarters of a yard of very fine linen, edged with Brussel’s point lace, the whole of domestic manufacture, and, for that age, most exquisite fineness. The same quality of fabrics could be purchased now at 75 cents per yard for the linen and a dollar per yard for the lace. Their value in the time of the unfortunate monarch must have been far greater than that. The relic has descended from generation to generation, well authenticated: “It’s traditionary [sic] history,” says the proprietor, “a tale unfolds as absorbing in its melancholy interest, as amusing in some of its details.” The family owning this relic are American citizens, and reside near the city. We have no doubt it would command £100 in England, could the present owners be persuaded to part with it. It is worthy of note that the principal figure in the fine point lace bordering this handkerchief, is the Scottish Thistle with rays diverging from the ball in the form of a gloria. There is also a crown; the other devices are unintelligible, but could no doubt be explained by comparison with the coat of arms of the Scotch Kings, of whom Charles was the second that ascended the English Throne. N.Y. Sun.Newark [NJ] Daily Advertiser 27 October 1845: p. 2
A blue silk waistcoat, believed to have been worn by King Charles on the scaffold, was sold in 1898 by the last of the descendants of Dr Hobbs, who attended the King at his death. It is now owned by the Museum of London and in 2010 was to be tested for DNA evidence that it was genuine. However, the Museum decided against such tests due to the fragility of the garment and the fact that it has been so much handled over the years. A pair of shoes, claimed to be those worn by the King at his execution, were sold at Bonhams in 2004.
A precious, but more prosaic relic was also sold at auction in 1904–the golden toothpick pictured at the head of the post.
FORTUNE FOR A TOOTHPICK
Once Property of King Charles I, and Sells for $2,900—Used by Executed Monarch on the Scaffold.
London, No. 19. Much interest continues to be taken in London in the personal relics of the unhappy Charles I, as was proved by the crowd the other day when two melancholy souvenirs of his death came up for public sale in the shape of a gold toothpick and case used by the monarch on the scaffold. These mementos were once the possession of that Col. Tomlinson who was the officer in charge of the king form the time of his imprisonment in the tower until the end, and were presented to him at the last scene in Whitehall by Charles I, as all he had left for his civilities. When the relics were submitted an opening bid of $5 was made, and by slow advance $50 was reached. At this stage no one could have anticipated the result, and at $925 it appeared that interest had ceased. But suddenly the bidding took new life and Messrs. Renton and Partridge made a duel of it. The latter carried the contest to $2,875 and did not challenge Mr. Renton’s bid of $2,900. Washington [DC] Bee 17 December 1904: p. 7
Perhaps the most grewsome souvenir of the King’s execution was returned to the royal family in 1906.
A Gruesome Relic of King Charles.
King Edward has recently been placed in possession of a very gruesome relic of one of his Stuart predecessors on the throne, namely, the lower portion of the vertebra, or fourth cervical, of King Charles I, and which had been severed by the ax at the time of his execution. It may possibly be remembered that, in 1813, when the coffin of the ill-fated monarch was accidentally discovered in the vaults of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor, George IV., then prince regent, caused the casket to be opened in his presence, and in that of several other distinguished men, including Sir Henry Halford, who enjoyed the distinction of having been the medical adviser to no less than four British sovereigns. After the remains of King Charles, which were found in a marvelous state of preservation, had been carefully examined, the leaden coffin was soldered up again, and it was only when this had been completely that the discovery was made that the portion of the vertebra to which I have referred above had been overlooked and left outside the casket. The Prince Regent would not hear of the latter being opened again to replace the fragment of bone, but presented it to Sir Henry Halford, who was one of his great favorites. Sir Henry caused it to be inclosed in a case of lignam vitae, lined with gold, and with a Latin inscription inside the lid. He was very proud of the relic, and often showed it to friends and acquaintances. Quite recently old Lady Halford, widow of the grandson of Sir Henry Halford, realizing that at her death without issue the relic in question might find its way into the auction-room, made up her mind that it would be the right thing to do to restore it to the royal family, from whom her husband’s grandfather had received it. So she presented it to King Edward, who, accepting the gift, has caused it to be placed in a handsome silver box and has laid the latter on the coffin of Charles I, in the vaults of St. George’s Chapel, thus quietly signifying his disapproval of the somewhat ghoulish and assuredly sacrilegious practice of preserving as curious fragments of the remains of illustrious dead, which should repose in hallowed tombs or graves. Baltimore [MD] American 15 March 1906: p. 8
For more detail on the occasion when the Prince Regent obtained the vertebra, see the full story told by Sir Henry, here. An account of a man who shook hands with the late King (as well as the hand of King Henry VIII) while returning a finger relic is found here.
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: King Charles was accused of treason by a special commission after the three chief justices declared his indictment illegal. One could scarely say that the court was happy in its work: only 68 of its 135 commissioners attended the trial and only 59 signed the death warrant. The unknown executioner did not utter the traditional words: “Behold the head of a traitor.” Perhaps he feared that his voice would reveal his identity. Or perhaps he did not believe that the King was a traitor.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.