The Trial of Charles I: A Sesquitricentennial Reflection
Louis J. Sirico Jr.
Villanova University School of Law
Constitutional Commentary, Vol. 16, P. 51, 1999
In 1649, Charles I, England's second Stuart king, became the only English ruler to be tried and beheaded. His ordeal illustrates what happens when revolutionaries attempt to use the traditional legal process to overthrow the political order. Charles's opponents--Oliver Cromwell's army and its Puritan allies--believed they could not execute a hereditary monarch unless they attempted to follow acceptable legal proceedings. Therefore, they created a kangaroo court that tried Charles by mimicking a formal trial. Their elaborate impersonation of the rule of law resolutely failed. According to Charles, the court's creators wrongfully claimed the power to alter the kingdom's constitutional structure and consequently threatened all English citizens. The king thus correctly identified the impossible predicament of his opponents: they sought consistency with the existing political system and paradoxically claimed that it was illegitimate. The Framers of America's constitution were familiar with Charles' trial and understood that without a constitution, liberty would be in danger. They tried to create a political order that could deal with the dangers arising from civil disruption.
Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: September 6, 1999
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