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Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I

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On August 18, 1648, with no relief from the siege in sight, the royalist garrison holding Colchester Castle surrendered and Oliver Cromwell’s army firmly ended the rule of Charles I of England. To send a clear message to the fallen monarch, the rebels executed four of the senior officers captured at the castle. Yet still, the king refused to accept he had lost the war. As France and other allies mobilized in support of Charles, a tribunal was hastily gathered and a death sentence was passed. On January 30, 1649, the King of England was executed. This is the account of the fifty-nine regicides, the men who signed Charles I’s death warrant. Recounting a little-known corner of British history, Charles Spencer explores what happened when the Restoration arrived. From George Downing, the chief plotter, to Richard Ingoldsby, who claimed he was forced to sign his name by his cousin Oliver Cromwell, and from those who returned to the monarchist cause and betrayed their fellow regicides to those that fled the country in an attempt to escape their punishment, Spencer examines the long-lasting, far-reaching consequences not only for those who signed the warrant, but also for those who were present at the trial and for England itself. A powerful tale of revenge from the dark heart of England’s past, and a unique contribution to seventeenth-century history, Killers of the King tells the incredible story of the men who dared to assassinate a monarch.

352 pages, Hardcover

First published September 11, 2014

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Charles Spencer

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 184 reviews
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
November 26, 2016
Charles persisted with his heartening thought: “I go from a corruptible crown to an incorruptible crown; where no disturbance can be, no disturbance in the world”


Thus spoke Charles I just moments before his execution; it’s almost like he recognised the limits of kingship, and that he wasn’t the perfect monarch. Perhaps he understood why people revolted against him, but he was still King: he was going to do things his way. His trial is reported meticulously here, for all his supposed crimes he was still the head of state. To be trialled in such a way must have exasperated him. I loved the way Spencer relayed the minor detail of him dropping his cane, and being utterly undignified when nobody knelt to pick it up for him. Such a small detail captures the essence of this hopeless situation.

His execution soon followed. The event felt dramatic, justifiable and at the same time completely wrong. I think Charles played on this extremely well; he carried himself with Christ like bearing as he approached the block. He was even asked for one a little bit taller; he was, of course, refused, but such an action signifies that he considered himself no less that a martyr walking to his doom. He didn’t recognise the authority of the judging body, ignored arguments made by parliament, refuted all claims of crime on his part and, in the process, allowed his execution to be seen as nothing short of murderous regicide. Despite what you think of his reign as King, you have to hand it to him; he knows how to go down in style. I've much respect for him here, to walk to his death with such strength to maintain his regal poise.


Following this the book moves on to the events that lead to the crumbling of the newly emerged republic, the chief one being the death of Cromwell. Without the Lord Protector the reformists were completely vulnerable and quickly fell to the rising tide of royalists. The surviving members of his government had little hope of defeating the re-emergence of their rivals. Charles II wanted blood; he wanted revenge for his farther and his “rightful” crown. What follows is a manhunt, a bloody hunting down of the killers of the King- every last man who signed Charles I death warrant.

At times this felt like it was a novel. The way the author delivered it was intelligent and intense. I love history, and these men were completely unknown to me. Their stories here were revealing and powerful, and the fates they received brutal and extraordinary. This a great historical account of the men who dared to kill a King.

A solid fours stars
Profile Image for Nicole~.
198 reviews252 followers
December 17, 2015
On the chilled winter day of January 30th 1649, biting winds blowing off the frozen Thames would have easily sliced through the two shirts beneath his doublet, as Charles I ascended the scaffold erected at Whitehall to offer his final speech to whomever in the crowd could hear it and, to those who sealed his impending fate - his 'king-killers:' "I have forgiven all the world and even those in particular that have been the chief causes of my death...God forgive them," evoking some say, purposefully, the illusion that he was made to suffer and was sacrificed in Christ-like fashion. With dramatic flair, Charles instructed the axeman: "I shall say but very short prayers and when I thrust out my hands.." it would be the signaling gesture to let the blade fall. Certainly in medieval times, in a country that had only known rule by 'God's anointed King,' to kill a monarch would be considered the worst of sins.

Charles Spencer ( brother of the late Princess Diana ) gives us an easy- to- read- albeit a bit too watery- account of the events leading up to Charles I's capture (ending the first Civil War), his trial and execution. From the making of the new Republic to Cromwell's rise as Lord Protector with such power that he even considered kingship himself, "there were many with a hand in the death of the King who watched with horror and concern, as their suspicions about Cromwell's limitless ambition seemed set to become reality: horror, because they had not ended one man's life and absolute rule to see another govern as an autocrat in his place; concern, because they feared this character flaw in one might leave them all vulnerable to the Royalist resurgence." p.82

The eventual Stuart Restoration and Charles II's enthronement proceeded while continental Europe was scoured in a raging, vengeful manhunt to bring to justice, by blood and blade, anger and revenge, those responsible for Charles I's death - the 'regicides,' victims of gruesome thuggery at the hands of Charles II's mafia-style royalists. We all have seen the Godfather, so we know if you mess with Don Corleone, there's going to be payback.

Spencer's brush-over on questions of the significantly egregious issues that brought Charles to trial; why was the axe chosen over life imprisonment; why the relentless, vicious pursuit of the regicides across Europe and as far as America: led me to choose one of his bibliographies for further reading, bringing me to a copy of The Tyrannicide Brief (written by British barrister Geoffrey Robertson ) which surprisingly revealed, when the two books were compared, an uncanny use of the same extractions, details, points of interest, inferences, discourse, quotes and assertions. It is almost as if Spencer's primary source of information came directly from Robertson's much clearer, detailed, precise book which analyzed the ground breaking legal relevance of revoking monarchal impunity and bringing a tyrant ruler to justice.

Medieval history readers who want a glossary of the persons instrumental in bringing down a weak, self indulgent, flubbering 17th century king, Spencer's book is sufficient, I suppose. For the rest who seek depth and originality, more substance about Charles I and the judges labelled his 'regicides,' the legal brief that was precedent in trying a monarch for crimes against his people in a court of law, a better understanding of the political issues and laws based on the Magna Carta, that “No free man shall be taken or imprisoned, or be deprived of his freehold, or liberties, or free customs, or be detained, or exiled, or any otherwise destroyed; nor will we pass upon him, or condemn him, but by the lawful judgement of his peers, or by the law of the land” (Clause 29, Magna Carta), securing the rights of the common man against megalomaniac, genocidal rulers, try The Tyrannicide Brief.

Read 2014
A little comic relief after the solemnity, courtesy of John Cleese et al., Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975):

Arthur: I am your king.

Woman: I didn’t know we had a king. I didn’t vote for you.

Arthur: People don’t vote for king.

Woman: How did you become king?

Arthur: The Lady of the Lake. Her arms clad in the purest shimmering samite held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by divine authority that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king.

Man: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from a farcical aquatic ceremony.

Arthur: Be quiet.

Man: You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just because some watery tart threw a sword at you.

Arthur: Shut up.

Profile Image for Sud666.
1,978 reviews161 followers
December 14, 2022
Charles I, King of England, was mired in a great deal of trouble. Economic issues and religious differences were causing difficulties with his unruly subjects. Events lead to a head in 1642 resulting in the English Civil War. By 1646, Charles's Royalist forces were defeated by Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army. Charles's capture ended the First Civil War, but caused a serious question to be raised by the disparate forces of the Anti-Royalists: What to do with the defeated King?

This is the story of the trial and the major players who called for the killing of a King. As we are able to understand the various reasons for, and against, killing a monarch we slowly see the gains of the conflict start to devolve. Cromwell slides towards autocracy and in the end, the result is the return of a Monarchy in the form of Charles II, the story ends with the fate of the few remaining fools who dared to kill an anointed King and assumed they would be able to get off scot free.

An interesting book about an interesting historical event. The moods of the people were deeply influenced by a strict religious outlook which assumed 1666 (due to the date) was the End of the World. Of course, this was untrue and the resulting fallout was predictable.

An interesting book about this period of Civil War. A good view into the mindset of the Cromwellian Anti-Royalist outlooks.
Profile Image for Orsolya.
617 reviews287 followers
April 21, 2015
There truly were no worse crimes in England’s monarchial history than treason and/or the threat of regicide; especially when this is done in the name of the government and the people. Seventeenth-century England suffered from civil wars, the trial and execution of King Charles I, and the ‘rule’ under Oliver Cromwell as a result of these behaviors. Who were the men single-handedly responsible for this upheaval? What strategies did they take? Charles Spencer portraits the men and events in, “Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I”.

Spencer’s “Killers of the King” is a heady, academic piece concentrating on the political and military maneuverings surrounding the cause and effects of the execution of Charles I. Spencer’s prose is scholarly and lacks biases (which is a positive trait); but also is absent in any emotion making “Killers of the King” dry and more of a recap.

“Killers of the King” features and describes a multitude of men which, along with the tone, can certainly overwhelm readers new to the topic or without a heavy interest in the history of this time period. Plus, Spencer sometimes over-describes events and uses too much academic jargon resulting in a bit of an “eyes glazing over”-reaction from the reader.

Despite these criticisms, “Killers of the King” is indeed readable, as it is meticulously researched and has a sort of criminal trial/journalistic feel. Spencer reveals a plethora of information which is often glossed over by other authors and will thus bring illumination and clarity to even those readers with knowledge on the topic. In addition, Spencer offers full quotes from documents and primary sources which helps explain the actions involved in the events with a clear visionary view.

The biggest achievement of Spencer is the organization within “Killers of the King”. Even with the surplus of information presented; the flow is smooth, precise, and makes sense. Although it is a bold statement to make; “Killers of the King” is one of the best compartmentalized writings on the topic.

Halfway through, “Killers of the King” suffers from a problem with consistency. Some areas are richly deep in detail while others are merely overviews of the topics. This leads into tedium of merely explaining the background of each figure involved in Charles’s execution and his eventual fate. The writing style in these chapters doesn’t necessarily make edgy reading (although Spencer does try) and instead reads somewhat like a court report.

The slower pace gains more momentum in the final quarter of the book during which Spencer focuses on the exiled regicides who were hiding out in the New England Colonies. Including tales of wars with Native Americans, hidden compartments in houses, and cave dwellings; the close of “Killers of the King” sounds like the plot to a film and leaves the text on a memorable note.

“Killers of the King” features a section of glossy color plates which supplement the text while sources also suggest further research. However, the notes are not annotated for those who like to fact-check.

Without a doubt, “Killers of the King” highlights a captivating angle and thesis focusing on the men responsible for the execution of King Charles I. The accounts are vivid with details and the personalities beg to be further explored or to become the subjects of historical fiction novels. The major issue, however, with “Killers of the King” is that Spencer seemed to try too hard to be academic which resulted in a dry and somewhat listless piece. Despite this execution flaw; “Killers of the King” is suggested for those readers interested in Stuart England.
Profile Image for Geevee.
360 reviews213 followers
June 5, 2018
A very readable and informative book on the aftermath of the execution of King Charles I. The aftermath being in essence the hunt for the people who signed the death warrant, attended court, imprisoned or indeed were believed to have swung the axe (2 men both masked).

The first part of Charles Spencer's account has some background to the sitting king and the events of the English Civil War that lead to his military defeat, capture and imprisonment. Building from this is where many of the regicides (those named for having killed or played a part in killing the king) first appear as politicians, soldiers and preachers on the Parliamentarian side.

As Charles and his Royalist army is defeated and the king imprisoned and moved around various sites, the men and the events they are part of move through various choices and suggested outcomes to one of execution: in part the king plays his own part by continuing to see himself as God's appointed representative and above the arguments and laws that incarcerate him and remove him as monarch.

The king's trial and lead up to the events of the execution are well covered and are written in a fast moving yet detailed way. The author then progresses to the Cromwell years and the Protectorate and eventually to the Restoration (the award of the throne to Charles I's so Charles II). As Charles II takes power and re-establishes the monarchy the stories of the men are viewed as regicides take shape as they are formally asked to attend hearings or hand themselves in. Those who take guarantees of safety as solid and reliable soon discover there is nothing of foundation to those words as they are summarily dealt with by courts concluding in guilty verdicts and horrific and painful executions of hanging, drawing and quartering.

Others soon hide: in England, in Europe and even as far as the new colony of America. But no location or distance appears to be safe as men are sent to capture and/or kill their regicide quarry. The regicides live varying lives but always on their guard and often in disguise and hidden away in small rooms or nooks & crannies and even in caves. Their worries, fears and sadness at their own capture, the loss of friends and indeed absence of family are painfully and insightfully told using letters and other records.

Overall the book provides a good (and for me riveting) read on who these men who killed a king were and how the returned establishment hunted them down mercilessly; some did successfully disappear but for many they were caught and their families shamed and ruined.

For this lay reader the sources seemed detailed and accurate so that contemporary or near contemporary quotes, letters and documents are used extensively and provide lots of background and helpful first-hand input to the book.

Charles Spencer himself is a well-respected author who has written other best-selling history books such as Blenheim by Charles Spencer Blenheim and on his family and their home: The Spencer Family by Charles Spencer The Spencer Family and Althorp The Story of an English House by Charles Spencer Althorp: The Story of an English House. His formal title is Earl Spencer - he is the 9th Earl whose sister was Princess Diana.

Recommended for those who enjoy English civil war history, or those who like their non-fiction history with lively characters and a good story.
Profile Image for happy.
303 reviews97 followers
March 31, 2023
I've recently read a couple of books on the fates of some of the men who signed Charles I's death warrant and escaped to the New World. In this narrative, Charles Spenser looks at the fates of all the 80 or so men who were directly involved with the execution of Charles I, including the 59 men who signed his death warrant.

In addition to the fates of the 80 men, Mr. Spencer looks at just how England got to the point of executing an anointed King. Roughly the first half of the narrative discusses the English Civil Wars in the 1640s/50s and how they evolved from a dispute over just who was in charge of the government to deciding that the King had committed Treason and should be both executed and a Republic replace the Kingdom. Mr. Spence then goes on to look at just how Olivier Cromwell became king in all but name. After Cromwell’s death, it did not take long for Parliament to decide, if we are going to have a king, let’s have a king and they invited Charles’ son, Charles to take the throne.
When Charles II was restored to the throne, he issued a pardon to all those who had supported Parliament in the Civil War, except those 80 or so men who were directly involved with the execution of his father. He wanted those men to die a traitor’s death - hanging, drawing and finally beheading and the bodies quartered.

He even had those how had already passed away disinterred, their corpses beheaded and quartered - including Cromwell.

He also offers an explanation of the symbolism behind for each step of the drawing and quartering process. It was just a very painful and drawn out (pun intended) way to kill someone. Each step had symbolism behind it.

This is rather grusome, so I've put it in spoiler

The regicides for the most part fled England; escaping to Holland, Switzerland and in a few cased the New England Colonies. Mr Spencer tells the story of how Charles II's Gov't tracked them down and either convinced them to return to England, or just attempted to assassinate them where they were. The assissins were sometimes successful, but often times not. Many of them did die natural deaths - though far from England.

Surprisingly some of regicides actually surrendered and begged mercy. Most didn't receive it and were hung, drawn and finally quartered. The author gives a fairly graphic description of just what happens when one in executed in such a fashion. It is not for the faint of heart.

I found this an interesting read, but a bit dry in spots. Solid 4 star read.
Profile Image for Andrea Zuvich.
Author 6 books216 followers
September 10, 2014
A few months ago, I found out about this upcoming release from Charles Spencer. Naturally, given its subject matter, I was excited. I was jumping up and down when I received an advanced copy of “Killers of the King - the Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I”. I’ll be frank, this was the first history book I’ve read by Spencer, even though he has written several best-selling history books, many of which relate to the 17th-century, including a biography of Rupert of the Rhine.

I found this book to be utterly absorbing, exceptionally well-written and detailed. Spencer's numerous sources show someone who has spent a very long time sifting through archival documents. All of his efforts have culminated in a fine historical work that is sure to be of interest to historian and general history reader alike.

Read the full review at The Seventeenth Century Lady
Profile Image for David Eppenstein.
700 reviews152 followers
June 14, 2023
I purchased this book because this author had written another book that I recently read and enjoyed,The White Ship about the untimely death of the young son and heir to the throne of England's King Henry I. English history is a favorite of mine and as those histories go this was a good one. So based on that experience when I became aware of this recently release book I purchased it. Now, unfortunately, I can only give the book my modest 3 star rating meaning that it's a good book and worth its price and time to read but not a great book. The problem? The book is about the execution of England's King Charles I, the rise of Cromwell and the Protectorate, and the Restoration of Charles II and the pursuit of the regicides. Sure sounds like it should be a great history, right? I thought so but there is a serious defect in the telling of this story. The story starts almost immediately with the execution of Charles and then launches into the consequences of killing the king and establishing a new government. In this case it appears that the people of England overthrew a king and then replaced him with a repressive military dictatorship. Not a very good swap in anybody's book but that's what they got. What the reader is faced with is not knowing who to sympathize with, who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. The reason for this is that the author completely neglects to provide the story about why Charles was so bad a king that the people wanted to overthrow him. Was he really all that bad and the Parliamentarians a bunch of heroes or were they just a group of ambitious and greedy usurpers and the Royalists a bunch of misunderstood nobles and royal fanboys? This book only provides 2/3's of the story about Charles and Parliament and then the Restoration. Because of this failing what we have here is an incomplete history and unanswered questions.

Now there is an additional curiosity raised by this book and its author. When I read The White Ship it included a photo of the author and I admit I didn't pay too much attention to it at that time though it did strike me as being a familiar face. Then I got this book and another photo was included on the jacket and the familiarity was more striking. I had seen this man before but I couldn't place the face. I then showed the photo to my wife and asked her if she recognized the author. She looked at it and said "That's Princess Diana's brother". Just to be certain I Googled the author and indeed he is Princess Di's brother. Now the curiosity. Could there be a personal reason why Charles Spencer would be writing a history of the execution of King Charles I to be released so closely to the coronation of his former brother-in-law King Charles III? We'll never know but the subject and the timing seems a bit too much to simply be a coincidence doesn't it?
Profile Image for Emily Ross.
1,085 reviews23 followers
December 31, 2018
This is not a book you can read without knowing about the era and the background of the period. It was incredibly dense and detailed, but not about the details that really mattered. In reading this, I still don't know why this group of men killed Charles I, anything about the Civil Wars or anything about the Restoration.

However, it did give an encyclopaedic knowledge of Cromwell and a few others of the regicides.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,801 reviews297 followers
June 22, 2021
interesting detailed book looking at the lead up to Charles I beheading at Whitehall and the events after the restoration in 1660 and the gradual hunting down of the regicides.
Profile Image for Kevin.
134 reviews41 followers
August 14, 2016
Charles Spencer (brother of the late Lady Diana Spencer) crafts an historical, almost detective in places, tale about how Charles II sought out, hunted down and killed the remaining regicides who were responsible for the execution of his Father - Charles 1st, during the English Civil War of the 1640's. An impressive book in the sense of the amount of work needed to uncover the fates of the remaining regicides eleven years after Charles 1st was beheaded in 1649, after the Restoration and ascension to the throne of Charles II in 1660 (yes, Britain was a Republic for just over ten years). Charles II initially promised leniency if the remaining regicides handed themselves over (the Act of Indemnity), but it appears vengeance was on the Royalists minds as at least twelve of the ones who gave themselves up were butchered publicly (hung, drawn and quartered). The bodies of Oliver Cromwell and other notable New Model Army Commanders were also exhumed and hung in their shrouds, their skulls later stuck on pikes outside Westminster. However, the ones who never rescinded or willingly gave themselves up fled abroad or hid, and this is the main chunk of what Charles Spencers' book is concerned with.

I am not going to go into great depth with this review, the whole matter is unsettling to me and I am not entirely sure why. Let it be known that, a onetime friend of Oliver Cromwells, who did well during the Civil War being a Parliamentarian, a certain George Downing, found out where three of the regicides were sheltering in Holland. After befriending and saying he had no warrant for their arrest, he betrayed them and sent them back to England to face trial and eventual death, in the same manner as mentioned above. George Downing became stupendously rich and was given a baronetcy by Charles II for this act of betrayal and treachery. He developed property in London, which is where the name 'Downing Street' comes from as that was one of his developments. Not good for our Prime Ministers residing there. I digress. The regicides who made it across the Atlantic to New England remained undiscovered, although two of them, William Goffe and Edward Whalley, despite avoiding capture from Charles' agents, had to live in hiding until the end of their days in a small colonial town called Hadley in Massachusetts. There are apparently streets in that area today named after the regicides the community harbored, as well as a local myth called the 'Angel of Hadley', whereby it is rumored that William Goffe, now an old man, organised the villagers to repel an attack of Native Americans, using his old military skills gained in the New Model Army.

What struck me the most however about this study, was the belief that the regicides had about signing Charles 1st' death warrant - they really justified it with staunch religious belief. The ones who were executed died piously, bravely, believing that they had done right to stop the conflict in England during the Civil War. Some died very brave in the face of a public execution and knowing they would not have a proper burial, being disinherited and leaving their families poor. Also, this was the first time a King, a so-called 'divine' being had been tried and executed, away from the untouchable idea that to kill a 'divinely appointed' ruler would be against Gods Law. 'The Divine Right of Kings' prior to 1649 seemed unassailable. A popular uprising had overthrown a Monarch, something that would become more popular in the next 150 years starting in 1789 and onwards. However, the retribution from doing so was extremely savage and severe. A good balanced tale/study.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,673 reviews489 followers
December 14, 2014
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
To change any portrait of Charles I of England to a saint’s image, simply add a halo. From the removal of centuries it is impossible for anyone in know to separate that portrait from the tragic ending. Charles I always seems about to weep or shake his head in disappointment whereas any portrait of his eldest son, Charles II, always seems about to knock some women over and tup her.

Killers of the King isn’t about Charles I or II, though both men hover over the narrative and take over in parts. Regardless, the book isn’t a hagiography. It is, as the title indicates, about the fate of the men who signed Charles I’ s death warrant, who arranged for his head to leave his body. The later Romans who turned a man into a de facto saint.

Of course, it isn’t quite about the men who killed the king or the men who tried to save the nation, depending upon whose side you are on. It’s about the hunt of them after the executions of Charles, a hunt that starts before the Restoration and continues long after.

While Spencer does seem to be more of a Royalist than a Roundhead, often the Roundheads are dealt with in a sympathetic matter, the cost that they paid, not so much in terms of blood but in connection, or lack thereof, to their families as some of the men are forced to become what were then, world travelers.

In America it seems that we look at the English Civil War in one (or a combination) of three ways: (1) A war that in some way lay the foundation for the American Revolution, (2) something those crazy Brits did that means nothing to else or (3) what are you talking about. Yet, Spencer shows that there is a connection that those outside of New England (and perhaps even there) have forgotten for some of the Regicides traveled to America, and some of the history about this event, in particular a story about a cow herd, show that the Revolutionary spirit was alive and well before the American Revolution, and in fact, indicate that Jefferson’s charges in the Declaration go back further than most people are aware.

There is also a connection to more modern concerns because the hunt for the Regicides went beyond the borders of England, in particular, to the Netherlands and that echoes those concerns we have today about jurisdiction and extradition. The case described in this book, reminds one of the capture of Eichmann by Israel.

Spencer’s style isn’t the best. Other writers, Ackroyd and Starkey for instance, have a far more conversational style. Spencer’s style borders on that of a lecture, but an entertaining one that doesn’t ignore the more interesting, if slightly less important, aspects of the story. Considering that I wasn’t fully aware of Spencer being that Spencer until after I started reading the book, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised at how good the writing was.

Highly recommend for those interested in British History.
Profile Image for Eric Ruark.
Author 24 books28 followers
May 27, 2015
Excuse me while I gush... I LOVED this book. It touched me on a personal and visceral level that I’m sure only a handful of readers will ever experience. And please excuse this review if it seems more like a blog than a book review.

Many years ago when the earth was young, I received my undergraduate degree in 17th Century British Literature from Washington College, in Chestertown, Maryland. I studied under Dr. Nancy Tatum, a brilliant mind since lost to time and Alzheimer’s. A new edition of Samuel Pepys’ diaries had just been placed on the college’s restricted library shelf for those of us specializing in the 17th Century to pour through. Dr. Tatum had allowed me to look at the century’s literature through its history. The hours I spent with Mr. Pepys and others were golden. I became fascinated by a string of characters: General Monck, Charles II, Sir John Robinson; the trial of the Regicides.

Then, later in life, when I was planning a bicycle trip across the country, I took a job with a small company that microfilmed books for libraries. The digital revolutions was just peeking its electronic head above the horizon. The company I worked for was located at the base of West Rock in New Haven, CT. Each morning, I would arrive at work and look up its 627 foot sheer face and see a tall pole-like monument that loomed even higher. One day, I took a ride up to find out what it was and was surprised to discover the Judges’ Cave where Regicides Goffe and Whalley were supposed to have hidden in 1660. (Let’s not even talk about the number of times I had taken dates to the Whalley theater to catch the latest movies.)

Needless to say, I devoured this book from beginning to end. It put flesh and blood (pun intended) on a lot of the men about whom I had read and studied all those years ago. It is a well crafted tale of revenge, political greed and religious faith. Mr. Spencer examines the troubles that led up to the beheading of Charles I, delivering an incredibly poignant view of the king’s execution. He then follows the men who signed the death warrant through Cromwell’s Protectorate and their ultimate fall from grace during the Restoration. This is a well paced, impeccably researched work that will thrill the English Civil War ‘buff’ as well as the general reader. It is vivid and suspenseful. In my own mind, I have already begun casting the potential movie. I live on a boat. If I had room for a library, this book would sit right next to Samuel Pepys’ diaries.

Eric B. Ruark is the author of the scifi mystery novel, MURDER BEYOND THE MILKY WAY.
Profile Image for Alex Spells &  Spaceships .
126 reviews25 followers
April 15, 2023
Killers of the King by Charles Spencer is a history book that in part reads like a novel, in that it makes you continue onwards in your eagerness to find out what happens next and at times is incredibly gripping.

Spencer really excels in pulling all the various threads together and telling this story in a really well structured and flowing way to give you this type of immersive experience, where by the end you do feel like you’ve read a story, despite this being a non fiction history book. It is meticulously researched and would appeal to casual readers and academics alike. Those who are not regular history readers will still need to acknowledge that no history book is going to be breakneck speed throughout and you have to read about and learn the context to events but I’m not sure I’ve ever read a history book before in which the author has successfully kept everything just so readable to a wide audience.

This book is about, as titled, the Killers of the King – King Charles I who was executed by the victorious Roundheads after the English Civil War. When his son returns to England around 11 years later and becomes Charles II, there begins a tale of retribution to rival any fictional story. Around the first half of the book looks at the circumstances and events leading up to this and the (arguably more exciting) second half looks at the hunt for and fates of these regicides who signed King Charles I’s death warrant.

The fear and bravery of the regicides and general atmosphere is highlighted excellently and I found it incredibly engaging. There is certainly a sense of morbid curiosity into the fates of these regicides as well and a horror at how the innocent families could be affected, losing their properties and possessions. Spencer is able to take you into the mood of the country and how things must have felt. When the death warrant is discovered and the crown shows less mercy than had been promised and expected, it provokes questions of what you would have done in some of the regicides’ position – hope for mercy, go on the run, hide, leave your family and travel abroad – and where to? We see in his closing statements that the book is dedicated to these men but what is commendable is how professionally Spencer prevents bias creeping into the story as I never felt whilst reading it that there were any opinions or judgements being passed down in the author in any shape or form; a great achievement that really impressed me.

There are some brutal events that occur that will make some squeamish readers perhaps want to wince as they read but they really highlight the predicament these men found themselves in and in some ways tell a wider story of British history as you can see how events here have a wider effect on the future of the country. For example, as time goes on and more men are killed, the public begin to feel more sympathy and there is less thirst for blood. It would only be around 100 years later that the last person was executed by hanging, drawing and quartering (despite the punishment not being abolished until 1870) as some of the regicides are – a punishment commonplace for hundreds of years before these events. It makes you wonder whether such a furious spate of gory public executions in a developing society left a bad taste in the mouth with a more lasting effect.

Ultimately this is an incredibly important period of British history and Spencer is able to clearly educate and entertain on how events could ever lead up to an English King being executed, a republic established and the lasting effects of this. A brilliant book that will give you a different perspective on the time period and perhaps even life itself in some respects. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Heidi Murphy.
15 reviews20 followers
September 8, 2014
I was pre-disposed to love this book as it covers the era I studied in university, this is a beautifully written account of, what is, a dramatic and complex period, meticulously researched with some superb and well-chosen quotes from the various sources. The Civil War, Commonwealth and Restoration eras are complex, and the various factions still polarise opinion today (Cromwell is still loathed and detested by many in Ireland) but Spencer manages to make even this most complicated of periods, and the political and religious factions that developed, accessible and the various individuals who walked the political stage vivid and real.

What makes the book really stand out is that it’s scholarly but also accessible, an unusual combination. Some of the scenes were so well written you almost felt you were there, watching Charles I’s last minute, failed attempt to negotiate his abdication before he gathered his strength and found the courage to die bravely on the scaffold, a martyr for the Royalist cause; Cromwell giggling and flicking ink at his fellow regicides like a naughty schoolboy as they signed the King's death warrant, the horror and disillusionment of some of the regicides as they realised that their dream of a new world, one they believed they had been so close to founding, was slipping away in favour of the murky reality of a Cromwellian Protectorate; the desperate attempts of various regicides to escape the wrath of Charles II and his ministers following the Restoration and the horrific executions of those regicides who were eventually caught.

The regicides were a colourful and eclectic collection of individuals and their stories of flight, exile, assassination or execution are fascinating and Spencer really manages to bring them all to life. Some were farsighted and/or lucky enough to make their peace with the new regime, some had to be sacrificed, the rather sad bargaining of some of the regicides’ families, some desperate to save their loved ones, others more practical, begging the condemned to sacrifice their strongly-held beliefs and plead guilty in order to preserve their fortune, which otherwise would have been forfeit to the crown, it’s all brought vividly to life in this scholarly page-turner. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Katie.dorny.
1,016 reviews529 followers
February 28, 2022
A very interesting look at a well known piece of history from a different angle.

British history knows the story of the execution of Charles I. However this is the first book I’ve come across that shines a light on the mood of the public and the parliamentarians who fought bought sides of the story.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,672 reviews303 followers
May 25, 2015
The book begins with a dry and hard to follow narrative. Once the fates of the "Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I" are finally told, the book is better organized and more interesting.

The first part is on capture trial and execution of Charles I. Unfortunately, there is little context since the reasons for the Civil War are not given. On p. 127 the narrative abruptly switches to the aftermath of Charles I's execution. You don't really know if Charles II is even involved in justice/retribution until page 198 when in another abrupt change you find that he is very involved.

While those deemed responsible (the author calls them "regicides") were told they would have mercy if they turned themselves in, such mercy for Colonel John Okey was that after being hung he had "... his head and quartered body retuned for a Christian burial" (p. 223). Others, rightfully skeptical of the offer fled. William Goffe and his father-in-law Edward Whalley cleverly evaded capture in the new world such that their lives, deaths and burial sites are incompletely known. Colonel Edmund Ludlow moved around Europe and lived to see the Glorious Revolution which did not bring him any relief from the Stuarts.

The piety of the "regicides" and the bravery of those who aided them comes through. Many suffered through the Civil War, then again as their dream of Parliament was betrayed by Oliver Cromwell and then again by the wrath of the royalists.

This story of the manhunt, lasting decades, and the merciless treatment of the hunted challenges the bon vivant image of Charles II that has come down through history.

The book is good as a reference on those who were charged with the beheading of Charles I. It lacks in providing context for Charles I's beheading and Charles II's vengeance.
Profile Image for Duncan.
364 reviews1 follower
June 20, 2015
Excellent book. Well written and informative on a topic I know very little about.
Profile Image for Jacob Stelling.
381 reviews8 followers
April 27, 2020
An interesting account of the events leading up to and after the execution of the Stuart king, Charles I. The vast majority of this book is set following the Restoration of Charles II, and does read like a cat and mouse across Europe of the various regicides who are wanted for treason.

On the whole I found this book to be quite dull - despite being on an interesting topic and being well-written - hence the 3-star rating. This was because the book felt too long and I got bored due to the depth of detail the author went into on each one, and it became quite confusing towards the end who we were keeping up with. Also, I'd have hoped for a little bit more of background into the context of the period, e.g. Civil War/Restoration and its effects, and so this book didn't achieve what I'd have liked.

Overall, this book was interesting but nonetheless read like dozens of biographies of separate men strung incoherently together.
Profile Image for Emma Davison (A Cup Of Books).
47 reviews169 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
February 28, 2021
DNF'd at 14%

This book is far too dry and academic for my tastes. It assumes a level of knowledge about the English Civil War that I just don't have yet, so I'm definitely not the target audience. Probably a good read for a serious history aficionado with a particularly keen interest in this time period. Not one for someone who likes a narrative style non fiction nor a beginner to this subject matter.
Profile Image for Richard.
894 reviews1 follower
March 30, 2015
Not quite as interesting as I'd hoped, this book delivers on its promise, but little more. Essentially I learned everything about the lives of the men who lopped off the king's head and how they were tricked or captured. This is less interesting than I'd hoped for as the men basically went into hiding, then got caught. Each chapter detailed rather similar ends for all the men.

The highlight of the book occurred early on. Charles I was fearful that his execution would be as inept as Mary Queen of Scots and require three chops by the executioner. "Be sure to use the shiny axe," said a delighted Cromwell.

As one who considers the executioners heroes and the royalist return one of humanity's low points, the material is bit of a dud. However it does deliver as promised and many narratives do not.

Unless you are an English Civil War completist, this book is not really worth the time.
Profile Image for Jessica.
711 reviews1 follower
June 5, 2015
I found this book quite interesting. Some history books can be quite dry and boring when trying to just give straight facts. This book gives the story of Charles I and really more his executioners without just straight dates and places. It tells it in a fashion that makes you more interested in the story than many history books I have read. Top job done by Charles Spencer. I will have to look for another of his books.

**I received this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for a review**
Profile Image for Angus McKeogh.
1,108 reviews56 followers
August 1, 2020
Fairly interesting read about the Parliament figures who created the New Model Army and ousted the royals in England. How that occurred and what happened to them. Of course, it’s essentially one violent ultra religious bully faction removing a different violent religious bully faction, who believes they were divinely appointed by god (never mind their history of killing and war to conquer), from power. Violent bully factions with ineffable views of “higher powers” and their role in this world subjugating and killing to gain control of a nation.
Profile Image for Karen Mace.
1,902 reviews67 followers
June 15, 2021
Isn't history wonderful?! And gruesome, and shocking and fascinating! All in equal measures! I just wish I'd shown this interest when I was being taught history at school! So that's why I'm now grateful for books written like this, that takes a detailed look back at shocking historical events - and what could be more shocking than the people choosing to commit regicide and killing Charles I, their King.

1642 is when the English Civil War began and sets off a chain of events that change royal history forever. And this book brilliantly looks at the events leading up to the capture of Charles I, his trial, his execution and then the aftermath. I loved learning about the politics, the state of the country and to hear more about those 59 people who had signed off on the go ahead for the killing of the King.

It was so interesting to find out about the people afterwards and the power plays - how would the country cope without a King, would the Royalists just sit back and not want revenge (simple answer, no!) and the lengths that were taken to track down the regiciders afterwards, no matter how far away from the United Kingdom they would travel! And just how brutal their endings would be!

I loved the illustrations, the depth of information shared and the fact that history is often stranger than anything we could ever have imagined!
Profile Image for Dale.
230 reviews7 followers
March 24, 2017
If you read this book you will become very familiar with the word regicide. For this is the tale of how Charles I, through his blundering and his role in three civil wars, would literally lose his head to Cromwell and henchmen of his ilk. But the monarchy would eventually be restored and Charles II, in a determined and disciplined way, went after those regicides, both far an near, with every intention of treating them as they had treated his father--and worse.

I enjoyed this book on several levels. First, I knew very little of this time period. I was familiar with Cromwell and his role in Drogheda and similar battles, but I had no understanding of what led to the monarchy being overthrown in the first place. Mr. Spencer's research into the events both before and after the regicide is impeccable. Letters and court documents leads us through the events, and we understand the mindset of both the hunters and the hunted. Interestingly enough, many of the most brutal participants in this tit-for-tat history saw themselves doing the most ungodly things in the name of God. There is, for example, a detailed description of being drawn and quartered that conveys clearly the lengths to which vengeance was exacted upon perceived felons.

Mr. Spencer's book illuminates this period in history in an accurate and detailed manner and suggests that even with the state of the current world, we have indeed made some progress.
Profile Image for Christina Rothfusz.
773 reviews16 followers
June 28, 2020
A fascinating read.

The book follows the execution of Charles I and the men who signed the deceleration and attended the hearings. Each of the Regicides are followed as they deal with the return of Charles's son after the death of Oliver Cromwell.

These men were hunter mercilessly and their executions extremely brutal. The book follows only the decisions to execute the King and does not focus much on the events leading up to he's death and the start of the Civil War - I look forward to reading up on that next.

I do not know much of his part of English history and it was a fascinating read, I spend hours happily reading up on the individual charachters.
Profile Image for Daniel Kukwa.
4,123 reviews92 followers
January 26, 2018
A solid examination of the fates of the regicides of the English Civil War, although the second half is far stronger than the first half. While the second half races along following some interesting stories, the first half doesn't seem to know how broad or how deep to delve into the details surrounding the civil war. The end result is a feeling that there is both too much information and too little...a feeling that doesn't smooth out until it reaches the Restoration.
1,166 reviews10 followers
May 2, 2022
Inte helt hopplöst genomlysning av både processen som ledde fram till inbördeskriget, och processen under och efter restorationen. Det som är konsistent är att texten är långt ifrån romantiserande; snarare får den nästan alla inblandade att framstå som kortsiktiga jubelidioter. På det sättet är det en väldigt engelsk bok, och det kan ibland vara trevligt.
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