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Painting of Charles I riding a horse

8 facts about Charles I

Charles I was one of the most unpopular British monarchs in history. His strong belief in his divine right as king and divisive policies left a lot of subjects feeling alienated.

Image: Charles I with M. de St Antoine by Anthony van Dyck (1633) | Public Domain

Born on 19th November 1600 to King James VI and I and his wife Anne of Denmark, Charles I grew up to become an infamously divisive king. From his contentious relationship with the government to his disastrous policies, Charles’ reign was one of the most turbulent in British history.

But who was the traitorous king, and what was he really like? Here are eight interesting facts about King Charles I that you might not have learned in your history lessons.

1. He wasn’t supposed to be king

Charles was the second-born son of James and Anne and wasn’t originally destined to ascend the throne. His older brother Henry, whom Charles was said to have idolised, was on track to reign until he died of typhoid fever at just 18. Dying before his father, Henry’s passing meant that the weight of succession suddenly and unexpectedly landed on Charles, who was just 12 at the time.

2. He was a sickly child

Charles was an incredibly sickly child and it’s widely believed that he had rickets. Slower to develop than his siblings, Charles’ family didn’t think he would overcome his infirmity and expected him to not survive infancy. Because of this, Charles didn’t leave Scotland for the first three years of his life due to the fear that he wouldn’t survive the journey to England.

This mysterious illness that hung over Charle’s childhood went on to greatly affect his later life. He suffered from weak ankles and was slow to hit the typical speech milestones. Subsequently, as an adult, Charles’ movements around the court were often considered awkward and clunky.

3. He had a Scottish accent

Another thing that set Charles apart from the rest of the court was the way that he talked. He was reported to have been softly spoken, with a very light Scottish accent. Reserved and often shy, Charles struggled with a noticeable stammer throughout adulthood.

4. He was a bit of a catfish

We all want to look our best in our photos and Charles was no exception. It’s believed that he was actually considerably shorter in stature than the portraits might have suggested. It's likely that King Charles was also quite clumsy and awkward and didn’t hold himself in the typical manner that we’d usually associate with a king due to his childhood illness.

5. He was a patron of the arts

Charles had many interests but was a notable connoisseur of art. He had one of the largest art collections of any British monarch, including over 2,000 paintings and sculptures. The king’s collection included works by famed artists such as Titian, Holbein, da Vinci, Raphael, and Corregio. As well as his love of Renaissance work, Charles commissioned works from contemporary artists Van Dyck and Rubens, the latter of whom described the king as ‘the greatest lover of paintings among the princes in the world’.

6. He wasn’t well-liked by his people

Despite his kind and gentle nature, Charles wasn’t much loved by his people as a king. His shyness and reservations might have been the mark of an altogether softer human, but the reality was that to the outside world, he appeared to be arrogant and self-important.

This appearance of grandeur was only made worse by Charle’s strong belief in his divine right as king. He didn’t allow anyone to sit in his presence, except for his wife, and keenly pushed for absolute royal authority over England. Many of his policies were divisive and left a lot of his subjects feeling alienated or overlooked.

7. His actions led to the first English Civil War

While Charles’ actions weren’t solely responsible for the first English Civil War, his attitudes towards his divine right as king and religious beliefs were largely contributing factors. Charles was constantly butting heads with parliament as he believed that his royal status gave him absolute power over the running of his kingdom. However, parliament had different ideas. This constant power struggle continued to build friction throughout his reign.

Factor in the opposing religious beliefs between the king and country and constantly struggling finances (Charles had already spearheaded costly wars with France and Spain), and there was a rich melting pot of grievances that eventually bubbled over into all-out war.

8. He was the first king to be executed for treason

Despite Charles’ belief that he had God’s favour on his side, the war didn’t swing in his favour, and he was captured in May 1646. While parliament tried to negotiate with Charles, he refused their bid for a constitutional monarchy and instead attempted to escape captivity. He was eventually tried in January of 1649, found guilty of high treason, and sentenced to death. He was the first and only British monarch to be executed for high treason.