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Painting of Oliver Cromwell looking at Charles I's corpse

Regicide: 6 monarchs who were killed

Regicide refers to the act of killing a reigning monarch, something that has become incredibly rare in recent centuries. However, our ancestors would sometimes look to overthrow the royal authority. Here are six notable regicides.

Image: Charles I was executed after losing the English Civil War | Public Domain

1. Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard - 1536 and 1542

Alongside his legendary appetite, King Henry VIII is most remembered for his six wives. To recall the fate of each of those women, a handy rhyme has been doing the rounds for many a year – ‘Divorced, Beheaded, Died: Divorced, Beheaded, Survived’. Sadly, for Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, they fell into the ‘Beheaded’ category.

Anne caught the attention of Henry whilst he was still married to Catherine of Aragon. The pair were wed before the divorce was even finalised. A year later in 1533, Anne gave birth to Elizabeth, the future queen of England.

However, Henry wished for a boy and Anne was unable to give him one. Trumped-up charges of witchcraft, adultery and incest saw Anne sent to the Tower of London to be executed in 1536.

First cousin to Anne, Catherine Howard became Henry's fifth wife in 1540. The 19-year-old found herself marrying an ageing king who was pushing 50.

She soon began to seek the company of younger more vigorous companions. Her infidelity was eventually uncovered and Henry ordered her to go the same way as Anne. Catherine was just 21 years old when she was beheaded in 1542.

2. Lady Jane Grey - 1554

Lady Jane Grey came from one of the most famous royal dynasties in English history, the Tudors. Sitting alongside such powerhouses as Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, you’d be forgiven if you’d never heard of Lady Jane Grey. Unfortunately, she has the record of being the shortest-serving monarch in British history.

Known as the ‘Nine Days’ Queen’, the 16-year-old reluctantly reigned from 10th to 19th July 1553 until she was ousted by the more popular Mary Tudor, aka Bloody Mary.

Mary had Jane tried and convicted of high treason. She was sentenced to death in 1554 and was beheaded at the Tower of London.

3. Mary Queen of Scots - 1587

King James V of Scotland died just a matter of days after the birth of his daughter, Mary. James passed away disappointed he’d not had a son. Little did he know, Mary would become one of the most prominent figures in Scottish royal history.

From birth, Mary was a pawn in a game of thrones between France and England as they vied for control over Scotland. In 1558, she married into French royalty and upon the death of the French king in 1559, she became Mary Queen of Scotland and France.

A year later, she returned to rule over Scotland after the death of her French husband due to an ear infection. In 1565, she married her cousin Lord Darnley and the pair produced a son together, the future King James VI of Scotland.

The marriage was short-lived and after a series of conflicts with Scottish protestant nobles, Mary found herself pleading to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, for help.

For the next 19 years, Mary was kept under close watch/imprisonment in various castles and grand houses in England. Then in 1587, she was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle for her complicity in a plot to murder Elizabeth.

4. Charles I - 1649

Like his father before him, King Charles I was a firm believer in the divine right of kings. For Charles, the law was beneath him and to hell with what people thought.

This belief led the king to alienate himself from Parliament, often choosing to dissolve it and rule alone. As one can imagine, such behaviour began to grate with the public as time went by. His marriage to a Catholic didn’t help win him any favours amongst his many Protestant subjects either.

Eventually, Charles’ actions led to the English Civil War where Royalists and Parliamentarians went toe-to-toe for the right to rule the country. In the end, the latter were victorious, and Charles I was put to trial. After 59 people signed his death warrant, Charles’ head went on the chopping block in 1649, heralding a period known as the Interregnum.

A few years later, Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector of England but after his death, the country returned once again to a monarchy under Charles' son, Charles II. The new king vowed to avenge his father’s killers with the creation of a ‘Kill list’ that included 104 names, 59 of which were those who’d signed Charles I’s death warrant. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for many on that list.

5. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette - 1793

Their deaths are some of the most famous royal executions in history and were a pivotal moment in the history of France. King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were the last king and queen of France before the fall of the monarchy.

Ascending to the throne in 1774, King Louis’ reign was marred by a costly involvement in the American Revolution, as well as his own extravagant spending. The country was on the brink of bankruptcy by 1789 and the people had become fed up with French aristocracy.

The famous storming of the Bastille in mid-1789 is often credited as the start of the French Revolution, a period that saw the country transition from a monarchy into a Republic.

Louis and Marie were sent to the guillotine in 1793 for high treason and crimes against the state.

6. Maximilian I of Mexico - 1867

In one of the more unusual tenures in royal history, an Austrian archduke found himself the emperor of the Second Mexican Empire in 1864.

By the early 1860s, Mexico was ruled by a liberal regime. However, Mexican conservatives wished to oust them and establish a new monarchy with a European head of state. To do so, they sought foreign support. With enough royal pedigree for the job, Maximillian was chosen as an ideal candidate.

The French provided the muscle and in 1864, Maximillian was crowned emperor of the new Second Mexican Empire. However, his reign was unpopular both domestically and internationally and after the French withdrew their support, Maximillian’s regime collapsed.

In 1867, the now restored liberal republican government condemned Maximillian to death by firing squad.