Regicide is the killing of a ruling king by his subjects. In a multitude of events throughout history the regicide has been perpetrated by members of the ruler’s family. This was especially the case in Roman history. In some South American Indian cultures the king was deliberately sacrificed in order to please Gods. In Europe, where our four subjects were killed by the people in one guise or other, kings have been removed because their politics were unsound, or because their politicians felt there was no other way.
Feminists will complain because a woman does not appear in our list. Many important queens have indeed been eliminated by their own subjects, Mary Queen of Scots springs to mind, though it was an English queen and cousin who ‘took her out’, very much persuaded by her councillors. General-history.com will examine prominent examples of female regicide soon.
Edward II of England (1284 – 1327)
Edward was the only surviving son (of four), and the first to be Prince of Wales. His father was Edward I (‘Hammer of the Scots’) and his mother Eleanor of Castile. Young Edward was bi-sexual in a time when such eccentricities were treated as that – an eccentricity. He allowed himself to love and be loved by a series of ruthless and ambitious favourites. In one case, the earliest, he fell for a son and his father. These were the Despensers (q.v.), arguably ancestors of Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales.
Favourites tend to use their special relations with kings to further their case, which might be ennoblement, or politics, or merely a collection of riches and power. But Edward is best remembered for his miserable marriage with Isabel, daughter of Philip IV of France. This puissant lady did not approve of Edward’s marital infidelities with men, and took a male lover herself, who turned out to be more ambitious than either of the Despensers, or a Gascon boy of remarkable looks (and wit) called Piers Gaveston (q.v.). Isabel’s lover was Roger Mortimer, who claimed neither looks nor wit but preferred women, more especially if the woman were a Royal princess.
Gaveston was dominating Edward by the year 1304, when both were twenty years old. The barons of England, however, were determined to stamp out Gaveston (who was busy collecting lands and titles) and if necessary dethrone Edward I’s unruly son. Led by the King’s cousin Thomas of Lancaster the barons drew up some Ordinances (1310) which reduced the king’s power, and banished Gaveston. This move did not succeed because Edward promptly called the Gascon back from exile. The barons executed Gaveston double quick.
The king’s prestige fell further when he was ignominiously defeated by Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Edward then tried to upset the Ordinances by annulling them (1322), but his French wife (‘the She–wolf of France’) and her lover Mortimer arrested and shut him up in Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire. Once made captive, Edward was horribly murdered in such a way that no exterior wounds could be seen. Another Edward, Isabel’s sixteen year old son dealt in the usual way with Roger Mortimer and shut his mother up in a guarded convent for the rest of her life, while he went on to become Edward III (q.v.).
Charles I, King of Great Britain (1625 – 49)
Charles was the second son of James I (q.v.) and Anne of Denmark. He spent his childhood watching how his father preferred his favourite Buckingham (q.v.) to any of his children or his wife. He was small in stature, lacking in humour, and believed he was king because God had chosen him.
As he grew up he too was dominated by the charm and ruthlessness of the Duke of Buckingham. When he was nineteen he travelled – on the suggestion of the Duke – overland to Madrid, not an easy, safe or comfortable journey, in an attempt to fascinate a Spanish princess. He went with Buckingham, who seemed to mesmerise him. The plan failed, as the Spanish princesses already had dwarfs at their court (see Las Meninas), and poor young Charles hardly topped five feet.
Charles had disastrous foreign policies (dictated by Buckingham), tried to levy illegal taxes without the consent of his Parliament, was considered too mild in his relation with Roman Catholics, and finally closed Parliament in 1629, ruling without it. He thus created a uncrossable rift between his royal self and the parliament, which would cost him his kingdom and his life.
After Buckingham got himself killed by a religious fanatic called Fenton, Charles fell in love for the first time with his wife, Henrietta Maria, and began listening to his new advisor Strafford. Just about everything the man did was a grave mistake – Ship Money, Bishop’s Wars etc., and he was forced to recall Parliament. The first thing it did was to execute an Archbishop, Laud; after which they lopped off Strafford’s head for good measure. Charles was horrified, but as he still believed he was king by divine right, he carried on in his half-crazed way, trying to arrest five members of the House of Commons. This mistake united Lords and Commons, and a civil war was inevitable.
After Charles’s armies were soundly thrashed at both Marston Moor (1644) and Naseby (1645) he surrendered to the Scots, but this rash move led to his being handed over by them to Parliament in the following year. But he escaped and ran to Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight, where the Captain arrested him. In a farce of a trial, he faced Parliament and Oliver Cromwell, was found guilty of high treason (against himself we must assume) and on a freezing morning in 1649 he had his head cut off outside the Palace of Whitehall. He faced his death with all the courage you would expect to find in a man who firmly believed in The Divine Right of Kings.
Louis XVI of France (1754 – 93)
Louis was the last king of France before the French Revoution (q.v.). He was unwise, weak and vacillating. He preferred listening to his attractive and intelligent wife, the Austrian Marie-Antoinette than any of his not entirely useful ministers. A revolution had been fomenting in France since Louis XIV, and Louis XVI knew it, but he was unable to stop it by supporting economic and social reforms. Try as he might, he could not become the popular leader he strived to be. Incapable of being anything else, he was insufferably pompous due to Bourbon blood and being a direct descendent of the greatest king of France, Louis XIV (‘the Sun King’).
With the revolution in full preparation by the political clubs (q.v.), Louis tried to meet the situation by summoning the largely aristocratic Assembly of Notables (1787), which managed to do nothing to meet the challenges. In 1789 he recalled the States-General, which had not been in existence for 175 years. The Revolution now started in earnest.
The royal family was brought from Versailles to Paris under arrest (October, 1789), but they attempted to escape, a vain hope which ended in Varennes in 1791. Now the Revolutionary leaders (Robespierre et al q.v.) decided their king was a traitor and abolished the monarchy in 1792. Again there was a mockery of a trial, and Louis XVI went to the guillotine in January, 1793. His queen Marie Antoinette followed him to the knife six months later. Austria swore revenge, and later, during the Napoleonic Wars (q.v.) they finally achieved it.
Nicolas II, last Emperor of Russia (1868 – 1918)
The last Tsar was another vacillating, indecisive monarch who believed he was The Father of the Russian People’. His Far-Eastern ambitions led to the Russian/Japanese War (1904/5), itself one of the main causes of the (first) Russian Revolution in 1905.
He was induced to issue the October Manifesto promising a representative government and basic civil liberties. For a while, under the leadership of Stolypin, Russia became more prosperous, and Nicolas even won support for making war against Germany in 1914, but he unwisely took command of the Russian armies himself, when there were others, not necessarily royal, who could managed the job better. While fighting, Nicolas left the governance of Russia, (even more unwisely), in the hands of his wife Alexandra, herself in the hands of Rasputin (q.v.) on account of the priest’s calming influence over the Tsarevitch, suffering from haemophilia.
The Tsar knew nothing of war, or its management, and a series of disasters and humilliations led to his forced abdication in February, 1917. In July, 1918, the Bolsheviks, concerned by the advance of counter-revolutionary forces, ordered the assassination of the whole royal family in the cellar of a house in Ekaterinburg. Soviet Communism was established by the shooting and bayonetting of Nicolas, his wife Alexandra, four teenage daughters and an heir to the throne barely in his teens.