Following the beheading of Louis in Paris, ( http://thisisversaillesmadame.blogspot.com/2013/04/execution-of-king.html)
Throughout history mankind has witnessed and read about great toppling of empires and government, coup d’états and revolutions, none so much as in the past 400 years in Europe during the English Revolution in the 1600’s, the French Revolution during the later years of the successive century and the Russian Revolution during the early 20th Century. These were (particularly the later revolutions) arguably one of the most dramatic, tumultuous and influential stately transformations of mankind. The fall of powerful monarchies was without a doubt a progress to mankind, yet begot terrible violence and the brutal termination of royals. Did the murder and complete termination of royal power (the latter not in England) justifiable and necessary? Could it had been possible for these “royaless” nations or nations like England who killed one, to have avoided these actions and still had the improvement, rights and influence they sought? Was the bloodshed required to have revolution? What justification was there to murder these said nations’ rulers? Was it truly destined to happen?
These events solidified the idea that man and woman can be their own rulers and figureheads, that commoners can also take power or vote. Surprisingly, there are in fact still many royals in power or as heads of state, but far fewer than in the past 700 years, and the majority wield far less hard power today (e.g .the UK and Spain), or are strictly ceremonial powers e.g. Japan. This relatively new reality was inconceivable to most contemporaries of the Ancient Regime, particularly in reference to France, Tsarist Russia or China. Yet again we must ask ourselves, were the deaths and violence in vain and could had the wonderful results been obtained without them?
King Charles II of England and the son of King James, the king who inherited the throne from Elizabeth I, carried on the tradition of the French monarchs and sought to hold autocratic power. This led to much disputes over his will and of shutting down Parliament to get his way. England at that point had slowly grown into a democratic monarchy thanks to the Magna Carta a few hundred years past under the reluctant King John so famously depicted in Robin Hood movies and books. This smaller mode of power was unacceptable to Charles. A little known Oliver Cromwell, descended from a minor noble family from the country, led Parliament into a revolt and waged war against the King and his allies. Cromwell never originally intended to demolish monarchy or to execute the King, but after years of war and the King’s perceived arrogance and struggle with the people over power, he strongly felt demise was needed.
King Charles grew up with very little expectations from his family, as he was both not the first in line (his older brother Henry would die at the age of 11), was weak, small and developed his speech late (http://bcw-project.org). Charles worked very hard to overcome these challenges and to prove his worth as a king. These low expectations and challenges probably played a role in his refusal to bow down to Parliament. Furthermore, Charles was very religious and believed that kings ruled with the Divine Right of Kings, a belief which will soon be revisited in our next subjects of France and Russia. This belief would force Charles and government to fight over power until his dying day. Another major crippling aspect between king and country was his seemingly neutral view on the Catholic Church. This standing can be seen with his marriage to the Catholic Henrietta Maria (the daughter of Henry IV the first King of the Bourbon line), his preference to a more lavish and decorative Anglican Church, and opinion that the power and hierarchy of the bishops and priests were important (www.britpolitics.co.uk/). This was not a smart move in a kingdom that which recently became protestant after suffering much deaths and war between Catholics and Anglicans. A branch of protestants, the Puritans believed the Church should be more pure and simplistic and without icons. They also believed people had a personal relationship with God and thus did not need bishops. Their religious views and influence would certainly play a role in actions against the King.
Prior to utter unrest and revolution, Charles dissolved Parliament three times over disagreements of influence. Upon ascending to the throne in 1625 one of Charles’ primary act was his first dissolution of Parliament. He was then was pressured to intervene against Spain and other Catholic powers in the religious wars in Europe (the Thirty Years War, 1618-48). Charles had the Duke of Buckingham direct foreign policy oversees but his work proved disastrous. Subsequently Parliament tried to impeach the Duke and in turn in 1626 the King dissolved Parliament again. However he had to bring back a third parliament once he needed funds for his war policies (bcw). In 1628, many members created the Petition of Right, which limited the King’s power. Hoping Parliament would help fund him, Charles grudgingly accepted the Petition. However, he simply ignored the Petition, and when Parliament critiqued his religious policy a year later he dismissed Parliament for the third time and ruled alone for eleven years. This sole rule was seen by many as a gold age of peace and prosperity, for Charles ended war in Europe and British economy grew and stabilized by 1635. However Charles still needed Parliament to grant legal taxes, and without it in session had to gain income through unpopular means such as forced loans, the sale of commercial monopolies and ship-money (bcw).
Eventually in November 1640, Charles in need of support so he could collect taxes to finance a war on Scotland, reinstated Parliament. Cromwell from then on emerged from obscurity, became a leader and persuaded the government to not head to the request. Parliament would soon create the Triennial Act, guaranteeing that Parliament be summoned a minimum of once every three years (Cust, Richard, Charles I: A Political Life). This was a major step and began a greater more fierce collision between the people and King. A King or Queen could no longer do as pleased by finding a loophole around the Magna Carta and government. On January 4, 1642, the King stormed into the House of Commons and attempted to arrest five ministers to no avail. No king had ever entered the House let alone arrest its members, and thus this was perceived as a “grave breach of parliamentary privilege” (Loads, David,Politics and the Nation,). The King could no longer portray himself as a figure of order or a civil and just ruler. Parliament soon took control of the government and Charles fled London six days later. About eight months later, on August of that year he declared war on Parliament and thus began the English Civil War (Britroyals.com). Cromwell successfully led the crusade with his Model Army against the King and for democracy. After years of civil war, Parliament was able to arrest the King. Charles was taken to Hampton Court palace where his fate was discussed. Charles secretly plotted a Scottish invasion and escaped by November. Unfortunately, the ill-fated king was recaptured and although a Scottish invasion materialized in 1648, his plotting was all lost and in vain (Britroyals).
While in custody Charles continued to ignore the new courts and Parliament’s legitimacy and refuses to make a plea (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com). Consequently, he stripped himself of any hope and was voted guilty and sentenced to death. This however must be noted was done undemocratically, an action Cromwell had once so strongly championed for. To be specific, all royalists were removed from Parliament and the House of Lord’s voices and opinions were ignored (www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item103698.html). This is very vital to note as the King’s death was clearly carried out illegally and without everyone’s opinions and beliefs. After championing for democracy and fair rule, the court designed a breach in law and order and simply adhered to one opinion. The new regime feared that democracy could have been fought and died for in vain and thus believed that in order to preserve it, one had to postpone it. However, how can one hope for democracy if it is only utilized and upheld momentarily or for when it is in one’s favor? Adolf Hitler used democracy for his favor to become a legitimate rule, yet abolished true law and order once in power. Governments cannot forfeit law and order at any given time, otherwise we have an anarchic, dystopian, chaotic and unreliable rule. Interestingly enough, after King Charles was condemned as a traitor he was cleared of all charges once Cromwell died and Cromwell was instead convicted of treason after his death. Nonetheless from that time on a more authentic and powerful democracy ruled the kingdom and we do have Cromwell for that to thank in large part.
Across the English Channel, a new government also voted for their own king, King Louis XVI’s death, but they went further, the entire royal family. The young king was caught in a terrible time period for an ancient relic. He had little experience or voice for leadership and barely sat on the throne before his wife Marie Antoinette and he faced frustrated and angry Parisians who pressured much economic change. Further fuel to this anger was the fact the French kings, akin to Charles I, believed in the Diving Right of Kings and ruled as autocrats since the time of Louis XIV. Thus, it was harder for the King to understand the needs and influence the people deserved. To address the budget crisis Parliament in 1787 Louis proposed a series of major reforms concerning taxes and expenditures. Furthermore the nobles and government pressured the king to call back the Estates General in the fall of 1788 (chnm). This would open Pandora’s box and allow more frustrated and tired and ambitious people to bring about big change from the Third Estate, the estate of commoners and the least respected and lowest.
The King agreed to transform his Kingdom into a constitutional monarchy and to construct a constitution with the new commoner players, but was hesitant in recognizing the Third Estates new self proclaimed “National Assembly”(chnm). A month later on July 14, the National Assembly began framing and writing a constitution, working for two years until the summer of 1791. It is important and interesting to note that the King was cooperative and popular during this time and seen as the only hope for reform. This period saw little to no desire to extinguish monarchy as many may assume today. Sadly this attitude would soon grew sour, a similar situation as in Russia our next grim subject. While the constitution was nearing its completion, Louis began to notice how it greatly limited the King’s and Churches power. Furthermore, three major radical leaders, the most influential and famous Maximilien de Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins and Georges Danton, desired an even more republican. For instance, the King held the power of veto and ability to appoint ministers in the new government, power they viewed as not republican enough. These men would also soon become the leaders behind the trial of the poor fated King and monarchy itself (http://www.history.com/topics/french-revolution).
After two years of resisting calls to desert his kingdom, on June 1791 Louis finally retaliated against the liberal constitution and agreed to escape and join an invasion with his French supporters and with the support of his brother in law, Habsburg Emperor Leopold II (his wife’s brother). The family narrowly escaped at the small border town of Vareness, and when news let out of the foiled escape, many Parisians were furious (chnm). Louis apologized and claimed he only wanted to prove to the outside world he was not a prisoner of the National Assembly and thus avoid any exterior invasions to rescue him. Most members accepted this apology, fearing any punishment would upset order and welcome invasions from other Kings of Europe. Without surprise this angered many radicals including Robespierre and his friends.
This would prove to be the last straw for the young government, however. The Girondins, a party within the liberal Jacobin Club, which was itself a branch within the new National Convention (a replacement to the National Assembly) would start a war. On impulse they attacked the threatening Hapsburg Empire which would soon prove a foolish decision for the French fought poorly. By late summer of 1792, fearful of being blamed for such losses, the Girondins claimed the royals were “subverting the Revolution from within” and thus to blame for the defeats (chnm). The leaders of the Convention overall opposed holding a trial, owing to the fact it was unclear who exactly was to be tried and how: Louis or the monarchy as a whole, and for what? However “evidence” of documents that were “locked” showed the King was corresponding with pro monarchial exiles who were plotting against the Revolution. King Louis could finally be tried before the Convention for “malfeasances and crimes” (chnm).
Although the Girondins was comprised of many members who sought the end of monarchy, most did not seek to assassinate the king or even carry out a deadly or heavy consequence. However a more radical faction of the Jacobin deputies, the Mountain, which not all Girondins were members of, took the lead. Members included Robespierre and he had long ago severed ties with the monarchy. Many months later this group would eventually overthrow the more moderate Girondins and take lead of the government (http://www.britannica.com). Robespierre claimed that as long as the king lived the livelihood and future of the revolution and all that was gained for the common citizen would be jeopardized. The moderate delegates, “The Plain” would help seal the deal once they supported the Mountain. On January 15, 1793, King Louis XVI was found guilty with a close vote of 361 in favor of death out of a total of 700 deputies (https://www.mtholyoke.edu). The Convention voted to send King Louis to the soon to be famous and dreaded guillotine for treason and in the name of preserving “revolutionary justice” (chnm). His entire family would soon follow with their own grim endings in isolation and fear. A new monarchy related to Louis would reemerge following Napoleon’s reign, but eventually the institution of monarchy would end by the late 1800’s. The murder of Louis was out of fear and the desire to create from anew, yet was not the true goal of this revolution. Terrible circumstances and fear of losing the revolution played the sole part.
Fearing the reemergence of a ruling Tsar, rescue of him, consequently European support for his power, and thus the collapse of the revolution, the Communist guards assassinated him. No one truly knew what to do with the Tsar once on trial, it could risk everything the longer he remained close to being saved. Crowned in 1896, Nicholas was shy, neither trained addecuatly nor inclined to rule, characteristics which did not help the autocracy he sought to preserve among a people desperate for help and change. The disastrous outcome of the Russo-Japanese War led to the slow emergence of the Russian Revolution of 1905, which ended only after Nicholas approved a representative assembly–the Duma–and promised constitutional reforms. The Tsar soon retracted these concessions and repeatedly dissolved the Duma when it opposed him, contributing to the growing public support for the Bolsheviks and other revolutionary groups who promised help and a voice for the people. In 1914, Nicholas led his country into another costly war, World War I,– a conflict Russia was far from prepared to tacle. Discontent grew as food became scarce, soldiers became war weary at the devastating defeats at the hands of Germany demonstrated the ineffectiveness of Russia under Nicholas.
In March 1917, the first revolution broke out on the streets of Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) and Nicholas was forced to abdicate his throne later that month, and in order to ensure safety from the rising revolution, he and his family along with their loyal doctor and a few servants, were first house arrested, and then, in the midst of a growing revolution, sent to a former governor’s home in Tobolsk. That November, the radical socialist group the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, seized total power in Russia from the provisional government in what is now known as the Second Revolution and brought power to the “people”. This claim is now an ancient and tired claim too many revolutions incorrectly claim. Subsequently the new government had the royal family imprisoned in the western Siberian town of Yekatinburg a mighty journey from any political power or scene.
Countering this revolution civil war broke out in Russia in June 1918, lasting until October 1922. This devastating war added further strains on the economy, on the livelihood of the people, and many more horrific deaths numbering at about 9-10 million (http://necrometrics.com). It is important to realize that this conflict consisted of various nations, including Japan, Italy, the United States and Britain. The majority of key players wanted to rid Russia of communism, but not all sought the return of the Romanovs. In July 1918 the anti-Bolshevik “White” Russian forces, with differing motives and political views on the nation’s future leadership, advanced on Yekaterinburg. Local authorities who held the responsibility of guarding the royal family were ordered to prevent a rescue of the Romanovs in fears of a return of royal power and collapse of communism. Following a secret meeting of the Yekaterinburg Soviet, a death sentence passed on the imperial family (http://www.history.com). The Ural executive committee claimed Nicholas was guilty of “countless bloody crimes”, perhaps alluding to Bloody Sunday, a massacre that led to the first Duma, and also perhaps the two recent wars). The committee also voiced fears he would eventually run away and avoid any trials or punishment (Radzinsky, Edvard, The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II). It appears a quick and sudden execution was “necessary” under such theories and fears.
It is highly disputed on what and on who’s authority the Romanovs were given such a sentence. Soviet leaders Vladimir Lenin and Yakov Sverdlov, theBolshevik party administrator and chairman of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, are often painted as possible criminals in the deaths. Of course they never admitted such as charges, no one with an ounce of sanity allowed any ounce of red paint painted on their hands for many reasons; retribution from European royals and a stained image on the “righteous” freedom fighters. There in fact exists a void of any “reliable document proving the instigation of Lenin or Sverdlov. Although no one took full responsibility Lenin and Sverdlov later endorsed the execution and did not bring forth punishment, in fact the executioners were later to be well decorated by the Soviet Union
What is known however is the method and by whom they were physically executed by. In the midst of the nearing White army rescuers, the royal prisoners and their companions were told to wait in the cellar room while a truck would transport them was arriving to the Yekatinburug home/prison. A few minutes later, an execution squad of secret police was brought in and the head of the prison Jakov Yurovsky read aloud the order given to him by the Ural Executive Committee:
Nikolai Alexandrovich, in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you
(Clarke, William (2003). The Lost Fortune of the Tsars. St. Martin’s Press. p. 66)
Today there exists no question that these three rulers had many opportunities to avoid the dissolution of monarchical power or their own life, yet this does not merit a bloody, merciless name for “democracy” or “justice”. Such murders were au contraire counterproductive, immensely hypocritical, cruel and not a result of destiny or necessity. There is much evidence the murders were committed out of fear of a lost revolution or retribution and perhaps by some en lieu of vengeance. Nonetheless each revolution and struggle from there on lost its true purpose, virginity and forever in time memoriam were demoted and branded as controversial and as reigns of terror. Democracy and law and order does not call for vengeance, jealousy, law breaking, but rather fairness, justice and rule of the people, not simply a handful of committees or oligarchs. Allowing such injustice and hypocrisy will only further agitate progress and faith in democracy. Let this be a warning to present and future revolutionaries, Recently during the Arab Spring two leaders were murdered, and yet was that justice or simply fear or vengeance?This half-logical justification for any murder bears resemblance to the revolutionary Committee of France and its argument that Louis posed a threat to the security of the revolution by means of supporting the invading outside forces.