On the same day, two murders.
In Delémont, in Switzerland’s Jura, the regicide William Crawley lived with his sister, hiding in plain sight in a pension on Faubourg des Capucins, near the hospital.
As the bells of Saint- Marcel sounded vespers, Crawley’s sister Barbara watched the dark descend upon the town from the second-floor terrace off the kitchen. Although ever vigilant, she failed to notice three figures slip from the Rue des Elfes, come through the black backyards across the street and approach the ground- floor entry of the pension.
A Saint Martin summer, unseasonably hot. Barbara went into the kitchen, stood at the sink, sopped her face with water from the basin. As she bent over, holding a cooling rag to her neck, they grabbed her from behind, muffling a shriek of alarm.
Crawley, working at his desk upstairs in the cramped and stifling third-floor garret, heard the disturbance. A crash of crockery.
“Barbara?” he called, rising to his feet. He went to the stairwell and saw them coming up toward him, taking the steps three or four at a time, a pair of blade- thin men in identical black waistcoats and small caps.
“No!” Crawley shouted, lunging backward into his attic study, groping for his dog-lock pistolet, kept at hand on a shelf near his desk. They were too quick. They burst in on him, the first attacker wrenching the barrel of Crawley’s gun upward. The hammer dry-fired, the powder pan fizzled, then finally exploded. But the lead ball embedded itself impotently in the garret’s low ceiling, showering them all with plaster dust and bits of lath.
Thus he was caught, fourteen years, eight months and eight days after he affixed his seal (“Ego, Hon Wm Crawley”) to a document that doomed Charles I, a sitting king sentenced to have his head separated from his body. Puritan zealots, appalled by the Catholicism infecting the monarchy, demanded royal blood. The death warrant Crawley signed gave it to them.
On execution day, January 30, 1649, the condemned monarch wore two shirts, lest he shiver and seem to betray fear. The king of England, France and Ireland, the king of Scots, the Defender of the Faith, et cetera, asked the executioner, “Does my hair trouble you?” Charles I tucked the royal locks away from his neck beneath a cap, uttered a prayer, then splayed out his arms and received the blade.
And, inevitably, the revenge. It took a while. Charles Stuart, the murdered monarch’s son, escaped (barely) the Puritan furies on his trail, slipped across the Channel to the Continent and entered into a decade of exile. Unimpressed by the young man’s chances to regain his kingship, European royals turned their backs on him. Impoverished and ignored, he wandered, mostly in France and the Low Countries, anguished by his father’s execution, feeling bruised by history.
But the dynastic destiny of the Stuarts took a turn. On September 3, 1658, Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, rebel ringleader and “brave bad man” (Clarendon’s phrase), died while attempting to pass a kidney stone. After two more years of succession chaos, the English Parliament invited Charles II to return home and assume the throne.
Reprinted by arrangement with Putnam, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman.
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