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By Stewart Emmens on

A Royal Execution – Part 2

My post on January 21st marked the anniversary of the execution of King Louis XVI. Clearly, January was a bad month for European monarchs historically, as the 30th marks the anniversary (the 362nd!) of the be-heading of another flamboyant ruler – Charles I of England – in 1649.

Charles I pendant
Pendant with a portrait of Charles I (Science Museum)

The battered little heart-shaped jet pendant amulet above commemorates this particular royal execution. It would have been worn as a piece of mourning jewellery and, like other memento mori, a reminder of death and the transience of one’s own life. But in featuring an image of Charles I the wearer was also making a political statement in perpetuating the memory of the king and the royalist cause. Such pieces, in a range of designs and materials, began to be produced and worn by loyal supporters from around the time of his death on into the Restoration period.

Reverse side of Charles I pendant
Reverse side of Charles I pendant (Science Museum)

But take a closer look at the back of the pendent and there seems to be a clear error. Atop a crudely engraved skull is the date “JANUARY : THE : 30 : 1648 :” – which is a whole year too early.

This discrepancy can be easily explained. In England, prior to 1752, while January 1st was considered by many to be ‘New Year’s Day’, the start of the civil or legal year was actually… March 25th.  As such, under this ‘Old Style’ of dating, his January execution date was recorded as having taken place in 1648. However, following the formal adoption of the ‘New Style’ of dating through an Act of Parliament, the date is now generally referred to as 1649.