In the turmoil of the English Civil War (1642-1651), an engraving based on this portrait of King Charles I underwent a remarkable number of transformations. The original portrait was painted by Anthony van Dyck in 1633 (above). The French engraver Pierre Lombart then produced seven—possibly eight—versions of it during the tumultuous period in which the monarchy of England was toppled and then ultimately reinstated.
Charles was beheaded in 1649 after being put on trial by the revolutionary Roundheads; England’s monarchical system of government was then replaced with, first, the Commonwealth of England (1649–1653) and then the Protectorate (1653-1659) under which Oliver Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector until he died of natural causes in 1658. His position was assumed by his son Richard until the Royalists returned to power in 1660. Cromwell’s corpse was exhumed, hung in chains, and posthumously beheaded.
For his first engraving (1655), Lombart simply reproduced van Dyck’s portrait of the king but substituted the head of Cromwell, adding a battle in the background and a new inscription; he was paid twenty pounds (roughly $6,000 today). In 1658, after Cromwell had died, Lombart burnished out the head on the copper printing plate (above, left), and substituted the likeness of King Louis XIV of France; two versions of this print survive. Later, for the fifth version, Louis’s head was scraped out and Cromwell’s re-engraved (above, center). Still later, likely after Lombart’s death, the head of Charles I returned (above, right)—and then, in the final version, Cromwell’s was restored. The British Museum says that there may have been an earlier first state.
The trail of Charles I began in Westminster Hall on Saturday, Jan. 20, 1649. The king argued staunchly but desperately against the legitimacy of a court that would put a monarch on trial for treason:
The Act of the Commons in Parliament for the tryal of the King was read, after the Court was called, and each member rising up as he was called.
The King came into the Court, with his hat on, the Sergeant usher’d him in with the Mace. Col. Hacker, and about thirty officers and gentlemen more, came as his Guard. . . .
Mr. Cook, Solicitor General. My Lord, in behalf of the Commons of England, and of all the people thereof, I do accuse Charles Stuart, here present, of high treason, and high misdemeanours; and I do, in the name of the Commons of England, desire the charge may be read unto him.
The King. Hold a little.
Lord President. Sir, the Court commands the charge I be read; if you have any thing to say afterwards, you may be heard.
The charge read.
The King smiled often during the time, especially at the words tyrant, traytor, murtherer and publique enemy of the Commonwealth.
Lord President. Sir, you have now heard your charge read, containing such matter as appears in it; you find that in the close of it, it is prayed to the Court, in the behalf of the Commons of England, that you answer to your charge. The Court expects of your answer.