Losing Your Head for Dummies: The Epic Saga of Charles I and His Ever-growing Unpopularity

In letter XIX of The King’s Cabinet Opened, King Charles I of England gives advice to the Duke of Ormonde on how to deal with the Irish Rebellion that began in 1641. The rebellion was a result of the Irish people’s desire to gain full rights as English subjects. Charles orders the repeal of laws against Catholics to ease relations with the Irish.

There are many important figures of the English Civil War in this letter. Of course, there is Charles I, the infamous King of England who went up against Parliament and, thus, began the English Civil War. In 1649, he was beheaded for crimes against England.

James Butler, the Duke of Ormonde, was also important. He was in charge of negotiations with the Irish rebels and was a strong military figure in many battles. After Charles’ execution, Ormonde was sent into exile but later regained full power when Charles II claimed the throne.

Colonel John Barry was, famously, in charge of a ship of disbanded and rebelling Irish soldiers when the rebellion broke out. Barry would inform Charles of Ormonde’s failing efforts at negotiation.

Christopher Plunkett, 2nd Earl of Fingall, was an Irish Confederate commander who helped lead pro-Royalist Irish forces during the war.

The letter also mentions Donough MacCarty, First Earl of Clancarty and Viscount of Muskerry. A powerful Irish noble, he aided negotiations between Charles’ forces and the rebels.

Lastly, the King mentions Geoffrey Browne, an Irish lawyer who acted as the middleman in negotiations with rebel forces.

The controversy of the letter is the King’s repealing of laws against Irish Roman Catholics. There were numerous laws in England making Catholicism illegal. “The Penal Statutes against Roman Catholiques shall not be put in execution,” says Charles, trying hard to appeal to the Irish. Charles’ efforts, however, placed him in a tough spot among his fellow Englishmen. The English saw this as an appeasement to Charles’ Roman Catholic wife, Henrietta Maria. “Her religion. . . must be specially provided for,” writes Fairfax bitterly. While Irish rebels were exempt from the law, Englishmen were not, showing that Charles’ allegiances lay more with his wife’s religious preferences than with his countrymen.

Regarding recent events of government exposé, the King’s letter is similar because it reveals government hypocrisy. When the King is supposed to care for his people, he holds a double standard: Catholicism for some, none for others. Similarly, the U.S. government practices an ideological double standard: Preach against governmental invasion of privacy; be knee-deep in surveillance efforts. Whistle-blowing is critical because it keeps this hypocrisy in check. Even in modern cases of surveillance, dishonesty, and unfair treatment, the problem is the same: hypocrisy. People like Snowden and Manning are sometimes the only ones ensuring government accountability.

Citizens don’t like to be lied to. When they see a government not practicing what it preaches, all hell breaks loose, as Charles later learned on the chopping block.

The King’s Cabinet Opened


“The Banality of Systemic Evil” by Peter Ludlow


The Duke of Ormonde


Charles I


Christopher Plunkett


Viscount Muskerry


Geoffrey Browne


Colonel John Barry (Outbreak of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 by M. Perceval-Maxwell)



One thought on “Losing Your Head for Dummies: The Epic Saga of Charles I and His Ever-growing Unpopularity

  1. Good analysis of the letters, excellent research on the people, and you related the letters back to today’s controversies very well.


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