The broad definition of regicide (Latin: regis "of king" + cida "killer" or cidium "killing") is the deliberate killing of a monarch, or the person responsible for the killing of a person of royalty.

In the British tradition, it refers to the judicial execution of a king after a trial, reflecting the historical precedent of the trial and execution of Charles I of England. More broadly, it can also refer to the killing of an emperor or any other reigning sovereign.

The regicide of Mary, Queen of Scots

Before the Tudor period, English kings had been murdered while imprisoned (for example Edward II or Edward V) or killed in battle by their subjects (for example Richard III), but none of these deaths are usually referred to as regicide. The word regicide seems to have come into popular use among foreign Catholics when Pope Sixtus V renewed the papal bull of excommunication against the "crowned regicide" Queen Elizabeth I,[1] for—among other things—executing Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1587. Elizabeth had originally been excommunicated by Pope Pius V, in Regnans in Excelsis, for converting England to Protestantism after the reign of Mary I of England. The defeat of the Spanish Armada and the "Protestant Wind" convinced most English people that God approved of Elizabeth's action.

The regicide of Charles I of England

After the First English Civil War, King Charles I was a prisoner of the Parliamentarians. They tried to negotiate a compromise with him, but he stuck steadfastly to his view that he was King by Divine Right and attempted in secret to raise an army to fight against them. It became obvious to the leaders of the Parliamentarians that they could not negotiate a settlement with him and they could not trust him to refrain from raising an army against them; they reluctantly came to the conclusion that he would have to be put to death. On 13 December 1648, the House of Commons broke off negotiations with the King. Two days later, the Council of Officers of the New Model Army voted that the King be moved from the Isle of Wight, where he was prisoner, to Windsor "in order to the bringing of him speedily to justice".[2] In the middle of December, the King was moved from Windsor to London. The House of Commons of the Rump Parliament passed a Bill setting up a High Court of Justice in order to try Charles I for high treason in the name of the people of England. From a Royalist and post-restoration perspective this Bill was not lawful, since the House of Lords refused to pass it and it failed to receive Royal Assent. However, the Parliamentary leaders and the Army pressed on with the trial anyway.

At his trial in front of The High Court of Justice on Saturday 20 January 1649 in Westminster Hall, Charles asked "I would know by what power I am called hither. I would know by what authority, I mean lawful".[3] In view of the historic issues involved, both sides based themselves on surprisingly technical legal grounds. Charles did not dispute that Parliament as a whole did have some judicial powers, but he maintained that the House of Commons on its own could not try anybody, and so he refused to plead. At that time under English law if a prisoner refused to plead then this was treated as a plea of guilty (This has since been changed; a refusal to plead now is interpreted as a not-guilty plea).[4]

He was found guilty on Saturday 27 January 1649, and his death warrant was signed by 59 Commissioners. To show their agreement with the sentence of death, all of the Commissioners who were present rose to their feet.

On the day of his execution, 30 January 1649, Charles dressed in two shirts so that he would not shiver from the cold, lest it be said that he was shivering from fear. His execution was delayed by several hours so that the House of Commons could pass an emergency bill to make it an offence to proclaim a new King, and to declare the representatives of the people, the House of Commons, as the source of all just power. Charles was then escorted through the Banqueting House in the Palace of Whitehall to a scaffold where he would be beheaded.[5] He forgave those who had passed sentence on him and gave instructions to his enemies that they should learn to "know their duty to God, the King - that is, my successors - and the people".[6] He then gave a brief speech outlining his unchanged views of the relationship between the monarchy and the monarch's subjects, ending with the words "I am the martyr of the people".[7] His head was severed from his body with one blow.

One week later, the Rump, sitting in the House of Commons, passed a bill abolishing the monarchy. Ardent Royalists refused to accept it on the basis that there could never be a vacancy of the Crown. Others refused because, as the bill had not passed the House of Lords and did not have Royal Assent, it could not become an Act of Parliament.

The Declaration of Breda 11 years later paved the way for the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. At the restoration, thirty-one of the fifty-nine Commissioners who had signed the death warrant were living. A general pardon was given by Charles II and Parliament to his opponents, but the regicides were excluded. A number fled the country. Some, such as Daniel Blagrave, fled to continental Europe, while others like John Dixwell, Edward Whalley, and William Goffe fled to New Haven, Connecticut. Those who were still available were put on trial. Six regicides were found guilty and suffered the fate of being hanged, drawn and quartered: Thomas Harrison, John Jones, Adrian Scrope, John Carew, Thomas Scot, and Gregory Clement. The captain of the guard at the trial, Daniel Axtell who encouraged his men to barrack the King when he tried to speak in his own defence, an influential preacher Hugh Peters, and the leading prosecutor at the trial John Cook were executed in a similar manner. Colonel Francis Hacker who signed the order to the executioner of the king and commanded the guard around the scaffold and at the trial was hanged. Concern amongst the royal ministers over the negative impact on popular sentiment of these public tortures and executions led to jail sentences being substituted for the remaining regicides.[8]

Some regicides, such as Richard Ingoldsby were pardoned, while a further nineteen served life imprisonment. The bodies of the regicides Cromwell, Bradshaw and Ireton which had been buried in Westminster Abbey were disinterred and hanged, drawn and quartered in posthumous executions. In 1662, three more regicides John Okey, John Barkstead and Miles Corbet were also hanged, drawn and quartered. The officers of the court that tried Charles I, those who prosecuted him and those who signed his death warrant, have been known ever since the restoration as regicides.

The Parliamentary Archives in the Palace of Westminster, London, holds the original death warrant of Charles I.

List of regicides

Different cultures and authors in history have used different definitions for what constitute the crime of regicide, as such it is difficult to make a universally accepted list of what constitutes a regicide. The following is a list of other cases of monarchs in history that have been deliberately killed in some fashion according to recorded history:

  1. 1962 BC Amenemhat I, of Egypt by his own bodyguards
  2. 1526 BC Mursili I, King of the Hittites by his brother-in-law Hantili I
  3. unknown date in late 2nd millennium BC, Eglon of Moab by Ehud
  4. 1155 BC Ramesses III of Egypt from a neck wound inflicted by conspirators
  5. 11th century BC Agag of Amalek by the prophet Samuel
  6. 1005 BC Ish-bosheth of Israel, slain by his own captains
  7. 900 BC Nadab of Israel, slain by own captain Baasha
  8. 885 BC King Elah of Israel, murdered by his chariot commander Zimri
  9. 841 BC Jehoram of Israel, murdered by Jehu
  10. 836 BC Athaliah, Queen of Judah, by rebels that placed Jehoash on the throne
  11. 797 BC Jehoash of Judah by his own servants at Miloh
  12. 771 BC King You of Zhou by the Marquess of Shen
  13. 767 BC Amaziah of Judah assassinated at Lachish
  14. 752 BC Zechariah of Israel murdered by Shallum
  15. 740 or 737 BC Pekahiah, King of Israel, assassinated by Pekah, son of Remaliah
  16. 732 BC Pekah, King of Israel, by Hoshea
  17. 681 BC Sennacherib, King of Assyria, assassinated in obscure circumstances
  18. 641 BC Amon of Judah, assassinated by own servants
  19. 465 BC Xerxes I of Persia by his chief bodyguard Artabanus
  20. 424 BC Xerxes II of Persia by his brother Sogdianus
  21. 336 BC Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great in unclear circumstances
  22. 317 BC Philip III of Macedon, executed by his stepmother Olympias
  23. 309 BC Alexander IV of Macedon, assassinated at the age of 14 by the regent Cassander
  24. 294 BC Alexander V of Macedon, murdered by Demetrius Poliorcetes
  25. 281 BC Seleucus I Nicator, assassinated by Ptolemy Ceraunus
  26. 249 BC Demetrius of Cyrene, assassinated by his wife Berenice II
  27. 246 BC Antiochus II Theos, poisoned by his wife Laodice I
  28. 241 BC Agis IV of Sparta, executed by ephors without a regular trial
  29. 233 BC Deidamia II of Epirus, assassinated during a republican revolt
  30. 227 BC Archidamus V of Sparta, assassinated possibly by orders of his co-ruler Cleomenes III
  31. 223 BC Seleucus III Ceraunus, assassinated in Anatolia by members of his army
  32. 223 BC Diodotus II of Bactria, killed by the usurper Euthydemus I
  33. 214 BC Hieronymus of Syracuse, assassinated by conspirators
  34. 207 BC Qin Er Shi through forced suicide put on him by his eunuch Zhao Gao
  35. 206 BC Ziying executed by Xiang Yu
  36. 185 BC Brihadratha Maurya of India, assassinated by Pushyamitra Shunga during a military parade
  37. 149 BC Prusias II of Bithynia, assassinated by supporters of his son
  38. 120 BC Mithridates V of Pontus, poisoned at a banquet
  39. 116/111 BC Ariarathes VI of Cappadocia murdered by Gordius for Mithridates VI of Pontus
  40. 104 BC Jugurtha, King of Numidia, captured by Roman army, paraded in Rome and starved to death in prison
  41. 100 BC Ariarathes VII of Cappadocia murdered by Mithridates VI of Pontus
  42. 80 BC Ptolemy XI Alexander II, lynched by the citizens of Alexandria
  43. 51 BC Ariobarzanes II of Cappadocia, assassinated by Parthian favorites
  44. 44 BC Burebista, Great King (Emperor) of Dacia was assassinated by the dacian nobles and his advisors.
  45. 44 BC Ptolemy XIV of Egypt, widely suspected to have been poisoned by Cleopatra VII
  46. 42 BC Ariobarzanes III of Cappadocia, executed by Gaius Cassius Longinus
  47. 36 BC Ariarathes X of Cappadocia, executed by Mark Antony
  48. 30 BC Caesarion, executed by Octavian
  49. 29 BC Antiochus II of Commagene, executed by Octavian
  50. 25 AD the Gengshi Emperor by strangulation from Xie Lu
  51. 41 Caligula by a group of conspirators supported by the Roman senate
  52. 69 Galba by the praetorian guard
  53. 69 Vitellius by Vespasian's troops
  54. 96 Domitian by a group of court officials
  55. 190 Emperor Shao of Han forced to drink poison by rebels
  56. 192 Commodus strangled by his wrestling partner supported by a group of conspirators
  57. 193 Pertinax murdered by Praetorian guard
  58. 193 Didius Julianus executed on orders by the senate
  59. 217 Caracalla murdered by a conspiracy
  60. 218 Macrinus, executed by Elagabalus
  61. 222 Elagabalus murdered by Praetorian guard
  62. 235 Severus Alexander murdered by the army
  63. 238 Maximinus I murdered by Praetorian guard
  64. 238 Pupienus murdered by Praetorian guard
  65. 238 Balbinus murdered by Praetorian guard
  66. 253 Trebonianus Gallus by his own troops
  67. 253 Aemilian by his own troops
  68. 268 Gallienus murdered by his own commanders
  69. 275 Aurelian assassinated by Praetorian guard
  70. 276 Florianus assassinated by his own troops
  71. 282 Marcus Aurelius Probus assassinated by his own troops
  72. 307 Severus II forced to commit suicide by Maxentius
  73. 310 Maximian forced to commit suicide by Constantine I
  74. 325 Licinius executed on orders by Constantine I
  75. 350 Constans killed by supporters of Magnentius
  76. 359 Gratian murdered by army faction
  77. 423 Joannes captured and executed by eastern Roman army
  78. 453 Emperor Wen of Liu Song by Crown Prince Liu Shao
  79. 455 Valentinian III assassinated
  80. 456 Emperor Ankō of Japan, by Prince Mayowa
  81. 565 Diarmait mac Cerbaill, King of Tara, by Áed Dub mac Suibni
  82. 592 Emperor Sushun of Japan, by Soga no Umako
  83. 602 Maurice, Byzantine Emperor, beheaded
  84. 610 Phocas, Byzantine Emperor, executed
  85. 618 Emperor Yang of Sui, strangled by soldier in coup
  86. 656 Uthman ibn Affan, Sunni Caliph, assassinated by rebels
  87. 668 Constans II, Byzantine Emperor, assassinated
  88. 710 Emperor Zhongzong of Tang poisoned by his wife Empress Wei
  89. 904 Emperor Zhaozong of Tang by soldiers sent by Zhu Quanzhong
  90. 908 Emperor Ai of Tang poisoned on orders by Zhu Quanzhong
  91. 978 Edward the martyr killed in unclear circumstances
  92. 1014 Brian Boru killed in unclear circumstances
  93. 1072 Sancho II of Castile and León assassinated by Vellido Dolfos
  94. 1174 Andrey Bogolyubsky, Prince of Rus, was murdered by members of Kuchkovich family
  95. 1192 Conrad of Montferrat, King of Jerusalem, assassins unknown to history
  96. 1199 Richard I of England shot with crossbow by Pierre Basile
  97. 1206 Muhammad of Ghor, Sultan of the Ghurid Empire, assassinated while doing evening prayers
  98. 1227 Ken Arok, King of Singhasari, by his stepson Anusapati
  99. 1296 Przemysł II, King of Poland, by the Margraves of Brandenburg, some Polish families, or maybe both
  100. 1323 Emperor Gong of Song, forced to commit suicide by Emperor Yingzong of Yuan
  101. 1323 Emperor Yingzong of Yuan by a plot formed among Yesün Temür's supporters
  102. 1327 Edward II of England after forced abdication on behalf of son Edward III of England
  103. 1328 Jayanegara, King of Majapahit, by Ra Tanca, his doctor
  104. 1359 Berdi Beg of the Golden Horde by his brother Qulpa
  105. 1386 Charles II of Hungary by Blaise Forgách
  106. 1402 the Jianwen Emperor was claimed to have been burned to death in his palace by Zhu Di
  107. 1483 Edward V of England by either Richard III or some other party
  108. 1520 Moctezuma II, Emperor of the Aztecs, by either the Spanish or his own people
  109. 1532 Huáscar, Emperor of the Incas, executed by his brother Atahualpa
  110. 1533 Atahualpa, Emperor of the Incas, executed by the Spanish
  111. 1587 Mary, Queen of Scots executed after a trial by an English court of 36 noblemen over the Babington Plot
  112. 1589 Henry III of France by Jacques Clément
  113. 1605 False Dmitry I, an impostor who ascended Russian throne, was overthrown and killed by a local mob
  114. 1610 Henry IV of France by François Ravaillac
  115. 1622 Osman II of the Ottoman Empire by the Grand Vizier Davud Pasha
  116. 1648 Ibrahim executed by orders from his mother Kösem Sultan
  117. 1649 Charles I of England executed following a trial set up by the Rump Parliament
  118. 1747 Nader Shah of the Afshar Dynasty, Shahanshah of Persia (Iran) by Salah Bey
  119. 1762 Peter III of Russia deposed and supposedly murdered shortly thereafter
  120. 1782 Taksin, King of Thailand, deposed and executed in a coup
  121. 1792 Gustav III of Sweden by Jacob Johan Anckarström
  122. 1793 Louis XVI of France executed following a trial by the National Convention
  123. 1801 Emperor Paul of Russia by Count Pahlen and his accomplices
  124. 1815 Joachim Murat, executed in Calabria by orders of Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies
  125. 1828 Shaka King of the Zulus by his half-brother and successor Dingane and accomplices
  126. 1855 Hamengkubuwono V of Yogyakarta by his fifth wife, Kanjeng Mas Hemawati
  127. 1867 Maximilian I of Mexico executed after a Mexican court-martial
  128. 1881 Alexander II of Russia by Ignacy Hryniewiecki, a member of Narodnaya Volya (People's Will)
  129. 1895 Min of Joseon by three mercenary killers allegedly hired by Japanese minister to Korea Miura Goro
  130. 1896 Nasser al-Din Shah, Qajar king of Persia (Iran), by Mirza Reza Kermani
  131. 1898 Empress Elisabeth of Austria by Luigi Lucheni, an anarchist in Geneva.
  132. 1900 Umberto I of Italy by anarchist Gaetano Bresci
  133. 1903 Alexander I of Serbia and his wife Queen Draga by a group of army officers
  134. 1908 Carlos I of Portugal, assassinated with his son Infante Luís Filipe, Prince Royal of Portugal by Alfredo Luís da Costa and Manuel Buiça, both connected to the Carbonária (the Portuguese section of the Carbonari)
  135. 1908 the Guangxu Emperor by arsenic poisoning, perhaps on orders from Empress Dowager Cixi or Yuan Shikai.[9][10]
  136. 1913 George I of Greece by Alexandros Schinas
  137. 1918 Nicholas II of Russia and the Imperial Family executed by a Bolshevik firing squad under the command of Yakov Yurovsky
  138. 1933 Mohammed Nadir Shah, king of Afghanistan, assassinated by student Abdul Khaliq Hazara
  139. 1934 Alexander I of Yugoslavia by Vlado Chernozemski, a member of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization
  140. 1936 George V of the United Kingdom by Bertrand Dawson, his personal physician.
  141. 1946 Ananda Mahidol of Thailand. The King's death is still a mystery and may have been either regicide or suicide. The subject is never openly discussed in Thailand.
  142. 1948 Yahya Muhammad Hamid ed-Din, king of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen, assassinated in the Alwaziri coup
  143. 1951 Abdullah I of Jordan by Mustafa Ashi
  144. 1958 Faisal II of Iraq executed by firing squad under the command of Captain Abdus Sattar As Sab, a member of the coup d'état led by Colonel Abdul Karim Qassim
  145. 1975 Faisal of Saudi Arabia by his nephew Faisal bin Musa'id (Assassin publicly beheaded)
  146. 1975 Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, widely suspected to have been murdered in his sleep by asphyxiation on the orders of the Derg junta, which had deposed him a year earlier.[11]
  147. 2001 Birendra of Nepal, by his son Crown Prince Dipendra, in the Nepalese royal massacre

Note that some of the aforementioned monarchs, such as Nicholas II and Haile Selassie, have already ceased to be rulers at the time of their deaths.

Regicides as murders

Regicide has particular resonance within the concept of the divine right of kings, whereby monarchs were presumed by decision of God to have a divinely anointed authority to rule. As such, an attack on a king by one of his own subjects was taken to amount to a direct challenge to the monarch, to his divine right to rule, and thus to God's will.

The biblical David refused to harm King Saul, because he was the Lord's anointed, even though Saul was seeking his life; and when Saul eventually was killed in battle and a person reported to David that he helped kill Saul, David put the man to death, even though Saul had been his enemy, because he had raised his hands against the Lord's anointed. Christian concepts of the inviolability of the person of the monarch have great influence from this story. Diarmait mac Cerbaill, King of Tara (mentioned above), was killed by Áed Dub mac Suibni in 565. According to Adomnan of Iona's Life of St Columba, Áed Dub mac Suibni received God's punishment for this crime by being impaled by a treacherous spear many years later and then falling from his ship into a lake and drowning.[12]

Even after the disappearance of the divine right of kings and the appearance of constitutional monarchies, the term continued and continues to be used to describe the murder of a king.

In France, the judicial penalty for regicides (i.e. those who had murdered, or attempted to murder, the king) was especially hard, even in regard to the harsh judicial practices of pre-revolutionary France. As with many criminals, the regicide was tortured so as to make him tell the names of his accomplices. However, the method of execution itself was a form of torture. Here is a description of the death of Robert-François Damiens, who attempted to kill Louis XV:

He was first tortured with red-hot pincers; his hand, holding the knife used in the attempted murder, was burnt using sulphur; molten wax, lead, and boiling oil were poured into his wounds. Horses were then harnessed to his arms and legs for his dismemberment. Damiens' joints would not break; after some hours, representatives of the Parlement ordered the executioner and his aides to cut Damiens' joints. Damiens was then dismembered, to the applause of the crowd. His trunk, apparently still living, was then burnt at the stake.

In Discipline and Punish, the French philosopher Michel Foucault cites this case of Damiens the Regicide as an example of disproportionate punishment in the era preceding the "Age of Reason". The classical school of criminology asserts that the punishment "should fit the crime", and should thus be proportionate and not extreme. This approach was spoofed by Gilbert and Sullivan, when The Mikado sang, "My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time, to let the punishment fit the crime".[13]

In common with earlier executions for regicides:

  • the hand that attempted the murder is burnt
  • the regicide is dismembered alive

In both the François Ravaillac and the Damiens cases, court papers refer to the offenders as a patricide, rather than as regicide, which lets one deduce that, through divine right, the king was also regarded as "Father of the country".

See also


  • The opening speech of Charles I at his trial, The Constitution Society, archived from the original on 2012-05-10
  • Kirby, Michael (22 January 1999), The trial of King Charles I defining moment for our constitutional liberties (PDF), Canberra: High Court of Australia, archived (PDF) from the original on 2014-02-12
  • Da Magliano, Pamfilo, ed. (1867), The life of Saint Francis of Assisi: and a sketch of the Franciscan order (American ed.), New York: P. O'Shea, OCLC 655576151
  • Wedgewood, C.V. (June 1964), A Coffin for King Charles: The Trial of Charles I (First ed.), Penguin

Further reading


  1. Da Magliano 1867, p. 631
  2. Kirby 1999, p. 8 footnote 9, cites: Wedgewood 1964, p. 44
  3. Kirby 1999, pp. 10,13 footnotes 12 and 17. "The record of the Trial also appears in Cobbett's Complete Collection of State Trials, Vol IV, covering 1640-1649 published in London in 1809. p. 995".
  4. Kirby 1999, p. 14.
  5. Pestana, Carla Gardina (2004). The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640-1661. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, England: Harvard University Press. p. 88.
  6. Kirby 1999, p. 21 § "After the trial" ¶ 4
  7. Kirby 1999, p. 21 footnotes 12 and 35. "The record of the Trial also appears in Cobbett's Complete Collection of State Trials, Vol IV, covering 1640-1649 published in London in 1809. p. 1132."
  8. page 19 "History Today", February 2014
  9. Mu, Eric. Reformist Emperor Guangxu was Poisoned, Study Confirms". Danwei. 3 November 2008. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  10. 钟里满,耿左车,李军等 (2008). "国家清史纂修工程重大学术问题研究专项课题成果:清光绪帝死因研究工作报告". 清史研究 (4): 1–12.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. "Ethiopian Court Hears How Emperor Was Killed". The Washington Post. December 15, 1994. Archived from the original on 31 December 2017. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  12. Adomnan of Iona. Life of St Columba. Penguin books, 1995
  13. "The Mikado by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan". Archived from the original on 2 October 2017. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
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