King Charles I's execution vest to be exhibited

London, Jan 31
A rare, pale blue silk vest said to have been worn by King Charles I at his execution which took place 371 years ago, will go on view at the Museum of London this year.

A new major exhibition, Executions, opening October 2020 will showcase this rare artefact. While usually kept in restricted access in the Museum of London's dress and textile store due to its age, rarity and importance, its inclusion in Executions will play a key part in exploring London's uncomfortable yet undeniable past of public execution from 1196 to 1868.

The Museum said: "King Charles I was found guilty of treason and subsequently beheaded outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall, London on January 30, 1649 in one of London's most high-profile public executions. Following the monarch's decapitation, his body was undressed and items of his clothing were distributed to people in attendance. When the vest was presented to the Museum of London (then the London Museum) for acquisition in 1925 it came attached with a note of authentication that stated the vest was worn by King Charles I on the day he was beheaded and it was given to the physician who attended him."

It added that the vest is knitted of fine, high-quality, pale blue-green silk with visible stains on its front. They 'fluoresce' under UV light like body fluids but could be sweat, vomit or another substance.

The Museum of London also holds other items said to be from Charles I's execution including gloves, a sash, fragments of a cloak and a handkerchief - all of which will also be on display in Executions.

"Being able to include this incredibly rare vest in a major exhibition is exciting as it is key in telling the story of one of the most infamous executions that occurred in the capital. However, it's important to remember that public executions were not reserved only for the distinguished, but that thousands of ordinary Londoners were sentenced to death for many types of crime, from the most serious offences to those that we would consider minor today," Meriel Jeater, Curator at the Museum of London, said.

Executions opens in October and will explore the phenomenon of public execution in London's history through the stories, objects and legacies of those that lived, died and witnessed the events first hand from 1196 to 1868.