The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man Who Sent Charles
I to the Scaffold
by Geoffrey Robertson
Pantheon, 2006, 448 pages
"To compel a person to testify against himself is a crime against
nature!" Words that we all take for granted in the 21st century was
radical thinking in the 17th century. The Star Chamber was the
means to secure confessions, convictions and death by
These were strong words from an obscure lawyer named John Cooke,
who, as solicitor general, made history in 1649 by prosecuting
England's King Charles I. As we all know, Charles I was ultimately
convicted and beheaded. In 1660, Cooke and the other regicides, as
they came to be called, were convicted, drawn and quartered and
executed for their roles in prosecuting the king.
The Tyrannicide Brief is a well-written book that reads
like a novel. Cooke had the daunting and dangerous task of doing
what was unprecedented, at the time, which was to bring charges
against the king, who was a tyrant. Although Magna Carta gave the
defendant the right to a trial, before his peers, the king had no
peer. Therefore, he was immune from prosecution! Simply stated: The
king can do no wrong!
The book masterfully details the trial, the events leading up to
the trial, and the execution of Charles I. It also discusses the
moral underpinnings of Cooke's advocacy for the rights of ordinary
citizens. A staunch Puritan, Cooke was opposed to the Star Chamber
and self incrimination. Although not called that at the time, and
way ahead of his time, he advocated in legal tracts and pamphlets
for what was essentially a Bill of Rights.
Loaded with irony, the book details the trial of Cooke, who was
condemned as a regicide by Charles II; He was convicted by the same
laws that led to the conviction of Charles I and was ultimately
drawn and quartered, and executed in a most barbaric manner.
Robertson masterfully segues into modern applications of Cooke's
contributions to present day law using the trials of Saddam Hussein
and Slobodan Milosevic as examples.
The Tyrannicide Brief is a must-read for any lawyer
interested in understanding the historical underpinnings of what we
do on a daily basis. I guarantee that you will not put this book
Frank J. Riccio practices at the Law Offices of Frank J.
Riccio PC in Braintree.