Not just any shoes but reputedly those worn by Charles I on Tuesday, January 30, 1649 – the day of his execution.
For at least 200 years these have been known as the footwear of a martyred king.
Given by Thomas Stanger- Leathes (1791-1876) of Dale Head Hall, Thirlmere, to Peter Crosthwaite in Keswick, they were published as ‘the shoes of King Charles I when he was beheaded’ in the Catalogue of Crosthwaite’s Museum printed in 1826.
When the museum closed in 1870 they were bought at auction by the Lowther family (the Earls of Lonsdale) and then sold again as part of the Lowther Castle dispersal in 1947 to dealer Copper & Adams of James Street, who exhibited them at the London Antique Dealers Fair that year.
Charles the Martyr
When sold again at Sotheby’s in 1949 (the 300th anniversary of the regicide) they were accompanied by three letters written by Hedley Hope Nicholson in his capacity as a member of The Committee of the Society of King Charles the Martyr.
He wrote: “I think it very likely that the king wore such a pair of shoes on the scaffold. He would have changed into them after the walk from St James’s Palace – he took special care of his appearance that day, which he referred to as ‘my second mar riage day’.” Hope Nicholson mentions that, at one point, Queen Mary had been intending to purchase the shoes.
More recently they formed part of the contents of the Old Rectory, Banningham, Norfolk, sold by Bonhams in 2004, when they had made £6400. This time around in Knightsbridge on August 19 the hammer price was a more confident £12,000 (estimate £2000-4000).
Despite the magnitude of the event, contemporary accounts of the execution of Charles I are of ten contradictory and the pictorial evidence is short on precise detail. Most, for example, fail to capture known architectural details of the Palace of Whitehall.
Certainly, no image portrays Charles at his execution in comparable footwear. However, in a painting by Hendrick Pot in the Royal Collection, the monarch is shown wearing very similar shoes alongside his wife Henrietta Maria and their eldest child, Prince Charles.
The Museum of London was due to hold an exhibition this year, Executions, focusing on those who died and those who witnessed London’s capital punishment first-hand. It was to include a vest (from Longleat House) and other items said to have been worn by Charles I when he went to the scaffold – but not a pair of shoes.