King Charles I’s execution vest is set to go on display in a new exhibition at the Museum of London.
Opening in October, the vest is one of the rarest and most intriguing objects of the seven million object strong London Collection and will go on display as part of the Executions exhibition.
The pale blue silk vest was said to have been worn by King Charles I at his execution which took place 371 years ago.
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 the capital’s uncomfortable yet undeniable past of public execution from 1196 to 1868.
King Charles I was found guilty of treason and subsequently beheaded outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall, 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.
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.
Meriel Jeater, curator at the Museum of London, said: “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.
“The exhibition covers nearly 700 years, a time when public executions were more frequent in London than an
y other town, attracting huge crowds several times a year at locations across the capital.
“Public executions became embedded in the landscape and culture of London, influencing people’s everyday lives.
“Hints of this uncomfortable past can still be seen in the city’s streets today and Executions will allow visitors to explore this grim but fascinating aspect of London’s history through a major exhibition for the first time.”
Executions opens on October 16 at the Museum of London.