UCL News


Press cutting: Saddam joins the slim ranks of contemporary condemnations

8 January 2007

Modern history gives us relatively few instances of absolute rulers being deposed, tried and executed.

All the talk after the hanging of Saddam Hussein suggests that we viewers thought there was some greater codification of the protocols and proprieties than was apparent in the mocking scene that unfolded.

Certainly the hanging of Saddam and the shooting of the Ceausescus lacked the decorously scripted quality of the beheading of Charles I in 1649, which from trial to scaffold might have lent a template. It had "a deliberate air of formality and solemnity," said Dr Jason Peacey [UCL History], who has studied the regicide. There were "rival ideas about how to go about putting the king on trial," he said, but it was decided to "not do things in the dark and in the corner and behind closed doors."

The British monarch never recognized the legitimacy of his judges but still played his role elegantly, even reaching an accommodation with his executioner. "Stay for the sign," Charles reminded him as he laid his neck on the block. The executioner did, swinging the ax only after Charles spread wide his arms in a kind of benediction.

Peacey and his colleagues discussed the "remarkable similarity" of the Saddam trial to Charles's in one regard: The appearance of legality was deemed important.

Mary Jo Murphy, 'The International Herald Tribune'