What if you had someone in your family tree who played a role in the beheading of King Charles I in 1649, the only English monarch ever sent to his death? How would that make you feel?
That’s a question Sarah Dixwell Brown wrestles with in “Regicide in the Family,” her lively account of discovering that a distant ancestor, John Dixwell, was one of 59 judges who signed the death warrant for King Charles I following the conclusion of the English Civil War, which had pitted the king’s forces against those of Parliament. When Charles II restored the monarchy in 1660, many of the 59 judges and members of Parliament who had signed his father’s death warrant were arrested and publicly executed in gruesome fashion. Dixwell fled first to Germany, then came to New England in the mid-1660s, eventually settling in New Haven, Connecticut after spending a brief time in the tiny settlement of Hadley.
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Sarah Dixwell Brown is a former writing coach at the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass/Amherst, and is a resident of Amherst. She has also taught at Stanford University, Santa Clara University and Mount Holyoke College, and is descended from John Dixwell.