The term “regicide” is used in two senses. In the first, it refers to killing or murdering a crowned monarch such as a king. In the second sense, the word is used to describe someone who kills a monarch or participates in a regicide. History has seen a large number of regicides as part of the complex struggle for power in nations all over the world, and the practice is hardly extinct; in 2001, for example, the King of Nepal was killed by his own son.
In England, most people use the term regicide to refer specifically to monarchs who have been killed after legal proceedings. The two most famous regicides are probably those of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed on the orders of Elizabeth I, and Charles I, who was executed by a team of conspirators during the English Civil War. Numerous other English monarchs have been killed in the course of battle or while imprisoned, but English historians generally do not term these deaths regicides.
As one can imagine, the punishments for regicide vary depending on the circumstances of the regicide. In many cases, a regicide marks the beginning of a new government and era, in which case the regicides may actually become celebrated leaders. In other instances, the rebellion and unrest which led to the regicide is put down, and the participants are severely punished. In the English Civil War, the regicides of Charles I were punished retroactively, after the monarchy was restored.
Some other famous cases of regicide include Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, who was killed along with his family in the Bolshevik Revolution, Shaka, King of the Zulus, and Henri IV of France. Other monarchs have died in suspicious circumstances which might be considered regicide, such as kings who have been accidentally killed on hunting expeditions and in the heat of battle. Regicide is also a theme in some myths; King Arthur, for example, was the victim of attempted regicide in many Arthurian legends.
Since monarchs historically ruled by divine right in many cultures, regicide was a serious crime, because it challenged God in addition to the monarchy. The intimate relationship between monarchs and gods was an important part of the tradition of many cultures, from China to England, ensuring that monarchs ruled with the blessing of God. Because of this, attempted regicides were often severely punished historically, to remind restless citizens that the monarch held the powers of life and death over his or her people.