Notable Phelps Family Members
John Phelps, Court Clerk at the Trial of King Charles I
King Charles I 1625-1649
John Phelps was a clerk of the Court that convicted Charles I and condemned him to death. Here is some background on King Charles I.
Charles of the House of Stuart was born November 19, 1600 at Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland. He was the son of King James I of Scotland (who upon the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 became James I of England as well) and Anne of Denmark.
On June 13, 1625, at age 25, he married Henrietta-Marie of France (age 16). Henrietta was the daughter of the King of France. Their children were:
- Charles (later King Charles II)
- James (later King James II of England, and King James VII of Scotland)
- Henry and
- Henrietta Anne
Charles' childhood was spent mainly in the shadow of his elder brother, the Prince of Wales. Charles was born in 1600 and married Henrietta Maria, daughter of the King of France. Charles' childhood was spent mainly in the shadow of his elder brother, the Prince of Wales, who died when Charles was twelve years old.
Charles was first crowned February 2, 1626 in Westminster Abbey, in London. Charles managed to persuade his father to wage war on Spain. This war did not begin until Charles took the throne, and it then also became a war with France. War required huge expenditures, which the treasury could not sustain. Charles levied huge new taxes and imposed martial law, making him extremely unpopular with the Nobles and the Commons. He also vigerously repressed the Puritans.
Parliament had a substantial role in the granting money to the king and adopted the tactic of withholding grants until its grievances were redressed. The Parliament of 1625 refused money, demanded ministers it could trust, and was soon dissolved by Charles. That of 1626 was dissolved when it started impeachment proceedings against Buckingham. Charles, to meet his needs for money, resorted to quartering troops upon the people and to a forced loan, which he attempted to collect by prosecutions and imprisonments.
Forced to call Parliament again in 1628, he was compelled to agree to the Petition of Right, in return for a badly needed subsidy. Charles adjourned Parliament when it declared that his continued collection of customs duties was a violation of the Petition. Although Buckingham was assassinated (1628), the parliamentary session of 1629 was bitter. It closed dramatically with a resolution condemning unauthorized taxation and attempts to change existing church practices.
A shy and dignified figure, he was popular at the time of his coronation, but he immediately offended his Protestant subjects by his marriage to the Catholic Henrietta Maria, sister of Louis XIII of France. Charles's favorite, Buckingham, was unpopular, and the foreign ventures under Buckingham's guidance were unfortunate, particularly the unsuccessful expedition to Cádiz (1625) and the two disastrous attempts to relieve French Protestants in La Rochelle (1627 and 1628). Nor would Parliament willingly grant money to help Charles's sister, Elizabeth of Bohemia, and the Protestants, in the Thirty Years War. Charles' reign resulted in the bitter struggle for supremacy between the king and Parliament that finally resulted in the English civil war.
The Commons at Parliament were not happy with Charles' views and ideas. They created the 'Petition of Right', which declared all rulings by Charles illegal. However, Charles immediately dissolved Parliament, imprisoned all the members, and became a dictator for eleven years.
The Years of No Parliament
Charles governed without Parliament for 11 years after 1629, which were marked by popular opposition to strict enforcement of the practices of the Established Church by Archbishop William Laud and to the ingenious if disingenuous devices employed by the government to obtain funds. The royally controlled courts of high commission and Star Chamber waged a harsh campaign against nonconformists and recusants (Catholics), and large emigrations to America, of both Puritans and Catholics, took place. The trial (1637-38) of John Hampden for refusal to pay a tax of ship money greatly increased public indignation. Meanwhile Charles's deputy in Ireland, Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, was carrying out a wide program of reforms through his oppressive policy of "Thorough."
Renewed Struggles with Parliament
As the years passed, it became more obvious that the people were restless. In 1637, The Archbishop of Cantebury Laud forced the High Church liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer into general use in Scotland, which immediately caused rioting. Laud saw the English and Scottish Churches as one being within the whole of the Catholic Church. This change to the religious liturgy completely demolished Puritanism. The Scots were furious and assembled an army in the North of England.
Unable to wage war effectively, Charles in May, 1640, summoned the so-called Short Parliament, which demanded redress of grievances before granting funds and was dissolved.
Another attempt to carry on the war without Parliament failed, and the famous Long Parliament was summoned in November. Under the leadership of John Pym, John Hampden, and Sir Henry Vane (the younger), Parliament secured itself against dissolution without its own consent and brought about the death of Strafford, the abolition of the courts of high commission and Star Chamber, and the end of unparliamentary taxation.
Charles professed to accept the revolutionary legislation, though he was known to hold strong views on the divine right of monarchy. Parliament's trust in the king was further undermined when his queen was implicated in the army plot to coerce Parliament, and Charles was suspected of complicity in the Irish rebellion (1641) and its resulting atrocities, especially in Ulster. In 1641, Parliament presented its Grand Remonstrance, calling for religious and administrative reforms and reciting in full its grievances against the king. Charles repudiated the charges, and his unsuccessful attempt to seize five opposition leaders of Commons in violation of traditional privilege was the fatal blunder that precipitated war.
Charles was forced to face a final defeat after the Five Members confrontation, when he had no alternative but to face a trial of arms. His opposition leader was Oliver Cromwell, in charge of the Parliamentary army. This resulted in the terrible Civil War.
There were no decisive victories in the civil war until Charles was defeated at Marston Moor (1644) and Naseby (1645). In 1646 he gave himself up to the Scottish army, which delivered him to Parliament. He was ultimately imprisoned by Cromwell's army leaders, who were now highly suspicious of Parliament. Charles escaped (Nov., 1647) to Carisbrooke, on the Isle of Wight, where he concluded an alliance with the discontented Scots, which led to the second civil war (1648) and another royalist defeat. Two years of negotiation followed, for which Charles was unsuited. At the end, when Charles was Cromwell's prisoner, he was required to assent to a law abolishing bishops in the Church of England. He had previously given his consent to such an abolition in Scotland, where the Puritans were in the majority, but here he dug in his heels and declared that Bishops were part of the Church as God had established it, and that he could not in conscience assent to Cromwell's demand. His refusal sealed his doom, and it is for this that he is accounted a martyr by the Church of England, since he could have saved his life by giving in on this question.
Parliament, now reduced in number by Pride's Purge and controlled by Charles's most powerful enemies, established a special high court of justice, which brought Charles to trial before Parliament. John Phelps served as a clerk to the court. King Charles was found guilty of treason, deposed, and beheaded on Jan. 30, 1649 at Whitehall, London, England. He was buried in St. George's Chapel, Windsor, Berkshire, England. To the royalists he became the martyred king and author of the Eikon Basilike. By his opponents he was considered a double-dealing tyrant.
When King Charles' successors regained power, both court clerks Andrew Broughton and John Phelps found it expeditious to leave England. They lived out their lives in exile, convicted in absentia and sentenced to death, in Vevay, Switzerland. American descendant and ambassador to Germany Wlliam Walter Phelps later erected a monument to John Phelps. John Phelps is buried alongside Edward Ludlow, one of the judges who condemned Charles I, and his fellow clerk Andrew Broughton.
Adapted in part from Camelot International .