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John Phelps (regicide) : biography


John Phelps was a Clerk and Registrar of the Committee for Plundered Ministers and of the High Court which tried Charles I of England for high treason in 1649.

Exile after the Restoration

Phelps evaded pursuit and was at Lausanne, Switzerland in the company of Edmund Ludlow, one of the regicides, and fellow clerk Andrew Broughton. Broughton and Phelps were fortunate to live out their lives in exile in Vevay, Switzerland. During the English Restoration, any goods which he still owned in England were confiscated. Phelps died after 1666 and was buried in St. Martin's Cathedral, alongside Edmund Ludlow, one of the judges who condemned Charles I, and his fellow clerk Andrew Broughton.

Phelps role in the trial of Charles I

In 1648-49, John Phelps was called by England's Rump Parliament to serve as Clerk of High Court at the trial of King Charles I. He became private secretary to Oliver Cromwell, and in the illustration at right of the trial of Charles I, is illustrated sitting on the right of the table in the center of the room. "Extracts from a True Copy of the Journal of the High Court Of Justice for the Tryal of K. Charles I:" "And in order to the more regular and due proceedings of the said Court, they nominate officers, and accordingly chose Mr. Aske, Dr. Dorislaus, Mr. Steel and Mr. Cooke, counsel, to attend the said Court. Mr. Greaves and Mr. John Phelpes, clerks, to whom notice thereof was ordered to be given." (page 7)

"Mr. Andrew Broughton attended according to former order, and it was thereupon again Ordered, That Andrew Broughton and John Phelpes be, and they are hereby constituted clerks of the said Court, and injoyned [sic] to give their attendance from time to time accordingly." (page 12)

During the trial, "on the Tuesday afternoon in Westminster Hall, the King again refused to recognise the jurisdiction of the Court;" John Phelps as the Clerk "formally demanded his answer, [the King] refused, and default was recorded." House of Lords Publications and Records Accessed 1 April 2008 Under English law at the time, a refusal to enter a plea was entered as a guilty plea.

Early life

Not much is known about John Phelps' early life. He was born in about 1619 in Salisbury, County Wilts, England. He matriculated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, on 20 May 1636, describing himself as age 17, and the son of Robert Phelps of Salisbury. On 1 January 1648-9 he was appointed clerk-assistant to Henry Elsing, clerk of the House of Commons.

Says Harper's Pictorial History of England, edition of 1849, pp 111–377, "The name was anciently spelled 'Phyllypes,' but has always been pronounced 'Phelps.' After the time of Edward IV, the superfluous letters were dropped.

Reputation and government service after the trial

In Clarendon's correspondence with the Lord President, 1685-6, Wealsman, "John Phelps of Vevey, ill reputation and sheriff thereof." Answer: "Mr. Phelps is so far from being of ill reputation that there is not any man in the county, nor in the army, under a better character. He is son of a loyal gentleman, Col. Edward Phelps, and brother of Sir Edward Phelps of Somerset."

John Phelps was a prominent man in the party to which he had attached himself. He was clerk and registrar of the Committee for Plundered Ministers, and had chambers in the Old Palace in which the committee sat. On October 14, 1652, he was appointed clerk to the committee of Parliament which had been named to confer with deputies from Scotland. He was to be allowed a clerk assistant, and it was ordered that a request be made to the first-named committee to dispense with his attendance in the meantime.

John Phelps was given instructions for "matting the room in which they were to meet, and for fitting it up so that it might be very warm. At a later period Henry Scobell, clerk of Parliament, was required to deliver to John Phelps all papers and books returned from Scotland touching delinquents and sequestrations."

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