PHELIPS, Sir Edward (1554-1614), of Boswell House, Drury Lane, Mdx.; Montacute, Som.; and Wanstead, Essex

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Family and Education

b. c.1554, 4th s. of Thomas Phelips† of Sock Denis, Som. and Elizabeth, da. of Matthew Smyth, merchant, of Bristol.1 educ. ?St. Paul’s sch.; New Inn; M. Temple 1572, called ?1578.2 m. (1) c.1585, Margaret (bur. 18 Apr. 1590), da. of Robert Newdigate of Newdigate, Surr. 2s; (2) c.1601, Elizabeth (d.1638), da. of Thomas Pigott of Doddershall, Bucks., 1ch. d.v.p.3 suc. fa. in Montacute estate 1590;4 kntd. 23 July 1603.5 d. 14 Sept. 1614.6 sig. Ed[ward] Phelipps.

Offices Held

J.p. Som. c.1591-d. (custos rot. 1607-11), Durham 1604-9, Ripon and Cawood liberties, Yorks. 1605-10, Southwell liberty, Notts. 1607-10, Mdx. by 1608-d.;7 commr. oyer and terminer, Western circ. by 1602-d., Oxf. circ. 1603, Northern circ. 1604-10, London 1607-d., Mdx. and the Verge 1607, 1610;8 v.-adm., I. of Purbeck, Dorset by 1602-at least 1605;9 commr. piracy, Dorset 1602-5, London 1603, sewers, Som. 1603, Hants and Wilts. 1605, Westminster 1611, West Ham, Essex 1613, subsidy, Som. 1608.10

Reader, M. Temple 1596, bencher 1596-d.;11 king’s sjt. 1603-d.;12 steward, Crown manors, Som. 1604;13 member, High Commission, Canterbury prov. 1604-d.;14 judge of assize, Northern circ. 1604-5, 1607-10, Western circ. 1610;15 fee’d counsel, Wells, Som. 1607;16 chan. to Prince Henry 1610-12;17 master of the Rolls 1611-d.18

Speaker, House of Commons 1604-11.19

Commr. copyhold enfranchisement 1612;20 ranger-gen., parks and forests 1613-d.21


Phelips’ forbears arrived in Somerset as Crown officials and acquired property in Montacute by 1480; his father and grandfather sat for various Dorset constituencies under the early Tudors. His eldest brother, ‘partly by persuasion and partly by the authority of a father’, was induced to resign his inheritance to Phelips for £1,100. Consequently, after his father’s death in 1590, Phelips completed the rebuilding of Montacute in its present form. Returned to Parliament for various boroughs from 1584, he was not a prominent figure in the Elizabethan Commons until his election for Somerset in 1601.22

Phelips was king’s serjeant on the accession of James I, and it was doubtless as Speaker-designate that he was re-elected for his county in 1604. He was duly recommended to the House by Sir John Herbert on 19 Mar., ‘in regard of [his] knowledge of the law of the land, the gift of utterance, his long experience and practice in Parliament’. However, Phelips’s election met with an unusual level of opposition: after an awkward pause several other names were proposed, and he was only approved for want of agreement on an alternative.23 Despite this shaky start, Phelips became one of the most forceful Speakers of any of the early Stuart Parliaments. While occupants of the chair were supposed to be impartial, he quickly assumed a more active role in guiding debates in the Crown’s interest, becoming, as D.H. Willson noted, ‘as useful an agent as the government possessed in the Commons’. This was just as well, since for much of the Parliament there were as few as two privy councillors in the House. He had a thorough mastery of Elizabethan precedent, but, Wallace Notestein claimed, ‘little notion ... of the cases of constitutional significance’ from the Middle Ages beloved of the legal antiquaries of the day. His reports assessing the temper of the Commons and advising ‘what could and could not be done’ were obviously valued by the Crown.24

Phelips’ first test as Speaker came over the Buckinghamshire election, a confrontation over the rival claims of the Commons and Chancery to settle election disputes. James urged the Commons to confer with the judges, but on 30 Mar. 1604 MPs, knowing that their case would be rejected, declined. Three days later Phelips raised the issue again, only to be rebuffed; furthermore, a standing order was made that no question, once voted upon in the House, should be reopened. However, Phelips was invited to attend the committee appointed to draft the Commons’ justification of their case, and on the morning of 5 Apr. he had an audience with James, who now ordered the House to confer with the judges. This time the instruction was complied with, whereupon the king proved willing to grant the Commons jurisdiction over election returns.25

The next flashpoint between king and Commons concerned James’s plan to subsume England and Scotland in a new entity, Great Britain. Many were vehemently opposed to even this modest concession to closer Union, but on 23 Apr. Richard Percival, one of the secretaries of Robert, Lord Cecil†, proposed the form ‘king of Britain, that is to say of England and Scotland’. Phelips turned this into a proviso for the Union bill, but no vote was held. Two days later, the courtier Sir Roger Aston reopened the debate by assuring the House that the change of name would make no difference to the laws of England; Phelips moved to ask James what style he preferred, and was seconded by Percival, but the House resolved to seek a ruling from the judges, who vetoed any alteration. The king thereafter settled for legislation empowering an Anglo-Scottish commission to work out detailed proposals for Union at a later date, but on 24 May, in a provocative speech perhaps intended to derail the reporting of this bill, Sir Edwin Sandys attacked ‘the cunning of lawyers’. Phelips sprang to defend his profession, but was prevented from voicing a personal opinion while in the chair, although later in the session he obtained a standing order ‘that when Mr. Speaker desires to speak he ought to be heard without interruption, if the House be silent and not in dispute’.26

Tempers frayed as the session failed to achieve any substantive progress, and on 30 May Phelips gave the House notice to attend the king at Whitehall that afternoon, where James chided Members for their time-wasting. The Commons ‘conceived some grief at His Majesty’s speech’ and it was moved to draft an ‘Apology’ justifying their proceedings. Phelips recommended, as a more constructive alternative, a petition to revive the negotiations on wardship, the Commons’ proposals on composition having just been rejected by the Lords, but the House resolved to draft both an Apology and a petition. On 2 June the courtier Sir George More reopened another stalled debate with his bill to allow composition for purveyance, presumably at a much higher rate than an earlier bill managed by John Hare. The latter staunchly defended his proposals, but Phelips reminded Members of a point he had made against Hare’s bill nine days earlier: if the king did not approve its terms, he would simply issue dispensations to evade its provisions. James, having clearly been informed of the fractiousness of the House, used Phelips to deliver a conciliatory message on 5 June, which advised against proceeding with the Apology, but allowed the Commons time to complete outstanding business. However, only three days later another privilege dispute broke out, when Convocation passed an ‘Instrument’ warning the Commons not to interfere in ecclesiastical affairs. Francis Tate called upon those MPs who also sat in Convocation to produce a copy of this petition. At this Phelips, in a poorly reported speech, evidently suggested that members of Convocation could not sit in the Commons. This observation was perfectly correct, but coming so soon after the disagreement between the king and the Commons over the right of outlaws to sit, it was rather provocative.27

Phelips’ high-profile interventions from the chair were controversial. Tobie Matthew* complained to John Donne* that ‘the Speaker ... guides the House very much, a fault that many would not bear with in him, but that he makes amends most days by being ridiculous’.28 Matthew may have been thinking in particular of the third reading of the assarts bill on 25 May, when Phelips had insisted that the draft contained ‘thirty-two gross absurdities’ and asked the committee to consult him before putting it to a vote; the measure passed regardless. However, his advice was not always ignored, for that same day the tippling bill was stayed after Phelips found ‘an apparent fault’ in its drafting, and a month later the committee for the simony bill was ordered to report to him when defects were pointed out at the report stage. As Speaker, Phelips was not usually included on bill committees, but he was the first named to the bill against deer poaching (23 May), which was ordered to meet at his house, while three days later he tabled a bill to prevent pheasant poaching, which was sponsored by the king.29 On 12 Apr. he refused a reading for a cloth bill proffered by the London alnager John Tey*, who protested that ‘what is desired is the king’s pleasure and express commandment’ and threatened to complain to James; Tey was forced to apologize to Phelips when called to order by the House.30 Most curiously, on 15 May, Phelips was approached by a printer bearing a libellous bill which accused a bishop of treason. The petitioner was arrested and the bill sent to James, but Richard Martin* complained that this created a precedent for the Speaker reporting the business of the House to the king.31

In his speech at the prorogation on 7 July, Phelips placed the best construction he could upon a disappointing session, assuring the king that his ‘senators’ knew ‘what is the majesty, prerogative, greatness and jurisdiction of a king; and what is the due right and liberty of subjects’. He also thanked the king for declining a grant of subsidy that had briefly been mooted on 19 June, offering in return the love, obedience, prayers and might of the people, and ‘the treasure of the whole kingdom to supply you ... when, where and against whom whatsoever Your Majesty shall be pleased to disposed and command us’.32 His efforts in the House were rewarded, as that summer he was preferred over three high court judges to ride the Northern circuit as a justice of assize. He may have been chosen in order to improve the enforcement of the recusancy laws: on his first circuit he sentenced two men to death for assisting seminary priests; while at the Lent assizes of 1605 there were 600 recusants indicted at Lancaster and 1,000 at York.33

In the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot many Members wished to concentrate on recusancy legislation, but on 24 Jan. 1606 Phelips discouraged a motion to try the minor plotters before the Commons, which would have provoked a needless jurisdictional argument with King’s Bench. A week later, when Sir Thomas Waller moved that the plotters’ lands be annexed to the Crown, Phelips suggested that the matter be deferred until the relevant attainder bills came before the House. To avoid offending those who made such enthusiastic suggestions, Phelips delivered a message signifying James’s consent to their proceedings against recusants, provided other business was not thereby hindered. The only aspect of recusancy legislation in which Phelips showed a personal interest was the proposal to bar Catholics from sending their children abroad to be educated: on 6 Feb. he cited two witnesses who could depose that 2,000 children had gone overseas in the last two years; while on 28 Feb. he was keen to inform the Lords that this point had been agreed.34

For Phelips, the main focus of the session was the purveyance bill tabled by John Hare on 24 Jan., a radical measure which offered not the composition debated in 1604, but an abolition of the Crown’s rights without compensation. Cecil, now earl of Salisbury, planned to revive the composition scheme in the Lords, and so looked to Phelips to help smother Hare’s proposal.35 Most unusually, Phelips was included on the committee for Hare’s bill (30 Jan.), and he doubtless briefed James on the bill’s provisions. However, on 11 Feb., when he delivered a message from the king advising the House to proceed by composition instead, Hare persuaded the House to pursue both avenues concurrently. At a conference with the Lords on 14 Feb. Hare likened purveyors to a biblical plague of frogs, which moved Phelips to pen an apology to Salisbury for ‘the most undiscreet behaviour of an unconsiderate firebrand’. Having taken private soundings from other Members, he assured the earl that Hare had exceeded his brief, which was to expose the excesses of purveyors, and to invite the Lords to suggest a remedy; ‘whatsoever else he did was beyond his surety’.36 It emerged that Phelips had misjudged the temper of the House, for on 22 February Sir Maurice Berkeley moved to defend Hare’s conduct against a complaint from the Lords. Phelips managed to refer the question to a committee, in the hope that tempers would cool, but when the issue was reported two days later, efforts by Phelips and others to secure a hearing for Salisbury’s composition scheme were brushed aside. The debate on the rival schemes continued on 25 Feb., when the House resolved to hear the report stage of Hare’s bill with only one dissenting voice. Writing to Salisbury the same evening, Phelips described how

to satisfy their importunity, which I could not avoid, I made the question whether they would proceed with the bill, but took occasion to forbear the second question concerning the composition, for that I found, as the state of the House then stood, it would be rejected. They then would have pressed me to have made a question upon the engrossing of the bill, which by some means I delayed to do, not without the distaste of some, as I understand.

Hare was scheduled to report his bill the following morning, when Phelips, arriving late, claimed to have ‘taken pills overnight which did not work as expected ... the ordinary speech was that he had taken a pill from the purveyors’.37

Once Salisbury realized that Phelips could not persuade the Commons to back the composition scheme, he began to explore alternatives. On 8 Mar. Phelips relayed an offer from the king to refer the legality of purveyance to the judges and to punish errant purveyors, on condition that the House increase the supply of two subsidies voted on 10 February. The resulting debate ended inconclusively, but at the end of the day Phelips reminded Members ‘that His Majesty’s pleasure is, if we like, not to meddle any further with composition’. After some royal prodding, supply was debated afresh on 14 March. Tempers ran high: when solicitor-general Doddridge accused William Noye of disloyalty, Phelips was stopped from speaking in his defence; and when attempting to put the question to a vote at the end of the day, Phelips was rebuffed. Another vote was held on 18 Mar., the temper of the House having first been sweetened by the third reading of Hare’s purveyance bill. Phelips delivered a fresh message from the king and then, despite the objections of Sir Henry Savile, successfully pressed for a snap vote. The first division, on an innocuous procedural motion, squeaked through by 140 votes to 139, but the substantive question of an increase of one subsidy and two fifteenths, when it eventually came, commanded a sufficient majority to be passed upon a voice vote. Although Hare’s bill subsequently suffered an ignominious end, being buried under a mountain of objections in the Lords, the subsidy bill was sent to the Upper House on 15 May. At Phelips’s motion, the whole of the Commons accompanied secretary of state Sir John Herbert in delivering it to the Upper House.38

Tempers subsided after the resolution of the subsidy debate, but other issues still held the potential for trouble: when Nicholas Fuller reported from the grievance committee on 7 Apr., Phelips moved to debate those that were unlawful before those that were merely inconvenient, presumably to forestall a dispute over the controversial imposition on currants, which stood at the head of the list. On 3 May the House learned of a legal loophole, arising from the repeal of a Marian statute in 1604, which invalidated the proceedings of all ecclesiastical courts for the past two years. Several civil lawyers pleaded the bishops’ cause, and Phelips helpfully observed that it was the bishops themselves who had pressed for the repeal of the Marian statute. Finally, on 26 May, Sir Robert Wingfield complained about a sermon at Paul’s Cross in which Dr. Parker had slandered the Commons. The king sent word of his intent to proceed against Parker, and asked that recorder Sir Henry Montagu*, who had been present, advise him of what had been said. The Commons might have taken issue with this message, but Phelips not only dispatched Montagu but offered to send Salisbury the notes collated by other MPs who had heard the sermon: ‘give me leave to be a mean that His Majesty will vouchsafe them a gracious conclusion in these Parliament businesses, ... which will be a good preparative to prepare them against the next session of Parliament’.39 With a full business agenda, Phelips had little time for personal interests during this parliamentary session: on 21 Mar. he secured leave of absence for his brother-in-law (Sir) Christopher Pigott, who was sick; and he privately solicited the king’s support for a bill to drain Crown lands in the Great Fens, on condition that the grounds recovered would be freed from purveyance; this was presumably the measure rejected by the Commons at its third reading on 12 May.40

The chief business of the third session was the Union with Scotland. Phelips kept the House sitting on 20 Nov. 1606 until the Lords were ready to send down the Instrument of Union, but failed to obtain an immediate first reading, a pattern which would recur throughout the session, as MPs used delaying tactics to avoid a confrontation with the king over the unpleasant truth that they did not want a Union on the terms proposed. On 13 Feb. 1607 Phelips, mired in a turgid argument about the authenticity of the report from the latest conference with the Lords, suffered the embarrassment of hearing his brother-in-law deliver ‘a bitter and scandalous invective against the nation of the Scots’, which offended the king all the more because ‘the speech was not interrupted at the instant, and the party committed’. Christopher Pigott was eventually brought to book three days later, and while some attempted to excuse him, he was presently expelled from the House and sent to the Tower. Matters were different, however, when Members disapproved of a speech, and on 7 Mar., when Sir William Maurice rehearsed his pet project to make James ‘Emperor of Britain’ in the middle of a debate on naturalization, he was quickly ‘put down’ by Phelips.41

For much of the first half of the session, debate revolved around the bill granting Scottish and English subjects automatic naturalization in each other’s realms. The lawyers in the Commons dredged up all manner of procedural objections to the bill, one of the most promising being that allegiance to the Crown of England did not imply subjection to the laws of Scotland. The judges rejected this argument on 26 Feb., but as frustration mounted, Salisbury feared that the Commons would declare the judges’ ruling invalid, provoking a constitutional crisis and undermining the authority of the judicial bench. Phelips was given a ‘provisional order’ to adjourn the House if such a motion were made, but the onset of a genuine illness on 15 March allowed him to take to his bed (with Salisbury’s encouragement) while tempers cooled. The Commons’ patience wore thin after a week, suspecting that the illness complained of was fictitious, and on 23 Mar. it threatened to choose a replacement. Faced with this unwelcome prospect Phelips reappeared the next morning, but only to order an adjournment for the Accession Day sermon at Westminster Abbey. He continued to probe the House about a fresh approach to the Lords over naturalization, but nothing was achieved, and on 2 May the king put an end to the debate.42 Two days later, Phelips tabled a bill for repeal of hostile laws on both sides of the border, and on 7 May, perhaps with Phelips’s earlier absenteeism in mind, it was ‘thought fit to commit this bill to the whole House, Mr. Speaker only excepted’. This measure also ran into difficulties over an amendment against the remanding of suspects across the border: in order to frustrate a report which included this proviso, Phelips arrived early on the morning of 20 May, and, with the consent of an almost empty House, he adjourned the sitting for a week on the king’s instructions. When business resumed, no-one can have believed the protests of innocence which both Phelips and James subsequently issued, and despite the Speaker’s best efforts the proviso was added to the bill on 28 May.43

Early in the 1606-7 session, low-lying areas around the Severn estuary were flooded, and Phelips not only signed an appeal for assistance from the Somerset magistrates, but also had the Commons establish a committee for disaster relief.44 He was acutely conscious of the value of his services in forwarding the Union, and applied for a grant of lands as compensation for the legal and judicial business he was obliged to forego. Still keen to sing his own praises at the end of the session, on 16 June he produced a message from the king in order to quash a motion by Sir William Bulstrode for stricter implementation of the recusancy laws, an achievement he described to Salisbury in terms of breathless exuberance:

I was driven to oppose at several times ten or twelve speakers, being not backed by the speech of anyone; and in the end ... drew them that a committee should tomorrow in the afternoon view and report to them what has been herein warranted by former precedents. I find the most part of them have no liking of the matter in the petition contained, and yet will exceedingly press the reading thereof.

Rewards quickly followed after the end of the session: he succeeded chief justice Sir John Popham† as custos rotulorum of Somerset, and in the next year he secured a grant of Crown lands in feefarm and a reversion of the mastership of the Rolls. He also purchased the manor of Montacute, where his main seat lay, from Sir Thomas Freke*, and acquired the manor of Middle Claydon, Buckinghamshire from Sir Francis Verney, whose stepmother was his neighbour in Drury Lane.45

Phelips was less prominent in the debates on the Great Contract in 1610. This was partly because the financial aspects of the proposals to surrender wardship and purveyance were handled by the chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Julius Caesar*, who commended Phelips as ‘the most worthy and judicious Speaker’ since Popham in 1581. It also owed much to the emergence of the committee of the whole House, which meant that the Speaker was frequently obliged to yield the chair to a temporary chairman; most of the key debates on impositions took place in such committees, which left Phelips powerless to influence the outcome.46 By 1610, as soon became clear, Phelips’ partisanship had left many Members suspicious of his motives.

On 19 Feb. 1610 Phelips called to mind Salisbury’s initial proposals, made at a conference four days earlier, and when it was resolved that the issue should be considered by the grievances’ committee, he remembered to secure leave to consider supply as well as grievances, not something which normally lay within the committee’s purview. When the details of the Contract were debated on 28 Feb., many expressed concern about offering supply before they knew what they would gain in return; recorder Montagu moved to consider supply ‘in due time’, a useful suggestion Phelips quickly put to a vote. The king presently signified his willingness to surrender his wardship rights, whereupon Phelips persuaded the House to return a message of thanks. However, after Easter the project encountered trouble, when it emerged that the king was expecting a clear profit of £200,000 p.a. from the Contract. In a heated debate on 1 May, Phelips pressed the House to give a written answer, rather than a verbal refusal, presumably in the hope that the blow could be softened, but negotiations were halted for several weeks.47

During the Contract negotiations, various other controversial issues were raised in the Commons, some of which Phelips helped to resolve. On 24 Feb., complaint was made about the high prerogative statements published by the civilian Dr. Cowell in a legal textbook; Phelips urged Members to formulate detailed charges, and shortly before the Easter recess he delivered a Proclamation from the king calling in all copies of the book.48 Complaint was also made about the patent secured by the courtier Sir Stephen Procter for payment of fines on penal statutes. Phelips volunteered a complaint of his own about the activities of one of Procter’s agents in Somerset, and later attacked Procter’s ‘corruption’ of his patent. When the case was reported on 2 May, Phelips told the House that the king had signified his intention to dismiss Procter from his service, and was ordered to collate the mounting evidence against Sir Stephen. However, he dissuaded the House from rushing to judgment a week later, advising that Procter should be committed to the Tower because of his slander of Sir John Mallory*, and that the king should be approached to punish the abuse of his patent. This averted any prospect of a privilege dispute over the Commons’ proceedings against a royal servant.49

The main sticking point for the Contract was not the projected cost, but the king’s refusal to contemplate concessions over impositions, by then a major source of Crown income. On 11 May, Phelips delivered a royal message forbidding further debate, but Sir William Twysden recalled that the king had been out of town for a fortnight, and ‘moved to know from whence Mr. Speaker had the message, whether from the king or some second person’. Phelips, taken aback, objected that he had communicated 56 or 58 messages during the Parliament, but it was observed that the Speaker had no right even to attend the king without leave of the House. He eventually admitted that ‘he did receive this message from the body of the council’, which was thus disallowed, but the next morning James acknowledged the message as his own, and Phelips, feeling vindicated, complained that he should always be referred to as ‘Master’ Speaker, ‘except you will hold me baser or meaner than any that have formerly served you’.50 The incident hints at a considerable dissatisfaction over Phelips’ attempt to hinder the impositions debate, and doubtless explains his sensitivity at another insult from Sir Edward Herbert* on 17 July. On this occasion Herbert, having failed to enlist Phelips’ support in a complaint against lord chancellor Ellesmere (Sir Thomas Egerton†), confessed ‘that he put not off his hat, put out his tongue and plopped with his mouth’. Phelips had threatened to complain to the king, for which he was taken to task by John Tey, who was then himself required to apologize.51

If Phelips was unsettled by such confrontations, he nevertheless continued his attempts to smooth the passage of the king’s business in the Commons. Further royal messages failed to stem the impositions debate, as did Phelips’ motion of 22 May to lay aside the main debate in order to establish exactly what the king’s intentions were. The subsidy debate of 13-14 June ended inconclusively, but as in 1606, Phelips divided the House over the subordinate question of whether to hold a vote on the substantive motion for supply; thus the failure of this motion did not extinguish the prospect of supply, and a single subsidy was eventually voted on 11 July. On the following day Phelips announced the king’s intention to prorogue, moving to spend the final week of the session debating the Contract; but alderman Thomas James of Bristol called ‘to proceed likewise with impositions’.52

Having spent the summer listening to their constituents’ misgivings about the Great Contract, Members reassembled on 16 Oct. in a gloomy mood. Phelips took to his bed for the next two days; his illness may have been genuine, but it also afforded time for negotiations behind the scenes. He was present for a roll-call on 22 Oct., which was so poorly attended that he moved for a postponement for two days. This was rejected upon a vote, to which he petulantly responded, ‘then call it not at all’, but then changed his mind and ordered the clerk to begin; he was called to order by Sir Herbert Croft, and the day ended in disarray.53 Another week was frittered away in obtaining the answers to the grievances from the previous session, and the mood of the House was not improved after the king reproached it for ‘slackness and many delays in the great matter of Contract’ on 31 October. It was only after Phelips delivered another message from the king on 6 Nov. that it was finally resolved to reject the offer. Two days later Phelips prodded Members ‘to prepare a mannerly answer to the king’, and he was presumably one of those who delivered the news to James on 10 November. Phelips brought the king’s response on 14 Nov., which laid the Contract aside but asked for a grant of supply in return for the passage of a number of grace bills.54 Negotiations quickly stalled, and on 24 Nov. Phelips adjourned the House for four days. Early on the morning of 29 Nov., with only a handful of Members present, he repeated his ploy of May 1607 in declaring another adjournment for a week. There was a much fuller attendance on 6 Dec., and as Phelips took the chair Sir John Sammes rose to protest, ‘but the Speaker, notwithstanding the voice of the House ... would not hear him’, producing a letter from the king which ordered an immediate prorogation until 9 Feb. 1611, when the Parliament was dissolved.55

When his reversion of the mastership of the Rolls fell vacant in January 1611, Phelips secured exemption from the barren and expensive honour of the coif. He leased a house at Wanstead, Essex, entertaining the king there at a charge of £700, and bought the site of Muchelney Abbey, Somerset in December 1613 for £1,348. His father’s godson, the local poetaster and traveller Thomas Coryate, dedicated his Crudities to ‘my honourable and thrice-worthy Maecenas, Sir Edward Phelips’. His management of Prince Henry’s Household would, some said, have made him a worthy successor to Salisbury as lord treasurer; but he was never a serious contender for the post. He advised the king against buying out the interests Salisbury and Suffolk held in the petty customs farms, ‘alleging that in the next Parliament they would be complained of as principal grievances’.56

Phelips did not stand for election in 1614, for as master of the Rolls he may have expected to be summoned to serve in the Lords as a legal assistant like his immediate predecessor. He undertook to find Sir Edwin Sandys a seat, but following the latter’s return for Rochester he nominated John Donne at Taunton. His son, Sir Robert, lost a hard fought contest for the junior county seat in Somerset to John Poulett, but came in for a Cornish borough. Sir Robert’s conduct in the Commons embarrassed his father, who could not escape suspicion of fomenting opposition himself:

there be many presumptions that his hand was in it, his son being so busy and factious in the House, and [John] Hoskins*, one of his chief consorts and minions, so far engaged, besides divers untoward speeches of his own, and a notorious envy that anything should succeed under another Speaker.57

The king himself harboured such suspicions, and delivered a withering rebuke to Phelips when they were out hunting together. Phelips died shortly thereafter, and was buried at Montacute. ‘It is thought’, wrote James Whitelocke*, ‘that grief he took in the king’s displeasure towards him for his son’s roughness in Parliament hastened his death. But I cannot think a man to be such a mope’. No will or administration has been found, and ‘he left no great matters behind him for a man of his place, part, and long practice, some good part of his lands being subject to sale for his debts of £10,000 or £12,000’.58

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Simon Healy


  • 1. A. Kittermaster, ‘Sir Edward Phelips’, Som. and Dorset N and Q, xxxi. 306-15.
  • 2. Smyth Corresp. (Bristol Rec. Soc. xxxv), 46; M. Temple Admiss.
  • 3. Kittermaster, 306-15; S.W. Bates Harbin, Som. MPs, 135; Procs. Som. Antiq. and Nat. Hist. Soc. xxxii. (pt. 1), p. 64.
  • 4. C142/228/6.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 114.
  • 6. C142/366/190.
  • 7. C181/1, ff. 97, 107-8; 181/2, ff. 44v, 81, 99v, 112-13.
  • 8. C181/1, ff. 17, 53, 96v; 181/2, ff. 54-5, 57, 106v, 108v, 133, 194, 213v.
  • 9. C181/1, ff. 24, 117.
  • 10. Ibid. ff. 24, 62v, 66v, 70, 103v, 114; C181/2, ff. 140, 192v; SP14/31/1.
  • 11. MTR, 356, 364.
  • 12. List of Eng. Law Officers comp. J. Sainty (Selden Soc. suppl. ser. vii), 17.
  • 13. E315/310, f. 19.
  • 14. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 290.
  • 15. J.S. Cockburn, Hist. Eng. Assizes, 268-9.
  • 16. Som. RO, DD/PH/228/11.
  • 17. Som. RO, DD/PH/223/3.
  • 18. List of Eng. Law Officers, 17.
  • 19. CJ, i. 141b.
  • 20. C181/2, f. 171v.
  • 21. Som. RO, DD/PH/219/33.
  • 22. Procs. Som. Arch. and Nat. Hist. Soc. xxxii. (pt. 1), p. 63; C78/441/5; Collinson, Som. iii. 314.
  • 23. CJ, i. 141b; CD 1604-7, p. 21.
  • 24. D.H. Willson, Privy Councillors in House of Commons, 111, 114, 217; W. Notestein, The Commons 1603-10, p. 477.
  • 25. CJ, i. 162a; R.C. Munden, ‘King, Commons and Reform, 1603-4’, Faction and Parl. ed. K. Sharpe, 53-7.
  • 26. CJ, i. 182-3, 244a, 955a, 957b, 979a; Munden, 62-5.
  • 27. CJ, i. 223a, 229-31, 989a; CD 1604-7, p. 85; Munden, 67-70; P. Croft, ‘Parl. Purveyance and the City of London’, PH, iv. 9-19; SURVEY.
  • 28. Coll. Letters made by Sir Tobie Mathews (1660), p. 291.
  • 29. CJ, i. 224-7, 245b.
  • 30. Ibid. 175; CD 1604-7, p. 69.
  • 31. CJ, i. 210b, 212b, 972b, 974a.
  • 32. Ibid. 255.
  • 33. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 143-5, 190; J. Hawarde, Reportes del Cases in Camera Stellata, 182-3.
  • 34. CJ, i. 259, 261-2, 264, 276a.
  • 35. Bowyer Diary, 6, 54; Croft, 23-4; E. Lindquist, ‘Bills against Purveyors’, PH, iv. 35-41.
  • 36. Bowyer Diary, 38-9, 46; CJ. i. 269a; Croft, 24-5.
  • 37. Bowyer Diary, 51-4; CJ, i. 273-4; Croft, 25-6.
  • 38. CJ, i. 280-2, 285-6; Bowyer Diary, 80-4, 164; Croft, 27-9.
  • 39. CJ, i. 294b, 304b; Bowyer Diary, 105-6, 144-7.
  • 40. CJ, i. 288a, 308a; Bowyer Diary, 71-2; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 131; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 316.
  • 41. CJ, i. 318a, 332-6; Bowyer Diary, 187, 207-8, 224.
  • 42. B. Galloway, Union of Eng. and Scotland, 104-19; CJ, i. 353-4, 357a, 365a; Bowyer Diary, 240-1, 274.
  • 43. CJ, i. 368b, 371a, 376a, 1046-7; Bowyer Diary, 289, 297-9, 304-6; Galloway, 120-3.
  • 44. HMC Hatfield, xix. 50; CJ, i. 346a.
  • 45. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 361; xix. 59, 154; C66/1741, 66/1809/5, 66/1851; Bowyer Diary, 330; VCH Som. iii. 214; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 412.
  • 46. HMC 3rd Rep. 281; Willson, 242-5.
  • 47. CJ, i. 396-7, 403a, 411-12, 423.
  • 48. CJ, i. 399-400, 415; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 5.
  • 49. CJ, i. 399-400, 407b, 423-4, 428a; ‘Paulet 1610’, ff. 9v-10.
  • 50. Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 84-8; CJ, i. 427b; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 10.
  • 51. CJ, i. 393-4, 451-2; Procs. 1610, ii. 384-5; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 26.
  • 52. Procs. 1610, ii. 92; CJ, i. 430-1, 438-9, 448b.
  • 53. Procs. 1610, ii. 295-6.
  • 54. Parl. Debates 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. lxxxi), 126, 132-3; ‘Paulet 1610’, ff. 29-31; Procs. 1610, ii. 327.
  • 55. Procs. 1610, ii. 347; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 32.
  • 56. C66/1884, 66/2008; HMC Portland, ix. 39; Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 357, 441, 540, 555; E401/1891.
  • 57. Som. RO, DD/PH/224, ff. 12v, 80; M. Kishlansky, Parl. Selection, 85-101.
  • 58. HMC 10th Rep. VI, 84; Liber Famelicus of Sir J. Whitelocke ed. J. Bruce (Cam. Soc. lxx), 43.