While the setting, processes and personnel of the trial of Charles I may appear less important than the interchanges between the king and the President of the Court, John Bradshaw, they are critical to revealing the wider purpose of Charles’ trial which was to establish the Commons as the supreme authority in England, as the representative of the sovereign people, the key demand of the radical Leveller movement which had called for the creation of a more democratic representative body, elected on the basis of manhood suffrage.
Investigating the connections of trial participants to radical groupings in both the City of London and the army, strengthens these links between the proceedings and the Levellers’ manifesto. The form of justice that the High Court of Justice pursued was not only radical but also public. The proceedings played out in front of thousands of spectators within Westminster Hall and in print were read by many more. The Rump Parliament intended the trial to serve propaganda purposes. However, this aim was subverted by the king’s surprisingly fluent defence in which he recast himself as a defender of the people’s liberty in the face of a new, arbitrary power.