The British Parliament: Origins and development
Studying the main aspects of historical development of the British Parliament, its role in the governing of the country in the course of history. The Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot. The functions of the British Parliament in the modern state management system.
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МИНИСТЕРСТВО ОБРАЗОВАНИЯ РЕСПУБЛИКИ БЕЛАРУСЬ
«Гомельский государственный университет имени Франциска Скорины»
Факультет иностранных языков
Кафедра теории и практики английского языка
The British Parliament: Origins and Development
Исполнитель: Билизек М.О.
Преподаватель Полевая К.В.
1. The Beginnings of Parliament
1.1 The Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot
1.2 The King's Feudal Council - Curia Regis
1.3 Magna Carta
1.3.1 Struggle for the Limitation of the King's Power
1.3.2 Magna Carta and the Decline of Feudalism
1.4 Summoning of the First Elected Parliament in 1265
1.5 The “Model Parliament” of Edward I (1295)
2. The Development of Parliament in the Late Middle Ages
2.1 Splitting into the Two Houses in the 14th Century
2.2 The War of the Roses and the Beginning of Tudor Absolutism
2.3 Government and Society in the 14th - 15th Centuries
2.3.1 Social Structure
2.3.2 The Growth of Parliamentary Power in the 14th - 15th Centuries
2.4 Tudor Absolutism and the Decline of Parliament
2.4.1 The Age of Henry VII Tudor's Reign (1485-1509)
2.4.2 Tudor Parliaments in the 16th Century
3. Stuart Parliaments in the 17th Century
3.1 Social Structure
3.2 The Growth of Contradictions between the Crown and Parliament
3.2.1 The Age of James I Stuart's Reign (1603-1625)
3.2.2 The Age of Charles I Stuart's Reign (1625-1649)
3.3 The Bourgeois Revolution (1640-1653)
3.3.1 The Parliament Opposition against the King
3.3.2 The Civil War (1642-1645)
3.3.3 The Struggle within the Parliament Party
3.3.4 The Civil War of 1648. The Establishment of the Republic
3.4 Republican Britain and Cromwell's Dictatorship (1649-1660)
3.5 The Restoration of the Monarchy in Britain (1660-1688)
3.5.1 The First Political Parties - the Whigs and the Tories
3.5.2 The Glorious Revolution of 1688
4. The Modern British Parliament
4.1 The British Parliament Today
4.2 The House of Commons
4.3 The House of Lords
4.4 The Work of Parliament
Parliament is one of the oldest and most honored parts of the British government. Its name, from the French word “parler” (“to talk”), was given to meetings of the English king's council in the middle of the 13th century. Its immediate predecessor was the king's feudal council, the Curia Regis, and before that the Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot. It was a device resorted to by the medieval kings to help them in running their governments and reflected the idea that the king should consult with his subjects.
In the 13th century, King Edward I (1272-1307) called joint meetings of two governmental institutions: the Magnum Concilium, or the Great Council, comprising lay and ecclesiastical magnates, and the Curia Regis, or King's Court, a much smaller body of semiprofessional advisers. At those meetings of the Curia Regis that came to be called “concilium regis in parliamento” (“the king's council in parliament”), judicial problems might be settled that had proved beyond the scope of the ordinary law courts dating from the 12th century. The members of the Curia Regis were preeminent and often remained to complete business after the magnates had been sent home; the proceedings of Parliament were not formally ended until they had accomplished their tasks. To about one in seven of these meetings Edward I summoned knights and burgesses to appear with the magnates.
The Parliament called in 1295, known as the Model Parliament and widely regarded as the first representative parliament, included the lower clergy for the first time as well as two knights from each county, two burgesses from each borough and two citizens from each city. Early in the 14th century the practice developed of conducting debates between the lords spiritual and temporal in one chamber, or “house”, and between the knights and burgesses in another. Strictly speaking, there were, and still are, three houses: the king and his council, the lords spiritual and temporal, and the commons.
But in the 15th century the kings of the House of Lancaster were usually forced to take all their councilors from among the lords, and later under the House of Tudor, it became the practice to find seats in the commons for privy councilors who were not lords. Meanwhile, the greater cohesion of the Privy Council achieved in the 14th century separated it in practice from Parliament, and the decline of Parliament's judicial function led to an increase in its legislative activity, originating now not only from royal initiative but by petitions, or “bills”, framed by groups within Parliament itself. Bills, if assented to by the king, became acts of Parliament; eventually, under King Henry VI (1422-1461; 1470-1471), the assent of both Houses - the House of Lords (a body now based largely on heredity) and the House of Commons - was also required. Under the Tudors, though it was still possible to make law by royal proclamation, the monarchs rarely resorted to such an unpopular measure, and all major political changers were affected by acts of Parliament.
In 1430 Parliament divided electoral constituencies to the House of Commons into counties and boroughs. Males who owned freehold property worth at least 40 shillings could vote in these elections. Members of the House of Commons were wealthy, as they were not paid and were required to have an annual income of at least ?600 for county seats and ?300 for borough seats. In most boroughs, very few individuals could vote, and some members were elected by less than a dozen electors. These rotten boroughs were eventually eliminated by the Reform Bill of 1832. As parliamentary sessions became more regular from the 15th to the 17th centuries, a class of professional parliamentarians developed, some of whom were used by the king to secure assent to his measures; others would sometimes disagree with his measures and encourage the Commons to reject them, though the firm idea of an organized “opposition” did not develop until much later.
In the 17th century Parliament became a revolutionary body and the centre of resistance to the king during the English Civil Wars (1642-1651). The Restoration period (1660-1688) saw the development of the first political parties - the Whigs and the Tories. The modern parliamentary system, as well as the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, quickly developed after the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688. England became a "parliamentary monarchy" controlled by a constitution.
Nowadays one of the fundamental principles of the unwritten constitution is the sovereignty of the British Parliament. It means that Parliament has unlimited power in the legislative and the executive spheres and there is no institution that can declare its acts unconstitutional.
Parliament consists of the Crown, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The main functions of Parliament are as follows: to pass laws, to provide the means of carrying on the work of Government, to control the Government policy and administration, to debate the most important political issues of the day. Nevertheless, the principal duty of Parliament is legislation.
The purpose of this course paper is to study the main aspects of historical development of the British Parliament; to determine its role in the governing of the country, its structure, organization, main functions in different historical periods and nowadays.
The course paper consists of four chapters. The main task of the first chapter is to determine the principles of the formation of Parliament as an institution of power, to study the historical conditions of the 11th - 13th centuries which affected the formation of the earliest predecessors of the British Parliament - the Anglo-Saxon Witan, Curia Regis and the Parliaments of 1265 and 1295.
The second chapter tells about the further development of Parliament in the Late Middle Ages, under the House of Tudor. The main task of this chapter is to reflect the main changes in the society and government in the 14th - 16th centuries, to determine the reasons of the growth of parliamentary power.
The third chapter describes Stuart Parliaments in the 17th century. The main task of the chapter is to single out the reasons of the bourgeois revolution that resulted in the establishment of the republic in 1649, and also the reasons of the Restoration of monarchy.
The main task of the fourth chapter is to determine the structure and main functions of the British Parliament in the modern state management system.
1. The Beginnings of Parliament
1.1 The Anglo - Saxon Witenagemot
The Anglo-Saxons created institutions which made the English state strong for the next 500 years. One of these institutions was the King's Council, called the Witan. The Witan probably grew out of informal groups of senior warriors and churchmen to whom kings like Offa had turned for advice or support on difficult matters. By the tenth century the Witan was a formal body, issuing laws and charters. It was not at all democratic, and the king could decide to ignore the Witan's advice. But he knew that it might be dangerous to do so. For the Witan's authority was based on its right to choose kings and to agree the use of the king's laws. Without its support the king's own authority was in danger. [1, p.47]
Witenagemot (Old English, "meeting of the wise men") was an assembly of councilors in Anglo-Saxon England that met to advise the king of judicial and administrative matters. Originally a gathering of all the freemen of a tribe, it eventually became an assembly composed of the ealdormen (Old English, "aldermen"), or local chieftains, the bishops, other high civil and ecclesiastical officials, and sometimes friends and relatives of the king. The witenagemot may have had the power to elect a king, especially if succession was disputed, and it deliberated on all new laws, made treaties, served as a supreme court of justice, authorized the levying of extraordinary taxation and the granting of land, and raised military forces. Each of the several Anglo-Saxon kingdoms had its own witenagemot until the subjugation of them all by Egbert, king of Wessex, between 825 and 829. Thereafter the witenagemot of Wessex gradually developed into a single assembly for the whole country. After the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the witenagemot was superseded by the Great Council, an advisory body to the Anglo-Norman kings.
1.2 The King's Feudal Council - Curia Regis
Curia Regis, in European medieval history, was a court, or group of persons who attended a ruler at any given time for social, political, or judicial purposes. Its composition and functions varied considerably from time to time and from country to country during a period when executive, legislative, and judicial functions were not as distinct as they were later to become. In general, the curia took care of the ruler's personal needs (chamberlains, stewards, butlers), directed the affairs of government (chancellors, treasurers, secretaries, military leaders), or simply provided the ruler with companionship. The ruler and curia made policy decisions either ordinary or major (as on war, treaties, finances, church relations) and, under a powerful ruler ? a king, duke, or count ? often became active as a court of law. Indeed, curiae became so loaded down with judicial work that the work gradually came to be delegated to special groups of judges, such as the Court of King's Bench in England or the Parliament in France; such judicial courts in medieval times were at first considered instruments of the curia, however, not independent bodies. The curia similarly turned over the growing burden of financial affairs to such bodies as the English Exchequer and the French Curia in Compotis ("Curia of Accounts"), which too remained instruments of the curia.
The evolution of the medieval curia is well illustrated in England's Curia, also known as the Curia Regis, or Aula Regis ("King's Court"). It was introduced at the time of the Norman Conquest (1066) and lasted to about the end of the 13th century. The Curia Regis was the germ from which the higher courts of law, the Privy Council, and the Cabinet were to spring. It was, at first, the general council of the king, or the commune concilium (i.e., the feudal assembly of the tenants-in-chief); but it assumed a more definite character during the reign of Henry I (1100-1135), when its members, fewer in number, were the officials of the royal household and other friends and attendants of the king. It assisted the king in his judicial work, its authority being as undefined as his own.
About the same time, the Curia undertook financial duties and in this way was the parent of the Court of Exchequer (curia regis ad scaccarium). The members were called "justices," and in the king's absence the justiciar presided over the court. A further step was taken by Henry П. In 1178 he appointed five Curia members to form a special court of justice, which became known as the Court of Common Pleas. Initially, this court's justices, like the other members of the Curia, followed the king's court from place to place, but Magna Carta (1215) provided for the court's establishment in one place, and it thus became a stationary judicial body. The Court of King's (or Queen's) Bench also developed out of the Curia Regis. This court continued to move about with the monarch until the 14th century, at which time it too lost its close connections with the king and simply became one of the superior courts of common law. The Court of Chancery was also an offshoot of the Curia Regis. About the time of Edward I (reigned 1272-1307), the executive and advising duties of the Curia Regis came to be handled by a select group, the king s secret council, which later came to be called the Privy Council. From the Privy Council there later developed the Cabinet. 
1.3 Magna Carta
1.3.1 Struggle for the Limitation of the King's Power
The 13th century began under a new king, the second son of Henry П, and a third Plantagenet, John, nicknamed very significantly the Lackland, In the feudal medieval triangle "the crown - the barons - the church" he was rash enough to fight both the barons and the church simultaneously, under the unpropitious circumstances of inefficiently conducted permanent warfare with the king of France who was bent on reconquering the Anjou lands. [3, p.52]
John had already made himself unpopular with the three most important groups of people - the nobles, the merchants and the Church. John was unpopular mainly because he was greedy. The feudal lords in England had always run their own law courts and profited from the fines paid by those brought to court. But John took many cases out of their courts and tried them in the king's courts taking the money for himself.
It was normal for the feudal lord to make a payment to the king when his daughter was married, but John asked for more than was the custom. In the same way, when a noble died, his son had to pay money before he could inherit his father's land. In order to enlarge his own income, John increased the amount they had to pay. In other cases when a noble died without a son, it was normal for the land to be passed on to another noble family. John kept the land for a long time, to benefit from its wealth. He did the same with the bishoprics. As for the merchants and towns, he taxed them at a higher level than ever before. [4, p.28]
In 1204 king John became even more unpopular with his nobles. The French king invaded Normandy and the English nobles lost their lands there. The confiscation of English possessions in France meant great losses to Norman barons. In fact guarding his vassals' possessions was one of the duties of a feudal king, and this lapse made John extremely unpopular. However, he did not leave bad enough alone but he drained the treasury and strained the patience of his barons to a pitch never attained before. Then they resorted to the feudal right of vassals being entitled to an armed rebellion against their lord as an emergency measure in case he betrayed their interests and failed to do his duty by them - the great vassals, that is, the stipulation was valid only for the king - barons relations, not the villain - lord relations.
The barons would not have been so bold as to resort to this last emergency, if the king had been supported by the church as it usually had been the case. Without the church support he would have cut a poor figure in his struggle against the barons.
When in 1209 John opposed the Pope's choice of Stephen Langton for the post of Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope declared John excommunicated that is, deprived of the church's blessing and church membership, and, consequently, deposed, for no person driven from the church could head the government of a Christian country. John was in a weak position in England and the Pope knew it. The Pope called on the king of France to invade England, and closed every church in the country. John was now an easy game for any king with a decent army, outlawed as he was, so the kings of France and Scotland were persuaded to fight him. The English barons, Normans for the most part, and vexed with him to the degree described above, refused to fight the king of France. And driven to despair, in 1214 John had to give in and accept the Pope's choice of archbishop. John went down on his knees to the Pope and received his pardon at a very high price, 1000 pound sterling annually: the Pope did nothing gratis and the English tax - payers were burdened with more tribute to pay to Rome, which enraged them still more. Stephen Langton saw to it that the church in England did not support the king in spite of the Papal pardon, and he headed the barons' rebellion. At Easter time the barons assembled and delivered into the hands of Stephen Langton and two others a list of grievances. They said: "He must redress or we will do it for ourselves." When Stephen Langton told the king as much, he went half mad with rage. But that did him no more good than his afterwards trying to pacify the barons with lies. Marching through the country with the people thronging to them, they at last triumphantly set up their banner in London itself. The king at last sent the earl of Pembroke to the barons to say that he approved of everything and would meet them to sign their charter when they would.
So on the 15th of June 1215, at a field called Runnymede, a few miles up the river Thames, John had to sign the programme of demands expressed by the barons in a document known as Magna Carta or the Great Charter. [3, pp.52-53]
1.3.2 Magna Carta and the Decline of Feudalism
The new agreement was an important symbol of political freedom. This document of sixty - three sections provided that the church and the barons were to retain their old rights and liberties. The ancient liberties of London and of other towns were guaranteed. Merchants were permitted to trade without paying heavy tolls. However, the most important was the clause decreeing that no freeman was to be detained or punished except "by the lawful judgement of his peers and the law of the land." The king promised all "freemen" protection from his officers and the right to a fair and legal trial. But at that time most of the English were not free, and were serfs or little better. The class character of this clause is most evident for only the freemen, or in fact the privileged classes could make use of this right. [5, p.60]
Hundreds of years later, Magna Carta was used by Parliament to protect itself from a powerful king. In fact Magna Carta gave no real freedom to the majority of people in England. The nobles who wrote it and forced King John to sign it had no such thing in mind. They had one main aim: to make sure John did not go beyond his rights as feudal lord. [4, p.28]
One of the specific points of the Great Charter was the setting up of a permanent committee of 25 barons to see that John's promises were kept. It also said that John must govern with the Council's advice and permission. This particular device did not work well but it gave the barons the advantage to start a political struggle against the king if necessary as a class rather than as individuals. [5, p.60]
The Great Charter was based on the document compiled by Henry I when he confirmed the old Anglo - Saxon laws modernizing them to suit the feudal reality. Stephen Langton saw to it that the privileges of the church would be provided for. The document contained the aforementioned "list of grievances" that is criticism of the king's abuses of power, and then fixed in writing what was always understood as the unwritten law of the lord ? vassal relations. The bulk of the document enumerated measures and conditions that ensured the barons' uninterrupted exploitation of their peasant holders without fear of extra levies unstipulated by this class treaty. The people concerned were all "freemen" and at that time freemen constituted a quarter of the population of England. The people who "tired of the tyrant, flocked" to support the barons were completely disregarded. But the interests of merchants were seen to, for they were clearly becoming a power even at the dawn of the 13th century; the Charter made a point of guarding them from the king's arbitrary taxation; interests of trade were seen to in other ways. The Charter cancelled the right of the king to control the personal property and the personal liberty of all freemen, the towns were guaranteed their municipal liberties.
It is therefore with certain reservations that one should accept the statements of many English bourgeois historians who characterize the Charter as "a decisive settlement of the constitutional liberties of England." The barons compiling it were hardly concerned with the whole of England. The king's interference in their wealth-accumulating activities was to be checked, the king was not to be allowed to impose new taxes and to demand endless supplies and to arrest those who objected to paying without a murmur; he was not to be allowed to take the profitable cases from the barons' courts: four times a year at stated intervals, his courts were to function, and no more. All subsidies to the king were to be sanctioned by the common council, its composition was delineated: all the tenants-in-chief, both lay and ecclesiastical, barons, earls and knights. The council can hardly be considered as the germ of the future parliament, it was too numerous while only one class was represented; all the tenants-in-chief were never convened together.
It is equally hard to see any "democratic tendencies" in the stipulations of the article forbidding the king to ruin the people with fines (the culprits were to be left their means of making a living, as the goods were to be left to the merchant, the agricultural implements to the peasant, etc.). A peasant left without his implements would be no good for those from whom he held the land - who would do the work then? And where would the quit-rent come from? The merchants' support was invaluable to the barons, they knew they would have to make war on the king. Checking the king's power, the Charter was an instrument of perfecting feudalism and establishing a baronial oligarchy.
The Charter, however, acquired wider and more radical implications when the class composition was changed, when villeinage died out and the idea of freedom was no longer connected with land holding. As it was, it did not amount to much for the overwhelming majority of the population that did not enjoy the status of freemen, no more than a "romantic symbol" as some progressive English historians called it, but it was a great enough event in 13th century England to make king John mad. [3, pp.53-54]
"He signed the Charter with a smile... when he got home to Windsor Castle, he was quite a madman in his helpless fury. And he broke the Charter immediately afterwards", Charles Dickens says in his "Child's History of England". As soon as he broke it, "they made war upon him," declared him deposed and invited Louis, the French king's son, to the throne of England. The moment the barons dispersed, John denounced the Great Charter and gathered an army. But Civil war was interrupted by John's sudden death in 1216. His son Henry was only nine. Government was carried out in his name by a group of barons. They became stronger than ever before. Within this period the principles of Magna Carta came to be accepted as the basis of the law at least in theory.
Magna Carta meant great changes in the feudal system. Even more important, however, was the Charter's influence on those classes in future centuries ? the bourgeoisie and the gentry ? who stood against the king's powers and demanded a limitation of his rights. [5, p.60]
Magna Carta marks a clear stage in the collapse of English feudalism. Feudal society was based on links between lord and vassal. At Runnymede the nobles were not acting as vassals but as a class. They established a committee of twenty-five lords to make sure John kept his promises. That was not a "feudal" thing to do. In addition, the nobles were acting in co-operation with the merchant class of towns.
The nobles did not allow John's successors to forget his charter and its promises. Every king recognized Magna Carta, until the Middle Ages ended in disorder and a new king of monarchy came into being in the 16th century.
There were other small signs that feudalism was changing. When the king went to war he had the right to forty days' fighting service from each of his lords. But forty days were not long enough for fighting a war in France. The nobles refused to fight for longer, so the king was forced to pay soldiers to fight for him. (They were called "paid fighters", solidarius, a Latin word from which the word "soldier" comes.) At the same time many lords preferred their vassals to pay them in money rather than in services. Vassals were gradually beginning to change into tenants. Feudalism, the use of land in return for service, was beginning to weaken. But it took another three hundred years before it disappeared completely. [4, p.28]
1.4 Summoning of the First Elected Parliament in 1265
John's son Henry was a nine-year-old child when he came to the throne of England after his father's death in 1216. The barons entrusted the administration of the country in the infant king's name to their representatives constituting the Great Council with Archbishop Langton at the head. The Great Council became very important, and though it had no legislative or executive power, it was discussing affairs of the state and claiming a certain role in the actual government. Henry's minority was surely a fat time for the baronial oligarchy. During the first sixteen years as king he was under the control of powerful nobles, and tied by Magna Carta. But the time of his majority came, and Henry was finally able to rule for himself at the age of twenty-five. He took all the affairs of the state in his hands as Henry in (1216-1272). It was understandable that he wanted to be completely independent of the people who had controlled his life for so long. The change was soon felt for the new king meant to assert his authority and the barons instantly felt pressure increasing that threatened their idyllic enjoyment of their Runnymede achievements. [4, p.30]
Social contradictions in the country in the middle of the 13 century were deepened by growing feudal exploitation. The barons' appetites had to find vent somewhere and they took it out in pressing their vassals, down to the bottom. The Pope of Rome never slackened his demands; the huge annual payments that John the Lackland had involved the country into had to be made and that told heavily on the knights and the citizens. They saw themselves paying taxes they had never approved of or taken obligations to pay, so they were resentful, ready to support the barons in their opposition. The last straw was Henry's demand to the Great Council of a huge payment to the Pope who had promised the Sicilian crown for Henry's eldest son Edward in exchange. [3, p.54]
The result was a row: there was a very large opposition in the country, the barons refused to pay the money. However, they were not united and the king made use of this. A civil war started in the country. In 1258 the barons and churchmen held an assembly and drew up "the Oxford Provisions". They wanted no more French favourites, no more Papal extortions, they demanded the right to appoint the justiciar (the head of the exchequer), chancellor, treasurer and all sorts of officers and sheriffs. The document provided that abuses of the king's officials in local districts be ended. A Council of Fifteen was to govern England and control the ministers. Other committees were to look after finances and the church. "The Oxford Provisions" (1258) meant a baronial oligarchy. [5, pp.60-61]
After the barons got what they wanted (the lands and castles of the French favourites with the foreigners expelled from the country, the chance to rob the country to their heart's content, the power), they disregarded those who had helped them, the knights of the counties and the citizens of towns. The latter seeing they had to act met at Westminster in 1259 to adopt the so-called "Westminster Provisions" that took care of the interests of the knights, citizens (burgesses, as they were called) and the top layers of the free peasants. "The Westminster Provisions" were intended to guard the citizens from the arbitrary actions of both the king's officials and the feudal courts, to guard the interests of the holders from the arbitrary actions of the feudal lords.
The king saw that the baronial oligarchy was far from intending to heed the "Westminster Provisions", and so he got the Pope to issue him with a document that would free the king from having to mind not only the "Westminster Provisions", but also the "Provisions of Oxford". So a civil war began in 1263, with Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester heading the army consisting of knights and citizens, tradesmen, craftsmen and Oxford university students supported by the free peasants and a number of barons. The citizens of London, always ready to support a movement against the king's tyranny sent a reinforcement of 15 thousand men. After a series of victories the army approached London and the king had to flee. At the battle of Lewes in 1264 the king's army was defeated, Henry Ш and his son Edward were taken prisoners and imprisoned. The king had to sign a treaty according to which Simon de Montfort became the ruler of England.
Half a year later, on the 20th of January 1265 Simon de Montfort convened the first Parliament with the barons, his supporters, and the numerous clergymen as a matter of course, representing the feudal top and the church (which in itself did not distinguish it from the Great Council). There was an extremely important innovation, however: representation was extended to include two knights from each shire and two burgesses from the leading towns of the country. The latter circumstance is in itself characteristic for it shows the growing social-economic significance of the town population and the smaller holders. The circumstance should not be overestimated though: in the Civil War period craftsmen and moderately wealthy merchants achieved importance in towns, but only the top layers of the town population were represented in the Parliament.
The movement involved wide masses of peasants: they would seize the barons' estates, sack the houses and, joined by the villeins, move on to the next manor. This turn of events frightened the barons (who had supported Simon de Montfort) into deserting to the king's side.
Prince Edward escaped from prison, collected those who had left Simon de Montfort's side, gathered and organized them into an army. Then at the battle of Evesham Edward defeated Montfort, killed him and freed his father. Once again Henry had full royal authority, although he was careful to accept the balance which de Montfort had created between king and nobles. When Henry died in 1272 his son Edward I took the throne of England without question. [3, pp.54-55]
1.5 The “Model Parliament" of Edward I (1295)
Although the king was now back in power, the parliamentary experiment had made its mark. Edward I (1272-1307) convened Parliament in the pre-Montfort baronial form but in 1295 he had to include the wider representation of knights and burgesses, which confirmed the status of England as feudal monarchy with class representation.
The matter was that the lords were less able to provide the king with money, except what they had agreed to pay him for the lands they held under feudal arrangement. In the days of Henry I (1100-1135), 85 per cent of the king's income had come from the land. By 1272 income from the land was less than 40 per cent of the royal income. The king could only raise the rest by taxation. Since the rules of feudalism did not include taxation, taxes could only be raised with the agreement of those wealthy enough to be taxed. [3, p.57]
Several kings had made arrangements for taxation before, but Edward I was the first to create a "representative institution" which could provide the money he needed. This institution became the House of Commons. Unlike the House of Lords it contained a mixture of "gentry" (knights and other wealthy freemen from the shires) and merchants from the towns. These were the two broad classes of people who produced and controlled England's wealth. They were surely not given any legislative power. At first it was only a way of telling these representatives of the local communities what new taxes to expect. They listened but they did not talk. However, eventually the practice changed and parliament assumed its role as a fiscal body responsible for taxation.
In 1295 Edward I commanded each shire and each town (borough) to send two representatives to his Parliament. These "commoners" would have stayed away if they could, to avoid giving money to Edward. But few dared risk Edward's anger. They became unwilling representatives of their local community. This, rather than Magna Carta, was the beginning of the idea that there should be "no taxation without representation".
In other parts of Europe, similar "parliaments" kept all the gentry separate from the commoners. England was special because the House of Commons contained a mixture of gentry belonging to the feudal ruling class and merchants and freemen who did not. The co-operation of these groups, through the House of Commons, became important to Britain's later political and social development. During the 150 years following Edward's death the agreement of the Commons became necessary for the making of all statutes, and all special taxation additional to regular taxes. [4, p.31]
Edward I must have learnt his lesson well, for he agreed, from the very beginning of his reign, that no tax should be raised by the king without the consent of Parliament This is how the Parliament got the right to vote taxes. He showed diplomacy and prudence in his dealings with the barons: on the one hand he managed to check their impudence, as well as the pretensions of the church; he curtailed the baronial privileges and forbade gifts of land to the church, immensely wealthy already. Cautiously but firmly he enhanced the rights of the royal courts of justice limiting those of the baronial courts correspondingly. Some innovations were introduced by him in the system of administration and royal jurisdiction. The exchequer became a separate court, the Court of Common Pleas and the King's Bench were given a definite and permanent status.
On the other hand Edward sensed the growing discontent and unrest of the peasants. He knew only one way to curb that: consolidation of the feudal state. Taking care of the lords' interests he issued the Second Statute of Westminster confirming the lords' rights to enclose common lands, wasteland, common pasture, woods, etc. In fact the Statute legalized what the barons had begun to do for quite some time already depriving the peasants of their ancient right to a share in the common pasture land. The Statute said lands could be enclosed "if the free holders did not suffer by that". The villeins' interests never interested any king and the “if” will be forgotten in the future soon to come, bringing sufferings and privations untold to both the villeins and the small free-holders. [3, p.56]
When William the Conqueror became King of England in 1066, he introduced more advanced form of feudal system than the country had had under the Anglo-Saxon monarchs. Under the Normans there was no chance for absolute monarchy: the barons had their own lands and soldiers and did not let the king to have too much power. As a result there were constant quarrels between powerful barons and the kings who wanted more lands and more power.
In 1215, at the council at Runnymede, the barons forced King John the Lackland to sign Magna Carta (the Great Charter). This document gave the nobles a legitimate share in the government of the country and limited the king's power. The controlling organ, a committee of 24 barons, was created which was nothing but a weapon in the hands of the baronial oligarchy.
When Henry III, the son of King John, became the king, he tried to get more power in his hands. As a result, a civil war, later called the Barons' War, began. The King's army was defeated, and Simon de Montfort, the barons' leader, summoned the first elected Parliament in 1265. It was the beginning of the division of the British Parliament into two parts: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. When Simon de Montfort and his army were defeated and Henry III reassumed power, both he and his son Edward I convened Parliament in the baronial form but in 1295 Edward had to include the wider representation of the “commons” which confirmed the status of England as feudal monarchy with class representation.
2. The Development of Parliament in the Late Middle Ages
2.1 Splitting into the Two Houses in the 14th Century
By the time of Edward I's death (1307), the county knights and the town burgesses were already identified as the "Community", whose interests were not necessarily identical to those of lords and church. In the reign of Edward II, which afforded plenty of opportunity for discontent and concern for the national welfare, they formed the custom of meeting together during the course of a parliament, to discuss their own concerns. By the middle of the 14th century this gathering had become sufficiently formal to have its own clerk to record proceedings and its "speaker" to report its views and present its claims to the full parliament. In this way, without formal statute or charter, the House of Commons began its emergence as a separate if still junior chamber to the House of Lords. [6, pp.68-69]
The composition of Parliament, where there were knights and burgesses, was of important significance. The knights or lesser landowners lived on their estates and made the largest possible income from them. They were greatly interested in the development of the wool-trade. Thus they had many common interests with the merchants and wealthy craftsmen of the towns. Later on the gentry emerged from these landowners, as well as the bourgeoisie from the top of the town dwellers.
In the course of the 14th century Parliament took its modern shape consisting of two Houses - the House of Lords and the House of Commons. In this division the knights of the shire took their places in the House of Commons with the burgesses, whereas the lords and the top clergy sat in the House of Lords. Parliament gained control over statutes and taxation, created impeachment and presided over the abdications of the monarch. And no law could be made, nor any tax levied, without the consent of both Houses as well as the Sovereign. [5, p.61]
When Richard II came of age, the usual struggle "the crown - the nobles" started again. The nobles, for whom the French War and chances of plunder were their idea of splendid life, were supported by those of the new nobility and London merchants who were interested in wool markets, who were connected with the wool and clothing trade.
So the Parliament which by that time had become a great force, seized the power and deposed this last Plantagenet king. It went further than that: it also appointed the next king, Henry IV (1399-1413) actually appointed him, bypassing the lawful heir.
The power of the Parliament continued to grow. The House of Commons established their right not only to vote supplies of money but also to inquire into the expenditure. Under the next king, just as unlawful traditionally as his father, and just as dependent on the Commons' favour, it was enacted that no law should have force until endorsed by the Commons.
The church also took advantage of the king's wobbly security, and got him to agree to an anti-Lollard statute under which any church opposition that could be framed up as heresy was punished by burning. In the next reign many Lollards met their end at the stake.
Henry V (1413-1422) tried to remedy the impoverished feudal lords' plight by renewing the war with France. He began the last stage of the Hundred Years' War by the victorious battle of Agincourt in 1415 which let the plunder-hungry lords have a chance to rob the French peasants, and brought them as far as Paris so that the imbecile French king Charles VI was forced to recognize Henry V as his heir, giving his daughter in marriage to the conqueror.
In England the feudal lords were at each other's throats. Henry V died in 1422 and while his son was still a nine-months-old child the struggle of the nobles for power grew quite fierce. The French king died too. His inheritance left to the unfortunate child was ominous, it was imbecility that would become apparent later. So far Henry VI (1422-1461) was ruler of two countries in his cradle.
There were changes for the worse in the English expeditional forces. The English and the Burgundian traitors quarreled, the latter rejoined their army against their former allies. Artillery was introduced in battle by the French armies; there was discontent among the peasants who supported some of the nobles bickering for power, hoping to win an improvement in the taxation system so that in 1450 a powerful uprising broke out in Kent and Sussex, and began to spread. The nobles in power were doing their best to line their pockets starving the army, sending rotten supplies and delaying reinforcements. So in 1453 the last battle was fought and the war was finally given up, with Calais the only trophy of a hundred years of bloodshed. Britain was utterly defeated in the Hundred Years' War.
This result was no surprise to anybody, it could be foreseen in 1429, when the guerilla movement started; that is why the nobles had concentrated their energy on increasing their power in Parliament. They saw that the burgesses were becoming bolder and the wealthy peasantry were getting into Parliament. The House of Commons included wide circles of "the commons of England" since the property qualification was low enough to enable burgesses of great income, petty gentry and middle classes to be represented. To intimidate their opponents the gangster nobles came to the sittings accompanied by their followers bearing heavy sticks and clubs (arms were not allowed in the Houses). This, however, could not be relied on, so a new reactionary law was introduced. It established a much higher property qualification for Parliament membership, namely, an income of forty shillings a year which was high for that time. [3, pp.77-79]
2.2 The War of the Roses and the Beginning of Tudor Absolutism
The Hundred Years' War, in which England lost practically all its lands in France, ended in 1453, but there was no peace in the country. Long before the end of this war, a feudal struggle had broken out between the descendants of Edward III. They divided into two hostile groups, one supporting the House of York with a white rose on their coat-of-arms, the other supporting the House of Lancaster with a red rose in theirs. The Lancaster dynasty was chiefly supported by the nobility of the backward North and Wales while the York forces found support among some of the feudal lords of the economically developed South-East. The York dynasty was also supported by the new nobility and the wealthy citizens who were interested in establishing strong and durable power.
The head of the York party, Richard of York, who had been staying in Ireland as vice king, returned to England and was formally declared protector. But the straggle of the court parties did not stop there, and finally Richard had to retire. Then he collected an army and fought a battle of Saint-Albans in 1455. This battle put the beginning to the civil war that is known in history under the romantic appellation of "The War of the Roses" and which very unromantically plagued the country during 30 years (1455-1485). The losses of both sides were great, and as to the feudal nobles, what with casualties and revenge they were almost completely exterminated in the bloody feuds.
In 1460 the Duke of York and his youngest son were killed in battle but his eldest son Edward of York was crowned in Westminster in 1461 as Edward IV. He reigned until he died in 1483.
Edward had two sons. The eldest was 12, and he was to be King Edward V. Both he and his small brother were imprisoned in the Tower by their uncle, Edward's brother Richard of Gloucester who declared young Edward V illegitimate, seized the throne and killed the children in the Tower. Richard of Gloucester became king Richard ПI in 1483. His reign, however, was brief for it did not stop the internecine wars and he did not manage to secure the support of the gentry and townsmen. It was then that a distant relative of the nearly exterminated House of Lancaster, Henry Tudor who was the earl of Richmond, gathered an army in France which all the barons persecuted by Richard III readily joined. In 1485, in the battle of Bosworth, Richard's army was defeated and Richard himself killed. This ended the War of the Roses, finished the internecine bickerings and prepared the way for the economic development of the country. Supported by the Parliament and by the gentry and the townsmen, Henry Tudor established the new Tudor dynasty.
With the power of big landlords undermined by the long internecine war, Henry VII Tudor (1485-1509) disbanded the troops of the remaining nobles, destroyed their castles and made their lands his royal possessions. England entered a new stage of absolute royal power and became a powerful centralized state. A year later, in 1486 Henry VII married the Yorkist heiress Princess Elizabeth of York. This marriage was a great political importance. It meant the union of the red rose of the House of Lancaster with the white rose of the House of York.
The Wars of the White and Red Roses were the last eruption of feudal anarchy before absolutism was established. In the course of the wars the greater part of the old aristocracy was exterminated while the property confiscations undermined their power. At the same time the social significance of the new nobility and the appearing bourgeoisie which became the chief support of Tudor absolutism, grew immensely. [3, pp. 80-81]
2.3 Government and Society in the 14th - 15th Centuries
2.3.1 Social Structure
The year 1485 has usually been taken to mark the end of the Middle Ages in England. Of course, nobody at the time would have seen it as such. There was no reason to think that the new king Henry VII would rule over the country any different from the one ruled over by Richard III. Before looking at the changes in England under the House of Tudor it might be worth looking back at some of the main social developments that had taken place in the late Middle Ages.
Society was still based upon rank. At the top were dukes, earls and other lords, although there were far fewer as a result of war. Below these great lords were knights. Most knights, even by Edward Fs time, were no longer heavily armed fighters on horses. They were "gentlemen farmers" or "landed gentry" who had increased the size of their landholdings, and improved their farming methods. This class had grown in numbers. Edward I had ordered that all those with an income of twenty pounds a year must be made knights. This meant that even some of the yeoman farmers became part of the "landed gentry", while many "esquires", who had served knights in earlier times, now became knights themselves. The word "esquire" became common in written addresses, and is only now slowly beginning to be used less.
Next to the gentlemen were the ordinary freemen of the towns. By the end of the Middle Ages, it was possible for a serf from the countryside to work for seven years in a town craft guild, and to become a "freeman" of the town where he lived. The freemen controlled the life of a town. Towns offered to poor men the chance to become rich and successful through trade. [4, pp.57-61]
In the beginning the guilds were formed to protect the production or trade of a whole town. Later, they had come to protect those already enjoying membership, or who could afford to buy it, from the poorer classes of the same town. As they did not have the money or family connections to become members of the guilds, the poorer skilled workers tried to join together to protect their own interests. These were the first efforts to form a trade union. Several times in the 14th century skilled workers tried unsuccessfully to protect themselves against the power of the guilds. The lives of the skilled workers were hard, but they did not suffer as much as the unskilled, who lived in poor and dirty conditions. However, even the condition of the poorest workers in both town and country was better than it had been a century earlier.
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