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A Short History of Parliament

A Short History of Parliament: 1295-1642

Copyright Date: 1953
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    A Short History of Parliament
    Book Description:

    The history of the evolution of the British Parliament, essential to an understanding of modern democratic governments, is told in a concise account which includes the main facts to be found in standard constitutional histories and, in addition, synthesizes much of the recent research on the subject. The development is shown against the background of the people and the times of the periods covered. The history begins with the so-called “Model” Parliament of 1295 and continues through the first year of the “long” Parliament, 1641. The volume will help to bridge the division, usually too sharply made, between the medieval and modern eras of history, and should be valuable as collateral reading for students in the various fields of political and social science and literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6467-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Preface
    (pp. v-vi)
    F. T.
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    SOME years ago there appeared an attractive popular book entitledHow the World Votes. In the words quoted above, the authors, Seymour and Frary, emphasize the British parliament. Quite naturally their stress is on the popular elective element, the House of Commons. Yet in its origin parliament was aristocratic,feudal— an assembly of the king’s tenants-in-chief, meeting at intervals, perhaps two or three times a year, to advise, sometimes indeed to control or coerce, their lord the king in great matters. Its work was not primarily legislative, although sometimes an ordinance or statute did result. Business might include matters...

  6. Part I. Parliament in the Later Middle Ages

    • I England in the Later Middle Ages
      (pp. 19-28)

      THE period to be covered by the first part of these studies has been commonly called by the nondescript name of the Later Middle Ages. It has not evoked the enthusiasm historians have accorded other centuries, the thirteenth or the sixteenth, for instance. One enthusiast, writing on western European culture in the days of the Church at its height, has called the thirteenth “the greatest of centuries.”¹ While English historians have not gone so far, they have made us feel its charm and its role as a heroic epoch. The fourteenth century can show no villain as black as John,...

    • II The Form and Composition of Parliament
      (pp. 29-39)

      OTHER states today have second-chamber problems: whether there should be a second chamber at all, and if so, what its powers should be, etc. But Britain, it should be remembered, has no written constitution, no judicial review. Parliamentary sovereignty in modern times extends even to the power to amend the frame of government. Thus the Lords may play a useful role in the use of the suspensory veto to check hasty or radical legislation.

      As an assembly of the king’s vassals in feudal days, the Lords, of course, have a much longer history than the Commons. Only gradually did that...

    • III Elected, Electors, and Elections
      (pp. 40-62)

      “OUR modern suffrage,” the authors ofHow the World Votesremind us, “is a composite of ideas and practices, which have their source in the most widely separated epochs of the world’s history, from Pericles to Jeremy Bentham, and from the laws of Solon to the Declaration of the Rights of Man.” They suggest four different ways in which man has regarded his right to participate in government by means of his vote: “He has, in distant times and comparatively simple conditions, considered it a natural accompaniment to his membership in the state, from which he could in no way...

    • IV Powers, Procedure, and Privileges
      (pp. 63-90)

      MORE effective than generalizations, if we are to form a lively picture of parliament in action, is a reconstruction of certain actual sessions as complete as our evidence permits. But first a summary of the powers and duties usually exercised in the fourteenth century may serve as an introduction. For the convenience of the modern student a classification such as the following will best serve our turn: (1) judicial functions, (2) administration and matters of state, (3) control over taxation, and (4) legislation. The first two continue to belong more properly to the Lords; the third and fourth will be...

    • V Parliament at Work: Actual Sessions
      (pp. 91-113)

      IN AN age of such tremendous energies, long swords, and short tempers, it is surprising that parliaments functioned as smoothly as they did. Even in Elizabeth’s reign, members were warned not to wear their spurs in the House. In the Lincoln Parliament of 1316 at a full session in the cathedral and in the presence of the king, Sir John Ros and the younger Hugh le Despenser passed from hot words to blows with sword and fist “in contempt of the Lord King . . . and in breach of the peace, and terror of the people in the said...

    • VI The Contributions of the "Men of Law"
      (pp. 114-130)

      IN THE reigns of Henry IV and Henry V, king, Council, and parliament worked in a harmony almost suggestive of later ministerial responsibility. During the Lancastrian-Yorkist strife of the mid-century, parliament and Council were apt to be dominated by the faction temporarily in the ascendant. Yorkist parliaments anticipate those of the Tudors in less frequent sessions and in rather able control by the king. One historian goes so far as to exclaim: "Under Edward IV and Richard III Parliament has no history."

      However, it is the purpose of this chapter to show that even the fifteenth century witnessed practical advances...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  7. Part II. Parliament in the Tudor Period

    • VII England in the Age of the Tudors
      (pp. 133-141)

      “WHEN Henry VII ascended the throne,” writes Lunt, “much in England was medieval and little was modern; when Elizabeth ended the line of Tudor in 1603 the proportion had been reversed.” In emphasizing the century of the Tudors as an era of transition, the historian, of course, is not thinking of “modern” in terms of the machine age, the fruits of science and invention. He is concerned rather with the passing of such “medieval” features as feudalism, the handicraft system with its guilds, the all-pervading universal Church, and the scholastic philosophy of the universities. In their place come centralized authority...

    • VIII Continuity Plus Progress
      (pp. 142-155)

      COULD a knight who had sat in one of Henry IV’s parliaments, Sir Arnold Savage, for instance, have returned in ghostly guise to a parliament of Henry VII, he would have found much that was familiar. There were the Lords, a group of hereditary peers, with bishops and abbots; and the Commons, still numbering a little under three hundred, knights and burgesses, chosen under the same electoral laws and processes. It was still the unquestioned authority of the ruler to summon parliament, set the length of the session, prorogue or dissolve, accept or reject bills. There was the customary formal...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • IX Parliament in the Reign of Elizabeth I
      (pp. 156-173)

      IN TUDOR England it was still true that the shire, or the county as it was now more commonly called, was the unit of local government. There was one new official, the Lord Lieutenant, usually the chief nobleman of the county, whose main duty was to hold annual musters of the militia and to act as military leader of the shire. It was still those “good and lawful men,” gentlemen and freeholders, who served as sheriffs, coroners, and justices of the peace.

      Local patriotism tied in with the new cult of antiquities (not classical lore but England’s own past) to...

    • X Parliament at Work: Actual Sessions
      (pp. 174-190)

      THE second parliament of the reign was formally opened January 12, 1563, and prorogued April 10, a rather long session of almost three months. Although some details are lacking (such as information on debates and committees), it is possible to reconstruct a fairly complete picture as to ceremonial, subsidy, legislation, and the general spirit of harmony which prevailed. It was a session in which the leadership of the queen, and perhaps even more that of her councillors, was dominant, though Lords and Commons did express themselves emphatically in respect to the problems of the queen’s marriage and the succession.


  8. Part III. Parliament in the Early Stuart Period

    • XI The England of the Early Stuarts
      (pp. 193-205)

      THE land to which King James came in 1603 was, on the whole, the England of Elizabethan days and ways. Naturally many a notable Elizabethan lived well into the Stuart era — Shakespeare to 1616, Sir Walter Raleigh to 1618, Francis Bacon to 1626, and Sir Edward Coke from 1552 to 1634! Even so, some new features deserve attention. The changes evolved in the century of transition described above were nearing completion. Other more “modern” novelties were soon to appear.

      Although three fourths of the population still lived in rural areas, cities were growing and constituting a market for agricultural...

    • XII The Winning of the Initiative
      (pp. 206-226)

      AN ASSEMBLY such as the English parliament had become was a novelty to the new ruler, for the Scottish Estates were differently organized and still played a minor role in government. Parliamentary elections were held four times in James’s reign of twenty-two years. The first parliament, by the device of proroguing, met in five sessions, 1604-1611. The second was the futile assembly of 1614, aptly named the Addled Parliament. Then followed six years of no parliaments in which James tried his preference for one-man government and kingcraft. The third parliament met in two sessions, 1621, and the last in 1624....

    • XIII The Opposition in Action, 1621
      (pp. 227-240)

      THE parliament which met in two sessions, 1621, January 30 to June 4, and November 20 to December 18, is striking both for its dramatic quality and for its constructive work. It reveals the new devices of procedure in use and the outstanding leaders in action. There are advances such as the revival of impeachment and a more comprehensive definition of powers and privileges. These are the sessions, too, for which the official Journals are so richly supplemented by the parliamentary diaries, or Commons Debates.¹

      After an interval of six years of no parliaments, indeed of ten years since a...

    • XIV Charles I and His Parliaments, 1625-1629
      (pp. 241-253)

      FOR the purpose of these studies we must be content with a brief survey of the early parliaments of Charles I (1625-1629). There were dramatic episodes, a pointing up and climaxing of the parliamentary theories and practices of the preceding reign, and effective cooperation between the Houses. One striking achievement was the securing of the Petition of Right, and incidentally the recording in theJournalsand diaries of a formidable array of precedents. The dramatic scene which closed the 1629 session, with the Speaker being held in his chair, was literally and physically a winning of the initiative!

      Charles I...

    • XV The Long Parliament Comes to the Rescue
      (pp. 254-270)

      “WE SHALL account it presumption for any to prescribe any time unto us for Parliaments . . .” On this note King Charles embarked on eleven years of personal rule. It has been suggested that he might have conciliated opinion or prepared for absolutism, but actually he did neither. There was now no favorite like Buckingham. Councillors were, on the whole, men of integrity and ability, but royalist and uncompromising. The Bench was increasingly packed, the prerogative courts active. Laud, Bishop of London and from 1633 Archbishop of Canterbury, was unselfish and conscientious, but a staunch supporter of the State...

  9. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 273-275)
  10. Index
    (pp. 276-280)