Parliament to the Divine Right of Kings 1216 to 1603

Some things happen which are unobserved at the time but which have great significance later.   The arrival of “ the commons” in parliament is one of those things.   No one knows in which year or in which decade it happened.   All we do know is that by the middle of the thirteenth century summons of representatives is occasionally mentioned and within twenty or thirty years such summons are normal.   In a similar way we began to see the word “parliamentum” come into use.   For instance in 1236 a case before the king’s bench was adjourned “to the parliamentum at Westminster”.   The word “parliament” means literally a “talking place” and is derived from the French word parler, to speak.
The Houses of Parliament are a Royal palace and are officially known as The Palace of Westminster.   This means that it is subject to the law as it affects a Royal palace as opposed to a public building. 
Magna Carta was fine as far as it went, curbing the wilder excesses of absolute monarchy.   Fifty years after King John had signed it in 1215, however, England still suffered from bullying, autocratic kings who bled their barons for tax to fund doubtful military adventures.   The battle between the nobles and the King was a continuing one and exploded fifty years later when a French born Baron took on the King.
       Simon De Montfort – a French man who married Henry III’s youngest sister Eleanor – is popularly regarded as the founding father of the English Parliament, but it is not strictly true.   Henry III’s brother, Richard, Earl of Cornwall, acting as Regent while Henry III was in Gascony, set up the first recognisable Parliament in 1254, specifically to win consent for taxation, and including for the first time representatives from beyond the King’s immediate circle of barons and clergy.   The King promised to consult it.   Sheriffs of counties were instructed to send two Knights from each Shire to advise the King on finance.   The lesser Barons ceased to attend.   By including representatives from beyond the King’s immediate circle this gathering distinguished itself from the Royal Council and it is for this reason that it is regarded as the first parliament.

                In form the representatives of the shires and lower clergy were merely envoys who “came to the council” to report the local decision of their shire or diocese.   In reality, since there would be only one grant of aid, service and monies to enable Henry III to go to the crusades and not many, one reply and not several, they must from the beginning have been empowered to consult together and arrive at a common decision.   This was the beginning of the House of Commons.
               1258 was not a good year for Henry III.   He formally surrendered his Rights to Normandy, Anjou and Poitou to the French King and in the same year was confronted by an armed confederacy of seven barons including De Montfort.   He agreed to the establishment of a committee of twenty-four (half appointed by himself, half by parliament) to draft reforms for the government of the realm and report back to Council.
                The main issue here is that of tax raising.   The King can only raise taxes through this body.   The King is the Government.   To run the Government the King needs money.   The money raised goes to the King.   Henry needed money.   This put him in a weak position, which forced him to concede ground to the Barons.   He is forced to share power.   As yet it does not extend to the people, but the number of taxpayers is growing.
The Council met in Oxford and its deliberations were so momentous for the long-term future of English politics it has far more significance than 1215.   Essentially they abolished the absolute monarchy of the Anglo-Norman State.   The Council of twenty-four was replaced by a Council of fifteen, with the royal delegation reduced to three.   At a stroke the sovereign powers of the Crown were transferred to a standing committee elected by the barons and the Church.   That committee was to have the final say in the Crown’s choice of ministers and councillors, and also in proposing and disposing of funds to make war or peace.   No less radical was the devolution of power to the counties, where four knights in each shire, elected by an elaborate process, were to be made responsible for collecting complaints and grievances.   These became known as the Provisions of Oxford.   England was no longer an autocracy.   By these provisions the last vestiges of autocracy were taken away.   Parliament, which had gradually evolved over the first half of the century, was to meet three times a year.   The precise method of election was not made clear so it was left to the shires with varying processes to determine how to conduct the election and who should take part.
                This was the culmination of the development of the Witangemot of Anglo-Saxon times.   It had progressed from a council of the great and the good to the royal family and close friends to the land-owning barons and senior clergy that were to make up the House of Lords together with the representatives of the shires which were to make up the House of Commons.    This was the foundation of Parliament.
                Henry had to agree the Provisions of Oxford and his son Edward was held hostage to ensure that he kept to his undertaking.   Henry agreed to all of this but then reneged on his undertaking.   Simon De Montfort gathered the Barons, took arms and seized the Channel ports to prevent reinforcements landing from Gascony.   The King, fearing civil war moved to the safety of the Tower of London.

                He had to come out and fight in the end.   The two forces met at Lewes in East Sussex in 1264, De Montfort carried the day.   With Henry captured, De Montfort briefly became the effective ruler of England, summoning a Parliament in 1265 and chairing it himself.   It met in Westminster Hall.   It was the true precursor of the modern institution, for it included not only lords, bishops and abbots, but four knights from each shire and two burgesses from each large town – the first time that all England above the class of surf had been represented
De Montfort sent out messengers to each county and to a select list of boroughs, asking each to send two representatives. As we have seen this was not the first Parliament in England, but what distinguished it was that de Montfort insisted the representatives be elected.   There were about sixty boroughs at this time and 36 shires.   With two representatives from each borough and four knights from each shire the representation totalled about 264.  There were no women and wealth determined who could vote.   Many areas were underrepresented, but we are beginning to see a base for parliament.   It was this act of asking for representatives that is the sole basis for de Montfort’s popular reputation as the “Father of Parliament”.   This was a major step forward for democracy.  
Why did De Montfort insist that the representatives be elected?   It is possible that he took his lead from the Provisions of Oxford where he saw that the barons and the church had elected a standing committee to exercise the sovereign powers of the Crown and was trying to replicate this elected element in the make up of what was eventually to become the House of Commons.
 Little is known about the detail of this exercise.   There is nothing new in a monarch sharing power.   From the Anglo-Saxon Kings onwards there has been an element of power sharing, but this time the power was shared with elected representatives.   The right to vote in Parliamentary elections for county constituencies was uniform throughout the country, granting a vote to all those who owned the freehold of land.   Whether and to what extent the vote was exercised is unknown.   In the Boroughs, the franchise varied and individual boroughs had different arrangements
For the first time we know who was summoned to the Parliament for 20th January 1265.   The writs summoned:
The Archbishop of York (Canterbury was abroad),
All the English Bishops except Hereford who was abroad and Rochester,
Thirteen Deans and Priors of cathedral chapters,
Sixty-five Abbots and twenty-six Priors,
The Prior of the Hospitallers,
The Master of the Temple,
The prior of the order of Sempringham,
Five Earls (Leicester, Gloucester, Norfolk, Oxford, Derby),
Eighteen Barons,
Two knights from the more lawful, good and discreet knights of each shire,
The boroughs of England were commanded to send each “two of the more discreet, lawful and good citizens and burgesses”,
Later writs were sent to the barons and bailiffs of the Cinque Ports commanding them to send “four men from each of the Cinque Ports”.
It is not known how many attended.

         De Montfort’s parliament was short lived.   His barons became riven by petty jealousy, many regarding him as the King’s equal in autocracy and hubris.   Those nobles loyal to the still imprisoned King regrouped under his son Prince Edward who had escaped capture, and challenged De Montfort to battle at Evesham, Worcestershire.   De Montfort was slain, his testicles were cut off and hung around his nose and his head then sent to the wife of one of his supporters.
             His achievements were not as great as the romantic version of history suggests, but he demonstrated to Henry III’s successors that a crown in Parliament operating through the rule of law was far stronger than one to which virtually the entire nation was opposed.   What he did was to set a precedent for involving far more people than just the King’s coterie.   He gave many people a taste of power.   Having tasted it they wanted to keep it.   The genie was out of the bottle and although over the centuries there would be many attempts to put it back it would prove to be a mission impossible.   Though, we were still a long way from treating each person regardless of race or religion as of equal value.   The most blatant discrimination at this time related to the Jews, which lasted until 1858 when they were allowed to sit in Parliament.
A Jewish community had come across from Normandy with William I.   Under William II the Jews were not part of the feudal hierarchy, and so their position had to be legalised by royal charter.   They were formally declared to be “the chattels” of the Crown, responsible directly to the Throne and belonging to it.   This definition held many advantages, giving Jews rights of residence and protection.   Subsequent kings abused this special power, levying punitive taxes on the Jews, while Henry III even mortgaged the entire Jewish population to the Earl of Cornwall to raise moneys for his wars.   Matters reached crisis point under Edward I when relations between ordinary Jews and Christians deteriorated badly and in 1290 Edward decided to expel the Jews from England and they were given three months to leave.   England acquired the distinction of becoming one of the first countries to expel its Jews and to treat them as if they were a contagious disease.   Prodded by the Church, Edward required that all Jews wear yellow badges of identification, a harbinger of what was to come under the Nazis in the twentieth century.

                It meant that officially there were no Jews in England for almost four centuries until their return in 1656 under Cromwell, one of the few Acts by Cromwell which was not reversed after his death, though by this time the schism between the Catholics and Protestants dominated religious discrimination.   Cromwell reorganised the Church of England and established Puritanism at the same time.   Quite a feat! 
On the death of Henry III in 1272, his son Edward I, who was on a crusade in Sicily, became King.   It took Edward two years to get home from the crusades.   Despite being a phenomenal war maker and powerful force Edward continued in the line of de Montfort in developing and empowering parliamentary institutions.   By expanding it he diminished the power of any one individual, but he made the institution itself more powerful as more individuals were involved.
When Edward I took the coronation oath he undertook to “defend the rights of the crown.”
The first regular parliament summoned by Edward I in 1275, was generally regarded as the first representative assembly – 2 Knights from each county, presumably chosen or appointed in the shire court, 2 Burgesses from each borough, and 2 citizens from each city.   By virtue of their charters the cities and boroughs lay outside the organisation of the shires.   In feudal theory they were part of the king’s own “domain”, which he taxed at will; but as their wealth and importance grew, it was inevitable that they should be associated with the making of grants to the Crown.   These grants were made by the “communities of the realm”, a plural instead of the older singular.   These “communities” were those of the shires and boroughs whom the knights and burgesses represented, and were later known as “communes” or “commons”.
There was a constant and continuous fight going on between the King and the Barons over who had power and how power was dispersed.   On the one hand the King wanted to accumulate power into his own hands, on the other he saw the wisdom of expanding the body that held him in check for by expanding that body its power became more dispersed.   As it becomes more dispersed it is moving towards democracy.   As the King acquires more control we are moving away from democracy.
His activities covered every aspect of government and continued his predecessors’ efforts to curb Church and baronial power.   The reason was that this interfered with the unification of the nation under a monarch.   In 1279 he set up the Statute of Mortmain to prevent landowners giving their lands to the church in order to avoid taxation, and to ensure their place in heaven.   In 1285 he created the positions of Justices of the Peace, a measure designed to curb banditry and violent crime.   He also summoned, in 1295, lords, clergy and burgesses from each shire thus furthering the concept of a parliament.   This was known as the Model Parliament. Edmund Swinglehurst - The History of the Kings and Queens of England and Scotland.
When Edward I summoned the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Parliament of 1295 he used an old phrase from Roman Law “What touches all, should be agreed by all” – a key element of democracy.   It is a pity he didn’t stick to it.
By the thirteenth century the Privy Council was a definite body, having paid members who took an oath to give the King good advice, though he was not usually present at their deliberations.   Its composition was decided solely by the King.    The Privy Council is a combination of the Curia Regis and the council set up by the Provisions of Oxford except that it is an appointed body rather than an elected body – a set back for democracy.   The King had regained some power for himself, but this close set of advisers were more like a government, held in check by Parliament.
                Between 1272 and 1307, during the reign of Edward I, “Commons” (Communes) of knights of the shires and townsmen were present in Parliament with the lords, bishops and great abbots.   By the parliament of 1295 the House of Commons had about 275 members from the boroughs.   137 boroughs returned two members each plus Higham Ferrers in Northamptonshire returned one member.   The number of shires had increased to 37 with the addition of Yorkshire, but each shire only had two representatives.   By 1307 a further 19 boroughs were represented in parliament.
At the time of the “Model Parliament” in 1295 the greater barons and the prelates were summoned individually.   The prelates and the barons eventually formed the House of Lords. The Peers numbered 49.   While the knights and the burgesses became the House of Commons.   The motto of the Model Parliament was “What touches all should be approved by all”; not a bad definition of democracy!
The peerage, still, was not a hereditary body.   Kings did not consider themselves, having once summoned an individual, bound to summon the same individual, much less his heirs, to future Parliaments.   Thus writs were issued at the whim of the King.   Over time, however, the arbitrary power of the Crown was fettered by the principles of hereditary right.   Since the Crown was itself a hereditary dignity it seemed natural for seats in the Upper House of Parliament to be so as well.   By the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Peerage had evolved its hereditary characteristics.   Since under Norman customs, estates devolved under the principles of primogeniture seats in the Upper House of Parliament did so also.
Barons sat in Parliament by a combination of tenure and writs of summons issued to them.   If a woman held a barony, her husband was summoned to Parliament in her right.  
We begin to see at this time the absorption of Wales into the English system of government.   In 1282 the Principality of Wales, i.e. Gwynedd and its dependencies, was divided into the counties of Anglesey, Caernarvonshire, Merioneth, Cardiganshire and Carmarthenshire.   In March 1284, the Statute if Rhuddlan brought Wales under English control.

At the same time as absorbing Wales, Edward I was creating a single administrative whole in Ireland.
There was another significant change taking place.   In 1290 Edward I introduced the Quia Emptores Act.   This Act allowed a tenant or tenant-in-chief to transfer his responsibilities with the land he controlled.   The effect of this was to allow the commercial purchase and sale of land.   The status of tenant-in-chief could be bought.
The barons (tenants-in-chiefs) tried to maintain their closed hereditary oligarchy but Edward refused to play ball with them.   In addition he occasionally created new barons.   The great barons disputed all of this but there was little they could do about it.   They had a big enough job trying to control the Crown and its Ministries, but more significantly they were a minority in the Houses of Parliament.   Under Edward I and later Edward III the feudal system was coming to an end.   The heredity principle was under attack, a step forward on the path to democracy.
Ever widening taxation had made it necessary to summon not only the baronage but also the representatives of the towns and other landowners to Parliament for as the wealth of the towns grew so did the demands for them to pay tax grow also.   But some of the biggest landowners were the Church.   The cathedral clergy were occasionally summoned to Parliament throughout the thirteenth century and by the end of the century the diocesan clergy were also being summoned – a total of some two hundred clergy.
However the clergy took little part in Parliament because they were able to plead that they were being taxed by Royal authority through the synods and convocation of Canterbury and York.   By the beginning of the reign of Edward I only the bishops and abbots attended Parliament and they did this as part of the baronage.   Here lies the origin of the bishops sitting in the House of Lords,

Gradually the spoken language of the rulers changed from French into English and under Edward I the law changed from Latin to French.   English was by now the language of Parliament – even the Chancellor opened sessions with a speech in English, but its Acts and the records of the superior courts continued to be written in French for another century, and law reports until the seventeenth century. 
 In 1307 when Edward II took his coronation oath he undertook to “defend laws and righteous customs, which the community of the realm will choose” and also “to rule by consent with the nobles.   This was the first occasion on which it was recognised that the king rules with the consent of the nobles.   The King formally recognises that he has to keep others on side. 
Edward II's coronation oath demonstrates the barons' distrust of Edward from the beginning. They compelled their new ruler to accept an addition to his coronation oath in which the king swore that he would “defend laws and righteous customs, which the community of the realm will choose
The exact interpretation of the oath has led to many debates, in Edward's reign and by later historians, concerning who constituted the 'community of the realm' and how it was to choose.
From a deliberative assembly parliament became in 1308 under Edward II a legislative power, without whose assent no law could be legally constituted, and in 1311 annual parliaments were ordered.   Royal decree was no longer good enough.   The three great classes of the time were the clergy, the barons and the commons.   Since each class was expected to tax itself separately, it may seem strange that Parliament divided into two chambers instead of three.   The bishops, however, soon began to disregard that clause in their writ of summons, which required them to bring representatives of the clergy.   Instead they taxed themselves in their own Convocation, a practice which continued until 1664 when, in return for the right to vote for MPs, they agreed to submit to the same taxation as the laity.   The knights of the shires, being new on the scene aligned themselves with the citizens in the Commons, and they formed the habit of deliberating together and apart from the clergy and barons.
In the Declaration of 1308 the barons quoted the controversial clause of the coronation oath to reinforce their united demand that Gaveston be exiled - the king they said being bound by his oath to obey their decision.   'The doctrine of capacity' declared that homage was not due to the king in person but only to the crown as an institution. The Declaration distinguished between the person and the office of ruler to justify violent opposition to one if it was in the best interests of the other, and stressed the barons' loyalty to the crown.
Under Edward II, Wales was conquered and in 1322, Parliament assembled at York. English boroughs had risen by a further three to 140.   The boroughs which were summoned were those with a Royal Charter but not exclusively so.   The numbers voting for their representative varied and were determined within each borough.
Payment of Members of Parliament can be traced back as far as the 13th century, when the shires and boroughs allowed their representatives certain wages for attending Parliament; knights received four shillings a day, and citizens and burgesses two shillings a day for the duration of the Parliament. These rates were first prescribed in 1322, and remained in force throughout the Middle Ages, although there were local variations above and below the set rates. For example, in 1296 the two Aldermen representing the City of London were paid ten shillings a day and in 1463, the Borough of Weymouth paid its burgesses with a wage of five hundred mackerel.   The payment of parliamentary representatives and the amount they should be paid has proved to be controversial up to the present day.   The argument becomes intertwined with that of corruption.
By now we were beginning to build up Common law based on precedent and Statute Law passed by Parliament.   Together these formed the basis of English Law.  
Also in 1322 it was declared by statute that " the matters to be established for the estate of the king and of his heirs, and for the estate of the realm and of the people, should be treated, accorded, and established in parliament, by the king, and by the assent of the prelates, earls and barons, and the commonalty of the realm, according as had been before accustomed." The constitutional powers of parliament as a legislature were here amply recognised not by royal charter, or by the occasional exercise of prerogative, but by an authoritative statute.
Towards the end of his reign Edward II had Articles of Accusation levelled against him.   He was accused of breaking his coronation oath of a contract with the people.   He was deposed and then brutally murdered.   Edward III succeeded him in 1327.
England in the 14th century was a consultative monarchy.   The King was required to rule in accordance with law and custom, and with the advice and consent of his prelates and magnates.   His freedom of action was further circumscribed by a growing volume of statutory law, which bound him as well as his subjects.   While the King was not a free agent, he was expected to be a chief executive in every sense of the word: head of government, fountain of justice, commander-in-chief and arbiter of economic policy.
the presence in Parliament of representatives originally summoned to make grants of money gradually altered the character of legislation.   The Commons met not only prepared to grant taxes if need be, but bringing reports of grievances and petitions for their amendment.   Statutes came to be made not only “with the assent of the prelates and barons” but “at the request of the Commons” -  Biography of a Nation by Enoch Powell and Angus Maude
Taxation was the driving force for the development of Parliament.   The King needed it to govern or to finance war.   Parliament in its different bodies provided it.   How much was the subject of debate.
During the reigns of Edward I and Edward II the number of towns sending members to Parliament declined, as the wealthier communities consolidated their place in Parliament to the exclusion of the poorer.   The House of Commons membership had fallen to about 250.

The merging of the knights of the shire, citizens and burgesses into the one body of “Commons” was assisted by a change taking place in the character of the baronage summoned to Parliament.   The duty of attendance at court had rarely or never been exacted from every single tenant-in-chief.   The King would be concerned only with the consent and opinions of the more important of his barons; and the less important would not be sorry to avoid the expense and responsibility of obedience to the King’s writ.   Throughout the thirteenth century the number of barons called to Parliament fluctuated enormously, according to the conditions of the moment and the purpose of the particular summons.   The summonses to Parliament were rarely as numerous as the summonses to render military service but, apart from the earls (who were always summoned), any list would do which included a decent number of the sort of people called for service.   Early in the fourteenth century, however, a great change occurred.   The baronage in Parliament ceased to be an arbitrary and varying selection of the tenants in chiefs and others.   The lists became stereotyped, and the shrinking number who could point to a precedent for summons began to assume the character of a closed order, consisting of certain families who claimed the right of attendance for themselves and denied the right of the King to summon others. Biography of a Nation  - Enoch Powell and Angus Maude
By the end of the 13th century there were about 12 families holding earldoms.   Their wealth and power was consolidated by inter-marriage. e.g. On the death of his father-in-law in 1311, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster became Earl of Lincoln and Earl of Salisbury.   Kings occasionally promoted their wealthiest barons to earldoms.   During the reigns of Edward III (reigned 1327 to 1377) and Richard II (reigned 1377 to 1399) several earldoms were created, usually to reward successful war commanders and royal servants.
At the time of Edward III the House of Lords consisted of no more than about 40 earls and barons who were mainly connected with the family or under the King’s influence.   Increasingly, the least significant barons, who were no wealthier than the greater knights, were summoned to Parliament infrequently or never.   The result was an increasing social differentiation within the ranks of the nobility.   By the fifteenth century, barons who did not sit in Parliament were no longer called Lords and had subsided socially into the ranks of the commons.  
Between 1338 and 1339 parliament finally crystallised physically into two separate “houses”.   The Lords sat in a separate House from the Commons.   Members of the House of Lords were drawn from the Church (Lords Spiritual) and from magnates chosen by the Monarch (Lords Temporal), whilst Commons members represented the shires and boroughs.
The population of England and Wales in 1348 was about 3.5 million but by 1350 it had fallen to 2.25 million as a result of plague in the “Black Death”.   This period around the “Black Death” was one of significant social evolution, which ultimately impacted on the operation of power and parliament.
The increased importance of mercantile and movable wealth, as opposed to that in the form of land, the accompanying rise in the partly self governing guilds in the towns and cities, the immense movements of population which followed the decimation of the Black Death in the years after 1348, all made it easier for the members of society to view themselves as individuals.   It was in the same period that Englishmen acquired surnames. [4]
The “opening” of Parliament was conducted in English instead of French for the first time in 1356.   We were moving towards one language.              

The series of wars known as the Hundred Years War, which was to dominate Edward III's reign began in 1337. Edward III claimed the French throne through his mother.   The French disputed the right to inherit through a woman.   The result was a war, which was to last effectively for over one hundred years.   By 1362 Parliament had become so fed up with the continuous demands for more and varied taxation a statute was established that Parliament, both Houses, must assent to all lay taxation.   In theory and to a certain extent in practise this had been the case for some time, but now it was given the strength of law.
The next significant parliamentary development took place in the “Good Parliament” (as it called itself) of 1376.   Sitting in London from April 28 to July 10, it was the longest Parliament up until that time.   It took place during a time when the English court was perceived by much of the population to be corrupt. The traditional name of the “Good Parliament” was due to the sincere efforts by its members to reform the government.   Parliament had not met since November 1373, two and a half years previously.   
Once the members were assembled, they were determined to clean up the corrupt Royal Council, which consisted of paid Privy Councillors appointed by the King.
 For the first time the knights and burgesses elected a Speaker, Peter de la Mare, a knight representing Hereford, who presided over what we, would recognise as a genuine debate.   The seats were set around four sides of a lectern in effect a primitive dispatch box.   At the beginning of the meeting it was suggested that they all took an oath to keep secret what was spoken and agreed among themselves so that they could give their opinions frankly for the good of the nation.   The Commons let it be known in no uncertain terms that henceforth they expected King Edward III to trim his ambitions and expenses to his revenues.   The Good Parliament was very critical of royal government, accusing officials of corruption.   Now they developed a mechanism to enable them to do something about it.   They introduced the use of impeachment, a procedure whereby the Commons as a body prosecuted offenders before the Lords.   Richard Lyons and Baron Latimer, who were believed to be robbing the treasury, were called before Parliament and then imprisoned.   This process had reverberations down the ages leading to the impeachment of Charles I.   The House of Lords is now taking on its role of a Court of Appeal.   The debates in Parliament were not as yet recorded so we only know what went on from contemporary records.
 Internally in the deliberations of the Commons among themselves the Speaker guides and governs their proceedings; externally he is the mouthpiece of the House itself.   Two aspects of the Speaker were established right at the beginning.   When he received the royal approval at the bar of the House of Lords he stated: “As I told you three days ago, it was agreed by common consent that I should be spokesman on this occasion.   Nevertheless I do protest before all here present that if I mistake in any point, I submit to be corrected and put right by my companions; for I am not so foolish as to be unaware that the wisest can go astray in great matters”.  
 Parliament was dissolved in July, and the following autumn, John of Gaunt, fourth son of Edward III and the effective ruler of England at the time, attempted to undo its work.   He barred the admission of new councillors assigned to the King.   He threw Peter de la Mare into prison at Nottingham.   He dismissed the new council and recalled Latimer.

  In a fit of arrogant temper Gaunt had the Parliament declared unconstitutional and its acts removed from the books.   This was the act of a dictator and it was not to last.   Despite this, the public treasured the memory of the reforming Parliament thus preserving for all time its name of the “Good Parliament”.
The 14th-century saw Parliament take large strides towards becoming a structured organisation, so much so that by the start of King Richard II's reign in 1377, the division of Parliament into the House of Lords and the totally separate Common House (as the House of Commons was then generally known), was well established.   The structure was being assembled on which democracy could be developed.   At the heart was the requirement for taxation, which could only now be provided to the King (government) through the Houses of Parliament.
To begin with the Lords, the House was made up of the Lords Spiritual and the Lords Temporal.   The Lords Spiritual were a more settled body, and consisted of the 2 Archbishops, the 19 Bishops, 25 Abbots of such monasteries who had the right to sit in Parliament (not all did), and the Prior of the Knights of the Hospital, altogether 45-50 in all. Less certainty attended the Lords Temporal.   Dukes and Marquises were recent creations, the first Duke being appointed only in 1337, and the first Marquis (Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford) being raised in 1385 to the dignity of Marquis of Dublin. They had the right to sit (although they were not always sent summonses) as did the Earls whose history was much older.   There were some 1300 baronies, and it would have been impractical to summon all the Barons. Many were not entitled to sit, whilst others, who may have been able to assert some claim to do so, were deliberately left out of any summons.   Some were repeatedly summoned, and it would appear that the right to sit depended more on ancient custom and tradition than anything else did.   Moreover, when the right to sit attached to any particular Barony, successors to the title were summoned to sit.   This did not prevent some that had not been summoned from attending Parliament, and only rarely were they turned away once they were there.
Officially it was the King that summoned Parliament but tradition to a large extent determined the list.   The summons was a powerful weapon in the hands of the King.   He could delay using it and in so doing effectively govern without Parliament, but the need for taxation always eventually brought Parliament back.

It was one thing to issue summonses, but it was quite another to ensure attendance. Not all of them answered each and every call. Frequently both spiritual and temporal lords were engaged on government service elsewhere, on embassies, on campaigns at home or abroad, or on business of their own which would allow no interruption.   There were inevitably unfilled vacancies to their offices or titles at any one time, and even when they were filled, some of the temporal lords would be young children.   This goes a long way to explaining why sometimes so few and at other times so many, Dukes and Earls were summoned.   Some of them (and the Lords Temporal were particular offenders) simply ignored the summons when it arrived or invented some excuse to avoid a tiresome and sometimes dangerous journey.   The average attendance in the House of Lords for any one Parliament was in the region of 40 to 50 with a balance in favour of the clergy.   Because so few attended, those that did, often found themselves with considerable power. 
With regard to the House of Commons the records show that Writs were issued "to the Sherrifs" or "to all the Sherrifs". (Chief law enforcement officer in the County).   These required them to arrange for the election of two "knights of the shire" for each of the 37 shires (excluding Cheshire and Durham which were not represented), and for two "burgesses" ("citizens" if the town was not incorporated as a borough) from each town to sit in the Common House.   The right to return members to Parliament was not enjoyed by every town and was restricted to some 80 in all, although new towns, such as Coventry and Southampton, were at various times added to this privileged elite.   Nor could they always count upon a writ being issued to them.   There were instances of towns being deliberately excluded, and even York suffered this fate on more than one occasion.   Sometimes the right to return members was contained in the town's charter, the Cinque Ports being an example.   On other occasions the town acquired this right in a favourable answer to a petition, or as a reward for some particular service rendered to the Crown, or had "traditionally" enjoyed it.   There was no systematic method of extending the right to each and every town of importance, and towns, which did not have the right to return members, simply went unrepresented
The elections were anything but fair and proper, and the electorate seems to have consisted only of those whom the Sheriff thought should be electors.
Richard II succeeded Edward and in 1381 at the age of fourteen faced the “Peasants Revolt” led by Wat Tyler from Essex, who was chosen by a mob of peasants to be their spokesman.   A Poll Tax had been imposed which aggravated the peasant’s conditions and finally stirred them to protest by marching to London under the leadership of Wat Tyler.   The resulting demonstration lead to burning of houses, the incineration of the lists of those subject to the Poll Tax and the murders of Chancellor Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury and Sir Robert Hales, the King’s Treasurer.  
There was a face to face meeting at Smithfield between Richard and Wat Tyler where Tyler demanded a new Magna Carta, this time for the common people, formally ending serfdom, pardoning all outlaws, liquidating the property of the Church and declaring the equality of all men below the king.   Richard replied in the affirmative.   Tyler climbed on his horse and at that moment a young boy shouted that Tyler was a thief.   Tyler turned on the boy with his dagger, a fight broke out, he fell to the ground and the king’s men lead by Mayor Walworth finished him off.   Richard took control and calmed down the rebels by promising that the Poll Tax would be repealed.   This was only a ruse for within days the leaders of the rebellion were killed and soon their swinging bodies were put on display.   Though a failure, the Peasant’s revolt was a warning of things to come.   It was the first time that the “power of the people” had shown itself.   When Wat Tyler demanded a new Charter it demonstrated the extent to which the Magna Carta had impinged on the consciousness of the people.
 Because the King needed additional revenue, the power of the Commons was gradually increasing, whereas the summons of the Lords to parliament was based on their feudal claim to be the King’s advisors.

 The concept of barony as a personal dignity not tied to land arose when in about 1388 Richard II created John Beauchamp a baron by letters patent.   The Lord de Beauchamp was a baron not by tenure but rather the will of the Crown.   The Peerage was being separated from the necessity to hold land.   Richard set out to create a majority in the Lords that was favourable to himself.   Elections to the House of Commons were also beginning to be manipulated.
From the fourteenth century onwards, the history of the House of Lords is chiefly a study of its gradual surrender of authority to the Commons.
In the first place, since the representation in the House of Commons consisted mainly of those persons, notably the merchants, whose wealth was increasing most rapidly, the bulk of taxation eventually fell on them.   Hence, they became the dominant partners in the common grant to the King, and their power was strengthened when they began to deliberate as a separate body.   Soon they claimed to be the sole originators of taxation, and this was expressed in the formula appearing in 1395 that grants were made “by the Commons, with the advice of the Lords spiritual and temporal”.   Their pre-eminence was confirmed in 1407, when Henry IV accepted that “any grant by the Commons granted and by the Lords assented to” should be reported only by the Speaker of the Commons, a principle which is still enshrined in modern practice.
 Secondly, the Commons used their power to obtain redress of grievances and eventually, with the Lords, to become legislators.
Parliament’s control of the purse strings was used to good effect.   Supplies were granted for a limited period only, so that Parliament had to be called at fairly frequent intervals.   Consequently its political power increased considerably during the fourteenth century. 
Richard's unwise generosity to his favourites - Michael de la Pole, Robert de Vere and others - led Thomas, Duke of Gloucester and four other magnates to form the Lords Appellant.   The five Lords Appellants tried and convicted five of Richard's closest advisors for treason.   In 1397, Richard arrested three of the five Lords, coerced Parliament to sentence them to death and banished the other two.   One of the exiles was Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV.   Richard travelled to Ireland in 1399 to quell warring chieftains, allowing Bolingboke to return to England and be elected King by Parliament.   Richard II was deposed by the Parliament he summoned.   Henceforth English kings enjoyed their thrones only by the sanction of Parliament.   Richard lacked support and was quickly captured by Henry IV. (Reigned 1399 to 1413).
Deposed in 1399, Richard was murdered while in prison, the first casualty of the Wars of the Roses between the Houses of Lancaster and York.   Henry IV was the first King of England since Harold whose mother tongue was English.
 In 1400, Owain Glyndwr - proclaimed Prince of Wales in 1404 - summoned a Welsh parliament at Machynlleth.   However, in 1413, the English defeated Glyndwr and his followers and any national aspirations were thwarted.
   By 1404 the Privy Council was not a large body, consisting of only 19 persons.
Opportunities for gerrymandering were legion, and were fully exploited.   The Sheriffs often had firm instructions on who should be elected, either by name or those of a certain opinion.   In 1404, the Sheriff of Rutland was caught out in certifying that William 0ndeby had been elected whereas the truly elected person was Thomas Thorp.   The Lords, to whom the matter had been referred for judgement, duly declared that Thorp was properly elected, and committed the Sheriff to the Fleet Prison to consider his misdeeds at leisure and be fined at the King's pleasure.
   In 1406 the Indenture Act was passed with the declared aim of putting a stop to some of the ranker abuses involved in electing the members to the House of Commons.   Although reinforced by subsequent Statutes, it clearly failed in its object.   Each of the electors was required to add his signature and seal to the Sheriffs return certifying the names of the persons elected.   Was this the first case of individual voter registration?   Today, there is an increasing demand for voter registration to combat fraud in postal voting.
   In 1407 12 persons elected the knights for the county of Cambridge and also the burgesses for the city.   Eight persons elected the knights for the county of Huntingdon and also the burgesses for the town.   All of this was done at the same meeting in each case, and the same procedure was followed in 1411.
   Also in 1407 the Lords and Commons assembled to transact business in the Sovereign’s absence.   Henry IV acknowledged that taxes must originate in the Commons.   By 1413 members were obliged to reside at the places they represented and a residential qualification was introduced for the electors of those members.   In 1414 Henry V undertook that “nothing be enacted to the Petition of the Commons contrary to their asking.”   There was full equality of the Commons and Lords on legislation.
   In 1414, eight attorneys of seven lords "and one lady" elected the knights for the county of Yorkshire.   19 persons elected the knights for the county of Surrey, and the burgesses for four towns all at the same meeting.   Four persons were the electors for Yarmouth.   Why the “one lady”? – the first case of women’s suffrage?
   Also in 1414 Henry V undertook that “nothing be enacted to the petition of the Commons contrary to their asking”.   In other words, there was now full equality between the House of Commons and the House of Lords on legislation.
   In 1418 the mayor and three citizens made the election for Bath.
   In 1446 the mayor and ten others elected the burgesses for Bedford.   The mayor and two bailiffs "of common consent" elected the two burgesses for Northampton.
   It is not easy to accept that there were so few electors in such prosperous areas.   Who decided who should be the electorate?   Was it just the powerful?   The total franchise in England in the mid 15th century was about 700.   Elections were vulnerable to pressure from the Royal court, the King himself, and individual landowners with preferred candidates.

There were however some provisions which prevented the unfit from being elected. All infants, idiots, ladies, lawyers, lunatics, the infirm, the aged, and the sick were excluded from sitting as members.   If nevertheless they appeared in Parliament, they were liable to be discharged by the King and a fresh election would be ordered.   Lawyers, an unpopular species at any time, were thought to be too busy with their practices to give proper attention to Parliament.   A distinct bias is noticeable against "ladies", even when they only appeared for the elections.   Their presence there was deplored, but they were not excluded from the election itself.   Equality for women was centuries away.
By means of these singularly dubious processes, which from time to time led to violent protests and sometimes even riots, some 74 knights of the shires and 174 burgesses including 14 from the Cinque Ports (a group of ports in Southeast England consisting of Dover, Hastings, Hythe, Romney and Sandwich, which were allowed trading privileges in return for providing the bulk of England’s Navy.) were elected to serve as members of the Common House.   Unlike the Lords, they were bound to attend on pain of severe penalties.   One instance appears in the records where the knights of the shire had to provide sureties that they would dutifully attend Parliament.   To say that the House was "packed" would be an understatement.   To our eyes, the whole procedure was corrupt and objectionable beyond belief.   A body assembled by a process, which has little to be said in its favour, should not logically be a good assembly.   Yet by one of those contradictions which are so often found in English life, both then and since, the Common House worked supremely well in the early part of the 15th century.   Packed it may have been, but it did not do the King's bidding in a mindless fashion when it was allowed to sit.   It did speak for the country as a whole, and as the story of the 15th-century unfolded, we can see how independently minded it could be, and how insistent it frequently was on matters, which required reform.   We also see how weak it still was when challenged by powerful Kings.
The Commons had lost their stalwart leaders, the armed barons and outspoken prelates, but they had themselves advanced in numbers, riches and enlightenment; they had overspread the land as knights and freeholders, or dwelt in populous towns enriched by merchandise.   Why could they not find leaders of their own?   Because they had lost the liberal franchises of an earlier age.   All freeholders, or suitors present at the county court, were formerly entitled to vote for knights of the shire; but under Henry VI in 1429, an Act was passed by which this right was confined to 40 shilling freeholders, resident in the county.   Its declared purpose was to exclude those lesser beings that, even then, were clamouring for a say in public affairs.   The statute provided that only those persons with a “freehold estate the annual income from which was forty shillings” could elect members of the House of Commons.   Forty shillings was the amount that in 1429 supposedly would “furnish all the necessaries of life, and render the freeholder, if he pleased, an independent man.”   Large numbers of electors were thus disfranchised.   In the view of parliament they were "of no value," and complaints had been made that they were under the influence of the nobles and greater landowners; but a popular element had been withdrawn from the county representation, and the restricted franchise cannot have impaired the influence of the nobles.   This demonstrated that the right to vote could easily be reversed.
The Act which was in French read as follows:
 Whereas in many counties the elections of knights of the shires, those chosen to attend the  king's parliaments, have of late been carried out by too great and excessive a number of   people       dwelling within those same counties, of whom the larger part have been people of little substance or of no worth, each pretending to have the same voice in such elections as the most worthy knights or  squires dwelling in the same counties, 
  Whereby homicides, riots, assaults, and feuds are very likely to arise among the gentlefolk and other people of the same counties unless a suitable remedy is provided in this connection: 
  Our lord the king, considering the premises, has provided and ordained by the authority of this parliament that knights of the shires, elected to attend parliaments hereafter to be held in the      kingdom of England, shall be chosen in each county by persons dwelling and resident therein, each of whom shall have a freehold to the value of at least 40s. a year [Was this the first case of individual   voter registration] and that every sheriff of England shall, by the aforesaid authority, have power to examine on the Holy Gospels each such elector, [to determine]how much he is able to spend annually

   One of the most interesting points in this Act was that “persons” i.e. including women had the right to vote if they met the criteria.   Of course few women met the criteria and they could not stand for Parliament.
    From the middle of the fifteenth century, Parliament began to lose some of its power.   It allowed the King to dispense with summoning Parliament annually, demonstrating how parliament can be a party to its demise.   A powerful King with certainty of revenue had no time for Parliament.   The King set the agenda and Parliament was supposed to act as a check on him.   This demonstrates the need in any constitution for checks and balances.
 As for the cities and boroughs, they had virtually renounced their electoral privileges.   They had never valued them very highly; and now by royal charters, or by the usurpation of small self-elected bodies of burgesses, the choice of members had fallen into the hands of town councils and neighbouring landowners.   The anomalous system of close and nomination boroughs, which had arisen thus early in English history, was allowed to continue without a check for four centuries, as a notorious blot upon a democratic constitution.
All these changes exalted the prerogatives of the Crown.   Amid the clash of arms and the strife of hostile parties the voice of parliament had been stifled; and, when peace was restored, a powerful king could dispense with an assembly which might prove troublesome, and from whom he rarely needed help.   Hence, for a period of over one hundred years, from the reign of Henry VI to that of Elizabeth, the free parliaments of England were effectively in abeyance.
   Under Henry VI (reigned 1422 to 1461) the House of Commons had about 300 members.   In the early years of Henry VI’s reign annual parliaments were the norm, but after 1433 gaps of two years became normal, and sometimes these extended for 3 years or even more; no Parliaments were held between 1439 and 1442, 1442 to 1445, and 1455 to 1459. When they were held, it was commonly indicative of some more than usually acute crisis during these troubled years.   King Edward IV, (reigned 1461 to 1483) in spite of his professed care in the way he said he would handle Parliament, frequently allowed 4 or even 5 years to pass before he summoned it, although he often kept his Parliaments in being by frequent prorogation.   In other words, instead of dissolving Parliament he adjourned it to a later date.   We can see from this the impact, which the passing of the 1430 Act reducing the franchise had on the power of Parliament.   Henry VI treated it with contempt by effectively ignoring it, but this could not last.   War and the requirement for funds to finance war would eventually force Kings to treat Parliament with more respect and to allow it to meet on a more regular basis.
   The length of sessions varied enormously but gradually increased from a few weeks until under Edward IV after the battle of Tewkesbury 1471, the 1472 Parliament lasted from 0ctober 1472 until March 1475; there were 45 sitting weeks and 5 prorogation’s.   Parliament seems to have been co-operative and uncomplaining.   It passed an Act allowing the King to re-summon it on 20 days notice irrespective of the date to which it had been prorogued.
  In earlier times the Church had often stood forth against the domination of kings, but by the end of the fifteenth century it was in passive submission to the Throne.   The prelates were attracted to the court, and sought the highest offices of state; the inferior clergy had long been losing their influence over the laity by their ignorance and want of moral elevation at a period of increasing enlightenment; while the Church at large was weakened by schisms and a wider freedom of thought.   Hence the Church had ceased to be a check upon the Crown even though its Leaders sat in the House of Lords.
   Parliamentary statutes were written down in English for the first time in 1484.   This was another step towards a common language.   In the same year Richard III abolished the custom of obligatory gifts for the monarchy, which were called “benevolence.”   The Monarch was the effective government of the country.   By abolishing gifts to the government this Act was part of a long process to try to eliminate bribery and corruption from government.
  Richard III was defeated on the battlefield, at the Battle of Bosworth Field, in Leicestershire, on 22 Aug. 1485.   It was here that Henry VII and his forces met with Richard III and Henry won the crown.   It was truly through the defeat of Richard and the 'right of conquest' that Henry claimed the throne.   He would need more than luck, however, to keep it there.   Once again, sheer brute force dominated.
 Henry had to show that he had become King already - whether by heredity or conquest was immaterial - and summon Parliament as undisputed sovereign.   Having sent out his writs to Members, he had himself crowned at Westminster Abbey on 30 October, a week before Parliament met on 7 November 1485.   There was thus no possibility of Parliament's claiming to have made Henry, King by their consent, by agreeing to honour his right by conquest or descent. All the Members were required to do was to pass a brief statute which "ordained, established and enacted" that the crown "be, rest, remain and abide in the most royal person of our now sovereign lord King Henry VII and in the heirs of his body".   This left Henry’s title open to no lawful challenge.   It was solidified however, by his marriage at Westminster Abbey on 18 Jan 1486, to Elizabeth of York, the eldest child of the late King Edward IV.   This was a setback for democracy.   Once again, force ruled, Parliament was effectively ignored.
What does shine through the pages of history is that, in spite of all the difficulties under which it laboured, and the extraordinary methods by which its members were chosen Parliament, and particularly the Common House was a strong, independently minded, and very effective institution which really tried to represent the country as a whole.   The well informed and objective views which it expressed are most remarkable, particularly bearing in mind the narrow classes from which its members came, the lack of continuity from one Parliament to the next, and the difficulties which it faced in obtaining the facts and figures which it needed for its discussions.   Then, as since, there were outstanding people and great servants of Parliament in the 15th-century assemblies.
If in certain respects Parliament was a strong institution, there were others in which it was weak, and over the main one it had no ready control. This was the personality and character of the King himself.   The King summoned and dismissed Parliament and these facts alone gave him considerable power over it.   Where the King was a strong character, well in control of himself and his Council, who recognised, however reluctantly, the necessity of working with the representatives of his subjects, great things could be achieved by Parliament. Where the King was autocratic or weak, frustrations, then as now, would lead to dispute and confrontation.   That is why the Parliaments of the Kings Edward III, Henry IV, Henry V, and later Edward IV, were so often successful in spite of their disputatious and some-times acrimonious nature.   That is why King Richard II, with his haughty and despotic outlook which led him to regard Parliament as an impertinence, was less successful with his.   That also explains why King Henry VI, who had no character or firmness of spirit, and who allowed himself to be misguided and mislead by bad, selfish and greedy people, failed time and again with the Parliaments summoned during his reign.

During the 15th century the number of temporal peers (excluding the clergy) summoned to parliament rarely exceeded fifty, and no more than twenty-nine received writs of summons to the first parliament of Henry VII.   There were only fifty-nine at the death of Queen Elizabeth (reigned 1558 to 1603).
Tournai was created in 1513 as a Borough in France (now Belgium) and had a seat in the House of Commons.   It was abolished on its return to French rule in 1519
Henry VIII, like his father found very little work or need for Parliament.   It had met only thrice in the past thirty- three years.   Now it was the implement he needed.   At the close of 1529, in a brief session, Parliament passed three statutes limiting the financial privileges and fees of the clergy.   The following year the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, to whom the King had appealed for an opinion, declared his marriage null, and the King’s plan moved a further stage forward.   Wolsey had been found guilty under the Statute of Praemunire of exercising, albeit with the King’s licence, the authority of legate derived from the Pope; but the whole clergy, by recognising him as legate were implicated in the offence.   The Convocations bought pardon by paying heavy fines and by specifically acknowledging the King as “Sole protector and supreme head of the Church and Clergy in England”. Enoch Powell and Angus Maude - Biography of A Nation
   In 1523, Thomas More was chosen to be Speaker of the House of Commons.    Very hesitant to accept the post, he asked King Henry VIII to release him from the duty.   The King refused his request, so More made a second request to the King: a request for free speech, the first such request ever known to be made.   His petition was the first time that parliamentary privilege was requested.   It reads as follows:
  It may therefore please your most abundant Grace, our most benign and godly King, to give to all your commoners here assembled your most gracious permission and allowance for every man freely, without fear of your dreaded displeasure, to speak his conscience and boldly declare his advice concerning everything that comes up among us. Whatever any man may happen to say, may it please your noble Majesty, in your inestimable goodness, to take it all with no offense, interpreting every man’s words, however badly they may be phrased, to proceed nonetheless from a good zeal toward the profit of your realm and honor of your royal person, the prosperous condition and preservation of which, most excellent Sovereign, is the thing which we all, your most humble and loving subjects, according to that most binding duty of our heartfelt allegiance, most highly desire and pray for.
Today Parliamentary privilege is under attack in a Parliament which owes more loyalty to the Government rather than to the institution.   It must be defended.
This realm of England is an Empire…governed by one Supreme Head and King”.   So proclaimed Thomas Cromwell, in his most critical piece of legislation -  the Act in Restraint of Appeals, in 1533.   By calling England an empire, he designated it a sovereign state, with a king who owed no submission to any other human ruler and who was invested with plenary power to give his people justice in all causes.   The Pope laid claim to the ultimate divine right.   Thomas Cromwell lost favour with the King after negotiating his disastrous marriage with Anne of Cleaves.   He was sent to the Tower, condemned by Parliament under an Act of Attainder and executed.   It didn’t do to fall out with the King!
What is interesting is that at this point in time the King sees the need for Parliament when he wants to make major important changes.   Powerful as he is he cannot act alone.

In 1533 Henry VIII secured the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and declared himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England on Earth.   The ramifications from this reverberated through the centuries.   In the same year Henry introduced the first legislation against homosexuals with the Buggery Act, making “buggery” punishable by hanging, a penalty not finally lifted until 1861.   Of course morality was different in these sometime gruesome times and one cannot judge them by today’s standards.   This was a blatant case of discrimination.
In the spring of 1534, Parliament proceeded to eliminate the Pope from the creation of prelates, to suspend all remaining payments from England to the papacy, and to enact the submission of the clergy. Biography of a Nation by Enoch Powell and Angus Maude.
A great breech had now opened up between Henry and the Pope.   The breech was unreconcilable.   In addition Convocation lost its power to refuse any tax granted by Parliament to the King.
This divide was initially seen as temporary, but the split was to become a wide permanent schism.   It was to be the source for much religious discrimination in the centuries to come.   The Reformation in England was a revolution in the way the state was governed, in the power structure of the Church and its influence on the life of the nation.   Henry VIII established himself as head of the Church of England in 1534 and began the dissolution of the monasteries.   Opposed by Sir Thomas More – a former Speaker of the House of Commons and Lord Chancellor - Henry had him beheaded.   Another one who learnt too late not to fall out with the King!   Just before his execution on 6th July 1535 More said: “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first”.
Wales despite being conquered by England in 1284 did not return members to parliament until Henry VIII decided in 1543 to incorporate the principality into his realm.   It was given the small number of 24 seats.   Welsh counties returned only one member each (compared to two in England), and several of the borough constituencies were made up of small boroughs which banded together to jointly elect one member.
The mixture of English and Welsh law, and the indirect method of subordination of almost half the country through the “marcher lordships” were anachronisms, which attracted the attention of Henry VIII’s servants.   An investigation by Bishop Roland Lee in 1534 led to an Act of 1536 which provided for the lordships to be “shired” like the Principality, and for the English system of administration to be extended to the whole of Wales.   Accordingly, the counties of Pembroke and Glamorgan, Brecon and Radnor, Denbigh and Montgomery were demarcated, the English shire administration was set up, and judicial circuits were established on the same basis as those in England.   From each of the shires of Wales, one knight and one burgess were to be sent to Parliament.   This reorganisation, completely assimilating Wales with the rest of the kingdom, was embodied in a comprehensive Act of 1543, which also gave statutory recognition to the Council of Wales.   This body, appointed by the King and responsible to him and the Privy Council, exercised both judicial and administrative supervision over Wales. Biography of a Nation by Enoch Powell and Angus Maude
The Statute of 1536 provided for Wales to “stand and continue for ever from henceforth incorporated united and annexed to and with" the realm of England.
The “marcher lordships” had been set up in the Welsh marshes, which is an area along the border of England and Wales.   They were defensive mechanisms to protect the English.   The Council of Wales survived until its abolition in 1689.   In addition the number of Welsh MPs was increased from 24 to 27 by granting of a member to the borough of Haverfordwest.   The 27 include two from Monmouthshire, which Henry transferred to England (in later years this was recognised as a mistake and it was reversed in 1974)
Most of the elections for the seats in Wales were uncontested and the persons sent to the House of Commons were usually selected by a few wealthy families in the area.
One aspect of the Welsh Act of Union upset a large number of people in Wales. The Act stated that all people that were chosen to represent Wales as officials or Members of Parliament had to be able to speak English.   It also stated that the law-courts in Wales had to use the English language.   So complete was the annexation of Wales, that in the future Acts of Parliament which mentioned England were deemed to also include Wales.   This was not changed until 1967.

Henry VIII was accorded the title King of Ireland by the Irish Parliament in 1541, having previously been styled Lord of Ireland.
In December 1541 Catherine, Henry’s first wife, was condemned not by a trial, but by an Act of Attainder passed by Parliament. An Act of Attainder is like an Act of Impeachment but does not have to be proved.   The Act recited the evidence against the Queen, and Henry would have been obliged to listen to the entire text before granting the Royal Assent.   Because "the repetition of so grievous a Story and the recital of so infamous a crime" in the King's presence "might reopen a Wound already closing in the Royal Bosom", a special clause permitting Commissioners to grant the Royal Assent on the King's behalf was inserted in the Act.   This method of granting the Royal Assent had never been used before, but, in later reigns, it came to replace the traditional personal appearance of the Sovereign in Parliament.
 In 1542, England's remaining monasteries were all dissolved, and their property transferred to the Crown. Abbots and priors lost their seats in the House of Lords; only archbishops and bishops came to comprise the ecclesiastical element of the body.   The Lords Spiritual, as members of the clergy with seats in the House of Lords, were for the first time outnumbered by the Lords Temporal.
 There were two major events effecting democracy in the reign of Henry VIII.   One was negative and the other was positive.   By declaring himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England he made England a religious state.   The people of England were subjects of the King owing their allegiance to him.   Regardless of which faith they belonged to they were forced to owe their allegiance to the King.   This created conflict and in democratic terms discrimination setting back democracy as we have defined it.   How can a citizen of England of a different faith than Church of England owe allegiance to their Monarch when that same Monarch is also the Supreme Head of the Church of England?   The problem still exists today.   Henry ensured that religion would be a dominant factor in the politics of the United Kingdom for the centuries to come.   One of his main claims to infamy was that he executed Roman Catholics for believing in the Pope and Protestants for believing in the Catholic faith.
The second major event was Henry’s insistence on the right of a female to succeed him as Monarch.   Henry named all three of his children as his heirs.   His son Edward would succeed him, but if he died childless Edward’s sister Mary would inherit the throne and if she died childless Elizabeth would become Queen.   This was a small step in helping to break down sexual discrimination and was a step forward on the road to democracy.   Although it only effected his own family it set a precedent for the future.   Within a short time after Henry’s death Mary and Elizabeth I became Monarchs in their own right.   Since Henry we have had six female Monarchs. 

 Not until the reign of Henry VIII did the term “House of Lords” come into existence to describe the meetings of the lay and ecclesiastical peers.
The young Protestant Edward succeeded his father Henry VIII as King in 1547.   He tried to ensure a Protestant succession by proclaiming that Mary, a strong Catholic and Elizabeth were bastards so could not succeed him.   Instead he left the throne to a cousin Lady Jane Grey, great granddaughter of Henry VII, completely flouting his father’s will and the Act of Succession which Henry had got Parliament to pass.   Lady Jane Grey lasted nine days on the throne before Mary proclaimed herself, in 1553, the rightful Queen of England.   Lady Jane was subsequently executed together with her husband.   With Mary on the throne religion dominated the political agenda, for she was a Roman Catholic.
Mary consolidated her position within the year by marrying Philip, the heir to the Spanish throne and another devout Catholic.   A few months later Mary announced that she was pregnant and taking advantage of the people’s joy got Parliament to vote for a return of the Church of England to obedience to the Pope.   Unfortunately for Mary her pregnancy was an illusion and as the reality became known her power diminished and Parliament began to assert itself.
Mary suppressed Protestantism and brought back the heretic laws, which condemned to death by burning anyone declared a heretic.   Over three hundred souls lost their lives in a short time.

                                        Crucial to the government’s plans for the final suppression of Protestantism was a Bill to confiscate the landed estates of the Protestant exiles.   If the Bill passed, the economic foundations of their resistance would be destroyed.   The government strained every nerve, but so too did the opposition, led by Sir Anthony Kingston.   With the connivance of the sergeant-at-arms the doors of the House were locked from the inside.   Kingston thundered his protests and the Bill was defeated. Monarchy from the Middle Ages to Modernity David Starkey          Calais was created in 1372 as a Borough in France and had a seat in the House of Commons. The seat was abolished when Calais was re-conquered by the French in 1558.In 1558 Mary became seriously ill and died leaving the throne to Elizabeth I.   Elizabeth found herself as the pig in the middle between the extremes of the Catholics that had come to prominence under Mary and the Protestants who did not think reform of the Church had gone far enough and whose zeal for revenge was hardened by the burning of “heretics” that Mary had ordered during her reign.   She had no alternative but to turn to Parliament for support:
to overcome her Catholic peers and bishops, Elizabeth had to join forces with her Protestant Commons and councillors.   She duly got the settlement and the Supremacy, though with the narrowest of majorities in the Lords of three votes.   The price, however, was her acceptance of Cranmer’s second, much more radically Protestant Book of Common Prayer of 1552.Monarchy from the Middle Ages to Modernity David Starkey 
Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer converted the mass into communion.   At the end of his life he recanted what he had done and just as he was about to be burnt at the stake he thrust his right hand into the flames saying “This hath offended!   Oh this unworthy hand!”
By 1558 the House of Commons had 398 members.   Religious discrimination percolated through every walk of life.   The Second Act of Uniformity 1559 required everyone to assent to a particular view, that of the established church.   It required that there should be outward conformity to the Established Religion but opinion should be left free!   It was a setback for democracy.
The issue of succession would bedevil Elizabeth’s entire reign.   Parliament was terrified that they would be faced with an interregnum on the queen’s death.   As history made clear, a throne with no known heir guaranteed civil war and bloodshed when the monarch died.   What would become of the monarchy?   Would the absence of a known heir turn England into an elective monarchy?   Would the religion of the country have to change once more depending on who emerged as the successor? Monarchy from the Middle Ages to Modernity David Starkey 
During the reign of Elizabeth I the parliamentary committee system was inaugurated.   She also introduced the first parliamentary oath of allegiance in 1563.   This was done to exclude Roman Catholics. In 1570 the Italian Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth thereby exacerbating the problem relating to religion and leading to Roman Catholic plots.   By this act of religious discrimination democracy suffered a serious setback.
By the time of the death of Elizabeth there were only fifty-nine peers in the House of Lords.                From early in the reign of Elizabeth I, whose Parliaments sat for only thirty-five months out of her forty-five years reign, the relations between Parliament and Crown trod repeatedly the same vicious circle.   Parliament was summoned to grant supply; it betook itself to the examination of matters, such as dynastic, foreign, or religious policy, which were “too high” for it; and it was either browbeaten or dissolved.  Biography of A Nation J.Enoch Powell and Angus Maude

In the early days of the representative system the obligation of sending members to parliament was regarded as a burden instead of a privilege by many boroughs and exemption from this duty was a boon for which sacrifices were cheerfully made.   One of the earliest recorded instances of bribery in electioneering matters occurred in 1571.   In the “Parliamentary History” it is stated that one Thomas Long was returned for the borough of Westbury, Wilts, who, “Being found to be a very simple man, and not fit to serve in that place, was questioned how he came to be elected.”   Thomas Long acted up to his reputation, and replied with a frankness not commonly exhibited in the admissions made before election committees: “The poor man immediately confessed to the House that he gave to Anthony Garland, mayor of the said town of Westbury, and one Watts of the same, £4.00 for his place in parliament.”   Though he forfeited his bargain, he did not lose his money; “an order was made that the said Garland and Watts should repay the said Thomas Long the £4.00 they had of him.”   The corporation and inhabitants of Westbury were fined £20.00 for their scandalous attempt.
1586 saw the beginning of the custom to appoint Standing Committees at the opening of each Parliament to decide disputed elections.   The House of Commons consisted of 462 members.
By the end of the sixteenth century the number of members of the House of Commons had risen to 495 consisting of the following:
                                185 Two member seats                                      370
                                    3 One member seat                                            3
                                       London                                                           4
                                    8 Cinque Ports two member seats                    16
                                  39 County two member seats                             78
                                  12 Wales boroughs                                            12
                                  12 Wales Counties                                             12
                                                                                Total        495                   In 1603 James I decided that the two universities of Oxford and Cambridge should be enfranchised with two seats each adding a further four seats making a total of 499.   King James I brought to the English Parliament a practice, which had been used in the Scottish Parliament of allowing the Universities to elect members. The King believed that the Universities were often affected by the decisions of Parliament and ought therefore to have representation in it.
One of the great-unanswered questions in the development of democracy in the United Kingdom is why there were two member seats?   After all, the two member seats lasted for six centuries.   It may well have been a simple case of common sense.   If one member is ill or indisposed the area is still represented by the other member.   When travelling to the House of Commons it is more enjoyable to have a companion and it is thus more likely that those summoned will turn up.   With two member seats a wider range of views from a particular area can be represented.   It is also possible that inertia explains why we had two member seats.   Having started under the de Montfort Parliament it just continued.   Single member seats were the exception and not the rule.
  Although parliamentary representation had been increased over the centuries the electorate was based on wealth.   The Act of 1430 had disenfranchised a large number of people, who did not own freehold land with a value above 40 shillings.   There were no women Members of Parliament and religious discrimination had raised its head.   The Jews had been forced to emigrate in 1290 by Edward I.   Roman Catholics were excluded from Parliament because members had to take the oath introduced by Elizabeth I.   The size of the electorate is unknown, but could only have been a tiny fraction of the population, which was approaching six million.   There was no secret ballot.  
Democracy both as a concept and as a reality had made little if any progress and clearly under Elizabeth I when Parliament sat for such a short period of time, had suffered a severe setback and yet the foundations for many of the institutions and practises of Government were being established.   Magna Carta, restraint on the power of the Monarch, tax-raising through Parliament, two separate Houses in Parliament, voting for Members as representatives – all were now part of custom which would be very difficult to change.   The story of Parliament is one of evolution into the situation and mechanisms we see today, even when the original rationale for the mechanisms has long ago disappeared.   It is an insight into the history of all institutions.   It is a history of the shifting nature of power back and forth between people, parliament and the Monarch.

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