Roman Britain to Magna Carta - 1215

          The history of democracy in the United Kingdom is primarily a story of English politics.   The institutions created in England have dominated the politics of the United Kingdom.   The other parts of the Kingdom have had an impact, but their impact has been on the English institutions.   Nevertheless, this book is not an English history book.   What it does is to trace a series of events on the road to democracy.   Sometimes these events have had a major impact and signalled a change of direction.   Other times they are milestones and some are just pointers giving us an idea as to how far we have come and how much further we have to go.
The rise of democracy is not a straight line inexorably moving upwards.   The line rises, it falls and for long periods it hardly moves at all.   It starts with the rule of law and gradually increases by the number of people that participate in elections until we have all adults participating without fear of intimidation or violence.   Before the Roman invasion a number of Celtic tribes occupied England.   Many of them had their origins in Europe.   There was no national or regional identity.   The first time England had any sense of stability or the rule of law was when the Romans invaded and imposed their will on the inhabitants.   It is therefore at this point that our history of democracy starts.
In the introduction to their book “The House of Lords in the Middle Ages” by Enoch Powell and Keith Wallis they state:

"All government rests upon consent, and consent is not to be had without taking counsel with the most eminent or influential or representative of the governed, and seeking their advice: the act of taking counsel cannot be separated from the act of exercising authority.   All government rests also upon habit, upon being exercised in the same way or a similar way to that in which the governed remember or believe that it was exercised before.   Brute force can break with habit; but as soon as brute force begins to turn into government, it does so by starting to observe habitual forms of behaviour.   Habitual forms or institutions for counsel and consent are thus of the essence of government". 
For democracy to exist there must be the rule of law and a certain amount of habit or stability.   The Romans led by Aulus Plautius conquered England and Wales in 43AD.   The invasion brought with it the basic elements of the rule of law and stability at a national level, as we understand it today.   It was a military dictatorship so democracy was nonexistent.   Britain was ruled by brute force.   With the progressive departure of the Romans starting in approximately AD286-296 Britain entered the so-called Dark Ages.   Comparatively little is known about this time in our history but we see the return of a tribal system albeit on a larger scale.   This did not necessarily mean anarchy but it did mean that law was exercised at a tribal level.   Also during the fourth century we can see the beginning of the establishment of monasteries.
Britain changed after the Romans left.   National rule of law broke down, increasing instability.   Many people abandoned the towns for a more secure life in the countryside.   The towns had been essential to the Romans for they were more easily administered and controlled.   Central authority was the hallmark of the Roman occupation.   As the towns declined the people began to form tribal societies.   A stable system of authoritarian government moved to a shifting series of chiefs and temporary tribal alliances.   Society reverted to its basic level and became unpredictable in the way in which it governed itself and yet it was not anarchistic.   Small tribes coalesced into larger groups over the years to protect themselves from repeated invasions of their territories.
Just because there does not appear to have been codified laws did not mean that the people were ungovernable.   Oral traditions together with the use of brute force to impose the will of the tribe enabled the people to govern themselves and to accept the impositions.  These oral traditions were passed from one generation to the next.   Effectively they became laws.   Britain was at a similar point to Rome just before Roman law had been written down.   Within their diverse societies law was maintained.   However physical force dominated relations.   Land belonged to those that possessed it.    If they wanted it they took it by force.   If you found it you kept it.   In any sense of the term democracy was nonexistent.

There were many tribes and force or the perception of force determined their leaders.   Gradually the tribes began to amalgamate either physically or by way of political or social alliances.   The driving forces for these were military strength and in part fear of being overwhelmed.   During the seventh and eighth centuries the Christian Church began to establish itself.   The tribes became kingdoms under the Anglo-Saxons. The Christian Church having become an institution exerted considerable influence on the Kings and their manner of government.
An early king had three main functions: he was a figure of sacred significance, embodying in his person the prosperity of his people; he was a warlord; and initially he was an adjudicator whose authority was strong enough to enforce his decision.   Later this role changed to one of lawgiver.   His mystical significance arose largely through superstition, but his other two functions resulted from the continual challenge to his authority both without and within the realm.   Consequently his position rested on his military power in defence of his kingdom and his ability to maintain law and order internally.   Government therefore, was the responsibility of the king.   Meanwhile:
Monasteries became centres of learning and culture and filled the gaps that kings had neither the time or the knowledge to deal with.   In time the church became an instrument of government and high clerics were appointed the Chancellors of kings.   The secular power of the monarch was difficult to separate from the political power of the Church of Rome, and there soon developed a rivalry between them – especially as the wealth of the church was gathered through church levies and lands acquired by landowners, who were attempting to avoid the king’s taxes by donating land to the Church.   Bernard Crick - "Democracy" 
A major boost to the Church and the rule of law took place with the arrival in East Kent on the Isle of Thanet, of Augustine in 597AD    Although born in Rome, Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
Sometime after the arrival of Augustine’s mission, in 602AD, Ethelbert, King of Kent (560AD to 616AD) issued a set of laws, in ninety sections These laws are much the earliest surviving code composed in any of the Germanic countries, and were almost certainly one of the very first documents written down.  Ethelbert’s code makes reference to the church in the very first item, which enumerates the compensation required for the property of a bishop, a deacon, a priest, and so on; but overall the laws seem remarkably uninfluenced by Christian principles.   Ethelbert was the first English King to convert to Christianity.   He ruled over lands as far North as the River Humber.

The laws are concerned with setting and enforcing the penalties for transgressions at all levels of society.   The king had a financial interest in enforcement, for part of the penalties would come to him, but the king was also responsible for law and order, and avoiding blood feuds by enforcing the rules on compensation for injury was part of how the king maintained control.
One of Ethelbert’s laws seems to preserve a trace of a very old custom: the third item in the code states that “If the king is drinking at a man’s home, and anyone commits any evil deed there, he is to pay twofold compensation.”   This probably refers to the ancient custom of a king travelling the country, being hosted and provided for by his subjects wherever he went. The king’s servants retained these rights for centuries after Ethelbert’s time.
Clauses 77–81 in the code have been interpreted as a description of a woman’s financial rights after a divorce or legal separation.   These clauses define how much of the household goods a woman could keep in different circumstances, depending on whether she keeps custody of the children, for example.   However, it has recently been suggested that it would be more correct to interpret these clauses as referring to women who are widowed, rather than divorced.
The Synod of Whitby in 664AD established Roman practice as the norm in Northumbria, and thus brought the Northumbrian church into the mainstream of Roman culture and marked the beginning of Roman Catholicism as the national church.
 By the eighth century Bede (672AD – 735AD), who was a Benedictine monk based in Sunderland and Jarrow, had established the Church as the most important centre of culture, learning, and habit.
   By now the tribes were getting larger and the Church was getting stronger and then the relative calm of England was violently disrupted by invasion.
   Cornwall’s Stannary Parliament dates from at least the 8th century and probably earlier.   It had jurisdiction over the tin mines and related towns.   It last met in 1753, but has never formally been dissolved.
  The first Viking attack on Britain took place at Lindisfarne in 793AD.   The Vikings brought the idea of formal law to the English; indeed the very word LAW in English is a Viking word.   The English word for a local law, e.g. laws about where you can park cars etc., is "by-law".   The word "by”, comes from the Scandinavian word for "town".

 In their homeland the Vikings had a legislative assembly and a court.   A criminal was brought to the court to stand trial.   The presumed facts of the case were established by a panel of people stating what they thought was the truth.   A jury of 12, two times twelve or three times twelve, depending on the importance of the case, decided the question of guilt. The 'law-sayer' told the jury what the law said about the crime committed and the accused was either convicted or declared innocent by the jury.   If convicted, the criminal was either fined or declared an out-law.   To be an outlaw meant that the criminal had to live out in the wilderness and no one was allowed to help him in any way, and he was free game for his enemies.   They were free to do their best to hunt him down and kill him.
 The collection of taxes and a Treasury to collate the monies collected were the start of an infrastructure of Government.  The precise origins of government are obscured to us, but it is thought that the foundations of the British constitution were based on two principles, which were accepted by the King and his subjects in Saxon times:
(1)     In important matters, such as the making of laws and the imposition of taxes, the King should not act without first taking advice;
(2)     In taking that advice, the initiative should rest with the King to summon such counsellors, as he thought fit.   These counsellors evolved into a National Council called the Witangemot.
Before the unification of England in the 9th century, the Kings of Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex and Wessex convened separate Witenagemots.   Even after Wessex became the dominant power in England, supplanting the other kingdoms, local witans continued to meet until as late as 1067.
Why did this occur?   We do not know but it is remarkable in many ways – at a time when many other Kings in other countries had a view of the divine right of Kings or power by the use of force a tradition emerged which was to have profound consequences.   There is a chicken and egg point as to whether English characteristics emerged here or whether it is the characteristics of the Anglo Saxons to emerge in a tribe, which then dominated either by luck, or because of these innovations.
The recognition of the first point above did much to limit the idea of despotic government; from it developed the idea many centuries later of “no taxation without representation”, and eventually, the theory of the legal supremacy of Parliament.   The observance of the second placed the responsibility for suggesting policy squarely on Government, which at this time was the King.   It was he that would decide whether there should be a new law or tax or whether an existing law or tax should be altered.   Why did the King and his subjects accept these two principles?   It would seem that throughout the history of democracy the people want to be involved, they want to be consulted and yet they also want a strong leader.   By the nature of things a strong Leader tends towards autocracy.   This dilemma still exists today, which is why the Prime Minister still has so much power, yet cannot afford to get too out of touch with the people or they will reject him or her at the next General Election.
Originally, occupation of the thrones in England was enjoyed by virtue of military might, underwritten by formal election by the members of the Witangemot – a vote - the first stirrings of democracy.

Elective succession has been, in its various forms, a common system of succession in monarchies. Arguably the world's oldest method to determine succession was that of the military leader who ascended to power through some sort of election.   Most kingdoms were elective, though the candidates were usually or always only from the family of the deceased monarch.   It was natural that the King as the supreme military leader should be elected.   It was equally natural that the King would want his son to inherit his power – the classic clash between democracy and inheritance goes back a long way.
The Anglo-Saxons ruled England and its various kingdoms between the eighth and the eleventh century.   They instituted councils consisting of the great and good – the Witenagemot or Witan, which the kings used to consult.   Eventually when England became united a National Council was created which was the true beginning of the English Parliament.   In the drawing up and promulgation of the codes of law by various kings from the beginning of the seventh century on, different degrees of participation by the Witan are apparent.   At the time of Alfred the Great, who inspired the production of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, (reigned from 871 to 899) the Witan seems to have been limited to assenting to what the king had done.   By the eleventh century it had become the official term to describe formal assemblies of the king’s counsellors.
The Witan had its origins in the Germanic assemblies summoned to witness royal grants of land and was brought to England by the immigrants.   Eventually the Witan would become Parliament.   It is remarkable to think that the English Parliament, often known as the Mother of Parliaments was conceived in Germany.   It is also a reminder that the so-called Dark Ages were much less dark and unsophisticated than we imagine.
Summoned by the king (and later by regional earls), witans would advise on the administration and organisation of the kingdom, dealing with issues such as taxation, jurisprudence and both internal and external security. The witan was also needed to approve the succession of each monarch. The new king could be whomever the witan decided would best lead the country, not necessarily the offspring of the previous monarch, though custom often strictly limited their choice.   Kings and Earls could also be deposed by witans; Sigeberht of Wessex was deposed this way in 755, Ethelwald of Northumbria in 765.
The power of the witan varied according to the personality of the reigning King, being considerable under a weak ruler, but inconsiderable under a strong one. Generally speaking, it diminished as the years went by, and from "necessary assenters" its members became "merely attesting witnesses."   Its duties are shown by the preamble to the laws of Ine, King of Wessex (reigned 688 to 726) and 150 years later by the preamble to those of Alfred the Great.   Ine legislates "with the counsel and with the teaching of Cenred my father and of Hedde my bishop, and of Eorcenwald my bishop, with all my ealdormen and the most distinguished witan of my people” and Alfred issues his code of laws "with the counsel and consent of his witan."   Thus the members of the witan were primarily counsellors.   With their consent the king promulgated laws, made grants of land, appointed bishops and ealdormen, and discharged the other duties of government.   Ine was the most notable King of his time and died on a pilgrimage to Rome.   The Witan was also a court of justice, Earl Godwine and many other offenders receiving a sentence of outlawry from it.  
Its members signed the charters by which the king conveyed grants of land to churches and to individuals, and it is from the extant charters that we mainly derive our knowledge about the composition of the witan. It consisted in addition to the king, his sons and other relatives, of the bishops and later some abbots, of some under-kings (local Kings) and the ealdormen of the shires or provinces, and of a number of ministri, or king's thegns.   These ministri were nominees of the king; they included the important members of his household, and their number gradually increased until it outstripped that of all the other members.
The Witan was in some respects a predecessor to Parliament, but had substantially different powers and some major limitations, such as a lack of a fixed procedure, schedule or meeting place. The King had a role, which included some of the qualities of a President. The Witan was a valuable check on royal power, preventing autocracy and carrying on government during interregnums.
Witans met at least once a year and commonly more often. There was no single seat of the National Witan; it is known to have met in at least 116 locations.   The meeting places were often on royal estates, but some witans were convened in the open at prominent rocks, hills, meadows and famous trees.   Almost immediately after the Norman Conquest the word Witan fell into disuse.
The reign of Alfred the Great brought a key step forward in establishing the rule of law.   All four older brothers of Alfred had been Kings of Wessex (reigning between 839 and 871) so with this family experience his concept of kingship was extensive.   A religiously devout and pragmatic man who learnt Latin in his late thirties, he recognised that the general deterioration in learning and religion caused by the Vikings' destruction of monasteries (the centres of the rudimentary education network) had serious implications for governing.   For example, the poor standards in Latin had led to a decline in the use of the charter as an instrument of royal government to disseminate the king's instructions and legislation.   Latin was the language of the Church and Alfred’s steps to prevent its decline suggest that the Church had a real role in the maintenance of law and order.
Like other West Saxon Kings, during the course of his reign Alfred established a legal code; he assembled the laws of Offa and other predecessors, and of the kingdoms of Mercia and Kent, adding his own administrative regulations to form a definitive body of Anglo-Saxon law.
'I ... collected these together and ordered to be written many of them which our forefathers observed, those which I liked; and many of those which I did not like I rejected with the advice of my councillors ... For I dared not presume to set in writing at all many of my own, because it was unknown to me what would please those who should come after us ... Then I ... showed those to all my councillors, and they then said that they were all pleased to observe them' (Laws of Alfred, c.885-99).
The total population of England and Wales at this time is estimated at 1.5 million people.
Because of the continuing threat of invasion by the Danes by 886 Alfred had instituted in his kingdom Burghs – self-governing towns or boroughs, perhaps the first case of delegated government ('borough' comes from the Old English burh, meaning fortress).   Alfred started a building programme of well-defended settlements across southern England. These were fortified market places.   By deliberate royal planning, settlers received plots and in return manned the defences in times of war.   (Such plots in London under Alfred's rule in the 880s shaped the street plan, which still exists today between Cheapside and the Thames.)
This obligation required careful recording in what became known as 'the Burghal Hidage', which gave details of the building and manning of Wessex and Mercian burhs according to their size, the length of their ramparts and the number of men needed to garrison them.
Centred round Alfred's royal palace in Winchester, this network of burhs with strong points on the main river routes was such that no part of Wessex was more than 20 miles from the refuge of one of these settlements.   Together with a navy of new fast ships built on Alfred's orders, southern England now had a defence in depth against Danish raiders.       
            The Germanic tribes who had come over from the Continent already possessed an elaborate and developed legal system.   The Christian influence to which the law was exposed from the sixth century onwards caused a few changes, especially with regard to family law, but the basic structure remained unchanged.   Any system of government has three basic functions: the legislative, which makes the law; the executive, which ensures that those laws are observed; and the judicial, which determines whether laws have been broken and, if so, exacts punishment.

The legislative functions of Anglo-Saxon England were carried out by the king and his council or, sometimes, by the council alone.   Codes of law were produced at regular intervals by kings, and the issue of a new code was an opportunity to add new statutes, modify existing ones, or re-state old laws that were being ignored.   Copies of the laws written in old English were then made and sent out to the ealdormen, bishops, and reeves who would be responsible for their administration.   Many of these law codes still survive, especially in Church archives, but there was also a mass of customary law, which was handed on orally.   No attempt seems to have been made to codify this until after the Norman Conquest, when much was forgotten or misunderstood. 

For the executive function, Anglo-Saxon England did not have a professional standing law enforcement body like our modern police.   In general, if a crime was committed then there was a victim, and it was up to the victim - or the victim's family - to seek justice. However, during the tenth century, a number of administrative changes took place in England, which led to the formation of a semi-professional constabulary of sorts.   The first step was to divide the shires into hundreds, a reorganisation, which probably occurred during the reigns of Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great, (reigned 899 to 924) and the warrior King Athelstan (reigned 924 to 939).   After this, each hundred was further divided under Athelstan into groups of ten freemen called tithings, of which there seem to have been ten in every hundred.   One man in each tithing was senior to, and responsible for, the other nine, and he was called the tithingman.   In every hundred, a hundredman was appointed and he, together with the ten tithingmen and a clerk, met every four weeks if possible, "at the time of the filling of the butts".
The main function of this group seems to have been administrative: the king spoke to the shire-reeve, the shire-reeve spoke to the hundredmen, and the hundredmen spoke to the tithingmen.   However, Athelstan and Edgar, renowned for the legal codes he introduced, both passed laws, which reinforced the hundredmen as the principal law enforcement arm of the Anglo-Saxon executive.   Hundredmen were responsible for seeing that legitimate trading was encouraged and cattle-theft actively discouraged.   If a village failed to report suspicious movements of cattle, the hundredmen could see to it that the herdsmen were flogged.   In following the trail of a thief, the hundredman was to take one or two men from each tithing.   The hundredmen and tithingmen were not a police force, as we would recognise it: prime responsibility for bringing offenders to justice still remained with the victim.   However, they filled an important role in dealing with crimes that broke the king's peace, crimes that were considered to be against the king himself.
Once a charge had been brought, it had to be heard by a court, which would decide whether or not a crime had been committed and, if so, what action was necessary.   The principal court was at the hundred level and is known, not surprisingly, as the hundred court. The hundred court met every four weeks, in the open if possible and usually at a prominent local landmark that gave its name to the hundred.   The king's reeve usually presided over the court.   It had many functions, and was a mixture of parish council business meeting, planning enquiry, and magistrates' court.   Eventually, the king, the Church, and landlords with interests in the district all found it essential to establish and maintain a permanent presence in the hundred where much of the routine legal business connected with their affairs would be conducted.
In 924 Athelstan became the first Anglo-Saxon to be King of all the English.   He was the grandson of Alfred the Great and was the first to impose a unified coinage, which depicted him as the first English King to wear a crown.   In a manuscript picture he held a sceptre, another first.   He called himself “Rex totius Britanniae” (King of all Britain).   He was the first West Saxon ruler to have a border with the Scots, the first to have a “foreign policy”, negotiating marriage alliances and hosting embassies.

Ethelred the Unready inherited the kingdom of England in 978.   Although named the Unready this was a mistranslation.   His nickname was Unroed meaning “lack of counsel”.   It was a pun on his name Ethelred that means “good counsel”.   At first he attempted to buy off the Viking invaders but failed for the Vikings kept on invading and in 1002; Ethelred ordered the massacre of all Danes in England.   Among those killed was Gunnhilda, the sister of Sweyn Forkbeard, the King of Denmark and Norway.   It was a fatal mistake.   In 1013 Sweyn together with his son Canute fought a campaign that added England to his kingdoms, and Ethelred fled into exile in Normandy.   Canute’s fame rests on his attempt to turn back the tide.   This has been misconstrued.   What he was demonstrating was that only God could control the tide, not man. 

When Sweyn died in February 1014, Ethelred regained his throne, negotiating a sort of contract with the Anglo-Saxon nobles and clerics, promising to “govern more justly than before” if they obeyed him, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.   By now the Witan had acquired considerable authority.   This was the first agreement between King and people – the first constitutional settlement.   Suffice it to say they the agreement was really with the nobles and clerics who purported to represent the people.   He also turned to the Witan, a council, which now consisted of Lords and Bishops, which voted to restore the defeated King.  Ethelred the Unready quickly raised an army, forcing Canute to abandon England and sail back to Denmark.  
We do not know how the Witan voted, whether by show of hands or by ballot, or indeed how the idea of voting emerged in the Witan, but as anybody who has attended a committee meeting will know, at first you try to arrive at a consensus and if this fails you move to a majority decision.   This is how voting begins and if done in a fair way the decision is accepted by all.
In April 1016 Canute entered the Thames with his fleet and besieged London.   King Ethelred died suddenly during the siege and Londoners proclaimed his son Edmund Ironside, King.   In the mean time the Witan meeting in Southampton elected Canute as King.   A decisive battle between Edmund and Canute took place at Ashingdon, Essex and Edmund was forced to sue for peace.   Canute and Edmund agreed to divide the kingdom, but Edmund’s death left Canute as sole ruler, leading to his acclamation as King by the Witangemot in January 1017.   Canute divided the country into the four great earldoms of Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia and Northumbria, a system of territorial lordships, which would underlie English government for some time afterwards.   The four Earls were the core of what in time would become the House of Lords.
The word “Lord” derives from the Anglo-Saxon hlaford or hlafweard i.e. loaf ward or guardian.   This is the origin of the “House of Lords”.
It is remarkable that Canute chose to accept our system of Government rather than impose his own – a course which William the Conqueror did not follow, although William did retain many of the existing institutions.   William was the bastard son of Robert, Duke of Normandy and a tanner’s daughter.   Perhaps in order to make a success of invasion a foreigner has to adopt and adapt the existing institutions of the land that has been invaded?   There is a limit on how much can be imposed from above.
The ineffectualness that had compelled Ethelred to enlist the Witan and inspired his belated promise of good behaviour helped sow the seeds of the notion that English Kings must rule with the consent of their people, as represented by the Witan and the Witan’s role in proclaiming Canute as King reinforced the point.   The Witan formalised the dispersal of power from the King.   This was the first time the theory had been formally expounded in practise, but it may be that it was purely a pragmatic way for Ethelred to appease the leading figures of the day.
By the early eleventh century England had been divided into the shires (beneath the four Earldoms which eventually disappeared under William I) that persisted until their re-organisation by the Conservative government in 1974.   Each shire had a court to administer royal justice and was governed by powerful ealdormen who governed in the king’s name.   The shires were subdivided into smaller areas of jurisdiction, called hundreds with their own courts which all freemen were supposed to attend and which were held monthly to hear local disputes and misdemeanours.   This is important for it showed that structures and order were being developed together with the emergence of the rule of law, a necessity for the creation of democracy.
With this governmental machinery at their disposal it was no wonder that the Anglo-Saxon kings felt empowered to legislate.   When they made laws eliminating cattle rustling and sent them, signed and sealed to their senior magnates, the ealdormen and then on through the sheriff they expected those writs to be faithfully obeyed.

On Canute becoming King, Edward who was the son of King Ethelred II the Unready and Emma, the daughter of Richard II of Normandy went into exile in Normandy.   He lived in exile until 1041, when he returned to the London court of his half brother, King Hardecanute.   Hardecanute died of convulsions at a wedding party and Edward became King in 1042.
For the first eleven years of Edward's reign the real ruler of England was Godwine, Earl of Wessex.   Godwine was ambitious for his five sons, all of whom were made Earls and collectively his family were as wealthy as the royal family.   Edward married Godwine's daughter Edith in 1045, but this could not prevent a breach between the two men in 1049.   Edith was confined to a monastery.   When Godwine died in 1053, his second son Harold took over
On his deathbed, Edward the Confessor designated Harold the royal heir, but had previously promised the crown to his cousin William, Duke of Normandy.   In 1064, Harold was shipwrecked in Normandy and was turned over to the court of Duke William of Normandy.   William considered himself to be the successor of the childless Edward the Confessor, and got Harold to swear an oath to support William as the future king of England.   In 1065 Harold supported a Northumbrian rebellion against taxes levied by his brother Tostig and replaced him with Morcar, the Earl of Northumbria. This strengthened his acceptability as Edward's successor, but divided his own family. Tostig went into alliance with King Harald Hardrada of Norway. In January 1066, upon Edward's death, Harold was proclaimed King by the Witenagemot who, under Anglo-Saxon law held the ultimate authority to convey kingship.

Harold's position as King, though, was much disputed and the country was invaded, first by Harald Hardrada of Norway and then by William, Duke of Normandy.  Harold offered his brother, Tostig, a third of the kingdom, and Tostig asked what Harold would offer the King of Norway.   "Six feet of ground or as much more as he needs, as he is taller than most men," was Harold's response according to Henry of Huntingdon, a chronicler writing after the event.   Invading what is now Yorkshire in September 1066, Harald Hardrada and Tostig defeated the English earls, Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria, at the Battle of Fulford near York on 20 September. But they were in turn defeated and killed by Harold's army five days later at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.   Harold now forced his army to march 240 miles to meet William the Conqueror, who had landed about 7,000 men in Sussex, on 28 September.   Harold established his army near Hastings, and on 14 October the two armies clashed at the Battle of Hastings, near the present town of Battle.   Harold was killed and his forces routed.   According to tradition, an arrow in the eye killed Harold, but the victim depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry is anonymous.   Whether he did, indeed, die in this manner, or was killed by the sword, is unknown.
 On Christmas Day 1066, in the newly built abbey church of Westminster, upstream from London, William, Duke of Normandy, was crowned King of the English.   The Archbishop of York, one Aldred, asked the Englishmen present if they would have William for their king.   When they shouted their assent, the Norman Bishop of Coutances addressed the same question to his own compatriots, who answered in the same way.   William having at the altar sworn an oath, Aldred anointed, crowned, and enthroned him. (J Enoch Powell & Angus Maude - Biography of a Nation)
Aldred was active and courageous, but these virtues were combined with ambition and greed.   In asking the Englishmen present if they would have William for their King, once again we see the principle of consent, although by now it is taking on greater strength and reinforcing precedent – important aspects of the rule of law.   Of course it is argued that the people had no choice, surrounded as they were by men in arms, but the appearance of consent was important.   Throughout history perception is everything.   William brought about major changes to the government of Britain.
 One such major change between Anglo-Saxon practice and Norman practice was brought about because preserving their estates was an obsession with the Norman nobility – everything would go to a single heir.   In the Anglo-Saxon way a successor would get the nod from a dying king, provided that the Witan consented to his choice.   In the new way the king gave the realm to his son without debate.   The concept of the hereditary monarchy without the necessity of election was born.
Many of the fundamental institutions of government emerge in this period.   What is then remarkable is that they were sufficiently deeply embedded to survive the next centuries, when we went through civil war and foreign attack.  It is particularly remarkable that at this point in time Britain had been successfully invaded twice within fifty years, first by Canute and then by William, and the previous century had survived several Viking invasions.
When the Normans took control of Britain they imposed a governing structure similar to what had been developed in their homeland during the tenth and eleventh centuries.   This social, political, military structure became known as feudalism.
As part of his feudal system, William I developed the idea that the holding of land entailed the acceptance of certain responsibilities.   His authority for government therefore rested not only on his military power but also upon the moral obligations resulting from his ownership of all the land in England.   William ruled by the sword.   The English aristocracy was decimated.   He rewarded his war-like barons and followers with enormous grants of land.   By the end of his reign in total some 200 people owned England, virtually none of whom were Anglo-Saxon, yet some of the Anglo-Saxon institutions such as burghs were still recognisable within the governing structure.
In order to fulfil his general function of government within a hostile country, it was necessary that the King should exercise more detailed powers of initiating and controlling policy.   As a result of the stability, which the Normans brought to English affairs, these powers were in use continuously and thus became accepted as part of the common law, being referred to in the course of time as “the Prerogative”.   Subsequently this became the “Royal Prerogative”.
Although these powers conferred on the Sovereign were ill defined, from the beginning there were recognised limitations: decisions on grave and important matters could only be taken after consultation with the great men of the realm; taxation could only be levied with the consent of the Royal Council (Curia Regis); justice had to be equally available to all persons and administered in a legal manner.   Why did William accept these restraints?   After all, he had just conquered England and was our first dictatorial King.   He was very powerful.   Did he recognise that to ensure his success he had to work with the established institutions or had he learnt this way of governing from his experiences in France?   He centralised power, a theme that manifests itself in French government a millennium later.   He created a tension between local and national forces, which continued apace throughout the next thousand years.   If it is these latter points which dominated his thinking there is a touch of irony that our democratic institutions owe their existence to both this French inheritance and the Celtic tribes from what is now Germany, which were the origins of the Witan.  

It is interesting to observe that the Curia Regis (Royal Council) took the place of the Anglo-Saxon witan and it continued to be dubbed a witan until as late as the twelfth century.   The Romans had their Senate, the Anglo-Saxons their Witan and now we had the Royal Council.
The Norman kings observed the limitations imposed on them, but later monarchs were to ignore them.   The Royal Council mainly consisted of relatives of the King, ecclesiastics, close associates, or individuals to whom the King had given land.   It replaced its Anglo-Saxon predecessor, the Witenagemot – a backward step on the road to democracy but a move towards the creation of the House of Lords.   The Normans were becoming Anglo-Saxonised whilst the Anglo-Saxons were becoming Normanised.
It was inevitable that William should feudalise England.   Determined to avail himself to the full of all that attached to the English kingship, which placed him on a level footing with his suzerain, the King of France, he had to secure the maintenance of a feudal army in his realm of England.   Without the feudal bond between lord and tenant, he could not as a foreigner, expect to retain and strengthen the central government, which he inherited from the Wessex kings.   At first he accepted the allegiance of such great English laymen and clerics as proffered it; only the lands of those who at Hastings had fought against him, their “lawful” lord, were made forfeit and granted to his Norman and other French followers. (Enoch Powell & Angus Maude - Biography of a Nation)
During the course of his reign 1066 to 1087, William gave very large plots of land to those noblemen who had fought with him in battle.   In return they had to swear an oath of loyalty to him.   In addition they had to collect taxes and provide him with soldiers if he requested them to do so.   The men who were given the plots of land were barons, earls and dukes.   They were known as tenants-in-chief.   At first the land reverted to William on their death but soon the tenures became hereditary.   Sometimes the services, which had to be rendered to William, were spiritual, menial or domestic but mainly they were military.   The idea was accepted that the King was the ultimate owner of all land and he could raise armies, maintain religion and make his government function by granting land upon conditions.   This denial of property rights diminished as the demands for hereditary recognition increased.
The tenants-in-chief then subdivided the land they had been given and granted parcels to trusted Norman knights, who had also fought with William, on the same terms and conditions which William had granted to them.   In other words their obligations were passed on to sub tenants and so on.   The effect of all this was that there were obligations from the smallest tenant all the way up to the king.   This division between tenants-in-chiefs and knights became the dividing line between membership of the House of Lords and membership of the House of Commons which was to come later.   It set the scene for a thousand years of parliamentary rule.

In the event, William had to Normanize as well as feudalise England.   When he died, little more than twenty years after the Conquest, there were scarcely half a dozen considerable tenants of the King who were English, including bishops and abbots.   The entire tenantry in chief, that is, the class who held their land directly of the King, were Norman.
   "During the last five years of his life there were only three (Saxon) earldoms in England-Chester, Shrewsbury, and Northumberland- each on borders of the realm.   Of these only Chester survived the next generation.   Everywhere outside these earldoms the administration, based on the pre conquest shires, was in the hands of the King’s officer, a viscount, (i.e. vice-count, or pro-earl), who came later to be known by his English name of shire-reeve, or sheriff." (J. Enoch Powell & Angus Maude - Biography of a Nation )
Not only did William physically conquer England he also changed the church.   By the time of his death there were only three Bishops left that had served under Edward the Confessor.
It is often the case that a successful invader adopts the cultural habits of their conquests because they cannot change everything and the stability of society makes for an easier rule.   The Normans, by keeping the shires and the boroughs, did not break down all of what the Anglo-Saxons had created, thus giving some stability of government.
Feudalism in practice meant that the country was not governed by the king but by individual lords, or barons, who administered their own estates, dispensed their own justice, minted their own money, levied taxes and tolls, and demanded military service from vassals. Usually the lords could field greater armies than the king.   In theory the king was the chief feudal lord, but in reality the individual lords were supreme in their own territory.
The tenants-in-chief held territories, which were called manors.  At the time of the Domesday Book, 1086, the vast majority of the land was held by about two hundred tenants-in-chief.   Only 8% of land remained in Saxon hands.   The most important tenants-in-chief were the earls and barons as well as the ecclesiastics consisting of the archbishops, bishops and abbots.   William I was an absolute ruler, but, as a matter of course he sought the advice of the Curia Regis before making laws.
William the Conqueror recognised that knowledge was power.   If you want to tax the people you have to know where they are.   He had a record made of all the land and its contents, which were recorded, on the pages of the Domesday Book.   In this book William would have had the information to coerce, fine or confiscate, should any of his vassals waver in their loyalty.   For centuries afterwards the strength of government in England was this partnership between the power of the landed classes and the authority of the state, the guardians of the land and the keepers of knowledge.   Between them, professing to understand each of their concerns was the eternal umpire – the King.   Power is beginning to be shared and not rest entirely in the hands of one person.
William the Conqueror was succeeded by his son William Rufus, who reigned as William II (reigned 1087 to 1100), who was killed by a stray arrow whilst riding.   The younger brother of William Rufus was Henry I (reigned 1100 to 1135).   He was also riding in the New Forest on the day that the King was killed and he seized power within hours.   Three days later, he was crowned at Westminster.   Henry's dubious right to the kingdom was the possible cause of his lifelong insecurity.   The chronicler Henry of Huntingdon observed: 'Each of his triumphs only made him worry lest he lose what he had gained.'   His first concern was his older brother Robert, Duke of Normandy, who disputed his claim (as he had disputed William Rufus's).   To consolidate support, Henry issued a Charter of Liberties, promising 'good government' and an end to unfair taxes and other abuses, then married Matilda, sister of King Edgar of Scotland, to secure his northern frontier.
In 1100 Henry I signed the Charter of Liberties on his coronation agreeing to rule in the same manner as the Anglo-Saxon kings, namely with consent.
This charter, granted by Henry when he ascended the throne, is important in two ways.   First, Henry formally bound himself to the laws, setting the stage for the rule of law that parliaments and parliamentarians of later ages would demand.   Second, it reads almost exactly like the Magna Carta, and served as the model for the Great Charter in 1215.   The Mediaeval Source Book sets out the Charter of Liberties:
Henry, king of the English, to Bishop Samson and Urso de Abetot and all his barons and faithful, both French and English, of Worcestershire, [copies were sent to all the shires] greeting.
1.             Know that by the mercy of God and the common counsel of the barons of the whole kingdom of England I have been crowned king of said kingdom; and because the kingdom had been oppressed by unjust actions, I, through fear of god and the love which I have toward you all, in the first place make the holy church of God free, so that I will neither sell, nor on the death of archbishop or bishop or abbot will I take anything from the church's demesne or from its men until the successor shall enter it.   And I take away all the bad customs by which the kingdom of England was unjustly oppressed; which bad customs I here set down in part:
2.             If any of my barons, earls, or others who hold of me shall have died, his heir shall not buy back his land as he used to do in the time of my brother, but he shall relieve it by a just and lawful relief.   Likewise also the men of my barons shall relieve their lands from their lords by a just and lawful relief.
3.             And if any of my barons or other men should wish to give his daughter, sister, niece, or kinswoman in marriage, let him speak with me about it; but I will neither take anything from him for this permission nor prevent his giving her unless he should be minded to join her to my enemy.   And if, upon the death of a baron or other of my men, a daughter is left as heir, I will give her with her land by the advice of my barons.   And if, on the death of her husband, the wife is left and without children, she shall have her dowry and right of marriage, and I will not give her to a husband unless according to her will.
4.             But if a wife be left with children, she shall indeed have her dowry and right of marriage so long as she shall keep her body lawfully, and I will not give her unless according to her will.   And the guardian of the land and children shall be either the wife or another of the relatives who more justly ought to be.   And I command that my barons restrain themselves similarly in dealing with the sons and daughters or wives of their men.
5.             The common seigniorage, which has been taken through the cities and counties, but which was not taken in the time of King Edward, I absolutely forbid henceforth.   If anyone, whether a moneyer or other, be taken with false money, let due justice be done for it.
6.             I remit all pleas and all debts which were owing to my brother, except my lawful fixed revenues and except those amounts which had been agreed upon for the inheritances of others or for things which more justly concerned others.   And if any one had pledged anything for his own inheritance, I remit it; also all reliefs which had been agreed upon for just inheritances.
7.             And if any of my barons or men shall grow feeble, as he shall give or arrange to give his money, I grant that it be so given.   But if, prevented by arms or sickness, he shall not have given or arranged to give his money, his wife, children, relatives, or lawful men shall distribute it for the good of his soul as shall seem best to them.
8.             If any of my barons or men commit a crime, he shall not bind himself to a payment at the king's mercy as he has been doing in the time of my father or my brother; but he shall make amends according to the extent of the crime as he would have done before the time of my father in the time of my other predecessors.   But if he were convicted of treachery or heinous crime, he shall make amends as is just.
9.             I forgive all murders committed before the day I was crowned king; and those, which shall be committed in the future, shall be justly compensated according to the law of King Edward.
10.          By the common consent of my barons I have kept in my hands forests as my father had them.
11.          To those knights who render military service for their lands I grant of my own gift that the lands of their demesne ploughs be free from all payments and all labour, so that, having been released from so great a burden, they may equip themselves well with horses and arms and be fully prepared for my service and the defence of my kingdom.
12.          I impose a strict peace upon my whole kingdom and command that it be maintained henceforth.
13.          I restore to you the law of King Edward with those amendments introduced into it by my father with the advice of his barons.
14.          If any one, since the death of King William my brother, has taken anything belonging to me or to any one else, the whole is to be quickly restored without fine; but if any one keep anything of it, he upon whom it shall be found shall pay me a heavy fine.

Witnesses Maurice bishop of London, and William bishop elect of Winchester, and Gerard bishop of Hereford, and earl Henry, and earl Simon, and Walter Giffard, and Robert de Montfort, and Roger Bigot, and Eudo the steward, and Robert son of Hamo, and Robert Malet. At London when I was crowned. Farewell. 
The Charter is interesting in that it not only sets out some property rights but also women’s rights and is perhaps the first move towards equality for women by setting out the rights of a widow.   Why did Henry sign the Charter?   We can only surmise from its contents that the Barons and the Church were beginning to flex their muscles.   Property rights were starting to be defined and we see the early moves towards a hereditary system.   You can see in this document the origins of the Bill of Rights, which was to play a major role in our history.   It is signed by Robert de Montfort whose family was going to cause Kings a much greater problem over a century later.   Its importance is in defining a culture where the barons at least have the ability to constrain the King.   Whilst it may be a reflection of the power and money of the barons, what is interesting is how they choose to create structures to wield that influence.   The references to King Edward give the document a continuity of age.   England is developing habits, which are getting quite ingrained.
Three weeks after Henry’s death, Stephen, grandson of William the Conqueror became King.   Stephen had promised to recognise his cousin Matilda, daughter of Henry I as lawful heir, but like many of the English/Norman nobles, was unwilling to yield the crown to a woman.   He received recognition as King by the papacy through the machinations of his brother Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester, and gathered support from the barons.   Matilda was in Anjou at the time of Henry's death and Stephen, in a rare exhibition of resolve, crossed the Channel and was crowned King by the citizens of London on December 22nd 1135.

Matilda, biding her time on the continent, decided the time was right to assert her hereditary rights.   Accompanied by her second husband Geoffrey of Anjou and her half-brother Robert, Earl of Gloucester, Matilda invaded England in 1139.   The trio dominated western England and joined a rebellion against Stephen in 1141.   Robert captured Stephen in battle at Lincoln. Stephen's government collapsed and Matilda was recognised as Queen but not crowned.   The contentious and arrogant Matilda quickly angered the citizens of London and was expelled from the city.   Stephen's forces rallied, captured Robert, and exchanged the Earl for the King.   Matilda had been defeated but the succession remained in dispute.   Stephen wanted his son Eustace to be named heir, and Matilda wanted her son Henry to succeed to the crown.   Civil war continued until Matilda departed for France in 1148.   The succession dispute remained an issue, as the virtually independent barons were reluctant to choose sides from fear of losing personal power.   The problem of succession was resolved in 1153 when Eustace died and Henry came to England to battle for both his own rights and those of his mother.   The two sides finally reached a compromise with the Treaty of Wallingford - Stephen would rule unopposed until his death but the throne would pass to Henry of Anjou. 
                Matilda was one of the first women to campaign for equal rights for women in England.   She did not succeed in becoming Queen, but by ensuring that her son became King she established the possibility of female succession.   She made her mark.

By the time of Henry II in 1154 the Kings of England were supposed to be judge, warlord, theocrat and potentate.   The basic obligations were to protect the Church, to preserve the patrimony of your ancestors, to do justice and to suppress evil laws and customs.   During Henry’s reign he took on the Barons and decided to reduce their power.   The Baron’s Court was a court for the freehold tenants of the estate who were legally obliged to attend. There was a jury, usually twelve men, which was picked from amongst their number.
 To hold a Barons Court there had to be a minimum of 2 freeholder tenants. There was a decisive shift away from baronial courts to royal courts.   Any freeman might appeal from the lord’s local jurisdiction or simply demand that their case be heard before the King’s justice.   Henry, who also ruled a large part of France, was taking control of the law. And the law was becoming centralised.   Henry II is recognised as the founder of the Common Law of England.
 Henry II clashed with his own appointed Archbishop of Canterbury – Thomas Becket over the Constitution of Clarendon introduced in 1164, which limited church power.   Two years later at the Assizes of Clarendon trial by jury was established for the first time.   Thomas Beckett had been Chancellor and was the first Englishman since the Norman Conquest to reach such a high office.   He resigned on becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury and from then on championed the rights of the Church against the King.  He disagreed with the Constitution of Clarendon and continually quarrelled with the King thereafter.   In 1170 he was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on the instigation of Henry II.       By his actions Henry was codifying the institutions which ran the country, but in doing so he was effectively setting out their limitations.
 Henry II believed that God directly anointed him although this idea of the sacred autonomy of kings had never been accepted by the papacy.   It was also in direct conflict with the Charter of Liberties.   The papacy had supreme power over Christendom and allowed Archbishops to crown Kings as a sign that they were temporal rulers – servants of the Church.   In the eyes of the King sovereignty was absolute within his realm – a fundamental difference of conviction.   Was the Church an institution of the realm or was it separate from it?   By making Becket Archbishop of Canterbury Henry thought that he shared his view of the subordinate relationship of Church to State.   Henry had problems with the Church but perhaps not so serious or consequential as those of his son John, who ended up doing battle with the Pope.   We see in this period a move by the King to grab back power during a process of centralisation and moves towards democracy are if anything in decline.   Nevertheless the 12th century set the scene for the barons to get their revenge.   Henry’s appropriation of power set precedents, which his successors tried to follow but which became disastrous for King John.
The first step in establishing the principle of representation was taken in 1188 when Henry II imposed a tax on movables to raise money for the third crusade.   The tax system was extended from the Barons to include freemen of the counties.   If a man disputed the assessment of his liability, a jury of neighbours, chosen locally and from among his fellows decided the issue.   It was but a short step for representatives of these new taxpayers to be sent to the Great Council

The King formally granted charters, which were assented to by the feudal council in its advisory capacity.   It was usual for the greatest barons to sign these charters even if on occasion their signature consisted of an “X”.   In time the title baron became synonymous with tenant-in-chief.
The idea of legislation – that the law could be changed – was unknown to the ages of the Norman and Angevin kings.   The charters, statutes, or “assizes” were conceived as declaring a law which existed, but had either been temporarily broken or had come into uncertainty.   Such a declaration, however, could usually be effective only if made with the advice and consent of the King’s feudal council.   Thus we find the statutes of Henry I and Henry II being issued with the assent of the “great ones” of his realm. (Biography of a Nation by J.Enoch Powell and Angus Maude)
Richard I younger son of Henry II succeeded Henry as King.   Being involved in the Crusades he spent little time in England during his reign (1189 to 1199).   His brother John who ascended to the throne in 1199 followed him.   Significantly, for the first time John was described on the royal seal as “King of England” rather than as “King of the English”.   Land had taken over in the description from people.   Was this a Freudian slip?   Was he trying to get away from the “consent of the people”?
The oldest recorded treaty between England and Wales, which has survived, dates from 1201 - between Llywelyn Fawr and King John. 15 years later, Llywelyn the Great summoned "the first Welsh parliament" to meet at Aberdyfi.   Llywelyn the Great married the illegitimate daughter of King John and was probably the ablest of all the medieval Welsh Princes.   This all happened nearly fifty years before the De Montfort Parliament met in England.   Did De Montfort get his idea from this?
In 1208 King John refused to accept the Pope’s nominee for Archbishop of Canterbury.   As a result an interdict was placed on England.   Under this no subject of the King could receive the sacrament of marriage or be buried on consecrated ground.   John responded by seizing Church property, which at this time consisted of a third of all the land in England.   This led to John being excommunicated until eventually in 1213 he capitulated by surrendering England to be a fiefdom of the Pope.   At this point in time the Pope was all-powerful.   It was not to last.
Knights representing their shires were first summoned to the national assembly with the prelates and barons in 1213.   This is the earliest known occasion on which this happened.   Why did this happen?   Was the King trying to extend his taxing powers?   Were there the signs of the knights beginning to fight back?   Did the King feel that he would strengthen his cause by meeting them in person?   We can only speculate, but whatever the reason it was a significant step towards the creation of a parliament.

Armed with Papal blessing John took on Philip Augustus at the battle of Bouvines in France in 1214, where his army went down to disastrous defeat.   Philip Augustus established his throne at the battle of Bouvines.   Notre Dame is a lasting monument of his attention to the fortification and layout of Paris.   Had John won the battle of Bouvines in all likelihood there would have been no Magna Carta (The Great Charter).   For the famous “Charter” signed by John at Runnymede on 15th June 1215 was conceived in the first instance by a coalition of barons who were resolved to take advantage of the King’s defeat and to push back the centralising power of the King.   The Magna Carta should not be read as though it were a sort of primitive constitution.   It was a catalogue of things which the King would henceforth not be permitted to do.   It spelled out for the first time, and unequivocally that the law was not simply the will or the whim of the King but was an independent power in its own right, and that Kings could be brought to book for violating it – that they should, for example, show due cause why a person’s body might be confined (habeas corpus) and not just be declared to be detained at the pleasure of the King.   All this presupposed that there was some sort of English “state” of which the king was a part (albeit the supreme part) but not the whole. 
The Magna Carta, 1215, drew together some of the most important customs of the land in its attempt to guarantee certain rights in the feudal society of the time.   Among other things, the King had to promise not to levy scutage (payment made by a knight to commute the military service that he owed his lord), outside of three customary feudal dues, without the consent of the Common Council – a committee of 25 Barons.   The first clause of the “Charter” asserted the freedom of the church.   It went on to protect against arbitrary taxation, guaranteed the privileges of the City of London and of the boroughs and allowed freedom of movement.   Furthermore, no freeman could be seized, imprisoned, dispossessed of his land or outlawed except by lawful judgement of his peers and the law of the land.
 Throughout the centuries the freedom, which the Magna Carta espoused, has continuously come under attack and has had to be defended.   At the height of the second World War in 1943 Winston Churchill, probably the greatest Prime Minister of the twentieth century, said “The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgement of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.”
 The Charter eventually became a document on which the rights of the people were based.   It was recognised by Parliaments and the law courts, and some of its provisions remain on the statute books as enduring benchmarks in the evolution of British law.   The original Magna Carta has vanished, but copies of the document were distributed to all the counties and four of those copies survive.   They are held at the British Library, House of Lords, Lincoln Castle and Salisbury Cathedral.
An elaborate device for securing the observance of the charter was included within the Charter.   It said:
“the barons are to elect twenty-five barons of the realm and if any one of the twenty-five Barons shall die, or remove out of the land, or in any other way shall be prevented from executing the things above said, they who remain of the twenty-five Barons shall elect another in his place, according to their own pleasure, who shall be sworn in the same manner as the rest.
In all those things which are appointed to be done by these twenty-five Barons, if it happen that all the twenty-five have been present, and have differed in their opinions about any thing, or if some of them who had been summoned, would not, or could not be present, that which the greater part of those who were present shall have provided and decreed, shall be held as firm and as valid, as if all the twenty-five had agreed in it: and the aforesaid twenty-five shall swear, that they will faithfully observe, and, with all their power, cause to be observed, all the things mentioned above.

And we will obtain nothing from any one, by ourselves, nor by another, by which any of these concessions and liberties may be revoked or diminished.   And if any such thing shall have been obtained, let it be void and null: and we will never use it, neither by ourselves nor by another by common consent most people agree”.
It was the beginning of the idea of representation and incorporated the principle of majority voting.   It also provided against coercion or intimidation in exercising the vote.   An oath to support the twenty-five in these duties was to be exacted throughout the country.   Any infringement of the Charter was to be reported to four of the twenty-five barons who would then distrain upon the King until redress was obtained.   This was a very significant point in moving toward democracy.   We can see here that democracy is not only voting but that voting is part of a process setting out the conditions under which the vote takes place.   In this case it is a process being used to restrain the power of the King and as such there is some similarity to the Witangemot of Anglo-Saxon days.
What we are seeing is the development of law, the concept of voting, institutions of representation and constraints on the power of the King.   As such they do not constitute democracy but they are the bases on which democracy can be built.   This primitive move towards democracy was far ahead of its time.   Some would argue that democracy; justice and liberty can all be traced back to this point.
Magna Carta was not a human rights document setting out the relations between the common man and the state.   It was a settlement between forces competing for power.   The people were subjects not citizens.   Nevertheless it led the way.
The charter broke down almost immediately it was made.   The barons broke their promise to give the king any security he wished for their keeping the peace.
After signing the “Charter” King John appealed to Pope Innocent III to have it annulled.   The Pope, being well versed in diplomacy, having deposed Otto IV the Emperor of Germany, agreed.   John died in 1216 and was succeeded by his 9-year-old son Henry III.
After John’s death, in the reign of his son Henry III Magna Carta was reissued on no fewer than three occasions, although the clause allowing the Barons to use force to implement the “Charter” was eliminated.   The idea of a contract between King and subjects started to take firm root.   When lawyers started collating English law in later centuries they listed Henry III’s version of Magna Carta as the first in the statute book.

By the time of Henry III how far had we got on the road to democracy?   The pre-requisite for democracy - the rule of law – was becoming established, courts had been instigated.   The power of the king had become circumscribed.   Under Henry I’s Charter of Liberties the people began to acquire rights. By the time of Henry II the principle of representation had been established.   With Magna Carta justice gained a toehold, as did the idea of deciding matters by a majority.   The seeds of democracy were in place.   How long would they take to grow?

No comments:

Post a Comment