Archive for May, 2010

1295: The Model Parliament

May 30, 2010 1 comment

“Inasmuch as a most righteous law of the emperors ordains what touches all, should be approved of all, and it is also clear that common dangers should be met by measures agreed upon in common.” – King Edward I’s Writ of Summons for the Model Parliament
The Model Parliament of 1295 was England’s first legally elected legislature.  Each county elected two knights, and each borough two burgesses, and each city two citizens.  The 292 members of the Commons, 219 of which representing the towns, were joined by 49 Lords (7 Earls, 42 Barons) and a number of Clergy, with the objective of securing for the King finances for fighting the Scots and French.  The Clergy constituted a proctor representing each cathedral, and two proctors representing each diocese.

The fact that a King, particularly the son of a King who had destroyed its illegal predecessor, would repeat de Montfort’s experiment, is remarkable.

In the midst of a series of wars, the monarchy had finally surrendered to Parliament the arbitrary power of taxation, in order to enlist the financial help of as many areas of society as possible.  Ostensibly, this was the new parliament’s sole function, but the Commons hoped to get various grievances addressed in return for its cooperation in gathering taxes, and herein lies the origins of Parliament’s legislative capacity.  This early practice of negotiation between the Crown and the Commons would become commonplace very quickly;  in 1309, the Commons submitted to the new King, Edward II, a list of grievances they wished addressed before they would grant taxes.

Each estate (Lords, Clergy and Commons) agreed their final contributions to Edward’s wars which were less than generous, from the king’s perspective; the knights and lords provided an 11th of their incomes, the Clergy a 10th, and the boroughs a 7th.  Nevertheless, sufficient money was raised to fight the war.

It is small wonder that this is known as the model parliament.  It is from this that all future parliaments base their unbroken continuity.  As the great Victorian historian F W Maitland wrote:

“The clergy and baronage are summoned to treat, ordain and execute; the representatives of the Commons are to bring full powers from those whom they represent to execute what should be ordained by the common council. A body constituted in this manner is a Parliament; what the king enacts with the consent of such a body is a statute. The importance of this moment in our history cannot be underestimated.”

Election of the Commons brought in their ability to encourage cooperation of the taxed, as well as helping to prevent taxes from being set at an unreasonably high level.  However, in the long term, the Commons would never be satisfied with cursory influence over the laws and would demand increasing power.

Thanks to Crown, Woolsack and Mace: The Model Parliament of 1295 for some useful information.

Categories: History

De Montfort’s Parliament, 1265

The Second Baron’s War turned against King Henry III in 1264 when the royal army was destroyed by baronial rebels at Lewes, Sussex, and the King and his son, Edward, were captured.  A temporary truce, the Mise of Lewes, was signed by Henry.  The details of the truce are not known, but what is known is that Simon de Montfort, the 6th Earl of Leicester, took it upon himself to call a parliament to form a new constitution.

This parliament was the first elected parliament in England.

De Montfort was born in 1208.  He came from a powerful Norman French family originating in Flanders, who had served the heirs of William the Conqueror loyally, and had a strong military heritage.  Simon’s father, also called Simon, had served in the Fourth Crusade.  His relations with the King blew hot and cold throughout his lifetime, and he married the King’s sister, Eleanor, to avoid a scandal.  De Montfort was the leader of the Barons during the civil war, and after the Battle of Lewes set up an administrative troika of himself, the Earl of Gloucester and the Bishop of Chichester.

De Montfort’s motives, as Dr David Carpenter observed, were a mixture of idealism and outright personal interest.  He was concerned about the nature of government, as evidenced by his supposed discussion of Aristotle’s definition of tyranny with Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln – that the just ruler concerns himself with the interests of his subjects, while the tyrant merely consults his own.  But at the same time his grievances against the King stemmed from dissatisfaction with royal patronage – he had received too little, namely a meagre endowment of land upon his marriage to Eleanor.  The attempted creation of a new way of government in 1265 was blackened by the fact it was achieved through violence and not through consent.  Therefore it was necessary to make the regime popular and well supported.

De Montfort’s parliament stipulated that all representatives of the Communitas, or Commons, be elected.  Their presence, however was short-lived, as Henry III promptly condemned the illegal parliament and renewed the war against de Montfort.  With his star waning, de Montfort was captured and killed at the Battle of Evesham.  His body was cut up and portions displayed over city gates throughout England.

The men of 1258 and 1265 turned parliament from an occasion into an institution, an institution which they used as the fundamental source of authority for the government of England.  Parliament moved from being a meeting which received judicial pleas and consider fiscal matters, into one in which the King met with his subjects and together considered the needs of himself and his realm and people.  Parliament was the seat of discussion and decision, and the source of all reform.  The ramifications of the short-lived event were enormous.


Carpenter, D (1994) From King John to the first English Duke: 1215-1337 in Smith, R (ed, 1994) The House of Lords: A Thousand Years of British Tradition, Smith’s Peerage Publications.

Categories: History

Quick Note: Lords Reform

May 19, 2010 1 comment

Over on Lords of the Blog, an excellent website in which Members of the House of Lords communicate with the public, the eminent Lord Norton of Louth (who himself has his own blog) has given more detail about the new coalition government’s plans for reforming the House of Lords.  I will repost his entry here:

To read the media, it is clear that the coalition agreement as it affects the House of Lords has lost something in translation.  The agreed document proposes a committee to propose draft motions (on Lords reform) by December of this year.  It goes on “It is likely that this bill will advocate single long terms of office.  It is also likely there will be a grandfathering system for current Peers.  In the interim, Lords appointments will be made with the objective of creating a second chamber reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.”

A grandfathering system refers to a situation where it is  planned to change a contract but those on an existing contract continue under the terms of the existing contract.  In this context, existing peers will continue as members of the House.

Some media have been suggesting there will be a sudden mass influx of new peers.  This does not necessarily follow.  The coalition (Con + Lib Dem) significantly outnumbers Labour peers and the ‘interim’ may not necessarily be a short one.  Downing Street has been downplaying the stories of a large number of new peers being created immediately and has indicated that Lords reform is not a priority relative to the other issues the Government has to address.

The important point for the Lords is that we continue to fulfil our tasks effectively.  We need to be ready to deal with any measures that seek to move towards an elected House and to make the case, cogently and consistently, for an appointed House.  We also need to make progress on proposals designed to reduce the size of the House.  There are steps we can take to enable peers who wish to do so to take permanent leave of absence.  That should be the more immediate focus.

To me at least, these are reassuring words.

I will endeavour to post further on the House of Lords at some point in the future.

The Mad Parliament of 1258

‘There shall be parliaments three times a year…(and) to these parliaments there shall come the elected of the king, to review the state of the realm and to deal with the common needs of the realm and the king together’

The first Magna Carta had been proclaimed in 1215 by King John.  This document was testament to the growing power of England’s Barons, who increasingly desired inclusion in the realm’s government, but also signified the growing contradictions within English policymaking.

Throughout the Thirteenth Century, the government of Henry III, who had succeeded King John in 1216, came under increasing criticism.  Long and incompetently-managed campaigns in France in 1230 and 1242 drained England’s blood and treasure, combined with perceived abuses of the King’s domestic powers, and his own extravagant lifestyle, undermined the authority of the Crown.

Throughout the middle of the Century the list of grievances piled up, and many Barons sought to restrain the King’s power.  On  May 2, 1258, Henry III swore an oath to re-order the government of the kingdom.  A month later, he agreed (or was forced to consent to) the Provisions of Oxford – England’s first written constitution.

The Provisions stipulated that the King’s government would be scrutinised by a council of 24 barons, 12 chosen by Henry, 12 by the Barons.  This council would meet with Parliament three times a year to discuss national affairs.  Additionally, the Sheriffs and the Great Offices of State would hold office for one year only and submit details of their accounts to Parliament upon termination of their office.

Henry signified his assent to the Provisions on October 18th, 1258.  The Provisions failed to address the grievances of the Barons, and the Provisions of Westminster were also passed in the following  year to amend inheritance and tax law.

Sadly no text of the Provisions remain, and what we know comes from later historical accounts.  Significantly the Provisions were the first time in which the laws of England were deliberately altered in the King’s courts.  They were also the first pieces of English legislation promulgated in English, as well as French and Latin.  The Provisions of Westminster have survived, however; they can be seen here.

Subsequent divisions among the Barons allowed Henry to repudiate the Provisions – helped by a Papal Bull condemning such restrictions on the powers of the King – in 1261.  Two years later, a vicious and drawn-out civil war engulfed England, known as the Second Baron’s War.

It’s little wonder that the 1258 Parliament is remembered as the Mad Parliament.

Categories: History