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1295: The Model Parliament

“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
  1. Liz
    June 1, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    That was quite cool!

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