The history of England can be defined as the gradual process of Parliament asserting its authority over the monarchy



For: ESLG 3150 course
Topic: The history of England can be defined as the gradual process of
Parliament asserting its authority over the monarchy.
Term: Spring I, 2000

      The political history of British Isles over the  past  800  years  has
been largely one of reducing the power  of  the  monarchy  and  transferring
authority to a London-based Parliament as  the  sovereign  legislative  body
for all of Britain. This development has resulted in political,  social  and
religious conflicts, as well as  evolving  governmental  and  constitutional
institutions.
      The early political history of the British Isles is the story of  four
independent  countries  (England,  Scotland,  Wales  and  Ireland),  but   a
dominant English political and  military  expansionism  over  the  centuries
resulted in a united country (United Kingdom).
      The last England’s invader Duke William promptly set out to  establish
firm control over his English kingdom.  He  reorganized  the  government  by
making the old Saxon witan into a “Great Council”, which included the  great
lords of the realm and met  regularly  under  William’s  direction,  and  by
establishing Curia Regis, a permanent council of royal advisers.
      William’s youngest son Henry I ruled the  country  for  35  years  and
during his reign he won the support of  barons  by  singing  a  “Charter  of
Liberties”,  which  listed   and   guarantees   their   rights   (individual
liberties).
      Early English monarchs had considerable power, but generally  accepted
advice and some  limitations  on  their  authority.  Powerful  French-Norman
barons opposed King John’s dictatorial rule by forcing  him  to  sign  Magna
Carta in 1215. This document protected the feudal  aristocracy  rather  then
the ordinary citizen, but it  came  to  be  regarded  as  a  cornerstone  of
British liberties. It restricted the monarch’s powers; forced  him  to  take
advice; increased the influence of the aristocracy; and stipulated  that  no
citizen could be punished or kept in prison without a fair trail.
      Such  developments  encouraged  the  establishment  of   parliamentary
structures. In 1265, Simon de Montfort called nobles and non-aristocrats  to
form a Council or Parliament to win  the  support  of  people.  To  it  were
invited not only the great barons and clergy, but  also  representatives  of
the knights of shires and from the towns. This initiative  was  followed  in
1295  by  the  Model  Parliament  (because  it  served  a  model  for  later
Parliaments) of  Edward  I,  which  was  the  first  representative  English
Parliament.  Its  two  sections  consisted  of  the  bishops,  barons,   two
representatives of the knights of each shire and  two  representatives  from
each important town. In this way Parliament won the “power  of  the  purse”:
by refusing to agree to new taxes, it could force kings to do as it  wished.
As Parliament became more influential it  won  other  rights,  such  as  the
power of impeach and try royal officials for misbehavior. From here  we  can
conclude that by the end of Edward’s reign the  peculiarly  English  concept
of government, in which a strong  king  with  powerful  royal  officials  is
still limited by the common law and by Parliament, was complete.
      However, the Parliament was too large to rule the country effectively.
A Privy Council, comprising the monarch and court advisers, developed.  This
was the  royal  government  outside  Parliament,  until  it  lost  power  to
parliamentary  structures  in  the  late  eighteenth  and  early  nineteenth
centuries.
      Although parliament now had some limited powers against  the  monarch,
there was a return to royal dominance in Tudor  England  in  1485.  Monarchs
controlled Parliament and summoned it when they needed to raise money.
      Parliament showed more resistance  to  royal  rule  under  the  Stuart
monarchy from 1603 by using its  weapon  of  financial  control.  Parliament
began to refuse royal requests for money. It forced Charles I  to  sign  the
Petition of Rights in 1628, which further restricted  the  monarch’s  powers
and prevented him from raising taxes without Parliament’s  consent.  Charles
attempted to arrest parliamentary leaders in the House  of  Commons  itself.
His failure to do meant that the  monarch  was  in  future  prohibited  from
entering the Commons. As the result of it civil war broke out in  1642.  The
Protestant Parliamentarians under O.  Cromwell  won  the  military  struggle
against the Catholic Royalists.  Charles  was  beheaded  in  1649  and  thee
monarchy was abolished. But it didn’t last long in 1660  they  restored  the
Stuart Charles II to the throne. Parliament ended  his  expansive  wars  and
imposed further restrictions, such as  Habeas  Corpus  Act  in  1679,  which
stipulated that no citizen could be imprisoned without  a  fair  and  speedy
trail.
      In the early and mid sixteenth century country was ruled by King Henry
VIII (king 1509-1547) who had made  Parliament  his  willing  tool  and  had
replaced Catholicism with the Church of  England.  Henry  was  succeeded  by
three of his children (Edward VI, Mary I, Elizabeth I)  in  succession.  But
only Elizabeth made a great contribution during her reign  (1558-1603).  She
allowed any form of worship that fit into  the  rather  loose  framework  of
ideas that Parliament had established for the Church  of  England.  But  she
would accept none that conflicted with her authority as  the  head  of  that
church. After the pope  excommunicated  her  in  1570,  she  had  Parliament
declare that Catholicism was  treason.  Parliament  lost  power  during  her
reign. It did not meet often, as she needed to ask it levy  taxes  for  her.
In theory Parliament continued to have all of the powers it had  won  during
the Middle Ages.
      The Elizabethan reign later was called “The English Renaissance”.  And
this is right. She did a lot to her Kingdom. On of it  was  the  opening  of
the trade routs to Russia, trade companies like the East India Company,  the
Muscovy Company and the Virginia Company.
      The Stuart monarchs who succeeded Elizabeth try to  impose  absolutism
and to rule by “divine right”. But the  English  Parliament,  asserting  its
ancient rights and privileges, challenged them. The result  was  a  struggle
that lasted through the better part of the seventeenth century,  culminating
in the victory of Parliament over the kings.  In  the  age  when  absolutism
triumphed almost everywhere, England  was  the  striking  exception  of  the
rule. Growing opposition to the Stuarts centered in Parliament. The  Stuarts
disliked Parliament, but were dependent upon it because only  the  House  of
Commons had the right to levy taxes. The Stuarts insisted they had  absolute
authority to follow whatever  policies  they  chose.  The  conflict  between
Parliament and the king came to a climax under Charles I  (king  1625-1649).
In 1626 Charles found himself at war with both France and Spain.  Parliament
refused to grant new taxes until it had had “redress of grievances”. Led  by
Sir John Eliot, the members of Commons finally forced Charles  to  sign  the
“Petition of  Right”  in  1628.  This  pact  guaranteed  certain  rights  of
Parliament and of individual Englishmen against their king.
      The first Parliament of 1640, the so-called  “Short”  Parliament,  mat
less then a month. But  soon  after  Charles  was  forced  to  call  another
Parliament, which came to be called the “Long”  Parliament  because  it  met
off and on for twenty years (1640-1660). In 1641  the  Long  Parliament  set
out to dominate the government. More important, it passed a series  of  acts
to make absolute monarchy impossible.
      From 1642 to 1645 the civil war  broke  in  England.  It  was  between
Supporters  of  King  Charles   (Cavaliers)  and  the  supporters   of   the
Parliament  (Roundheads)  under  the   rule   of   Oliver   Cromwell.    The
“Roundheads” won in this war and the members who remained from the  previous
Parliament come to be called the “Rump” (sitting  part  of  Parliament).  In
1649 Charles was beheaded and later  Oliver  Cromwell  became  the  King  of
England. After his death in 1658 his  son  Richard  took  control  over  the
country. But he was a poor ruler and soon resigned. In  1660  the  surviving
members of the Long Parliament were  called  back  into  session  to  invite
Charles Stuart to become King Charles II of England.
      Charles II had his problems with Parliament, but he was  usually  able
to surmount them, and he always knew when the time had come to back down.
      The growing power of Parliament against the monarch in the seventeenth
century was  reflected  in  the  development  of  more  organized  political
parties. Two groups (Whigs and Tories) became  dominant,  and  this  feature
was to characterize future British two-party politics,  in  which  political
power has shifted between two main parties.  The  Whigs  didn’t  accept  the
Catholic sympathizer  James  II  as  successor  to  Charles  II  and  wanted
religious  freedom  for  al  Protestants.  The  Tories  generally  supported
royalist beliefs, and helped Charles II to secure James’s right  to  succeed
him.
        He (James) attempted to rule  without  Parliament  and  ignored  his
laws. His  manipulations  forced  Tories  to  join  Whigs  in  inviting  the
Protestant William of Orange to intervene. William  arrived  in  England  in
1688, James fled to France and William succeeded to the throne as  England’s
first constitutional monarch. Since no force was  involved,  this  event  is
called the Bloodless or  Glorious  Revolution.  Royal  powers  were  further
restricted under  the  Declaration  of  Rights  (1689),  which  strengthened
Parliament and provided some civil liberties.
      The Glorious Revolution of  1688  and  the  Bill  of  Rights  of  1689
established Parliament once and for all as the equal partner  of  the  king.
This division of power was soon to prove itself a far more  effective  means
of government than the absolute monarchies of the continent, and it  assured
that the constitutional development of England would continue.