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

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


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 Englands 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 Williams direction, and by

establishing Curia Regis, a permanent council of royal advisers.

Williams 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


Early English monarchs had considerable power, but generally accepted

advice and some limitations on their authority. Powerful French-Norman

barons opposed King Johns 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 monarchs 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 Edwards 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


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 monarchs powers

and prevented him from raising taxes without Parliaments 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 didnt 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


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 didnt 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 Jamess right to succeed


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 Englands

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.