A History of Great Britain by Robert Balmain Mowat - CHAPTER VIII - The Beginning of Parliament

August 24 2018

CHAPTER VIII - The Beginning of Parliament

The Magna Carta has changed the legal landscape enough, that new ways to govern need to be implemented.

Prior to the Carta, the King and major barons convened in the Magnum Concilium, the Great Council. This council would advise the King on how to conduct taxation.

With the Magna Carta comes the problem of tax revenue. The Carta specifically forbids levying taxes unless the entire Council approves - which leads to uneven and hard-to-come-by taxation.

To fix this new problem, the Council is widened to include representative from all shires, the Model Parliament from 1295 is born.

King John had been preceded by his son, Henry III.

Henry III. is neither good with money nor with friendships. He gives large sums of money to the pope, who had now been in a continues war with Frederick II., and Henry elects exclusively his closest friends, largely French, to the best offices in the country.

In 1258, the barons decide to band together to oppose the money-wasting King. Henry conceds quickly, seeing their strength.

This coup, known as the Provisions of Oxford, lays down the rules that offices would have to be rotated after a time and evaluated by a council of barons.

The English people do not like this arrangement any better than the former kingly favouritism.

Another person irked by this is Earl Simon, a foreigner, who takes up arms against the King and major barons, wins briefly and establishes a new, more equal Parliament.

Despite its good intentions, this fails too; again due to disagreements between the King and the major barons. However, Simon is loved by the people - so much so that a law has to be past forbidding the English from worshiping him as a saint upon his death in 1265.

After Henry III. dies, his son Edward succeeds him.

Edward refines English law further, eventually causing the disappearance of the feudal system. He has equalized men enough that all are considered “kingsmen” and by old standards, a man of the king cannot be subservient to another.

Even religious institutions feel the change. While hitherto property owned by the church could only be used for church activities (and thus often permanently fall out of the property succession), it is now only possible for a religious order to acquire permanent property with the explicit permission of the King.

It is through Edward’s efforts that the ‘Peerage of England’, the First Chamber of Parliament, becomes hereditary.


In 1999, the law concerning hereditary peers’s right to sit in the First Chamber has been lifted.

Still, there are some 90 hereditary peers remaining (who had to go through an election cycle) - they were not amused.