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LECTURE 13 - François Guizot, The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe 
The History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe, trans. Andrew R. Scoble, Introduction and notes by Aurelian Craiutu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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Progress of the Parliament under the reign of Edward I. ~ Frequent holding of Parliament. ~ Different composition of Parliaments. ~ Deputies from the counties and towns were not always present. ~ Discretionary power of the king in the convocation of barons. ~ The varying number of county and borough deputies.
Great political institutions generally originate under feeble and incapable princes; in the midst of the troubles which arise in their reign, they are extorted from them. They are consolidated under more able princes, who know how to recognize the necessity for them, and to understand the advantages which they may derive from them.
This was the case in England under Henry III. and Edward I. Henry, who was entirely deficient in firmness, allowed, although quite against his inclination, all the concessions which were demanded of him to escape from his hands; his son, who was able and energetic, instead of setting himself to destroy the institutions which his father had permitted to come into being, made himself master of them, and turned them to his own advantage. Edward I. would not perhaps have allowed them to begin in his reign; but finding them in vigorous existence, he accepted them as they were, and instead of dreading or dispersing the new Parliament, he availed himself of it as an instrument to serve and strengthen a power which he exercised with intelligence. It was by the aid of the Parliament that Edward I. conferred, so to speak, a national character upon his wars and conquests—enterprises which might perhaps have excited his people against him, if he had reigned alone, and acted at once without public support and public control.
Two kinds of Parliament appeared under Edward I. The one kind was composed only of the higher barons, and seemed to form the grand council of the king; in the other, deputies from counties and boroughs had a seat.
No legal and fixed distinction existed between these assemblies; their attributes were almost identical, and they often exercised the same powers. However, the meetings of those Parliaments which were composed only of the higher barons were very frequent; they took place regularly four times a year. The other Parliaments, on the contrary, were only convened on extraordinary occasions, and when it was necessary to obtain from the freeholders, either of the counties or of the towns and boroughs, some general impost.
This, however, was not the only motive which could lead to the convocation of this last mentioned assembly, which, in truth, alone deserves the name of Parliament. Whenever business arose of so great importance that the concurrence of a great number of interests was judged necessary, the great Parliament was assembled, and by this cause its range of deliberation became more extended, and it assumed a greater consistency.
We may infer the moral force which the Parliament had already acquired at this period, by the political maxims which were generally admitted. Robert of Winchelsea, Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking to the Pope on behalf of the king and his barons, addressed to him this remarkable sentiment: “ It is the custom of the kingdom of England that, in matters which regard the state of that kingdom, the advice of all those interested in the matter should be consulted.”* There is no need that we should take this principle in its most rigorous application; it is not the fact that all those who were interested in these matters were consulted about them; but the sentiment is still a witness of the progress which had already been made by the ideas of a free and public government. This progress is still further attested by the answer which Edward himself made to the clergy, who demanded of him the repeal of a statute designed to restrain the accumulation of property in mortmain: “ This statute,” said he, “ had been made by the advice of his barons, and consequently it could not be recalled without their advice.” † In this case, also, the principle was very far from being strictly observed, and Edward himself, in 1281, on his own authority, altered several of the statutes which had been passed in 1278 by the Parliament at Gloucester. Nothing therefore was more irregular and uncertain than the rights of the public and the forms of government at this period. Principles were professed which were only very partially carried into practice, and which were often entirely neglected. But in the midst of this apparent disorder, great institutions were gradually being formed; the innovations of the preceding reign became habits, and these habits, sanctioned by time, became necessities. Thus rights were established.
As to the distinction which I have just made between the different assemblies which met at this period, as they are all equally called Parliaments, and exercised at various times the most different powers, it is difficult to fix precisely upon those which ought to be regarded as positive Parliaments. The boundaries which separate them are contracted and often imperceptible; it would be great temerity to pretend accurately to determine what was the real character of any particular assembly, and consequently whether it ought or ought not to be regarded as a Parliament. Whenever Tory writers have not found the presence of county and borough deputies attested by positive and official proof, such as the writs of convocation, they have denied the fact of their presence. But this is an excessive and partial exactness: very often the chronicles of the period supply the lack of writs, and indicate that these deputies were present. I will now point out the principal facts which have been omitted by these writers, which prove that complete Parliaments were frequently holden.
While Edward was still in Palestine, a Parliament was assembled in Westminster to take an oath of fidelity to the new king from the hands of the Archbishop of York, and, according to several chroniclers, four knights from each shire and four deputies from each city were summoned thither.
Edward, on his return to England, convened a new Parliament at Westminster, on the 25th of April, 1275. The preamble to the statutes which were on that occasion decreed has been preserved: it declares that “these statutes have been made by king Edward by the advice of his council, and with the consent of the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, barons, and of the commonalty of the kingdom.”
In the following year another Parliament was assembled in the same place; it was constituted in the same manner, and, to all appearance, consisted of the same members.
The year 1283 offers many proofs of the admission of deputies from the Commons into Parliament. In the month of January two extraordinary assemblies were convened, one at Northampton, the other at York, to raise the forces and obtain the subsidies that were necessary for the conquest of Wales. The writs of convocation have been preserved: in the one case, the sheriffs were ordered to send to Northampton all the freeholders who possessed a revenue of more than twenty pounds sterling; in the other case, they are enjoined to cause to be elected in each county, city, borough, and mercantile town (villa mercatoria), four knights and townsmen having full power “for the whole of the commonalty.” Lastly, in the month of June of this same year, a Parliament met at Shrewsbury, in order to decide on the fate of David, prince of Wales, who had been made prisoner, after the conquest of that country. The writs of convocation are of four kinds: the first are addressed individually to one hundred and eleven earls or barons; the second to the magistrates of twenty-one towns or boroughs; the third enjoin the sheriffs to cause two knights to be elected for each county; the fourth are addressed to seventeen members of the king’s privy council, among whom are the judges. From 1283 to 1290 we meet with several Parliaments, some of which are even celebrated by the statutes which emanated from them; however, there is no proof that any deputies from counties and boroughs were present at them.
But, in 1290, Edward on his return from France convened a Parliament at Westminster, in which it is certain that some county deputies sat. A writ has been preserved dated June 14th, 1290, addressed to the sheriff of Northumberland, and ordering him to cause two or three knights to be elected. There is every reason to believe that this county was not the only one thus privileged, and that there were others which also sent deputies to this Parliament. This convocation was probably intended to enable the county deputies to pronounce concerning the statute Quia emptores terrarum, which authorised the proprietors of fiefs to sell them at their discretion, and rendered the subsequent possessors direct vassals of the lord of the fief, while the sellers ceased to be such; this removed the necessity of sub-enfeofment, and must have considerably increased the number of the direct vassals of the king. Boroughs were not represented in this Parliament: probably because the matters of which it treated did not immediately concern them.
From 1290 to 1294 we find several Parliaments in which there is no indication that county and borough deputies had a seat. In these Parliaments the affairs of Scotland were considered. The magnates of the kingdom alone took part in them. In the Parliament held at Westminster in the month of October, 1294, only borough representatives are wanting; county deputies were admitted to it; they granted to the king a tenth of the moveable wealth of the kingdom.
In the following year we find that not only the boroughs and counties, but even the inferior clergy, exercised the right to be represented in the great assembly held at Westminster in the month of September, 1295. We possess the writs of convocation addressed to the bishops and archbishops, ordering them to cause a certain number of deputies for the chapters and for the clergy to be nominated; we have also those which summon forty-nine earls or barons individually, and those which enjoin the sheriffs to cause two knights to be elected for each county, and two deputies for each borough in the county. These boroughs were about a hundred and twenty in number. This assembly was more general in its character than any other that had as yet met; all classes of society had access to it, and we may truly say that the entire nation was represented. Accordingly the regular and complete establishment of the British Parliament is generally dated from this year, 1295.
This great assembly did not act as one single body; it was divided into two houses, the one containing lay representatives, the other ecclesiastical; and not only was the place of their meeting distinct, but their votes were distinct also. The barons and knights granted to the king an eleventh of their moveable wealth; the townsmen gave a seventh, and the clergy, after long disputes with the king, ended by only granting him a tenth, which was the offer originally made.
The Parliament which was held in the month of August, 1296, was constituted in the same way as its predecessor, and the votes in it were similarly divided. The barons and knights granted only a twelfth part of their moveable property, and the burgesses an eighth.
In 1297, a Parliament met at Salisbury, but the writs by which it was convened are lost; we do not therefore posess any direct proof of the presence of deputies from counties and boroughs in this assembly; however, there is extant a writ of the 30th of July, in the same year, in which Edward states that the towns and counties have granted him subsidies, and this indirect proof may supply the want of the writs of convocation.
During this same year (1297), the quarrel broke out between the aristocracy and the crown on the subject of the confirmation of the charters, and the Earls of Norfolk and Hereford, by their bold steadfastness, secured victory for the national cause, and extorted from the king a complete and definite sanction to the rights and institutions whose maintenance they vindicated. We find at this time that two deputies were summoned from each county to receive from the hands of the prince-regent those charters which had been confirmed by the king.
From the time when these charters were definitely confirmed, the convocation of deputies from the counties and boroughs was no longer an irregular and arbitrary transaction—it became a necessity. Accordingly, their presence in the Parliaments is constantly attested by authentic proofs.
Thus they were admitted to the Parliament convened at York, on the 15th of April, 1298; the writs of convocation of which are preserved. They were also present in the Parliament held at Lincoln on the 29th of December, 1299. The writs of convocation for this Parliament are similar to those which convened the preceding one. They summon the same deputies who had been present at the last Parliament, enjoining further that substitutes should be chosen in the place of any who had died since that time. We find, moreover, that writs were addressed to the chancellors of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, requiring them to send to the Parliament four or five deputies in the case of Oxford, and two or three from Cambridge; and directing them to select such deputies from among those who were most discreet and most learned in the law—de discretioribus et in jure scripto magis expertis praedictae Universitatis.
Lastly, the writs of convocation for the Parliament held at Westminster on the 24th of July, 1302, are in all respects similar to the preceding.
I will not further trace this series of facts, which henceforth ceases to be remarkable because of its unvarying uniformity. Suffice it to say that all the Parliaments which were held during the last five years of the reign of Edward I. were of the same nature and composed of the same members. Two of these, however, deserve special attention. The first is that held at Westminster in 1305. The particulars of its dissolution are preserved to us, as well as those which relate to the mode in which the petitions which already flowed into it were received. The second is that which met at Carlisle in 1307. We have the lists of the bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, &c., who sat in it. The number of earls or barons amounts to eighty-six, that of the bishops and abbots to sixty-eight. There were besides a great number of deputies from the inferior clergy, forming the lower house of the ecclesiastical convocation; and there were, moreover, two knights from each county, two citizens from each city, and two burgesses from each borough.
From all these facts it follows that, if at the commencement of the fourteenth century the Parliament was not yet constituted in an actual and definite form, yet it already rested on a fixed basis: moreover, as to its composition, we may deduce from the facts to which I have already referred, the following results:
I. The Parliament was composed, in the first place, of earls or lay barons convened individually by the king; secondly, of archbishops, bishops, abbots, and priors, also summoned individually; thirdly, of deputies from the knights or freeholders of the counties; fourthly, of deputies from cities, towns, and boroughs.
II. No law or statute, no ancient or recognized right, determined who were the earls, barons, abbots, &c., whom the king was bound to convoke individually. He acted somewhat arbitrarily in this respect, often omitting to summon those whom he had summoned on previous occasions.* These omissions were sometimes, though rarely, resisted by protests. The importance of a noble and of his family was the only guarantee of his convocation to the Parliament. Disorder, civil wars, and confiscations, prevented this convocation from being an incontestable and hereditary right, except in the case of a permanent feudal tenure.
III. The principal functionaries of the king, such as the judges and members of the privy council, were almost always convened to the Parliament by virtue of their official position; indeed, they were uniformly either earls or barons.
IV. The convocation of county and borough deputies was not a legal or public necessity; but it became an actual necessity by the predominance of the principle that consent in all matters of impost was a right.
V. The convocation of county deputies was more certain and regular than that of borough deputies; more certain, because it originated partly in a right which had not then been questioned, and which it was necessary to respect—the right, namely, of every immediate vassal to a seat in the general assembly; more regular, because the county courts, which were all composed of the same elements and possessed of the same interests, constituted a uniform and identical whole throughout England, so that some could not be admitted to the privilege of representation without all the rest being admitted also. As the towns and boroughs, on the other hand, only owed their admission into Parliament to varying causes without unity or connexion with each other, and were only called to assist in matters which concerned themselves individually; so the admission of a representative from one town did not at all involve the admission of representatives from other towns, nor even the continuance of this privilege in any one case.
VI. The number of town and borough deputies was not fixed. The king determined this arbitrarily. Nevertheless the convocation of two deputies for each county, and as many for each borough, passed into a rule.
VII. However irregular the convocation of borough deputies might be, there is no reason to think that the number of boroughs which were then represented in the assembly was as limited as has been assumed; there is no reason to think, as has been maintained by Tory historians, that only towns in the domains of the king originally sent deputies to Parliament. The assumption is, on the contrary, contradicted by facts which prove that, besides the towns belonging to the royal domain, those which had received a charter of incorporation, either from the king or from some great baron, were represented; as were also those which, without having received any such charter, were rich enough to pay the expenses of their deputies. However, the importance of particular towns, and the necessity that was felt for their concurrence in public business, was in this respect the only rule; and most frequently, the choice of the towns which should be represented was left to the arbitrary decision of the sheriffs.
[* ]“Consuetudo est regni Angliae quod in negotiis contingentibus statum ejusdem regni, requiritur consilium omnium quos res tangit.”
[† ]“Consilio magnatum suorum factum crat, et ideo absque eorum consilio non crat revocandum.”
[* ]Thus Edward summoned to the Parliament of Shrewsbury (1283) a hundred and eleven earls or barons; to the Parliament of Westminster (1295), he only summoned fifty-three; and out of the hundred and eleven who were present in 1283, sixty were absent in 1295. The latter Parliaments of his reign furnish several instances of similar irregularities. Thus we find at this time ninety-eight lay proceres who were only once summoned to the Parliament, and fifty who were summoned once, twice, or three times. There was a distinction among the barons who were summoned individually: some were summoned by virtue of their feudal tenure, others, only in virtue of the writ of convocation, whether they were or were not immediate vassals of the king. These last exercised in the Parliament the same rights as the former, only it does not appear that the sole fact of a writ of convocation conferred upon them a hereditary right. There are even several examples of ecclesiastical peers who were convened by special writs, and who obtained a discharge from the obligation to attend the Parliament by proving that they held no fief of the king. The practice of creating barons or peers was of later introduction: first, by a statute of the Parliament (under Edward III.); secondly, by letters patent from the king (under Richard II.).