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LECTURE 22 - 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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Condition of the Parliament under Edward III. ~ Progress of the power of the Commons. Their resistance to the king. ~ Regularity of the convocation of Parliament. ~ Measures taken for the security of its deliberations. ~ Division of the Parliament into two Houses. ~ Speaker of the House of Commons. ~ Firmness of the House of Commons in maintaining its right to grant taxes. ~ Accounts given by the government of the collection of the taxes. ~ Appropriation of the funds granted by Parliament. ~ Parliamentary legislation. ~ Difference between statutes and ordinances.
Hitherto we have only met with political struggles between the king and his barons, or between opposite aristocratic factions; the Commons have hitherto appeared only in a second rank; they exercised as yet hardly any direct in-fluence over general affairs, over the government properly so called; or if they occasionally interfered in the administration of the country, it was merely as the auxiliary or the instrument of some particular faction.
The reign of Edward III. presents a different aspect; the conflict between the king and his barons has ceased, and all the great aristocracy seems to be grouped around the throne; but at the same time, the Commons have formed themselves into a body, distinct and powerful in itself. They do not aspire to snatch the supreme power from the hands of the king and the barons; they would not have strength enough to do so, nor do they entertain any thought of it; but they resist every encroachment upon those rights which they are beginning to know and to appreciate; they have acquired a consciousness of their own importance, and know that all public affairs properly fall under their cognizance. Finally, either by their petitions, or by their debates in reference to taxation, they are daily obtaining a larger share in the government, exercise control over affairs which, fifty years before, they never heard mentioned, and become, in a word, an integral and almost indispensable part of the great national council, and of the entire political machine.
Thus, whereas hitherto the political aspect of England has been the conflict of the great barons with the king; from the reign of Edward III., the resistance of the Commons to the king’s government, generally formed and sustained by the barons, becomes the great fact of the history. It is not unintentionally that I here employ the words conflict and resistance. In the first period, in fact, the barons struggled, not only to defend their rights, but to invade the supreme power, and to impose their own government upon the king. This conflict was consequently nothing but a permanent civil war. But during the second period, this was no longer the case; we hear of no revolts, and of no civil wars: under Edward III., at least, the Commons do not arm to attack the government with force; but they oppose to it a political resistance, they constantly protest against the abuses and arbitrariness of the central power. Instead of directing their attacks against the king himself, they lay all blame upon his ministers, and begin to assert and popularize the principles of parliamentary responsibility. Finally, they separate completely from the great barons, act on their own account, and become the true depositaries of the pledges of public liberties.
This was a great revolution, and it prepared the way for all others. The more minutely we examine into the events of the reign of Edward III., the more proofs shall we discover of this important change. I shall content myself with giving a rapid summary of these proofs by recapitulating the general facts which characterize this reign.
The first of these facts is the regularity, previously unexampled, with which the Parliament was convoked. A measure was adopted for this purpose in 1312, during the reign of Edward II., by the Lords Ordainers. Subsequently we meet with two statutes relative to the convocation of this assembly, one of which was passed in 1331, and the other in 1362. Finally, in 1377, the last year of the reign of Edward III., the Commons themselves demanded by petition that the sessions of Parliament should take place regularly every year. It is curious to compare this petition with the requests addressed to the king, under previous reigns, by the members of the House of Commons, to be exempted from serving in Parliament: they had now begun to feel that their mission was not a burden, but a right.
During the reign of Edward III., we may enumerate forty-eight sessions of Parliament, which makes nearly one session in each year.
Nor did the Parliament merely provide for the regularity of its convocation; it took measures, at the same time, to ensure the security of its deliberations. In 1332, a royal proclamation forbade all persons to wear coats of mail, or to carry any other offensive or defensive arms, in those towns in which the Parliament was sitting: it also prohibited all games and diversions which might disturb the deliberations of the assembly. The frequent recurrence of proclamations of this kind announces the formation of a regular assembly.
It is also during the reign of Edward III., in 1313, that we hear for the first time of the Parliament being divided into two Houses. According to historical documents of that year, the prelates, counts and barons, on the one hand, and the representatives of the counties and boroughs, on the other, sat at Westminster, the former in the White Chamber, and the latter in the Painted Chamber; and deliberated thus upon the question of peace with France.
Finally, it is also at the end of this reign, in 1377, that the rolls of Parliament first make mention of the Speaker of the House of Commons; Sir Thomas Hungerford is the first person upon whom this title was conferred. Previously, the House used to select one of its members whenever it was necessary to speak in its name, either to the king, or in the full Parliament: and it was probably in 1377, that it began to appoint its Speaker for the whole session, and at its commencement.
It has been asserted that, during this reign and in earlier times, every session of Parliament involved a fresh election; and that the right of proroguing the existing Parliament to a new session did not appertain to the king. This is an error. It was necessary that a session of Parliament should take place in each year, but not an election. The following fact proves this. The Parliament held under Edward I. in 1300, resumed its session in 1301. The writs summon the deputies of the previous year, except in cases in which a new election was necessary on account of death or absolute inability to serve. In 1305, the king prorogued Parliament on the 21st of March, and allowed the deputies to return home, “ Issint qu’ils reveignent prestement et sanz délai, quele houre qu’ils soient autrefois remandez.”—“On condition that they should return readily and without delay, at such time as they might be previously recalled.” In 1312, during the reign of Edward II., the Parliament separated after having sat two months, and on the same day the king addressed writs to the sheriffs, ordering them to send “the same knights and burgesses—eosdem milites et cives,” to Westminster on the 2nd of November following, “to the same Parliament which we have thought should be continued there—ad idem Parliamentum quod ibidem duximus continuandum.” This Parliament thus prorogued actually met, and sat from the 2nd of November to the 18th of December, after which it was dissolved. In 1329, during the reign of Edward III., the Parliament which sat at Salisbury, from the 15th to the 31st of October, was adjourned to Westminster, where it held a second session, from the 10th to the 22nd of February, 1330. We meet with similar instances in 1333 and 1372. The Parliaments were, therefore, not elected annually, and the right of prorogation was in full vigour.
Thus was developed and regulated the internal constitution of the Parliament: thus, instead of being merely an accidental meeting, limited to the accomplishment of a single object, it gradually assumed the consistency of a political assembly of periodical obligation.
A second general fact, which serves to support the views which I have advanced, is the voting of taxes. There is, perhaps no reign which presents so many instances of arbitrary and illegal imposts as that of Edward III., and yet there is not one which contributed more powerfully to secure the triumph of the principle that taxes are legitimate only when they are freely granted. This principle was incessantly lost sight of practically by the king, who was pressed by necessities, created partly by his wars, and partly by the bad administration of his revenues. His whole reign was spent in efforts to regain, under forms more or less indirect, the right of taxing his subjects at his pleasure; but the Commons, on their side, never ceased to protest against these efforts, sometimes attaching the revocation of an arbitrary tax to the concession of a legal subsidy, and sometimes by endeavouring to introduce the principle of the necessity of consent into all those ways by which the king attempted to elude it. Thanks to their perseverance, the schemes of power were, if not always frustrated, at least always unmasked, and thereby rendered impotent for the future.
Instances of this conflict abound in the Parliaments held in the years 1333, 1340, 1347, 1348, and 1349, which are in general filled only with complaints of the Commons, demanding either the abolition or the diminution of unjust and illegal taxes, which had been imposed without their consent. To all these demands the king replied, sometimes by a formal refusal, sometimes by reference to the consent which had been granted him by the Lords, and sometimes by an assurance that the tax should not be levied for any length of time; but if the Commons threatened to refuse him new subsidies, he felt himself compelled to meet these demands by some new concessions.
Nor was it merely by keeping a firm hand upon the voting of taxes that the House of Commons maintained its rights; it also extended them beyond the concession of subsidies on two important occasions. In 1340, the Parliament, suspecting that a portion of the subsidies voted by it had not found its way into the royal exchequer, appointed certain persons to receive the accounts of the tax-collectors, and required them to give security for the payment of all that they received. This is the first instance of any account whatever being given to Parliament with regard to taxes; it began by desiring to make sure of the fidelity of the receipts, and thus took a first step towards asserting its rights to receive an account of the employment of the funds, that is to say, of their expenditure. In 1354, we perceive the dawn of another parliamentary right, that of the appropriation of the public funds. The Parliament, when granting a tax upon wool, added to its vote the condition that the money derived from this subsidy should be devoted to the expenses of the war then waging, and not to any other purpose.
After all, it is not to be wondered at that the king and his Parliament were incessantly at variance with regard to subsidies, and mutually occasioned each other continual miscounts. There was then no means of estimating receipts and expenditure beforehand. The king involved himself in an expense without knowing to what sum it would amount; and the Parliament voted a subsidy without knowing what it would produce. In 1371, the Parliament granted a subsidy of £ 50, 000, to be levied at the rate of 22 s. 3 d. on every parish, which supposed the existence of 45, 000 parishes in England. It turned out, however, that there were only 9, 000. The king convoked a great council, to which he summoned only half the deputies of the last Parliament, one from each county and borough, “to save expense—ad parcendum sumptibus.” The matter was laid before this council, which ordained the assessment of every parish at 116 s. instead of at 22 s. 3 d., in order to raise the sum of £ 50, 000. Great disorder must necessarily have accompanied such ignorance.
The third general fact which proves the great increase of importance which the Parliament had obtained at this period, is its participation in the legislation. When we open a collection of the statutes of this reign, we find at the head of each statute one of the two following formulas: “ A la requeste de la commune de son roïalme par lor pétitions mises devant lui et son conseil, par assent des prélats, comtes, barons, et autres grantz, au dit Parlement assemblés,” &c.* Or: “ Par assent des prélats, comtes, et barons, et de tote la commune du roïalme, au dit Parlement assemblés,” &c. † Sometimes the statute begins with these words: “ Ce sont les choses que notre seigneur le roi, les prélats, seignours, et la commune ont ordiné en ce présent Parlement.” ‡
All these formulas express the participation of the House of Commons in the legislation of the country; and prove, as I have already observed, that this participation was generally exercised by the presentation of petitions to the king; the lords deliberated upon these petitions, which were afterwards converted into statutes by the king, without being returned to the House of Commons to receive its express assent under the form of statutes. Accordingly, as the Commons did not interfere in the enactment of statutes by any direct vote, their petitions were frequently mutilated and altered; and the statutes, which were drawn up either by the judges or by the members of the privy council, did not always faithfully convey their meaning. It was probably with a view to remedy this inconvenience that, in the Parliament of 1341, a certain number of prelates, barons, and royal councillors, with twelve knights of shires and six burgesses, were appointed a commission for the purpose of converting into statutes such petitions as gave rise to measures of general legislation.
But all the petitions of the Commons were not resolved into statutes; they frequently gave occasion merely to ordinances. Many dissertations have been written upon the distinction between the legislative acts designated by these two words. It has been maintained that ordinances were issued by the king alone, by the advice of the Lords, but without the concurrence of the Commons. Originally, this distinction was incorrect, for most ordinances were issued, just as statutes were enacted, upon the request of the Commons. Thus, in 1364, the Parliament having desired the passing of sumptuary laws, the king demanded of both Houses, by the chancellor, “whether they would have such matters as they agreed on to be by way of ordinance or of statute?” And they replied: “By way of ordinance, that they might amend the same at their pleasure.”* From this answer it has been inferred, with great appearance of reason, that the nature of statutes was to be perpetual, whereas ordinances were only temporary.
Ordinances were not inscribed, like statutes, upon the rolls of Parliament; they were less solemn in their character, although their object frequently had reference to matters equally legislative and of equally general interest, such as the enactment of jurisdiction or of penalties. It is not more easy to clearly distinguish ordinances from statutes, than great councils from Parliaments properly so called. All that we can say is, that less importance and stability were attributed to this class of legislative measures.
Legislative measures were not always adopted upon the petition of the Commons; the king also exercised the right of initiative, not only in matter of taxation, but in reference to all other subjects of general interest. Thus, in 1333, Sir Jeffrey Scroop of Markham, in the king’s presence, and at his command, informed the prelates, earls, barons, and other nobles, of the disorders committed in the country by bands of armed marauders; pointed out the necessity of repressing their outrages; and demanded of them to suggest to the king such measures as they deemed suitable to effect this purpose. The prelates hereupon retired, saying that it did not befit them to deliberate upon such a subject. The other nobles deliberated among themselves, and proposed to the king a series of regulations for the maintenance of the public peace. These regulations were read in presence of the nobles, the knights of the shires, and the “commons—genz du commun,” who all gave their assent to them, and the necessary measures were adopted in consequence. A result of this deliberation was the restoration of the Conservators of the Peace, who had been temporarily appointed by the Earl of Leicester, during the reign of Henry III., and who were the precursors of the justices of the peace.
After all, it is easy to imagine that, in the fourteenth century, confused ideas were entertained as to what was and what was not matter for legislation; since, in our own days, we not only feel, but formally admit, the impossibility of fixing the limit a priori, in a philosophic and absolute manner.
[* ]“At the request of the commons of his realm, by their petitions laid before him and his council, and by the assent of the prelates, earls, barons, and other nobles, in the said Parliament assembled.”
[† ]“By the assent of the prelates, earls and barons, and of all the commons of the realm, in the said Parliament assembled.”
[‡ ]“These are the things which our lord the king, the prelates, lords, and commons have ordained in this present Parliament.”
[* ]Parliamentary History, vol. i. p. 128.