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LECTURE 23 - 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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Continuation of the history of the progress of the Commons House of Parliament during the reign of Edward III. ~ Their interference in questions of peace and war; and in the internal administration of the kingdom. ~ Their resistance of the influence of the Pope, and of the national clergy, in temporal affairs. ~ First efforts of the Commons to repress abuses at elections. ~ First traces of function of Committees of both Houses to investigate certain questions in common.
It was not merely in the matter of taxation and of general legislation that the House of Commons, during the reign of Edward III., extended and consolidated its rights. Its interference in the administration of public affairs, in politics properly so called, assumed at this period a development previously unexampled, and an entirely a novel character. It began really to take part in the government of the State. This is proved by a multitude of facts.
First, in the matter of peace and war, its intervention became, at this period, habitual and almost indispensable. Mr. Hallam seems to me to have fallen into error on this subject; he is of opinion that the king alone, in the fourteenth century, desired that the Commons should interfere in questions of this kind, in order that he might cast the responsibility upon them, but that they constantly refused to incur it. I think that this assertion is incorrect. The Commons of the fourteenth century frequently sought and exercised this power, and accepted the attendant responsibility; and they always gained greatly by it. The principal facts are these. In 1328, during the minority of Edward, and while Mortimer reigned in his name, the treaty of peace with Scotland, which fully liberated that kingdom from all feudal subordination to England, was concluded with the consent of the Parliament. The Commons are expressly mentioned; and we may suppose that Mortimer was anxious thereby to cover his own responsibility for a disgraceful treaty. In 1331, Edward consulted the Parliament upon the question of peace or war with France, on account of his continental possessions, and also upon his projected journey to Ireland. The Parliament gave its opinion in favour of peace and of the king’s departure for Ireland. In 1336, it urged the king to declare war against Scotland, saying: “That the king could no longer, with honour, put up with the wrongs and injuries daily done to him and his subjects by the Scots.”* In 1341, after Edward’s first victories in France, the Parliament pressed him to continue the war, and furnished him with large subsidies; and all classes of society bestirred themselves to support the king in a conflict which had become national. In 1343, the Parliament was convoked to examine and advise what had best be done in the existing state of affairs, especially in regard to the treaty recently concluded by the king with his enemy the king of France. Sir Bartholomew Burghersh told the Parliament that “as the war was begun by the common advice of the prelates, great men, and commons, the king could not treat of, or make peace, without the like assent.”† The two houses deliberated separately, and gave their opinion that the king ought to make peace if he could obtain a truce that would be honourable and advantageous to himself and his friends; but if not, the Commons declared that they would aid and maintain his quarrel with all their power. In 1344, when the truce with the king of France had been broken off by him, the Parliament, on being consulted, manifested a desire for peace, but thought it could only be obtained by carrying on the war with energy, and voted large subsidies for the purpose. In 1348, the war had become increasingly burdensome; all the subsidies proved insufficient; and the king again consulted the Parliament “concerning the war undertaken with its consent.” The Commons, perceiving that they had gone rather too far in their language, now showed greater reserve and answered “that they were not able to advise anything concerning the war, and therefore desired to be excused as to that point; and that the king will be advised by his nobles and council, and what shall be by them determined, they would consent unto, confirm, and establish. ‡ In 1354, the Lord Chamberlain, by the king’s command, informed the Parliament: “That there was great hopes of bringing about a peace between England and France, yet the king would not conclude anything without the consent of his Lords and Commons. Wherefore he demanded of them, in the king’s name, whether they would assent and agree to a peace, if it might be had by treaty.” To this the Commons replied at first, “that what should be agreeable to the king and his council in making of this treaty, would be so to them”; but on being asked again, “If they consented to a perpetual peace, if it might be had,” they all unanimously cried out, Yea! Yea! § Finally, on the 25th of January, 1361, peace having been concluded by the treaty of Bretigny, the Parliament was convoked, the treaty was submitted to its inspection and received its approval, and on the 31st a solemn ceremony took place in the cathedral church at Westminster, when all the members of Parliament, both Lords and Commons, individually swore upon the altar to observe the peace.
In 1368, the negotiations with Scotland were submitted to the consideration of the Parliament; the king of Scotland, David Bruce, offered peace on condition of being relieved from all homage of his crown to the king of England. The Lords and Commons replied, “That they could not assent to any such peace, upon any account, without a disherison of the king, his heirs and crown, which they themselves were sworn to preserve, and therefore must advise him not to hearken to any such propositions”;* and they voted large subsidies to continue the war.
In 1369, the king consulted the Parliament as to whether he should recommence the war with France, because the conditions of the last treaty had not been observed; the Parliament advised him to do so, and votes subsidies.
These facts prove the most direct and constant intervention of the Commons in matters of peace and war. Nor did they seek to elude this responsibility, so long as the war was successful and national. When the subsidies became excessive, they manifested greater reserve in giving their opinion beforehand. When fortune turned decidedly against Edward III., at the close of his reign, the Commons, as we shall presently see, took advantage of the right of intervention which they had acquired, to possess themselves also of the right of impeaching the ministers to whom they attributed the misfortunes of the time. All this follows in the natural course of things, and clearly demonstrates the continually increasing influence of the Commons in political matters.
In regard to the internal administration of the country, their progress was not less perceptible. Until the reign of Edward III. all attempts to encroach upon the central government had originated with the barons; it was the barons who, under Henry III. and Edward II., had seized upon the right of appointing to great public offices, and of disposing of the revenues of the State. In 1342, the Commons ventured a similar endeavour, less direct and arrogant in its character, but tending towards the same object by more regular and better chosen means. Profiting by the necessities of the king, who was then destitute of funds, and utterly unable to continue the war with France, they presented to him the two following petitions: 1.“That certain by commission may hear the account of those who have received wools, moneys, or other aid for the king, and that the same may be enrolled in the chancery.” To this the king consented, upon condition that the treasurer and lord chief baron should be members of the commission. 2.“That the chancellor and other officers of state may be chosen in open Parliament, and at the same time be openly sworn to observe the laws of the land and Magna Charta.” To this also the king consented, but with these restrictions: “That if any such office, by the death or other failure of the incumbent, become void, the choice to remain solely in the king, he taking therein the assent of his council; but that every such officer shall be sworn at the next Parliament, according to the petition; and that every Parliament following the king shall resume into his hands all such offices, so as the said officers shall be left liable to answer all objections.”* These decisions were immediately converted into statutes. The chancellor and treasurer, with the judges and other officers of the crown, were required to swear to observe them upon the cross of Canterbury. The chancellor, treasurer, and several judges, protested against this act, as being contrary to their first oath and to the laws of the realm; their protest was entered upon the rolls of Parliament, but the statute was nevertheless definitively passed. The Commons had now obtained the most formal recognition of the responsibility of ministers to Parliament. The most pressing necessities alone had extorted consent from the king. Scarcely had the Parliament dissolved, when the king, by his own authority only, formally revoked the statute by writs addressed to all the sheriffs; and it is a most singular circumstance that so illegal an act excited no remonstrance, and that the statute was revoked by the Parliament itself in the year following.
The mere attempt, however, was a great step. It proves that two fundamental ideas had taken possession of the minds of the representatives of the Commons; first, that the Parliament ought to exercise some influence over the choice of the king’s ministers; secondly, that these ministers should be responsible to Parliament for their conduct. As to the first point, the Commons of the fourteenth century employed a very bad method of obtaining it, by claiming that their influence over the choice of the agents of the supreme power should be direct, and by interfering directly in the appointment of ministers; they prodigiously weakened, if they did not utterly destroy, ministerial responsibility: and the progress of representative government has proved that indirect in-fluence, exercised in such matters by a majority of the Parliament, is alone admissible and efficacious. But it was a great thing for the Commons to have attained such growth as to dare to entertain such an idea of their rights. They resumed the exercise of these rights, with greater success, at the close of this reign. The king was old and feeble; his arms were everywhere unsuccessful; abuses multiplied at his court; Edward had fallen beneath the sway of favourites; one of his sons, the Duke of Lancaster, alone enjoyed his favour, and abused it; a woman, named Alice Perers or Pierce, possessed a shameful in-fluence over him, which she employed chiefly in supporting the interest of her friends, in the courts of justice. She might often be seen, sitting within the precincts of the judicial tribunals, intimidating by her presence the judges whom she had pestered with her solicitations. A report was spread at the same time that the Duke of Lancaster intended to have himself declared heir to the crown, to the prejudice of the youthful son of the Black Prince, who was then in a dying state, and who possessed the affection of the whole nation. A Parliament was convoked in 1376 ; and a powerful party in both Houses pronounced against the ministers of the king. In the Upper House, the Black Prince himself led the attack, and in the Lower House, the opposition was headed by Peter de la Mare. The Commons demanded that the king’s council should be augmented by ten or twelve members, prelates, lords, or others; that no important matter should be decided without the consent of six or four of them; and finally, that all the officers of the crown should be sworn to receive no present, emolument, or reward beyond their legal salaries and expenses. The king consented to all these demands upon condition that he should himself appoint the new councillors, and that the chancellor, the treasurer, and the keeper of the privy seal should be allowed to discharge the duties of their office without their interference. The Commons next endeavoured to obtain that the justices of peace in each county should be appointed by the lords and knights of that county in Parliament, and should not be removed without their consent; but the king refused to grant this. The Commons continued to complain of the king’s evil counsellors, attributing to them the distress into which the king had fallen, the dilapidation of the subsidies, and so forth. Finally, with a view to the immediate application of the principles which they maintained, they formerly impeached the Lords Latimer and Nevil, who occupied posts in the king’s household, and four merchants of London, named Lyon, Ellis, Peachey, and Bury, who were farmers of the royal subsidies. This accusation had its effect; the accused persons were declared incapable of all public employment, and banished from the court and council, and their property was confiscated. As for Alice Perers, the Commons attacked her also, and the king was constrained to issue the following ordinance: “Whereas complaint has been brought before the king that some women have pursued causes and actions in the king’s court by way of maintenance, and for hire or reward, which thing displeases the king, the king forbids that any woman do it hereafter, and in particular Alice Perers, under the penalty of forfeiting all that the said Alice can forfeit, and of being banished out of the realm.”*
Nothing of this kind had previously been attempted by the Commons. This Parliament sat from the end of April to the 6th of July, 1376, that is, for a longer period than any preceding Parliament; the number of its petitions to the king was 223, and all its acts were so popular that it received the name of the Good Parliament.
But the Commons were not in a position to maintain unassisted so brilliant a success; their triumph had been due in great measure to the co-operation of the Black Prince and his party in the Upper House; and the Black Prince died before the closing of the Parliament. The king, by settling the crown upon his son Richard, dissipated many fears. A new Parliament was convoked on the 27th of January, 1377, and one of his first acts was to solicit the revocation of the sentence passed in the preceding year against Lord Latimer and Alice Perers; which request was granted. Six or seven only of those knights who had been members of the previous Parliament sat in the new one; and Peter de la Mare was imprisoned. Nevertheless, the new Parliament maintained the rights already acquired in several particulars; it insisted upon the proper appropriation of the subsidies, upon an account being given of the receipts, and so forth. The death of Edward III. which occurred on the 21st of June, 1377, put an end to a struggle which was probably about to arise once more between the Commons and the advisers of the crown.
In addition to this intervention of the House of Commons in the general affairs of the State, some particular facts prove the progress which its influence was making in all respects, and deserve to be remarked in this point of view.
I. The Commons began energetically to resist both the power which the Pope still assumed to exercise in England, and the internal influence of the English clergy themselves. In 1343, they protested against the right which the Pope claimed to have to appoint foreigners to certain vacant ecclesiastical benefices, and against other abuses of the same kind. They called upon his majesty and the lords to aid them in expelling the papal power from the kingdom, and addressed to the Pope himself a letter full of the most indignant remonstrances. Previously, the barons alone had actively interfered in affairs of this kind. In 1366, the king informed the Parliament that the Pope intended to cite him to Avignon to do homage for his crown, according to the terms of the treaty concluded with king John, and also to pay the tribute promised upon that occasion. The Lords on the one hand, and the Commons on the other, replied that king John had no right to contract such engagements without the consent of the Parliament, called upon the king to refuse to comply with the Pope’s citation, and promised to support him with all their power. In 1371, the Commons complained that the great offices of the State were occupied by ecclesiastics, to the great detriment of the king and the state, and demanded that in future they should be excluded therefrom, leaving to the king the right of choosing his officers, provided they were laymen. Finally, in 1377, they demanded that no ordinance or statute should be enacted upon petition of the clergy, without the consent of the Commons; and that the Commons should be bound by none of the constitutions which the clergy might make for its own advantage and without their consent, since the clergy would not be bound by the statutes or ordinances of the king to which they had not consented. This conflict between the national representatives and the clergy soon became a permanent habit, which contributed powerfully, in the sixteenth century, to the introduction of the Reformation.
II. In 1337, the Parliament turned its attention to the protection of the national industry. It prohibited the exportation of English wools, and granted great encouragement to those foreign clothworkers who should take up their residence in England. These regulations soon fell into desuetude in consequence of the wars with France; but they prove the disposition of the Parliament to give attention to all matters of public interest.
III. It was also during this reign that, for the first time, we find the Parliament manifesting anxiety about the abuses which were committed at elections, and seeking to prevent their recurrence. In 1372, an ordinance, passed at the suggestion and by the advice of the Commons, prohibited the election of sheriffs during the continuance of their functions, and also of lawyers, because they made use of their authority to procure their own election, and afterwards cared only for their own private interests.*
IV. Finally, it is under this reign that we first find committees of the two Houses uniting to investigate certain questions in common, and afterwards reporting the result of their investigations to their respective Houses. It is remarkable that this usage, so necessary to facilitate the progress of the representative system and to procure good deliberations, should have arisen precisely at that period when the Parliament became divided into two Houses. It was the natural consequence of their former combination in a single assembly. There was no regular or invariable plan with regard to the mode of the formation of these committees. Sometimes the king himself appointed a certain number of lords, and invited the Commons to choose a certain number of their own members to confer with them; sometimes the Commons named the lords with whom they wished to confer; and sometimes each House appointed its own committee.
It is remarkable that most of the parliamentary sessions of this reign begin with a confirmation of Magna Charta and the Charta de Foresta, which were always regarded as the foundation of the public rights and liberties, and also violated with sufficient frequency to render it necessary incessantly to renew their concession.
All these facts prove the immense progress made by representative government in general, and by the House of Commons in particular, during the course of this reign.
[* ]Parliamentary History, vol. i. p. 93.
[† ]Ibid. p. 106.
[‡ ]Ibid. p. 115.
[§ ]Ibid. p. 122.
[* ]Parliamentary History, vol. i. p. 131.
[* ]Parliamentary History, vol. i. p. 104.
[* ]Rot. Parl. ii. 329.
[* ]The influence of the king upon elections was manifested at this period in a direct manner, or nearly so. Two edicts of Edward III., passed at an interval of more than forty years, prove this. The first, dated on the 3rd of November, 1330, concludes thus: “And because that, before this time, several knights, representatives for counties, were people of ill designs and maintainers of false quarrels, and would not suffer that our good subjects should show the grievances of the common people, nor the matters which ought to be redressed in Parliament, to the great damage of us and our subjects;—we, therefore, charge and command that you cause to be elected, with the common consent of your county, two, the most proper and most sufficient knights, or sergeants of the said county, that are the least suspected of ill designs, or common maintainers of parties, to be of our said Parliament, according to the form of our writ which you have with you. And this we expect you shall do, as you will eschew our anger and indignation.” (Parl. Hist. vol. i. p. 84.) This writ was issued at the time when the young king had just delivered himself from the yoke of Mortimer and his faction. The second writ, dated in 1373, orders the sheriffs “to cause to be chosen two dubbed knights, or the most worthy, honest, and discreet esquires of that county, the most expert in feats of arms, and no others; and of every city two citizens, of every borough two burgesses, discreet and sufficient, and such who had the greatest skill in shipping and merchandizing.”—Parl. Hist. vol. i. p. 137.