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What three factors were most important in the development of Parliament as an independent institution with broad political, legislative and financial powers prior to Henry VIII?
Parliament (meaning parler, or 'to talk' in French) came into common use in the mid-thirteenth century (p. 155). It was the term used to refer to the primary meeting of the King and his Great Council. The King typically relied on such assemblies of lords, bishops, earls, barons and abbots for advice regarding major matters that impacted the rights of British citizens. The primary functions of Parliament were to give the King legislative, political, judicial and fiscal counsel at least three times per year.
Parliament was the chief juridical court and open to even everyday freeman by petition. King Edward I is credited with encouraging the petitioning (requesting favor or justice) of Parliament which was a major shift its role and function. Consideration of petitions gave the assembly the status of a high court of justice. Consequently, it came to be accepted that major changes to the fabric of law and society had to be authorized and ratified by Acts of Parliament. King Edward I is said to have even written to the Pope at one time a statement that he could not carry out his duties without benefit of the counsel (p. 155).
The fiscal duties of the Parliament were a major factor that helped to shape the power and function of Parliament. Most notably were the changing nature of royal revenues and also the growing scale and cost of the Scots War of Independence (p. 156). Both placed taxation at the center of much debate and caused Parliament to evolve from an aristocratic assembly to a representative institution. For instance, originally England collected more than half of its revenues from rents and another third from lordship and jurisdiction. Such revenues helped to solidify the independence of the reigning King. Only 13% came from taxation in the twelfth century.
The picture began to shift in the late thirteenth century, however. To illustrate the point, King Henry I saw 85% of his revenues originating from land, lordship and jurisdiction as previously described. But King Edward I barely collected half as much from such sources. The vast majority of his revenues came from the national taxation of free persons. Lay subsidies, or an assessed tax on the income and movable property of all free men, became common (p. 156).
Parallel to this evolution in royal revenues, were major increases in the scale and expense of war. In the face of escalating costs, Henry III and Edward I turned to taxation as a way to balance their expenses. The justification for this was simple: "In a time of emergency the king had a duty to defend the realm and his subjects, an obligation to support him in that defense" (p. 156). This assertion was challenged by canon and civilian attorneys who insisted that in order to determine when an emergency actually existed, the King should make his plea of necessity to the counsel and consent of a representative assembly. This was the only fair approach given that the resulting taxes touched everyone. They also argued that necessity did override property rights if the king's subjects acquiesced to the plea. These were definitive foundational building blocks for Parliament. The monarch could not enact rules that negatively impacted the people at his whim -- the people must have a say.
Taxation eventually grew to be viewed as bothersome and there emerged a need for greater control and regulation. For instance, King Edward I collected taxes in war years and in times of greater peace, taxed clergy (including the incomes of cathedrals, abbeys, and rectories) and placed customs duties on commodities such as wool (p. 157). The King had the power to consent to such taxes if he could prove that the realm was in peril. King Edward's royal taxation of clerical wealth taxes was condemned by Pope Boniface VIII and other clergy. Edward was defiant and threatened the clerics with outlawry if they did not remit their required subsidies. In a campaign in Flanders, he went on to seize wool from merchants for his profit, extend military service obligations to all free landowners and taxed others without consent. All of this culminated in magnates and clergy putting forward claims that Edward had launched an attack upon Flanders. The Kingdom's grievances and rising opposition against the Crown caused Edward to flee, falling into bankruptcy and leaving the day-to-day duties of the realm up to Regents who would eventually give in to strong opposition factions.
By 1297, the Confirmation of the Magna Carta and the Forest Charter were established that forbid the King from taking subsidies, increasing customs, and seizing property without the common assent of the realm. Such principles proved important factors for Parliament; however, they did not address realm security. The Great Council now included knights of the shire and burgesses from the towns who also met in Parliament to grant subsidies or address customs issues. The King's imposed military obligations of free landowners, his infringement upon personal property rights, the need for their consent on realm matters and the request for their support in opposing the King all meant greater participation (p. 158). The common people of the realm would finally have a say in national decision making.
A "Model" Parliament was formed in 1295 which was composed of magnates, bishops, councilors, knights of the shire, burgesses of the towns, and proctors for elected clergy. Magnates still held most of the power. At the close of the thirteenth century the idea that changes proposed by the King had to go through Parliament became an essential ingredient in the granting of taxation. The power of a King to frivolously demand and levy taxes to make up for shortfalls in the income from their personal estates was severely limited. As a result, taxation and representation became linked - the consent of the people of the realm being required before they would allow the king to tax their lands and goods. This was formally established by statute in 1362.
Representation issues would be another major factor in the development of Parliament as an independent institution. Parliament became a recognizable body of lords and officials, meeting regularly with the King on affairs of state, to which knights and burgesses were sometimes invited (p. 169). During the reign of King Edward II, Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, led a group of fellow lords who claimed to represent the whole nation when they introduced ordinances to limit the king's reliance on incompetent councilors and quell his overall power (p. 161). The ordinances omitted the voice of the clergy and the commons and were met with resistance. In 1322, Parliament repealed the ordinances altogether citing that had not been agreed by the full council of the realm -- only by the lords. It called that all major matters were to be discussed and approved with Parliament by agreement between the king and all the estates of the realm. From this emerged a Parliament with a hereditary House of Lords and a representative House of Commons, each possessing its own unique powers and privileges (p. 169). By Henry V's reign, the Commons and the Lords truly had equal roles in passing legislation - an important stage in acknowledging the voice of the wider population and protecting the rights of citizens.
There were other historic events that helped shape the political, legislative and financial power and importance of Parliament. The Hundred Years' War in 1337 caused the entire country to turn its focus towards defeating the French and the Scots (p. 193). This thrust taxation and Parliament in the spotlight. Parliament's function in regulating taxation was key. In addition, the Black Death in the 1340s left…[continue]
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