EDWARD I. 1272-1307
As a young man he had been employed in ruling the
most turbulent parts of his father's realm, Gascony and the Marches of Wales. The skill with which he had crushed
de Montfort had been already noted.
Yet, though masterful by nature, he showed no wish to become a despot. On the contrary, he aimed at governing strictly
by law, and making others obey what he respected himself. Thus he came to complete what Simon de Montfort had begun,
namely, the establishment of the power of Parliament.
We might think that in Edward's eyes the representing of the Commons would be hateful - a factious plan intended to harass the king. It was not so. Edward's legal turn of mind naturally brought him to develop Parliament till it should be truly representative of all classes.
Almost at once he repeated Simon's plan. To his Parliament of 1275 he summoned burghers and citizens from the,towns, as well as knights of the shire; but this practice did not at once become the rule. Later again the knights alone were summoned, and sometimes no representatives at all of the " Commons " were sent for, Parliament then returning to its original shape the " Great Council " of magnates. At times again the king got grants direct from representatives of the merchants, without calling the others. Still, the principle that the assent of all was needed both to statutes and to grants of money was gradually becoming' more settled.
But in the middle of these Parliamentary experiments Edward suddenly found himself involved in serious difficulties abroad his dealings also with the Scots and the Welsh. All that need be said here is that in the year 1295 Scotland was rebelling; France, irritated by a fierce fight between English and Norman shipmen, in which the Normans were worsted, had joined alliance with the Scots and was invading Gascony; three revolts had broken out in Wales. Edward needed money to deal with three separate wars at once; that alone would have compelled him to summon a Parliament. But he seems to have felt that in a time of such danger to the nation he must take the nation into his confidence in a peculiarly thorough fashion. So he gathered his famous Parliament of 1295, summoning to it the earls and greater barons, the archbishops, bishops, and mitred abbots, two knights from each shire, two citizens and burgesses from each city and borough. As this Parliament was summoned by a king it has deserved its name of the Model Parliament ; for it has served as a model for all subsequent Parliaments. Indeed, in one sense, no other Parliament has ever so completely represented all classes, for Edward also caused the priors of the cathedrals, the archdeacons, and representatives of the clergy of each cathedral and each diocese to be summoned also. Thus the " three estates" of the realm, clergy, nobility, and commons, all figured in it fully represented. It was only because the churchmen preferred to remain a class apart, and to make their own grants of money in their own assembly ("convocation"), that their representatives have since had no place in the Lower House.
The " Model Parliament " did not disappoint Edward's hopes Clergy, barons, and commons alike voted him money. Yet just as with Simon's assembly, the Model Parliament of 1295 was important rather for what it was than for what it did. By its existence it established a precedent "Parliament" could no longer be a class body, representative merely of the great barons and bishops, or of the landowners; henceforth it was nationaL Only thirty years had passed, and the device of a rebel baron had been accepted as the deliberate policy of a king.
Edward's troubles did not end, however, with the holding of the Model Parliament. Money had been voted, but it took time to collect it, and Edward, at war with Scots, Welsh, and Frenchmen, was in a desperate hurry for supplies. To make things worse, Pope Boniface VIII, who wished to force Edward and Philip IV, King of France, to make peace, determined to cut off the supplies of money which they drew from the clergy in their realms. He therefore issued a bull known as " Clericis Laicos ", forbidding all payments "from the clergy to the laity" without his sanction. As a matter of fact both kings treated the bull as a vexatious piece of papal interference. Edward I let it be understood that if the clergy refused to pay the grant they had promised, he would treat them as outlaws; that is to say, the law of England would give them no rights against anyone who defrauded or wronged them. Still, the result was to leave Edward in even greater straits for money, and, what was worse, his barons refused to go to the war in France. They were bound, they admitted, to accompany him; but they understood their obligation to " accompany " in the narrowest sense:declared they would not go to Cascony while he went to Flanders. The Constable Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, and the Marshal Bohun, Earl of Hereford, were the ringleaders. " By God, Sir Earl," said Edward to the Constable in a ferocious pun, " thou shalt go or hang." " By God, Sir King," was the cool reply, " I will neither go nor hang." The two earls went home and fifteen hundred knights with them, and Edward, now at his wits' end for money and men, seized the wool from the merchants in the ports, ordered the courtiers to find him provisions, and soon after sailed for Flanders.
No sooner was he out of the kingdom than the two earls appeared in London, and forbade the King's Council to collect any of the moneys irregularly levied on wool. A Parliament was hastily summoned, and the earls demanded that the Great Charter should be solemnly confirmed, with the addition of a, clause that the king was not to take "such manner of aids or prises save by the common assent of the realm" ; that the " evil tax " (the maltote) on wool was to be given up; and that for the future the king and his heirs would not take anything without the common consent and goodwill of the commonalty of the realm, save only the ancient custom on wool, skin, and leather already granted. The Council of Regency gave their promise to this, and the king afterwards confirmed their promise.
Thus the years 1295 and 1297 saw the fulfillment of what had been first shadowed out eighty-two years before; the year 1213 saw the first appearance of representatives of the Commons at a great Council; 1295 saw the principle established as a modeL Magna Carta was signed in 1215: its most important principles were reasserted and agreed to in the most sclemn way in the Confirmation of the Charters of 1297. Eighty years had the struggle over the Charter lasted: it had ended in the victory of the nation over the king, and in the creation of a body whose chief duty was to watch over the Charter, namely Parliament. Yet it is noteworthy that the victory was won, as it was in 1215, by a rebellous gathering of barons. Parliament had not yet the vigour to stand for itself. In extremity the old remedy against misgovernment, an armed rising, was once more used. But while the first monarch, John, only gave promises as a convenient way out of a temporary difficulty, Edward's word could be trusted. His motto was " Keep troth ", and he took pride in maintaining it. Then again the Confirmation of the Charters went much further than Magna Carta. That had only forbidden the levy of illegal scutages or aids, and in word at any rate Edward had not broken it. Taxing wool was not taking either scutage or aid. Edward was within the letter of the law. But the barons went by the spirit of it. They read the Charter as laying down the restriction of all taxation (save the three regular feudal aids) unless by the consent of the realm, and Edward, by yielding, admitted that they were right in their view.
The end of the thirteenth century, then, saw the making of Parliament, the germ of a representative governing assembly.Yet it is going too far to think of Plantagenet parliaments as the body of today. In the first place, the severance between the two houses Lords and Commons did not take place till Edward III.'s day. Secondly, Parliament had no regular time for being summoned;that depended on the king. Thirdly, it had only a very indirect control over the king and his ministers; the only way it could make its power felt was by withholding supplies. It could not make laws; what it did was to petition the king, and if he gave assent to its petitions with the words, Le Roi le veut, they became statutes; if, however; the king replied, Le Roi s'avisera, the petition might be altered or dropped. It could not make ministers, though by degrees it found a cumbrous way of getting rid of exceptionally bad ministers by impeaching them. It was not much consulted about affairs of state. Speaking generally, it had little force of its own. If the king smiled on it, it grew strong and even pugnacious; if the royal favour was turned away, it dwindled. Thus Parliament had little character of its own; it merely reflected the character of its patron for the time being. Members of the Commons did not covet membership, or come back year after year; as they do now, with the experience of many sessions. On the contrary, the task of being a member was rather looked on as a disagreeable and expensive duty, to be discharged once, and if possible eluded for the future. An assembly made up in the main of new and inexperienced men would naturally be timid. In a word, Parliament under the Plantagenets, and for many years after, was rather a weapon which could be wielded than a power which would act by itself. None the less, the root of the matter was in it. It did represent the nation; it did possess the power of the purse; and from this by degrees grew the rest.
In the reign of Edward I. Parliament assumed a fixed
and regular form.
Knights had been summoned from the shires to attend the Common Council of the Realm in the struggle for the Charter at the end of John's reign, and at intervals in that of Henry III. In 1265 De Montfort had caused citizens and burgesses to be summoned. Both De Montfort and Edward had been governors of Gascony, and in the South of France Parliaments, including representatives from the towns, had existed since the early part of the thirteenth century.
In 1283 Edward summoned two assemblies at York and Northampton, at which four knights from each shire and four citizens or burgesses from many cities and boroughs, and elected proctors for the clergy, attended, but no barons were present.
In 1283 the barons, representatives from the counties and from twenty towns, met at Shrewsbury.
In 1290 knights of the shires met with the baronage.
In 1294 representatives of the clergy met in August, and of the shires in October.
In 1295 a complete Parliament of prelates, baronage, knights of the shires, members from the towns, and proctors of the clergy was assembled, and from this time onward Parliament so constituted may be looked upon as continuous, except that the clergy, steadily refusing to tax themselves except in their own convocation, gradually lost their right of Parliamentary summons ( The convocations of the clergy, existing in some form at a very early period, were organized in this same reign. The Convocation of York in 1279, that of Canterbury in 1283. ) The bishops and greater abbots continued to sit with the baronage as holding land of the king in barony. The elections of knights of the shires, citizens, and burgesses, were m every case in the hands of the local governing bodies , the county courts and towns' meetings.
The Modus Tenendi Parliamentum may be taken as a description of Parliament as it existed early in the fourteenth century. It is printed in Stubbs, Select Charters .