Magna Carta, Provisions of Oxford, House of Lords, House of Commons, Houses of Parliament and Constitutional Monarchy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 19th, 2012

Politics 101

King John renounced, and Pope Innocent III annulled, Magna Carta

England had been more French than English following the Norman Conquest.  The ruling class spoke French.  And had stronger connections to France than they did to England.  The Kingdom of England did, after all, extend across the English Channel into France.  The English nobility, on the other hand, were more English than French.  This caused friction between the land owners (the barons) and the king.  Because even though the king had official power the barons paid the taxes.  Which meant the king could do anything he wanted with his power as long as the barons agreed to pay for it.  And provided his armies.  For the king had no standing armies.  Which proved to be a bit of a restraint on being king.

The barons, though, felt the king was abusing them.  The king was spending a lot of money on many losing military campaigns and stepping on the barons’ privileges.   They presented Magna Carta to King John.  Which put in writing limitations on the king’s powers.  And the requirement that the king shall consult Parliament (common counsel of the realm including the clergy higher-ups and the more powerful barons) before raising new taxes.  Something no king would willingly submit to.  Unless it was a way to stall for time.  So King John applied his Great Seal to Magna Carta.  Making it the law of the land.  But with his fingers crossed behind his back.  Figuratively, of course.

Well, King John renounced the Great Charter once the barons had left London.  And Pope Innocent III annulled it.  Because of that divine rights of kings thing.  Kings could do whatever they wanted because God gave them that right.  While the Church made sure he didn’t abuse this power.  Anyway, long story short, the king refused to honor his agreement.  Which resulted in the First Barons’ War.  It lasted a couple of years.  The barons invited Prince Louis, son and heir apparent of the French king, to join them in their fight against King John.  Something any French Royal would be glad to do.  Then King John died and the barons became worried about Prince Louis.  Some fighting and sieges later, Louis got some money and went back to France.  King John’s son Henry was then crowned King Henry III.  He was 9 years old.  Until he came of age his royal keepers ruled in his stead.  And brought back Magna Carta.  With some changes.

The House of Lords and the House of Commons formed the Houses of Parliament

Well, all’s well that ends well, yes?  No.  For when the new king came of age he wanted to restore absolute monarchy.  Like they had (and he admired) in France.  He married a French woman.  And brought a lot of his French relatives into high positions in his realm.  Highly religious, he supported the papal invasion of Sicily.  Which was a disaster.  Well, you can guess where this led to.  More fighting with the barons over Magna Carta.  To remind him there were limits on his powers.  Which the barons hammered home in the Provisions of Oxford.

The Provisions of Oxford is considered England’s first written constitution.  The barons wrote it.  In English.  The new language of the ruling class.  No more of that French nonsense.  And presented it to King Henry III.  Placing power into the hands of a council.  Not the king.  There would be 24 members in this council.  Half chosen by the king.  Half chosen by the barons.  Parliament would oversee the council.  And meet 3 times a year.  Power was now with Parliament.  Not the king.  Which was huge for its day.

The king summoned the nobility and senior clergy to advise him.  When he needed money he summoned knights and burgesses, too.  Representatives of the common people.  These common people met alone in 1341.  And the upper and lower houses of Parliament were born.  The House of Lords (nobility and clergy).  And the House of Commons (knights and burgesses).  Together they were the Houses of Parliament.

The Many, the Few and the One

Governing by the consent of the governed was here.  But the journey wasn’t over yet.  There would be many more bumps in the road ahead.  Including the English Civil War.  With lots of English-French issues to resolve.  And a lot of Catholic-Protestant issues, too.  Not to mention the Welsh, Scottish and Irish issues.  But the general shape of things to come was here.  For England.  Great Britain.  And the United Kingdom.  Absolute monarchy was out.  Constitutional monarchy was in.  Representative government.  Where all had a say.  The commons.  The nobility.  And the king.  The many, the few and the one.

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