Parliament at Work: Parliamentary Committees, Political Power, and Public Access in Early Modern England

Parliament at Work: Parliamentary Committees, Political Power, and Public Access in Early Modern England

Parliament at Work: Parliamentary Committees, Political Power, and Public Access in Early Modern England

Parliament at Work: Parliamentary Committees, Political Power, and Public Access in Early Modern England

Synopsis

The political, social and economic changes which overtook England in the early seventeenth century were both powerful and dramatic, forcing Parliament to adapt from a medieval institution into one with authority over all facets of society. Dynastic change, union with Scotland, fiscal reform, civil war, revolution and Restoration required Parliament not only to be at work, but also to discover how to work. These studies focus on change and development in three areas: firstly, the institution of Parliament itself, exploring its growing institutional sophistication and the problems connected with attendance, workload and physical environment; secondly, on Parliament's role within the institutional set-up of the constitution, and the structure and relationships of power within the governance of the country; and thirdly, on the public perception of Parliament, and the practicalities of the relationship between Parliament and the wider world. Contributors: JOHN ADAMSON, ROBERT ARMSTRONG, DAVID DEAN, MICHAEL GRAVES, PAUL M. HUNNYBALL, SEAN KELSEY, CHRISTOPHER KYLE, JASON PEACEY, PAUL SEAWARD.

Excerpt

The study of Parliament has long captivated scholars of sixteenth and seventeenth century history. It has been the subject of many doctoral dissertations and innumerable books, ranging from grand 'whig'theories of the rising power of Parliament to introspective studies focussing on the institution alone. This collection of essays adds to that corpus, but it does not seek to engage directly with concepts of parliamentary power or revisionist ideas of a weak and increasingly marginalised body. No attempt was made to provide contributors with an editorial line, or to lay down a particular brief to individual authors. Nevertheless, what has emerged might be called 'new directions in parliamentary history'. It takes as its starting point what contemporary records and commentators reveal about Parliament, and through them looks at the workings of its various components. Rather than simply focus on 'Parliament' in terms of its role in the high politics of the period, the aim is to develop three avenues for future research. the first is to look within the institution of Parliament, in order to explore the way in which it operated and developed as an institution. the second is to examine Parliament's role within the institutional set-up of the constitution, and the structures and relationships of power within the governance of the country. the third is to explore the public perception of Parliament and the practicalities of the relationship between Parliament and the wider world. Parliament at Work is thus a study of how the institution functioned and adapted to the demands placed upon it. Parliament had to cope with these circumstances in a period which encompassed its growth from a medieval institution to one with omni-competent authority over all facets of society, through dynastic change and royal schemes of Union and major fiscal reform, and finally through civil war, revolution, and Restoration. During this period, Parliament needed not only to be at work, but also to discover and determine how to work.

The demands placed upon Parliament in the early modern period included those which resulted from poor attendance, cramped and inadequate meeting places, demands for greater efficiency, and the pressure which resulted from greater amounts of business. the essays by Michael Graves and Chris Kyle explore the role of committees in Tudor and early Stuart England. Focussing on how legislative committees developed and adapted, Graves looks at the early history of the journals of Parliament and the increasing use of committees in Elizabeth's reign. Kyle, utilising the fuller parliamentary sources extant for the early Stuart period, considers why so few people attended committee meetings and how the apathetic attitude of MPs delayed business in Parliament.

Equally Germane to the essays presented below is the notion that Parliament did not operate in a vacuum, but that it adapted and reacted to, and interacted with, the outside world. This approach questions the neat revisionist compart-

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