The Elizabethan House of Commons

The Elizabethan House of Commons

The Elizabethan House of Commons

The Elizabethan House of Commons

Excerpt

In these days of institutional malaise, a historical study of our English parliament, though it be of far-off days in the sixteenth century, cannot be entirely remote from our interests. The past explains the present, and the historical process, so far as it emerges from such a study, has its bearing upon our understanding of contemporary life.

With its long and continuous story, it might be said of parliament as of nature, nothing is done by leaps. Evolution and adaptation to a changing society mark its progress, rather than advance from one famous constitutional document to another. It is almost as perilous to speak of something being entirely new in parliamentary history as in the history of thought. Nevertheless, change there was, and trends which in time altered the climate. There are few who would deny novelty to the conditions of the sixteenth century. A hundred years or so before, the legislative character of the institution was submerged under its legal character: in the sixteenth century the reverse was true. Yet a very subtle mind would be needed to trace the change.

Dangerous as the practice is, it helps us in our understanding of history to seize on dates and events as turning points; and Henry VIII's reign, with its religious, social, and political revolution, known to us as the Reformation, has as good a claim as any to serve in this way. Henry VIII has been called, by the master of Tudor history in our time, 'the architect of parliament'. His break from Rome, with all its ramifications, called for legislation on an unprecedented scale. It ushered in the planned state of the Tudors, and it led to a great diffusion of wealth among the landed and legal class. Moreover, with the Church and conservatism entrenched in the House of Lords, the King, for tactical reasons, had to go into partnership with the Commons and use them as the vanguard of his Reformation attack. We enter the period of parity in power and influence, if not in prestige, between the two Houses. By Elizabeth's reign, a balanced history of parliament would be almost as . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.