The Influence of the Commons on Early Legislation: A Study of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries

By Howard L. Gray | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI
COMMONS BILLS AND OFFICIAL BILLS IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY

THE prolonged study of the structure of the parliament roll undertaken in the last chapter would scarcely have been warranted, had it merely added to our knowledge of diplomatics. Even its most important outcome, the discovery of what sort of bills were grouped as "communes petitions" and why they were so grouped, would be of little more than antiquarian interest if it had no application. As it happens, however, this discovery has a bearing upon a significant aspect of parliamentary history; for it may be utilized to estimate the influence of the house of commons upon late fifteenth-century legislation. So long as we are misled into thinking that all "communes petitions" were commons bills and that the legislation resultant upon their acceptance was legislation initiated by the commons, we are likely to overestimate the influence of that body. When we realize, on the other hand, that only a part of the "communes petitions" were commons bills and that only the statutes arising from this part originated with the commons, we are in a position to estimate at its true value the commons' contribution to statutory law. We may, therefore, attempt an application of our new-found criterion to the records of the parliaments of the second half of the century. It will be permissible to disregard that part of the parliament roll which precedes the caption "communes petitions" unless, as rarely happens, it records a commons bill or some other type of bill which became a statute. Since private bills were for the most part enrolled here, they will be automatically neglected. Official bills, on the other hand, whether enrolled before or after the caption, will demand close attention; for, if legislation arising from them should prove to be more important than

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