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 VIII
EARLY COMMONS BILLS

THE caption "Communes Petitions," so often referred to in the preceding chapters, has frequently seemed illogical in including many bills which were not commons bills. An explanation of this anomaly has been deferred with the hint that the history of earlier commons bills might supply it. The time has come to examine this possibility. When and in what form, we may ask, were such bills first drafted and how were they enrolled on the parliament roll?

Commons bills, in the sense of petitions offered by the body which came to be called the house of commons, rarely appear among the records of the earliest parliaments.1 They were almost unknown to the parliaments of Edward I. On the roll of the parliament of 1305, which Maitland estimated to be about one-fifth of the preserved rolls of the reign and which, as we have it, records some 500 petitions, there is scarcely more than one deserving the name of commons bill. Maitland, to be sure, points to three, each of which is noted in the margin as presented by the "communitas Anglie." In each instance, however, the text of the petition shows that the petitioners included earls and barons, while once the bishops and abbots were added. In two of the bills, the subject matter, the collection of scutage, concerned the nobility rather than knights of the shire and burgesses.1a It is clear that the marginal "communitas Anglie" in the time of Edward I connoted all classes in parliament.

One petition of the parliament of 1305, however, had the

____________________
1
On the earliest commons bills, see Richardson and Sayle, Parliaments of Edward III in Bull. Inst. Hist. Research, IX, 7-13.
1a
Maitland, Memoranda, pp. xxiv, 122, 126, 313. A fourth petition is similar (ibid., p. 54). The four are also printed in R. P., I, 166, 167,178, 161.

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