THE RISE OF PARLIAMENT
 THERE never has been a period, since England has been united into
a single kingdom, when some sort of council or assembly was
not called, from time to time, to aid the King in
In the days of the Anglo-Saxons, this body was called the
"Witenagemot" (wit´en-a-ge-mot), or assembly of the
wise men, and was made up of the bishops, abbots, king's
thegns, and chief officers of the kingdom. It was this body
which aided Alfred in making his laws, and which elected
Harold—and after him William—to be King of
After the Norman Conquest, the Kings from time to time
called about them, to aid them with counsel and advice, all
the lords who held land directly of them by feudal tenure.
Except for the fact that the feudal lords were at first
mainly Normans, this body did not differ very much from the
one which preceded it; for the great officers of the land
 were the King's vassals, and the bishops and abbots also
held their lands by feudal tenure from the King. It was
this Great Council of the barons which settled who should
have the crown when there was a dispute; it was also this
body which helped Henry II. carry through his great
reforms. But the Great Council only aided and advised the
King; it did not control him.
What is it that makes the difference between these earlier
assemblies and the later one which we call Parliament?
First, Parliament is a "representative" body—that is,
it is composed in part of persons who do not sit in right of
their offices or lands, but who are elected to represent the
people. Second, it is divided into two "houses"—a
House of Lords, and a House of Commons. And third, it has
more power than the older assemblies had.
The addition of "representatives," along with the great
churchmen and barons, was the first step in transforming the
old Great Council into the Parliament.
The practice of having "representatives," to act in the name
of the community, was first used in local government. In
the Anglo-Saxon time, each township sent four
representatives to take part in the "hundred" and "shire"
meetings. When Henry II. introduced jury trial, he was
really using the "representative" principle; for every jury
gives its verdict, not from any right which the members
have, but in the name of the community which it represents.
Thus, in many ways, the people became used to the idea of
having representatives chosen to help carry on the local
government, in the name of the people of the community.
Why were representatives added to the Great Council?
 The reason was that a time came when the Kings needed more
money to carry on the enlarged work of government; and, as
this money must come chiefly from the people of the towns
and country, it seemed best to ask them to send
representatives to meet with the Great council, and give the
consent of their communities to the new taxes.
These representatives were of two sorts; first, the "knights
of the shire," who represented the lesser nobles and country
gentlemen who were not members of the Great Council; and,
second, the "borough representatives," who came from the
cities and towns (boroughs) and represented the trading
The knights of the shire were the first to be added to the
assembly. In 1213, for the first time, the Kings called
them to meet with the Great Council, "to speak with us
concerning the business of our kingdom." From time to time
after that "knights of the shire" were summoned to the
assemblies until the practice became permanent. The were
elected by the landholders, in the county assemblies, and
every county sent two, no matter what size.
We have already seen that it was Simon de Montfort who, in
1265, first called representatives of the towns, or
"boroughs," to the central assembly. In 1295,
Edward I. called a meeting which established it as a
rule that, in a Parliament, there ought to be
representatives both of the counties and of the towns. This
was called the "Model Parliament," because it became a model
for succeeding ones. The number of boroughs which sent
representatives was greater than in 1265, and from time to
time changes were made in the list in after days. Each town
which sent representatives at all elected two.
 At first, the representative of the counties and towns sat
in the same body with the barons and great churchmen; but,
by the year 1340, the Parliament had separated into two
"houses." The Upper House became the House of Lords, and
included the great barons (who bore the titles of "Duke,"
"Marquis," "Earl," "Viscount," and "Baron"), and also the
archbishops and bishops, and the abbots or heads of
The Lower House became the House of Commons, and in course
of time it became the most important part of Parliament.
This was because it was called upon, especially, to vote the
taxes which the King needed for carrying on the government.
For a time the towns and counties looked upon representation
in Parliament as a burden. But, gradually, their
representatives began to hold back the voting of taxes,
until the King and his ministers promised to correct any
grievances of which they complained. Then it was seen that
the right of voting taxes was a great and valuable power,
and the people no longer complained of the burden of being
represented in Parliament.
At first, it was not certain whether the Commons should be
admitted to a share in the law-making power, or whether they
should be only allowed to vote taxes. But in his summons to
the "Model Parliament" Edward I. laid down the
principle that "what concerns all should be approved by
all." And, twenty-seven years later, the rule was laid down
that all matters which concerned the kingdom and the people,
"shall be established in Parliament, by the King, and by the
consent of the Lords and the Commons of the
realm." From this time on the powers of the
 Commons grew, until they are now much greater than those of
the House of Lords.
But we must not think of these early Parliaments as having
the great powers which Parliaments have today. The King was
still much more powerful than the Parliament, though since
the granting of the Great Charter it was recognized that the
King was below the law, and not above it. In making new
laws, and in laying new taxes, he needed the consent of
Parliament; but in carrying on the general business of the
government—in making war, and in concluding
peace—he could act without Parliament. Often he
consulted Parliament about such matters, but he could act as
he pleased. The ministers who carried on the government
were still the King's ministers, and responsible to him
only. It was to be several centuries yet—and a great
civil war must be fought, and one King beheaded and another
deposed—before Parliament was recognized as the chief
power in the government.
Nevertheless, by the time that Edward III. came to the
throne the framework of Parliament—though
not its powers—was complete.
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