At the appointed day the great council, distinguished in our annals by the appellation of the “Mad Parliament,” assembled at Oxford.
Continuing How The House of Commons Began in England,
our selection from The History of England, From the First Invasion by the Romans to the Accession of Henry VIII by John Lingard published in 1819. The selection is presented in eleven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in How The House of Commons Began in England.
Henry called a great council at Westminster, and on the third day the barons assembled in the hall in complete armor. When the King entered, they put aside their swords; but Henry, alarmed at their unusual appearance, exclaimed, “Am I then your prisoner?” “No, sire,” replied Roger Bigod, “but by your partiality to foreigners, and your own prodigality, the realm is involved in misery. Wherefore we demand that the powers of government be delegated to a committee of barons and prelates, who may correct abuses and enact salutary laws.” Some altercation ensued, and high words passed between the Earl of Leicester and William de Valence, one of the King’s brothers. Henry, however, found it necessary to submit; and it was finally agreed that he should solicit the Pope to send a legate to England and modify the terms on which he had accepted the kingdom of Sicily; that he should give a commission to reform the State to twenty-four prelates and barons, of whom one-half had been already selected from his council, the other half should be named by the barons themselves in a parliament to be held at Oxford; and that, if he faithfully observed these conditions, measures should be taken to pay his debts, and to prosecute the claim of Edmund to the crown of the two Sicilies.
At the appointed day the great council, distinguished in our annals by the appellation of the “Mad Parliament,” assembled at Oxford. The barons, to intimidate their opponents, were attended by their military tenants, and took an oath to stand faithfully by each other, and to treat as “a mortal enemy” every man who should abandon their cause. The committee of reform was appointed. Among the twelve selected by Henry were his nephew the son of Richard, two of his half-brothers, and the great officers of state; the leaders of the faction were included in the twelve named by the barons. Every member was sworn to reform the state of the realm, to the honor of God, the service of the King, and the benefit of the people; and to allow no consideration, “neither of gift nor promise, profit nor loss, love nor hatred nor fear,” to influence him in the discharge of his duty. Each twelve then selected two of their opponents; and to the four thus selected was entrusted the charge of appointing fifteen persons to form the council of state. Having obtained the royal permission, they proceeded to make the choice with apparent impartiality. Both parties furnished an equal number; and at their head was placed Boniface, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, if he were connected with the court from his relationship to the Queen, was also known to lean to the popular faction, through his jealousy of the superior influence of the King’s half-brothers. In reality, however, these elections proved the declining influence of the Crown; for, while the chiefs of the reformers were named, Henry’s principal friends, his nephew and his brothers, had been carefully excluded. In a short time, the triumph of Leicester was complete. The justiciary, the chancellor, the treasurer, all the sheriffs, and the governors of the principal castles belonging to the King, twenty in number, were removed, and their places were supplied by the chiefs of the reformers, or the most devoted of their adherents. The new justiciary took an oath to administer justice to all persons, according to the ordinances of the committee; the chancellor not to put the great seal to any writ which had not the approbation of the King and the privy council, nor to any grant without the consent of the great council, nor to any instrument whatever which was not in conformity with the regulations of the committee; the governors of the castles to keep them faithfully for the use of the King, and to restore them to him or his heirs, and no others, on the receipt of an order from the council; and at the expiration of twelve years to surrender them loyally on the demand of the King. Having thus secured to themselves the sovereign authority, and divested Henry of the power of resistance, the committee began the work of reform by ordaining:
- That four knights should be chosen by the freeholders of each county to ascertain and lay before the parliament the trespasses, excesses, and injuries committed within the county under the royal administration;
- That a new high sheriff should be annually appointed for each county by the votes of the freeholders;
- That all sheriffs, and the treasurer, chancellor, and justiciary should annually give in their accounts;
- And that parliaments should meet thrice in the year, in the beginning of the months of February, June, and October.
They were, however, careful that these assemblies should consist entirely of their own partisans. Under the pretext of exonerating the other members from the trouble and expense of such frequent journeys, twelve persons were appointed as representatives of the commonalty, that is, the whole body of earls, barons, and tenants of the Crown; and it was enacted that whatever these twelve should determine, in conjunction with the council of state, should be considered as the act of the whole body.
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