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Parliamentary freedoms and prerogative powers of the English crown during early Modern times

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In the mid-seventies the historian of English law J. Sales, studying a role, found out places and evolution of parliamentary freedoms during early Modern times that the vigsky historiography which was making a start from triumph of parliament in the 19th century underestimated a role which the parliament played in the XVI—XVII centuries. By the beginning of our century it became obvious that many conclusions of rather parliamentary freedoms during early Modern times, need more conservative estimate.

Parliamentary freedoms during early Modern times.

Victor V. Klochkov


In the mid-seventies the historian of the English law J. Sales, studying a role, places and evolution of parliamentary freedom during early Modern age has found out, that Whig historiography which was making a start from triumph of parliament in XIX century, has underestimated a role which the parliament played XVI — XVII centuries. Now it became obvious, that many conclusions concerning parliamentary freedom during early Modern period require more conservative estimate.

Parliamentary freedom during early Modern Age.

Parliamentary freedoms were and remain the central component of the English political culture. In the 18th century, in newspapers of an era Georgov the word "parlement" was translated as "parliament", and meant execution of functions inherent in parliament. In the last third of the 19th century U. Stubbs, the author of one of the most considerable researches on the history of the English parliament, paying a tribute to the created image, tried to find such parliament what it was in its time [1 in the 13-14th centuries. Vol. 1. P. 28-33]. By the beginning of the 20th century historians and lawyers, being based only on created by them a retrospective method of a research (of the present to the past), decided that during early Modern times (from 1603 to 1832) the English parliament gradually evolved from class assembly to modern national representation [2. Page 224-238].

In the mid-seventies the historian of English law J. Sales, studying how consideration of events in the direction of the present to the past affected a problem historiography, found out that the vigsky historiography which was making a start from triumph of parliament in the 19th century and looking for the progressive changes preceding this triumph in the 18th century underestimated a role which the parliament played in the 16-17th centuries [3. P. 33]. By the beginning of our century it became obvious that many conclusions concerning a role, places and evolutions of parliamentary freedoms during early Modern times, need more conservative estimate. In the present article an attempt to track what this careful approach consists in is made.

The English parliament was never class assembly in strict sense of the word. At an early stage of the existence in it only the nobility, clergymen and lawyers was presented. The highest and lowest nobility, after all, appeared in different chambers, and dzhentr it was necessary to get on with a small koliche-

stvy bourgeois and representatives of liberal professions. During early Modern times the English parliament was assembly of the land owners representing on modern democratic concepts, only two thousand people. In it there is nothing surprising as in the 18th century the national representation was not connected with democratic mechanisms in their present constitutional and legal understanding. In the society fastened with the relations of patronage and a kliyentela, the House of Lords in England represented not only the opinion, but also the interests of other persons and social groups, corporations and certain areas. During early Modern times the parliament was considered as the barrier interfering degeneration of the monarchy in a despotism rather.

Parliamentary freedoms irrespective of how really they existed, for five hundred years were the main component of national mythology. In the 15th century sir John Fortescue for the first time made them a subject of national pride, having specified that parliaments - the phenomenon exclusively English [4. Page 120]. In fact, since 14th century the financial need forced many European (and not just English) monarchs to create class representations which could unite the country and approve introduction of taxes.

As for the English parliament, contemporaries exaggerated its value. In XVT-XVP of centuries the parliament gathered irregularly and was not the ordinary instrument of management. The parliament had indisputable monopoly for voting of taxes, however tyudorovsky and styuartovsky ministers practically always found ways to bypass it. Violent loans, donations and ship money were doubtful, but effective ways of receiving cash. The consent of parliament was asked in exceptional cases when taxes on extreme needs, but not on usual expenses of the government were voted. Now more often pay attention that financial powers of parliament were very limited. So, it is suggested that at the first Tudor dynasty the taxes were carried out through grand councils (usually it was the House of Lords without the House of Commons), but not through parliaments. At Elizabeth I the approval of taxes by parliament was a mere formality as it was provided always, and once the bill of granting subsidies was entered in parliamentary minutes still before the parliament gathered [5. P. 101-102].

On closer examination powers of the English parliament are unexpectedly limited in comparison with the power of many European assemblies. Its convocation was a part of the prerogative rights of the king. He gathered at will of the monarch and had no right to regular or at least periodic holding sessions. Besides, it had no body which constantly would function in breaks between sessions: neither the constant commissions, nor officials watched ministers of the king and controlled expenditure of means which were received from votirovanny by parliament of taxes. As the English parliament was not permanent body, it had no also legal status of corporation.

Situation changed only after 1688. The parliament began to gather annually and turned into the real political force with which the country leaders had to reckon. But also in the 18th century the parliament did not become the democratic representative tool. In corporate society it opened the road to the power, the rich could buy places there and receive more high ranks. For offsprings of notable families the parliament as the establishment captured by network of patronage and family relations of elite was a step on the way to situation and positions.

It is remarkable also that the English parliament actually appointed itself. Dzhentri and peers nominated those who then had to make the vast majority in the lower house. Such control turned the House of Commons of the English parliament into one of the most unusual assemblies in Europe 18th century. Parliamentary elections did not stimulate active political life: in 1761 the fight was conducted only for 42 places from 203, belonging to the cities, and for 4 of 44, provided to counties. Such state of affairs was norm at this time. It is possible to tell that many places provided to the cities were the property of those who occupied them. At the Hanover dynasty the number of seats in the House of Commons, candidates for which were defined by members of the House of Lords, constantly increased. After the period of uncertainty and confusion by which the government of the queen Anna (1702-1714) was marked the nobility sought to strengthen the positions. In 1705 it controlled 105 seats in the House of Commons. In 1747 this figure increased up to 167 places, and in 1784 - up to 197. From a beginning of the century the number of clients of peers in parliament increased probably four times. In 1784 304 of 558 members of the House of Commons were connected with peers. The opening ceremonies of many parliamentary sessions in board Georgov reminded family meetings [6. P. 104-115].

Monarchs of the Hanover dynasty actively used the prerogative influence for manipulation of parliament. As in both chambers of the English parliament there were enough adherents of a dynasty, Georgi skillfully neutralized danger to appear in financial dependence on any decisions of parliamentarians, distributing between them the protection. It was very important to create parliament in order that the royal government could continue work. In the context of lack of the obligatory conflict between a crown and representation in the 18th century, annual sessions are represented rather good as in board Georgov any of parliaments did not refuse to vote subsidies and did not insist on their obligatory compensation. In England the means allowing to avoid the conflicts between parliament and a prerogative was called "skillful management". And it is valid, rather difficult to connect similar "social management" with absolutism [7. P. 204].

Nevertheless modern historians and lawyers still often share opinion of a vigsky historiography that soon after 1688 England turned into constitutional monarchy. The monarch had to delegate the powers to ministers who were elected by parliament: therefore, decisions of the king were controlled of England separated from "absolutist" Europe and became one of the few states in which representative bodies managed the country. In the 18th century the board in the country was parliamentary. The English parliament appointed and displaced ministers, declared war and signed peace treaties. The first two sovereigns of the Hanover dynasty had to create the governments from party leaders of the majority in the House of Commons [8. P. 37].

Subsequently it became obvious that it is necessary to treat a tendency to exaggerate a historical role of parliament with care. To declare that in

XVIII century the power belonged to the king - in - parliament, means to ignore those prerogative powers which the crown had only. During an era of board Georgov parliaments had no at all such rights and initiatives which were unknown to medieval assemblies, and in some respects their powers were even reduced. Medieval parliaments had the right to appoint and displace ministers and to watch carrying out those political decisions for which the sums received from taxation had to be spent. But those funds which were allocated parliament of an era by Georgov the king could

to spend at discretion. Even annual sessions were not the new phenomenon, and parliamentarians had no more opportunities to control management, than at their predecessors who gathered less regularly. At Edward III the parliament gathered every year and checked the king's expenses. It nevertheless did not make him the constitutional monarch. Not that how often the parliament was convoked, and what role it chose in the relations with the monarchy - a role of the ally (or criticism) monarchy or a role of her deputy [3 was important. P. 3-20].

There is a set of sources which are capable to shed light on the nature of the personal power which was reserved by monarchs of the Hanover dynasty. The parliament was engaged mainly in regulation of private, local problems of land owners. The bulk of the legislation was made by the bills which are personally introduced by members of parliament. In XVSh of century the parliament subjected to enclosing three million acres while only hundred acts were devoted to a construction of canals and roads. The crown almost did not show interest in legislative activity and seldom demanded adoption of new laws. Its executive power almost completely fitted into a framework of a royal prerogative. Certainly, the foreign policy which was also the prerogative sphere [7 was its main business. P. 206].

Contrary to opinion of a vigsky historiography, the Act of a succession to the throne of 1688 did not represent either direct, nor indirect threat to this most important royal prerogative. In XVSh of century the prime ministers (whose presence was long ignored) were invited at all not to create administration at discretion. The prime minister designated that only who monopolized favor of the king, but not on the one who used the influence in parliament to order the monarch. Those who were in opposition to the leading minister whom he could not lead to obedience usually were a part of the cabinet also. Besides, strengthening of parties within hundred years after the Nice revolution also did not interfere with implementation of royal control. Any English monarch of XVP-XVSh of centuries did not reckon with parties. The queen Anna did not allow parliamentary majority to impose herself candidates for ministers. The party was not the effective mechanism neither for management of electorate, nor for maintenance of fractional discipline in parliament yet. In the 1790th of party achieved certain success, however prime ministers even at the beginning of the 19th century practically did not recognize them and did not try to unite thus the supporters [9. P. 36].

So, the conservative estimate of a ratio of parliamentary freedoms and prerogative powers of the English crown during early Modern times leads to a thought that the royal favor remained the only reliable support for the political power in the 18th century. It opened access to royal patronage which provided management of parliament. In the 18th century the government seldom never lost in disputes and - on elections. The ministers enjoying confidence of the king had moral and material supplies for management of parliamentary majority. They were appointed to, but not after the victory on the general elections. The power which allocated ministers belonged to the king: he appointed them and displaced. They seldom had the influence in parliament to impose to the monarch political decisions. They believed that they are responsible before the king, but not before parliament. The right belonging to parliament to announce an impeachment gave it no more opportunities to elect ministers and to define policy, than granted the same right to it in the 14th century

Only after 1832 the royal powers gradually passed to ministers who were defined by voters, but up to this point for politicians

the personal choice of the king, but not opinion of parliament was decisive. Therefore the center of political life of England, it is necessary to consider the yard. A debate in parliament could matter, however the main fights were played in the king's office.

Between 1688 and 1832 of real transformation to the parliamentary monarchy did not occur as the prerogative did not give way to the parliamentary sanction at all. The possibility of the choice of the person of the king since the Nice revolution did not cancel the divine nature of the institute of the monarchy. If the idea to set the mode of constitutional (parliamentary) monarchy also existed, then Wilhelm III and Georgi about it did not suspect.


1. Stubbs W. The Constitutional History of England. L. 1874-1878. Vol. 1-3.
2. E.V. Gutnova. From the history of formation of the English parliament. In prince: Parliaments of the world. - M, 1990.
3. Sayles G. O. The King&s Parliament of England. L., Edward Arnold, 1975.
4. N. Henshell. Myth of absolutism. Changes and continuity in development of the Western European monarchy during early Modern times. - SPb., 2003.
5. Dean J. N. (ed.). The Parliaments of Elizabethan England. L., Basil Blackwell, 1990.
6. Cannon J. F. Aristocratic Century. Cambridge University Press, 1984.
7. Miller J. The Potential for "Absolutism" in Later Stuart England//History, 69, 1984.
8. Doyle W. The Old European Order. Oxford University Press, 1978.
9. Black J. British Foreign Policy in the Age of Walpole. L., 1985.

Victor Viktorovich Klochkov

Institute of Technology of federal public educational institution of higher professional training Southern Federal University in Taganrog E-mail:

347928, Taganrog, Nekrasovsky Lane, 44, ph. 31-14-27 Head of the department of the theory of the right.

Klochkov Viktor Viktorovich

Taganrog Institute of Technology - Federal State-Owned Educational Establishment of Higher Vocational Education "Southern Federal University"


44, Nekrasovskiy, Taganrog, 347928, Russia, ph. 311-427 Head of the Department of Law Theory.

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V.V. Klochkov



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Absolutism, early Modern times.

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