Old England: Monarchy w/Parliament?

Please explain why a King of England (ca. 1600) would even bother with a Parliament? Was this to fool the little people into feeling like they had a say in their government? Still, the King did whatever he wanted by divine right! For example, King James I dissolved Parliament 4x! Why did he even bother with them at all? Really, I just don’t understand all this foppish behavior!

  • Jinx
    “King, are ya? Well, I didn’t vote for ya!” - Monty Python

Parliament could be called in order to raise money, which from the point of view of the Kings and Queens of this time was it’s main function.

Please correct me, MC: I must hold the wrong picture of England in the 17th century. I have an image of the King sending out his Royal Army to collect taxes - with new taxes imposed at whim to the King’s delight. I picture Parliament working mostly for the nobility - perhaps registering land deeds or establishing an official tea time.

Along these lines, were there any Protestants (Puritans, for one) allowed to hold seats in Parliament when the King (James I and even worse, Charles I) were devout Catholics? And, if not, then how was the Rump Parliament formed after Charles I was killed in the British Civil War under Oliver Cromwell?

Thanks for helping me understand a very different way of life.

  • Jinx

I should add: What I failed to mention is that Parliament DID attempt to limit the powers of the King, such as James I. Thus, he dissolved them and brought them back 4x. If it is true that Parliament was the Accounting Office for the King, what ever gave them the right to try and limit a King’s power? - Jinx

More to the point, by the 17th century the English monarchy needed to call Parliament to raise money. Royal authority and power had been very slowly eroding in England for centuries. By the 1600’s the English crown no longer had the resources to dominate the state unaided, let alone project their power abroad. As a majority of the significant landowners tended to support Parliament as a more responsive body than the monarchy, the attempts by James I and Charles I to establish an absolutist ( or at least more absolutist ) state floundered ( and helped trigger the English Civil War of the 1640’s, which of course ultimately led to an even weaker and more constrained monarchy ).

  • Tamerlane

Yes, but his son’s attempts to due without Parliament failed for financial reasons - The king simply couldn’t raise enough revenue unaided.

That would require a very long answer to cover all the historical precedents. But very briefly it started most directly with good old King John, who the signed the Magna Carta in 1215, which guaranteed certain rights to his nobility ( including a limitation on his power to tax them ). It also created granted the nobility the right to lawfully rebel if the king violated the charter. The first short-lived parliament was convened in 1265 by Simon de Montfort after temporarily defeating Henry III, who had attempted to remove earlier restrictions placed on him by his nobility. In 1295 Edward I re-created the Parliament in his own image as an instrument of government.

  • Tamerlane

Yes, but Tamerlane and MC assume that the King and Parliament got along! Maybe the history books I have read are one-sided, but it seems Parliament was in opposition to the Crown more times than not during this period, especially. The limiting of a King’s power is a pretty bold move. Perhaps the Parliament offered such conditions as an ultimatum knowing that the people were getting fed up…to save their necks and the King?

  • Jinx

Messenger: “King! The people are revolting!”
King: “Yes, they certainly are!”

As MC says, money was the usual reason.

None of the Stuarts sent out the army to collect taxes. Indeed, James I and Charles I only raised armies during military emergencies when the army had more important things to do. Most taxes voted by Parliament were collected by commissions of county gentlemen appointed by Parliament (they were named in the acts voting the taxes) and often included those who had sat as MPs. Some taxes were collected by professional tax collectors but they were always civilians. Although the king had permanent sources of revenues, everyone, including all the Stuart kings, accepted that Parliaments would need to be summoned from time to time to vote additional money, usually because of foreign wars.

The other major reason why Parliaments were needed was to pass legislation. Laws passed by Parliament carried greater authority and were easier to enforce.

Neither James I nor Charles I were Catholics and, like them, the overwhelming proportion of those who sat in their Parliaments were Protestants. Of the 547 men elected to the Long Parliament in 1640 and 1641 only three are known to have been Catholics. It took a whole series of purges between 1642 and 1648 to turn the Long Parliament into the Rump, but what made the difference was the purging of the moderate Protestants (and most of the extreme Protestants as well).

That any of the Parliaments before 1629 attempted to limit the powers of either James I and Charles I would be strongly disputed by many of the historians who are currently working on that period. Just because kings and Parliament fell out over particular issues does not mean that either side yet wanted to redefine the balance of power between them. It was not and is not at all clear that even after 1629 Charles I planned never to call a Parliament.

Hmmm? I made no such assumption. The Crown and Parliament were frequently at odds, especially over taxation ( but also foreign policy and other issues ). This became ever more pronounced the more powerful and indispensable Parliament became.

Right, because the Stuarts were trying to bypass and/or bend the Parliament to their will and Parliament resisted this.

So, by that point, was trying to limit the power of Parliament ;). Ultimately it came down to war and the King lost. And that was that, more or less. The Hanovers later recovered some lost bits of power and influence, but ultimately Parliament, backed by the majority, was proved the dominant power in England.

  • Tamerlane

I never assumed that the crown and Parliment got along! There has been a long history of disputes between the two, for example Elizabeth I would frequently veto parliment legislation and only called parliment 13 times during her long rein.

But you would have been nearer the truth if you had assumed that they did get along.

Geoffrey Elton and Conrad Russell had a point when they argued that such co-operation was the norm under Elizabeth I and James I. Just focusing on the occasional moments when they disagreed gives a distorted picture. Such spats were little more than the usual rough-and-tumble of politics and of no lasting signficance.

What was happening in the 1620s is more open to debate, which is why many historians now think that Russell went too far in arguing that those Parliaments were simply a continuation of the earlier pattern of co-operation. But even those historians tend not to think that any constitutional disagreements were, as yet, sharply defined. The instinct of almost all MPs was still to want to work with the king. That was arguably still the case as late as 1642.

>> the King did whatever he wanted by divine right

That was never true in Europe at any time. And when the Kings started to believe it the people started to cut of their heads.

The British Parliament’s history goes back to the days when Germanic tribal chiefs could not do squat without the consent of their warlords. Yes, they had a bigger army than any one warlord (Jarl/Earl), but any two or three (or more) warlords could possibly unseat them. King John Lackland found out the hard way what happens when an English king tried to rule without the consent of his great nobles. They band together and gob-smack his army until he signs the Magna Carta, which guarantees them certain powers and rights. Since that time, Crown and not-Crown have often not seen eye-to-eye. Even though, after the Conquest, technically all the great magnates of England held their place from the Crown, the reality was that the King could only command if he could get enough of those magnates to agree with him. The Royal military was never enough on its own to run roughshod over all the great lords. This was true into the 16th century. By the 17th century, the principle was very firmly entrenched, and any king who tried to rule without Parliament did so at the risk of his own neck–or at the very least having no money. Local loyalty was often much stronger than loyalty to London. Thus, a Royal army that rode into the countryside to extort taxes would find itself far from home, no line of supply, and eventually cut to bits. Once a modern, centralized army was finally implemented, Parliament was here to stay.