Parliament vs Monarchy

Houses of Parliament
Houses of Parliament

This is my first historical article about the Victorian Era. I believe if I am to write a Steampunk novel based in Victorian Era Britain, I have to understand life back then. Their culture, politics, and technology. During my research I learned many interesting facts, and I'd like to share them with you.

By the time of Queen Victoria, the British Monarch was already a figurehead, and Parliament held legislative power. Ever wondered how the power transfer from Monarchy to Parliament happened?

In England there was a political and religious doctrine called the divine right of kings which stated that a monarch was subject to no earthly authority, he derived his right to rule directly from the will of God. The king was not subject to the will of his people, the aristocracy, the Church, or any other estate of the kingdom. Since only God could judge a king, the king could do no wrong. The doctrine implied that any attempt to depose of the king or to restrict his powers ran contrary to the will of God and could constitute a sacrilegious act.

Following William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066, the Normans introduced the feudal system. The Kings of England had no standing army or police, so the laws of the Crown could not have been upheld without the support of the nobility and the clergy. The nobility had economic and military power bases of their own through major ownership of land and the feudal obligations of their tenants. The Church - then still part of the Roman Catholic Church and so owing ultimate loyalty to Rome - was virtually a law unto itself in this period, as it had its own system of religious law courts.

In order to seek consultation and consent from the nobility and the senior clergy on major decisions, English monarchs called Great Councils consisting of archbishops, bishops, abbots, barons and earls, the pillars of the feudal system.

The Charter of Liberties was a written proclamation by Henry I of England, issued upon his accession to the throne in 1100. It addressed abuses of royal power by his predecessor, his brother William Rufus, as perceived by the nobility and the clergy, specifically the over-taxation of the barons, and interference in Church matters. It sought to bind the King to certain laws regarding the treatment of church officials and nobles. The Charter of Liberties was generally ignored by monarchs.

The Magna Carta was an English Charter forced on King John (of Robin Hood fame). Over the course of his reign a combination of higher taxes, unsuccessful wars, and conflict with the Pope made King John unpopular with his barons. Some barons began to conspire against him. In 1215 some of the most important barons engaged in open rebellion against their King. This was not unusual, every king since William the Conqueror had faced rebellions. However, in every previous case there had been an obvious alternative monarch around whom the rebellion could rally. In 1215, however, John had no obvious replacement, so they forced onto him the Magna Carta in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their privileges.

By the mid 15th century, the Magna Carta ceased to occupy a central role in English political life. In part this was due to the rise of an early version of Parliament and to further statutes, some of which were based on the principle of the Magna Carta.

The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and Royalists (Cavaliers). The Civil War ended with the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3rd September 1651. Constitutionally, the wars established the precedent that an English monarch couldn’t govern without Parliament's consent, although this concept was legally established only with the Glorious Revolution later in the century.

The Glorious Revolution, was the overthrow of King James II of England in 1688 by a union of English Parliamentarians with an invading army led by the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau (William of Orange). As a result, he ascended the English throne as William III of England together with his wife Mary II of England. The Bill of Rights was passed by Parliament on 16th December 1689. It was a re-statement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary on March 1689, inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England. It lays down limits on the powers of the sovereign, and sets out the rights of Parliament and rules for freedom of speech in Parliament, the requirement to regular elections to Parliament, and the right to petition the monarch without fear of retribution. This marked the beginning of the English constitutional monarchy and its subservience to parliament.

Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom
Following the Treaty of Union in 1707, Acts of Parliament passed in the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland created a new Kingdom of Great Britain and dissolved both parliaments, replacing them with a new Parliament of Great Britain based in the former home of the English Parliament. The Parliament of Great Britain would later become the Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1801 when the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was formed through the Act of Union 1800.

In summary, the Norman's Great Council evolved into the Parliament of England, and over the centuries, the English Parliament progressively limited the power of the English monarchy.

Queen Victoria (Alexandrina Victoria; 24th May 1819 – 22nd January 1901) was the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20th June 1837 until her death.

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