The Parliament of the United Kingdom

The Parliament of the United Kingdom is considered “the mother” of all Parliaments as the legislative bodies of many nations are built on its model.

Tempo di lettura articolo: 4 minuti

The English Parliament is the representative assembly of the United Kingdom, born from the evolution of the King’s Council and the feudal courts. It gathered for the first time in 1264, after the signing of a document known as Magna Carta (1215) which established that everybody, including the king, was subjected to the law and had to pay taxes.

It is a bicameral parliament formed so by two Houses: the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Nowadays they meet in separate rooms in the Palace of Westminster (known as the Houses of Parliament), in London, and they were initially reunited under the reign of Edward III (1312-1377).

The Palace of Westminster

The House of Lords was composed by members of the nobility and the clergy, while the House of Commons was formed by the knighs and the elected components of the middle class.

The history

After the first meeting of the Parliament (1264) the municipalities were always subordinated to this and to the emperor. In 1295, king Edward I, convened the Parliament, based on the Model Parliament where, alongside the assembly of nobles and clergymen, were also admitted elected representatives of the cities, counties and boroughs.

With the Wales Acts (1535-1542) the Reign of Wales was annexed to England, and Welsh representatives entered the Parliament.

When in 1603 Elizabeth I was succeeded to the throne by the Scottish king James VI, who took the name of James I of England, both countries came under her direct command, but each one maintaining its own parliament.

Charles I Stuart

During the rule of King Charles I Stuart (1600-1649), the conflict between the Crown, the Parliament and the English population exploded. The most important break between the Crown and the English population was due to the absolutist attempts, before of James I and after of Charles I Stuart. Charles I called the Parliament to approve new taxes. The two Houses agreed, but they asked him to sign the Petition of Right of 1628, which condemned his payment of taxes, the repression of the Parliament and his policy in support of the Anglican Church. With the revolt that broke out during his reign, in 1640 Charles I was forced to reconvene the Chambers twice in the same year, for the consent of new taxes to support military spending.

At the first convocation, the parliamentary opposition forced the king to end it after three weeks, and for this it was called the Short Parliament; in the second one, known as the Long Parliament, the component of the Parliament imposed their own conditions on the sovereign, and they published the Great Remonstrance against the king.

Oliver Cromwell

In 1649 the Rump Parliament, the parliament freed from royalist supporters, abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords, and established the Commonwealth republic, led by Oliver Cromwell.

Cromwell, although he wanted to preside in agreement with Parliament, failed to reconcile the different political parts. In the second half of the seventeenth century, the Parliament decreed the monarchical Restoration. Charles II Stuart (1630-1685) was crowned king of England after signing the Declaration of Breda in 1660, in which he promised to rule with the parliamentary cooperation. The 1673 Test Act passed by Parliament indicated that England lived in an anti-Catholic climate, so the Parliament appealed to William III of Orange (1626-1650), to defend English religious and political freedoms. Parliament gave the crown to the Protestant branch of the Stuarts, and William of Orange became King of England as William III in 1689.

In 1689, the new English king signed the Bill of Rights, in which he swored that the Crown would have always governed together with the Parliament, recognizing the limits of the monarchical power: in this way, it was born the first parliamentary monarchy in history founded on national sovereignty rather than on the divine right of kings. 

From the Bill of Rights the government of England would have been based on trust between the Crown and Parliament: the innovation was the separation of legislative and executive powers, a principle of modern democracies.

At the base of the first English revolution, in the middle of the XVII century, two structural problems of the English monarchy can be located: parliament limited the absolute power of the king and the missed of a centralized bureaucracy.

Today the United Kingdom is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy in which the Parliament has the legislative power while the king owns all the three powers: legislative, administrative and judical.

It is very important to note that, despite ups and downs in history, the Parliament of the United Kingdom has been able to preserve its prestige, fame and nature up to the present day.


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