The text of each of these important constitutional documents has been posted as pages on England Calling. The links can be found at the top of the blog.
1. The development of Parliamentary Government
These documents show the gradual reduction of the power of the monarch and the eventual development from this of Parliament and eventually the shift of the executive power from the monarch to the House of Commons.
1100 The charter of liberties of Henry (also known as the Coronation Charter)
This concerned primarily the relationship between the King and his nobles and foreshadows that part of Magna Carta which deals with things such as inheritance and the treatment of widows.
1215 Magna Carta
Apart from the stating of rights and restrictions on what King John might do in certain situations, this was the first formal attempt to impose a council with powers to not merely advise the King but to restrain him (article 61). This article was never implemented.
1258 The Provisions of Oxford and 1259 The Provisions of Westminster
These attempted to do what article 61 of Magna Carta intended, impose on Henry III a council with power to restrain the King.
1311 The Ordinances of the Lords Ordainers
These vigorously reiterated Magna Carta, bound Royal officials to obey the Ordinances and in article 40 introduced a panel to have power to interfere with the king’s ministers, viz: “ Item, we ordain that in each parliament one bishop, two earls, and two barons shall be assigned to hear and determine all plaints of those wishing to complain of the king’s ministers, whichever they may be, who have contravened the ordinances aforesaid.”
1628 The Petition of Right
This was a direct challenge to the attempt of Charles I to extend the Royal Prerogative, or more unkindly, to simply assume that he could do anything, in the early years of his reign. The primary complaint was Charles’ raising of money without Parliamentary approval. It set in train the events which led eventually to the proroguing of Parliament for 11 years(1629-1640). The Petition relies heavily on citing documents such as Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest, as well as the usual insistence of the restitution of English liberties.
1641 The Grand Remonstrance
This was another attempt to persuade Charles I to do Parliament’s will by what had the form of a traditional petition to the King but the content of demands with unspoken menaces . The King was not blamed personally – the failings were ascribed to a Papist conspiracy – but the tone of the petition was much more robust than the Petition of Right and left no doubt that Parliament was not pleading for Royal indulgence but insisting that Charles did their bidding.
It listed 204 separate points of objection, including a call for the expulsion of all bishops from Parliament and a Parliamentary veto over Crown appointments. Charles refused to agree to all Parliament’s demands in December 1641 and the first Civil War began a few months later.
1653 The Instrument of Government
This document is in content if not formal description a written constitution. It created Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector, stipulated that the office of Lord Protector was not to be hereditary, required regular Parliaments, and laid down a mesh of obligations and restrictions on government.
1689 The Bill of Rights
Further formal restrictions on the monarch, a list of rights to protect the liberty of all English men and women, the protection of MPs, regular Parliaments and the assumption of the English crown to be in practice dependent upon the support of Parliament, thus driving the final nail into the coffin of the doctrine of the divine right of kings. This opened the way for the development of the executive in Parliament.
1789 The American Constitution and Bill of Rights
The influence of English constitutional development can be clearly seen in the Constitution and Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments). The short lived US Articles of Confederation is placed below the Constitution and Bill of Rights to allow comparison between the documents.
2. The unification of Britain
1535 The unification of England and Wales
There was no formal Act of Union between England and Wales but the 1535 Act – “An Acte for Lawes & Justice to be ministred in Wales in like fourme as it is in this Realme” – was the most important piece of legislation in the piecemeal process of administrative incorporation of Wales into England which took place in the latter years of Henry XIII. The text of this Act is in England Calling.