The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 4
The House of Commons.
Edward VI. was the monarch who gave permission that the chapel of St. Stephen should be converted to a chamber of parliament; but this was long after the commons had begun to form a separate and distinct branch of the legislature from the lords.
The origin of the present representative system it is by no means easy to ascertain with positive accuracy. It were no difficult task, however, to conjecture, that something of the kind must have originated with the formation of civil society, though the corruption of after times, and the successive tyrannies which grew out of feudal systems, and popular vassalage had almost eradicated the very principles on which the liberties of the people were founded.
In the reign of our Henry, the oppressions of the crown, increased by the exorbitant demands of papal authority and priestly domination, had advanced to such a pitch, that the patience of the English was exhausted. The barons, observes a foreign writer on our history, were still more aggrieved than the people, as the most considerable posts, to which they thought themselves alone entitled, were enjoyed by foreigners. Henry quickly furnished them with an opportunity to execute their plans, by calling a parliament, which met at London, soon after Easter, A. D. . Of this parliament he demanded, according to custom, a powerful aid for the affair of Sicily; for, as to the voyage to the Holy Land, which had before occupied his attention, it was no longer mentioned.
The parliament, in conformity with a resolution previously made by the principal barons, instead of granting the demand, vehemently complained of the breach of Henry's promises, and of all the grievances generally spoken of during his reign.
The king, clearly perceiving, by the decided tone of the parliament, that the charm of royal haughtiness would not at all avail him on the present occasion, fell to his old artifice of pleading guilty to the lords, and promising speedily to reform what had hitherto been amiss in his government and conduct. For once, however, the lords refused to fall into the snare; and they told the designing monarch, in plain terms, that they could no longer leave such an important and necessary concern to the caprice of his own will and convenience, but would immediately set about the good work themselves, and so reform the government, that hereafter there should be no fear of the breach of the king's faith. Henry, though boiling with indignation, still
|managed to disguise or repress his feelings; and, under pretence of the difficulties that attended this matter, prorogued the parliament, and ordered that the next session should be kept at the city of Oxford.|
As he was apprehensive that in the mean time the lords would make the necessary preparations for the accomplishment of their designs, he promised them, in the most solemn manner, that at the time and place appointed he would not fail to meet them, and enter with them cordially upon the great and necessary work of reformation. He likewise immediately signed a charter, by which he guaranteed, that the articles to be reformed should be drawn up by lords, of whom he would chose , and engaged to abide by whatever should be settled by these commissioners. To add weight to this charter, he caused Prince Edward, his son, to sign it with him.
The lords, however, had so repeatedly experienced the deceptive nature of Henry's promises, that the stock of their credulity was now exhausted, and without relying on his professions, the barons summoned all their military tenants and vassals; and on , the day appointed, came to Oxford, well attended and resolutely bent on compelling the king to perform his word.
The thing done was the election of the commissioners, who were to draw up the articles of the intended reformation.
Henry chose the following : the bishops of London and Winchester; Henry, son to the king of the Romans; John, earl of Warren; Guido de Lusignan, and William de Valance, Henry's half-brothers; John earl of Warwick; John Mansel, a Friar; J. de Derlington, Abbot of ; Henry de Wengham, Dean of , London; and, lastly, (as is generally supposed, though his name is omitted,) either Peter of Savoy, or James Audley.
The barons elected the following: the Bishop of Worcester; the earls, Simon, of Leicester; Richard, of Gloucester; Humphrey, of Hereford; Roger, of Norfolk, Earl Marshal; the lords Roger Mortimer, John Fitz-Geoffrey, Hugh Bigod, Richard de Gray, William Bardolf, Peter de Montford, and Hugh Despenser. The of these lords they chose for the president of the council.
These commissioners, having been duly elected, drew up some articles, to which the parliament reserved to themselves a power to add, from time to time, such others as should be deemed necessary for the good of the state. This was, however, an extension of the original compact, which it is probable the king had not contemplated, but which his own fickleness or faithlessness, and the liberties of the people, rendered absolutely necessary.
The articles drawn up by the lords commissioners were in substance as follow: . That the king should confirm the great charter
|which he had sworn to observe, but without any effect: . That the office of chief justiciary should be given to a person of capacity and integrity, that would administer justice as well to the poor as the rich, without distinction: . That the chancellor, treasurer, justices, and other officers and public ministers should be chosen by the -and-: . That the custody of the king's castles should be left to the care of the -and-, who should intrust them to such as were well affected to the state: . That it should be death for any person, of whatever degree or order soever, to oppose, directly or indirectly, what should he ordained by the -and-: . That the parliament should meet at least once every year, to make such statutes as should be judged necessary for the welfare of the kingdom.|
The order is drawn up in form in the annals of Burton, and there it is said, the commissioners ordained, that there should be parliaments in the year: the , days after. Michaelmas; the , the morrow after Candlemass-Day; and the , on the .
It is certain that deputies, or representatives of the commons, were present in this parliament; but whether by permission or right, is not equally clear. should suppose, by the number, corresponding with those of the lords commissioners, that these commoners were admitted as a matter of right, even though this might be the time that the people had their representatives in parliament; this point, however, is not obvious. Rapin inclines to the opinion, that this was a new regulation; nor is that opinion without foundation;
that is, has now reputed to be, but all barons, stiled immediate tenants of the crown.
To shew that the commoners sat in this parliament as a matter of right, it may be remarked that the Annals of Burton, before quoted, contain the act for the election of the , drawn up in French in this form:
It does not appear by what mode of election these representatives were respectively appointed to their important trusts: they were, however, chosen by the barons. Their names are entered in the Annals above-mentioned; and are as follow:--The bishop of London, the earl of Winchester, the earl of Hereford,
Philip Basset, John de Baliol, John de Verdun, Roger de Grey, Roger de Sumerie, Roger de Montalt, Hugh Despenser, Thomas de Gressley, and Egidius de Argentum. These were all barons.
It is, however, to be remarked, that if the commons had before this been accustomed to send representatives to parliament, it is strange that no historian has distinguished them from the rest of the nobility. Not writer, from the conquest, to the end of the reign of Henry III. though many have spoken of parliaments, has distinguished the commons, as making a distinct body, or separate house from the barons: a separate house they certainly did not make, till some time after they were admitted as an essential part of the legislative body.
It is not the province of this work to trace all the proceedings of this new parliament, in which was laid the foundation of those liberties and constitutional blessings, which, to the present day are the boast and the glory of our isle--the envy and admiration of the world. Henry hesitated, and his son flatly refused to confirm the Oxford provisions, till their faithlessness, and the people's resolution brought on what are emphatically called the barons' wars.
In the mean time, the city of London took upon itself to send commissioners, delegates, or representatives to the general assembly; and perhaps this was the time that any single city, at least since the heptarchy, enjoyed this constitutional privilege.
As the principle of representative legislation began to be better known, and its merits and advantages more generally appreciated and felt, the practice of sending representatives from the community to parliament gradually extended itself over the country; till at length the elective franchise became an almost universally acknowledged right, to be claimed by every part of the nation.
Henry III. died in the year ; and was buried in the abbey church of , . The reader has already had an account of his tomb and statue of brass in a former part of the present volume. He was succeeded by his son Edward I. surnamed Longshanks. Though this monarch is usually called the , he was, in fact, the of that name; there having been Edwards in the time of the Saxons. For this reason, in speaking of this Edward, and the following kings, by the name of Edward I., II., III., it was once customary to add the words ; but by degrees that distinctive addition was omitted.
As soon as Henry was buried in , John, earl of Warren; Gilbert, earl of Gloucester; with many of the clergy and laity, went up to the high altar, and swore fealty to his son Edward. This was on the , during the new king's absence.
Shortly after this, a new parliament assembled, composed not only of the lords spiritual and temporal, but also of the knights of the shires, and representatives of the principal cities and boroughs.
According to the Annals of Waverly, at this parliament were assembled the archbishops, bishops, earls, barons, abbots, and priors; knights from every county, and representatives from each city; so it would appear that the practice of sending representatives of the people to parliament was more generally resorted to in those days than even at present. The same thing had been done under the government of the earl of Leicester, during the late king's captivity; but as these assemblies were not called by the royal authority, though certainly agreeably to the fundamental principles of the constitution, and in conformity to the spirit of the great charter, granted by John and reluctantly confirmed by Henry III., no positive evidence can be thence deduced, that before this period, the commons had any known right to sit in the legislative assemblies of the nation. This, it is universally admitted, is a point full of difficulty; but it is nevertheless certain, that this privilege was fully enjoyed during the reign of Edward I. and that from that time to the present, it has continued to be exercised, without the least interruption.
Parliaments, in the early periods of our history, were very frequently called; but it does not exactly appear, how often or whether they were, in their original construction, periodical.
It is probable, however, when they were so considered, that they were annual. This, at least, is generally supposed to have been the case till the year : after which they depended more on the will or the wants of the monarch.
In the reign of Henry the VIII. there were parliaments; the average duration of which did not much exceed year and months: the longest being years, months, and day; and the shortest month and days.
During the short reign of Edward VI. there were only parliaments; of which lasted years, months, and days; the other only month.
In the reign of Mary there were parliaments; averaging little more than months each.
as they are somewhat sarcastically, sung, saw new parliaments, each of which extended, upon an average, to little more than a year and a half: the longest however was years, months, and days; the shortest, month and days.
James the called only parliaments, the longest of which extended to years, months, and days; the others, to about months, year and years respectively.
The unfortunate Charles I. had parliaments, if some of them deserved that honourable title: those which might at all be called
|legal assemblies, lasted only a few months; but the long parliament, dissolved by the protector Cromwell, lasted the extraordinary length of years, months, and days!|
The witty and profligate Charles II. had occasion for parliaments: of which was extended to the great length of years, months, and days! So deeply had the principles of corruption taken root by the very means employed to check it I The others, were of course, very short: indeed, lasted only days.
James II. had authority over parliaments only; of years, months, and days; and the other of year, month, and days.
Then commenced and ended the glorious and bloodless revolution of , After which William III. called parliaments, the longest of which lasted only years, months, and days; and the others little more than years each.*
Queen Anne also called parliaments, not of which existed years.
Our George, during whose reign the Septennial act was passed, had only parliaments: of years, months, and days; and the other of years, months, and days.
George the called parliaments, which existed somewhat above years each.
During the reign of his late majesty, George III. there were parliaments.
It would be not only amusing, but instructive, to retrace the various changes that have, from time to time, taken place in the forms used in the arrangements and regulations of these legislative assemblies. The following, however, must suffice:
They are introduced from their journals, to evince the astonishing improvement we have made in humanity, manners, and the mode of legislation.
, Elizabeth, Edward Jones complained of John Gray, esq. knight for Stafford, that he had so misused and threatened him in Poules () casting away his cap, whereby he was in great fear of his life. Mr. Gray answered at the bar, that he had claimed a debt due by his father, and promised to keep the peace.
. James I.
Issued by sir Edward Philips, speaker, to the surveyor of the king's works.
. Mr. Hext moveth against hissing, to the interruption and hindrance of the speech of any man in the house; taking an occasion from an abuse of that kind offered on Sunday before: a thing (he said) derogating from the dignity, not beseeming the gravity, as much crossing and abusing the honour and privilege of the house, as any other abuse whatsoever. A motion well approved.
. Sir George Moore maketh a motion, out of a sense of the late conspiracy (Guy Faux's attempt to blow the house up,) the like whereof never came upon the stage of the world. No hour too soon for such a motion; encouragement to papists, impunity and delay. To enter into consideration what course may be fittest to settle the safety of the king, and prevent the danger of papistical practices.
Sir Francis Hastings. duties: to God, to the king, to God and ourselves. Offered to consideration : The plot, the carnage of the plot, the discovery, and the deliverance plot, popish, dangerous, and desperate.
Mr. Solicitor. A word in time, like apples of gold, furnished with pictures of silver. New divinity of state-monks-lawful to equivocate, to lie, to dissemble before a magistrate,, to kill an heretic. A committee then named to prevent plots.
. The speaker drummed out of the house of commons by the lord mayor.
This day the lord mayor, with the citizens in the liveries of their several companies, went to Putney in their way to Richmond, and waited upon prince Henry coming down to ; the duke of Brunswick, earl of Shrewsbury, earl of Pembroke, and earl of Marne, in the barge with him. At o'clock in the morning they went. The drums and fifes were so loud, and the company so small, as Mr. Speaker thought not fit, after o'clock, to proceed in any business, but to arise and depart.
. Floyde, or Edward Lloyde, of Clannemayne, county of Salop, esq. was impeached before the house of commons, for saying,
His sentence was to stand in the pillory hours before hall, with a paper on his hat, inscribed:
to ride thence on an unsaddled horse, with the tail for a bridle, to the Exchange, there to be pilloried hours, and from thence to the . To stand and ride the next day, and pay
fine. It was said that beads were found in his pocket, and the girdles of monks in his trunks.
The number of clerks and other officers immediately employed in and about the house of commons, are by no means numerous considering the infinite importance of the establishment; neither are their salaries in the aggregate very high.
The clerk of the house of commons, properly so called, has a deputy and assistant clerks. Thee are also a clerk of the committees of privileges and elections, a clerk of the fees, and his assistant; principal committee clerks, and as many deputy-committee clerks, besides assistant-deputy committee clerks, and as many others who only occasionally attend upon committees. There is a clerk of the journals and papers; clerks of the ingrossments, with assistant clerk. In the private bill office, there are clerks. Besides these several clerks in the several offices of the chief clerk, in addition to those already enumerated, there are about other inferior clerks.
The above servants of the house are directly employed in the interior duties of that legislative assembly, and appear to be all, more or less, under the immediate direction of the speaker, who is the highest officer belonging to that honourable body.
The following appear to be more directly attached to exterior duties, unless when called into the house on important occasions: The serjeant at arms, and his deputy; a deliverer of votes; housekeeper and deputy; collector of serjeants' fees; upper and lower door-keepers; messengers, and supernumerary messengers; also deliverer of post letters. There are likewise a chaplain to the house of commons, the secretary to the speaker, and a train bearer; to which may be added the printers of the journals, &c. and the printers of the votes. These latter, however, are not solely employed in their business by the house of commons.
Thus it will appear, that notwithstanding the vast and complicated affairs of this national institution, under whose cognizance comes whatever concerns the peace, the welfare, the prosperity, the finances, nay, the very being of the whole empire, including all its foreign dependencies, allies, relations, treaties, &c. &c. the house of commons does not keep in actual employ within the walls of the establishment as many clerks, and other officers, as are often found in the shops and banking-houses of our ordinary merchants and trades people:
This house is the.
and has authority to impeach the greatest lords in the kingdom, both spiritual and temporal.
Before the commons, after a general election, can enter upon any business, or even the choice of a speaker, all the members enter the court of wards, where they take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, with those appointed by the act of William and Mary, in the presence of an officer appointed by his majesty, who is usually the lord steward of the household. After they have chosen the speaker, they take the same oaths again at the table: and subscribe their opinions against the doctrines of transubstantiation, the invocation and adoration of saints, and the sacrifice of the mass; and before they can give any vote in the house, except for the choice of speaker, they are obliged to abjure the pretender.
Any member of parliament is at liberty to move for a bill to be brought in; which being agreed to by the house, the person who made the motion, with some of those who seconded and supported it, are ordered to prepare and bring it in. When the bill is ready, some of the same members, desire leave to bring the bill to the table; and upon the question being agreed to, it is read the time, by the clerk at the table; after which the speaker, taking the hill in his hand, reads the abbreviate, or abstract of it. This being done, after the debate on the bill, if any such should take place, he puts the question whether it shall have a reading; and sometimes, upon a motion being made, appoints a day for it.
In the mean time, the bill, in most cases, is ordered to be printed, and circulated among the members, by which they have individually an opportunity of perusing it, and seriously weighing its contents, and of calculating its local, or political effects. After the reading, should no fatal objection be made against it, and there is a majority in its favour, it is read a time, either on the same or some other day; after this, if it should still not be thrown out by a majority, it is passed to the house of lords, where it undergoes the same ordeal.
Petitions, whether from individuals, cities, or public bodies, are offered like the bills at the bar of the house, and are brought up and delivered at the table by the member who presents them. But leave must always be asked for permission to have a petition read; except in the case of petitions from the city of London, which are brought up by the sheriffs, whether members or not, and are instantly read by the clerk at the table, without any previous leave being asked.
The lord mayor of the city of Dublin, has also authority to
|present petitions from that corporation. Petitions are, however, perhaps in every other case, presented by members only.|
Messengers from the lords, and all persons appearing at the bar of the house, are introduced by the serjeant attending the houses with the mace upon his shoulder, but they are not so introduced until the serjeant has received an intimation to that effect from the speaker, who has been previously informed that such persons are in waiting.
While the speaker is in the chair, where he always is, unless the house is in a committee, the mace lies upon the table, except when sent upon any extraordinary occasion into Westminster-hall, and the court of requests to summon the members to attend; but when the members resolve themselves into a committee of the whole house, the mace is laid under the table, and the chairman to that committee takes the chair where the clerk of the house usually sits. Strangers are then excluded, and the speaker assumes his ordinary functions as a member of parliament, debating like other members, upon any subject then in question.
At other limes, when the votes are equal, the casting vote is always given to him; and though his political opinions are supposed to be favourable to the party in power, he will not unfrequently decide in favour of the popular side. This most honourable line of conduct has been followed, on more than occasion, by the present speaker, who may fairly be said to be a favourite with all parties, owing to his great experience, his profound knowledge of the duties of his situation, his inflexible integrity, and uniform impartiality.
In a committee of the whole house, they divide by changing sides, the ayes, that is, those who vote on the affirmative side of any question, taking the right hand side of the chair; and the noes, or negative party, the left; there are tellers, who count the votes on each side.
On ordinary occasions, the commons vote by yeas and noes; but if it appears also doubtful which is the greater number, they divide as follows:--If the question relates to any thing already in the house, the noes go out; but if it be to bring any thing in, as a bill, petition, &c. the yeas, or ayes go out. of each opinion, who after they have told those within, place them in the passage between the bar and the door, and then tell or count the others who went out; which done, the tellers, who have the majority, take the right hand, and place themselves within the bar: all advancing, bow times, saying
or the contrary. This is repeated by the speaker, who declares the majority.
members are necessary to make a house, and a committee.
Formerly the parliament was always dissolved at the death of the king; but by an act it is now provided, that a parliament sitting, or being at the king's demise, shall continue; and if not sitting shall meet expressly, for keeping the peace of the realm, and preserving the succession to the crown.
The speaker and clerks always wear gowns in the house, as the professors of the law do in term time; but no other of the members wear robes, except the representatives of the city of London, who, the day after every new parliament, are dressed in scarlet gowns, and sit together on the right hand of the chair, next to the speaker. As there is always what is called a ministerial and an opposition party in the house, it has become customary to distinguish the sides of the house by the terms ministerial, or as they are invidiously called, the treasury, and the opposition benches; not that there are any actual distinctions in the respective seats; but that the friends of either party usually sit together.
Members of parliament have several honorary and substantial privileges, such as freedom from arrest, &c. but it is impossible to enumerate them in this place. What are called the privileges of parliament are extremely numerous, sometimes intricate, and often doubtful in their character; requiring great experience, judgment, and knowledge of the laws, the customs, and the constitution itself to decide concerning them rightly, and to discriminate, with perfect satisfaction, the rights and interests of all parties: for many of these privileges are the result rather of custom than of statute, of suffrage than of law: seldom, however, has any member cause to complain that his privileges are not protected.
The qualification of a member with respect to property is that he be in the actual possession at the time of his taking the oaths, of an estate, of freehold, or copyhold, for his own life, or some greater estate, either in law or equity, over and above what will satisfy and clear all incumbrances, of the respective annual value hereafter limited, (viz.) per annum for every knight of the shire, and per annum for every citizen, burgess, or baron of the cinque ports; and persons not being possessed of such estates respectively, their election and return shall be void.
The act referred to below does not extend to the eldest son of a peer, or of a person qualified to be a knight of the shire; and the universities may elect members as formerly.
No person to be qualified by virtue of any mortgaged premises, unless the mortgagee has been in possession years before the election. Every candidate, at the request of another candidate, or of of the voters, shall take the oaths of qualification, according to the form therein prescribed, (viz.) for a county and for a city.
These qualifications are now extended to members of the united parliament, and they may be situate in England, Wales, Berwick-upon-Tweed, or Ireland; but though the property so qualifying should be all lost, given away, or otherwise disposed of immediately after a member had taken his seat, he does not therefore forfeit his honours, or privileges as a member of parliament.
Any member may be expelled for irregular, disloyal, flagrantly dishonest, or other disgraceful practices, but cannot resign his seat, except on receiving some office under government, real or nominal, with the holding of which, his duties as member of parliament are deemed incompatible.
By the act and William III. cap. , no person can be elected into parliament, who is under the age of years; aliens, also, are incapable of becoming members; Roman Catholics, Quakers, traitors, and felons; outlaws in criminal prosecutions, but not in civil suits; ideots, and madmen, deaf and dumb persons; peers, and judges; clergy of the established church, or those who ever were in holy orders; sheriffs, mayors, and bailiffs of boroughs, in their respective jurisdictions, as being returning officers; members on double returns till the returns are determined by a committee, and there is a resolution of the house to this effect, made at the commencement of every session; commissioners or farmers of the excise; commissioners of appeals, comptrollers, or auditors of the duty of excise; persons holding any new office or place of profit under the crown, created since the year : persons accepting any office of profit whilst members; persons having pensions from the crown; and commissioners of the revenue in Ireland, or of the navy or victualling office, deputies, and clerks in any of these or of the following offices: (viz.) the lord high treasurer, or commissioners of the treasury, auditor, tellers, or chancellor of the exchequer, commissioners of the admiralty, paymasters of the army or navy, principal secretaries of state, or commissioners of salt, stamps, appeals, wine licences, hackney coaches, hawkers, and pedlars; also persons holding any office, civil or military, in the island of Minorca, or in Gibraltar, except officers holding commissions in any regiment there only: also by another act the treasurer and comptroller of the navy, the secretaries of the treasury, secretary to the chancellor of the exchequer, secretaries to the admiralty, under secretary to any of the principal secretaries of state, or the deputy post-master of the army; and lastly, persons holding contracts for the public service, are all deemed incapable of being members of parliament.
Such, at least, would appear from the acts already cited, and
|from various others which the reader will find referred to, more at length in Dr. Beatson's .|
Having treated of the origin, nature, and construction of the present , we will, in a very brief manner, endeavour to give some account of the
 Mat. Paris, p. 963.
 Mat. Par.
 Ann. Burt. p. 415.
 Hist. Eng. i. 333.
 In France, it was not till the reign of Philip the Friar, that the third estate was admitted into the general assembly of the states.-Pasquier les Recherches.
 Rapin, ubi supra.
 M. Westm. p. 401.
 Waver. Ann. p. 277.
 It is to be observed, that the Triennial Act, passed in 1641. seems to have had but little influence on the actual duration of parliaments.
 Mal. Lond. Red. Vol. iv.
 These acts have been qualified as far as regards Dissenters.
 Strangers, that is persons having no business to transact in the house, are admitted to the galleries with impunity, upon paying about half-a-crown each, or by the written order of any member.
 Hugh. Lon. iv. 260.
 Act 9 Anne, cap. 5.
 Act 33 Geo. III. cap. 20.
 Vide acts 11th and 12th William III. cap. 2, sect. 15, 152. Also act 12th and 13th William III. cap. 10, sect: 39, 90.
 But they may be re-elected.
 Vide act 1st, Geo. I. st. 2, cap. 56.
 15 Geo. II . cap. 22, s. 1.
 Act 22nd Geo. III. c. 45, s. 1, 2.