British History, 4: The Origins of Parliament

At first the requirement included in the Magna Carta (clauses 12 and 14) that the king must seek the ‘common counsel’ of his kingdom for any new taxes applied mainly to the king’s direct vassals, i.e. the barons. But attendance at royal councils gradually expanded, so that under Edward I (1272-1304) it began to include representatives from each county and town in England. By this time these councils came to be known as Parliament. The emergence of this institution marks the origins of representative government in the Anglo-American political tradition. Yet it would take many centuries–four to be exact–before Parliament seized effective authority from the king in the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89.

Summons to Parliament by King Edward I, 1295

A) Summons to a Baron

“The king to his beloved and faithful relative, Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, greeting. We wish to have a consultation and meeting with you and with the rest of the principal men of our kingdom, in order to provide remedies against the dangers which are threatening our whole kingdom. Therefore we command you, strictly enjoining you in the fidelity and love in which you are bound to us, that on the Lord’s day next after the feast of St. Martin [Nov. 11], in the approaching winter, you be present in person at Westminster, for considering, ordaining and doing along with us and with the prelates [leaders of the church], and the rest of the principal men and other inhabitants of our kingdom, as may be necessary for meeting dangers of this kind. Witness the king at Canterbury, the first of October.”

(Similar summonses were sent to seven earls and forty-one barons.)

B) Summons to Representatives of Shires and Towns

“The king to the sheriff of Northamptonshire. We intend to have a consultation and meeting with the earls, barons and other principal men of our kingdom with regard to providing remedies against the dangers which in these days threaten this kingdom. On that account we have commanded them to be with us on the Lord’s day next after the feast of St. Martin in the approaching winter, at Westminster, to consider, ordain, and do as may be necessary for the avoidance of these dangers. Therefore we strictly require you to cause two knights from the aforesaid county, two citizens from each city in the same county, and two burgesses from each borough, of those who are especially discreet and capable of laboring, to be elected without delay, and to cause them to come to us at the aforesaid said time and place.
“Moreover, the said knights are to have full and sufficient power for themselves and for the community of the aforesaid county, and the said citizens and burgesses for themselves and the communities of the aforesaid cities and boroughs separately, then and there for doing what shall then be ordained according to the common counsel in the premises; so that the aforesaid business shall not remain unfinished in any way for defect of this power. And you shall have there the names of the knights, citizens and burgesses and this writ.
Witness the king at Canterbury on the third day of October.”