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An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 10: Parliament

 

Throughout this work, many references will be made to Parliament, and it is essential to have some idea how the Parliaments of the late 14th- and 15th-centuries worked, how they were summoned, what they did when they met, and what were their relations with the King. It will aid understanding of many complex issues if some facts are first explained.

The 14th-century saw Parliament take enormous strides towards becoming a structured organisation, so much so that by the start of King Richard II's reign in 1377, the division of Parliament into the House of Lords and the totally separate Common House (as the House of Commons was then generally known), was well established.

The House of Lords

To begin with the Lords, the House was made up of the Lords Spiritual and the Lords Temporal. The Lords Spiritual were a more settled body, and consisted of the 2 Archbishops,  the 19 Bishops, 25 Abbots of such monastries who had the right to sit in Parliament (not all did), and the Prior of the Knights of the Hospital, altogether 45-50 in all. Less certainty attended the Lords Temporal. Dukes and Marquises were recent creations, the first Duke being appointed only in 1337, and the first Marquis (Robert de Vere, Earl of 0xford) being raised in 1385 to the dignity of Marquis of Dublin. They had the right to sit (although they were not always sent summonses) as did the Earls whose history was much older. There were some 1300 baronies, and it would have been impractical to summon all the Barons. Many were not entitled to sit, whilst others, who may have been able to assert some claim to do so, were deliberately left out of any summons. Some were repeatedly summoned, and it would appear that the right to sit depended more on ancient custom and tradition than anything else. Moreover, when the right to sit attached to any particular Barony, successors to the title were summoned to sit. This did not prevent some who had not been summoned from attending Parliament, and only rarely were they turned away once they were there. Parry, quoting Prynne, gives some interesting tables of the summonses issued to the Temporal Lords, and from these the following figures can be taken:-

King Richard II Minimum Maximum Average
Dukes 1 5 2
Earls 6 14 10
Barons 29 50 44
Totals 56
King Henry IV
Dukes 2 5 2
Earls 5 10 7
Barons 32 35 33
Totals 42 42
King Henry V
Dukes 0 10 1-2
Earls 3 11 6
Barons 13 32 20
Totals 27-28
King Henry VI
Dukes 2 5 3
Earls 2 12 7-8
Barons 15 36 23
Totals 33-34
King Edward IV
Dukes 0 10 4
Earls 4 10 6
Barons 23 37 26
Totals 36

[in any one Parliament] attending

[Marquises are left entirely out of these figures. There were very few, and summones to them were not always issued]

[There are some minor discrepancies with the figures in the tables and with the details shown in the individual records for each Parliament. These are so small that they can be ignored]

[The records for each individual Parliament show that on occasions some other priors were also summoned]

Not too much must ever be read into average figures, but nonetheless these figures give a general picture of the number of summonses issued to the temporal lords, and indicate that, in general, they were fewer in number to those issued to the clergy. The numbers tend to drop during the reigns of the Kings Henry V and Henry VI. Then many of the nobility were absent in France and no doubt it was felt inappropriate to distract them from the duties, both civil and military, that they were performing in that country.

It was one thing to issue summones, but it was quite another to ensure attendence. Not all of them answered each and every call. Frequently both spiritual and temporal lords were engaged on government service elsewhere, on embassies,  on campaigns at home or abroad, or on business of their own which would allow no interruption. There were inevitably unfilled vacencies to their offices or titles at any one time, and even when they were filled, some of the temporal lords would be young children. This goes a long way to explaining why sometimes so few, and at other times so many, Dukes and Earls were summoned. Some of them (and the Lords Temporal were particular offenders) simply ignored the summons when it arrived or invented some excuse to avoid a tiresome and sometimes dangerous journey. The average attendence in the House of Lords for any one Parliament was in the region of 40 to 50 with a balance in favour of the clergy. In fact, this was an ideal number, not too large so as to be unmanageable, and not so small that it had no meaning.

The Common House

The records show that Writs were issued "to the Sherrifs" or"to all the Sherrifs". These required them to arrange for the election of two "knights of the shire" for each of the 37 shires (excluding Cheshire and Durham which were not represented), and for two "burgesses" ("citizens" if the town was not incorporated as a borough) from each town to sit in the Common House. The right to return members to Parliament was not enjoyed by every town and was restricted to some 80 in all, although new towns, such as Coventry and Southampton, were at various times added to this priveledged elite. Nor could they always count upon a writ being issued to them. There were instances of towns being deliberately excluded, and even York suffered this fate on more than one occasion. Sometimes the right to return members was contained in the town's charter, the Cinque Ports being an example. 0n other occasions the town acquired this right in a favourable answer to a petition, or as a reward for some particular service rendered to the Crown, or had "traditionally" enjoyed it. There was no systematic method of extending the right to each and every town of importance, and towns which did not have the right to returm members simply went unrepresented

The elections were anything but fair and proper, and the electorate seems to have consisted only of those whom the Sheriff thought should be electors. 0nly in 1430 was a statute passed to restrict the electorate to freeholders with an annual income of 40/= or more; its declared purpose was to exclude those lesser beings who, even then, were clamouring for a say in public affairs. 0ther opportunities for gerrymandering were legion, and were fully exploited. The Sheriffs often had firm instructions who should be elected, either by name or those of a certain opinion. 1n 1404, the Sheriff of Rutland was caught out in certifying that William 0ndeby had been elected whereas the truly elected person was Thomas Thorp. The Lords, to whom the matter had been refered for judgement, duly declared that Thorp was properly elected, and committed the Sheriff to the Fleet Prison to consider his misdeeds at leisure and be fined at the King's pleasure. Quotations from the Paston Letters reflect what went on in Norfolk. In July 1461, the Under-Sheriff seems to have taken a most unsatisfactory attitude to an election which John Berney reported to John Paston:-

"As for my playn dysposyssyon towards the undyr-shrewe, I wyll hym no bodyli hurt, nor (he) shal not be hurt by me nor by noo man that I may rewle. But the comynnes throw all the schyer be movyd agayn hym for cause of his lyght demeanyng towards them for this elexsyon of knygtts of the shyer for the Parlement. And I suppose yf that he wyll, he may be hastyli easyd as thus: lat hym make notys unto the seyd comynnes that this theyr eleccyon shall stande, or ellys lat hym purchas a new wryt, and lat hym make wrytyng unto them what day they shall come, and they to make a new eleccyon accordyng unto the law".

The situation cannot have been easy for the Under-Sheriff, who no doubt had his instructions who were to be returned as members, and these were not always the people favoured by the electors. Thomas Playter reported to John Paston that the difficulties were still not resolved by December 1461:-

"At the last shire (court) was moche pepoll and ille governed, for they wold not be rewled be no body, they had almost a slayne the Underschref, for they told hym wryttes of eleccion was sent down and he kept it on syde to be gyle hem".

Things were no better in 1472 when John Paston wrote to Sir John Paston on the latters desire to get into Parliament, primarily for Norwich. Things did not work out this way however:-

"Ryght worchepfull sir, I recomand me to yow, letyng yow wet [know] that your desyer as for the Knyghts of the Shyer was an impossoybyl to be browght abowght; ffor my Lord of Norffolk and my Lord of Suffolk were agreid i mor then a fortnyght go to have Sir Robert Wyngfeld and Sir Rychard Harcort, and that knew I not tyll it was Fryday last past".

In order not to expose Sir John to the wrath of their Lordships, and the certain loss of the election, John Paston warned all his supporters to stay away from Norwich. Such as did turn up to vote were given breakfast, paid their expenses and sent straight home. Sir John should not worry unduly however. There were other possibilities, and John Arblaster had writen to the Bailiff of Malden that Sir John Paston stood highly in the esteem of his employer "my Lady" and also:-

"...standys gretly in favore with my Lord Chamberleyn; and what my seyd Lord Chamberleyn may do with the Kyng and with all the Lordys of Inglond, I trow [trust] it be not unknowyn to yow most of eny man alyve......Wherfor, I prey yow labor all syche as be my Ladys servauntts, tenaunts, and well-wyllers, to geve ther voyseys to the seyd Sir John Paston, and that ye fayle not to sped my Ladys intent in thys mater, as ye entend to do hyr as gret a plesur, as if ye gave hyr an Cli."

In 1406 the Indenture Act was passed with the declared aim of putting a stop to some of the ranker abuses. Although reinforced by subsequent Statutes, it clearly failed in its object. Each of the electors was required to add his signature and seal to the Sherrifs return certifying the names of the persons elected. Some very revealing facts emerged, and a few examples may be given from the many available:-

1407 Twelve persons elected the knights for the county of Cambridge and also the burgesses for the city. Eight persons elected the knights for the county of Huntingdon and also the burgesses for the town. All of this was done at the same meeting in each case, and the same procedure was followed in 1411.

1412 Twelve persons elected the knights for the county of Kent, and at the same time the burgesses for Canterbury and Rochester.

1414 8 attornies of seven lords "and one lady" elected the knights for the county of Yorkshire. 19 persons elected the knights for the county of Surrey, and the burgesses for four towns all at the same meeting. 4 persons were the electors for Yarmouth.

1418 The mayor and 3 citizens made the election for Bath.

1446 The mayor and 10 others elected the burgesses for Bedford. The mayor and 2 bailiffs "of common consent" elected the two burgesses for Northampton.

1449 Two bailiffs, in the presence of seven burgesses, elected the members for Dunwich.

It is not easy to accept that there were so few electors in such prosperous areas.

There were however some provisions which prevented the unfit from being elected. All infants, idiots, ladies, lawyers, lunatics, the infirm, the aged, and the sick were excluded from sitting as members. If nevertheless they appeared in Parliament, they were liable to be discharged by the King and a fresh election would be ordered. Lawyers, an unpopular species at any time,  were thought to be too busy with their practices to give proper attention to Parliament. A distinct bias is noticeable against "ladies", even when they only appeared for the elections. Their presence there was deplored, but they were not excluded from the election itself.

By means of these singularly dubious processes, which from time to time lead to violent protests and sometimes even riots, some 74 knights of the shires and 174 burgesses (including 14 from the Cinque Ports) were elected to serve as members of the Common House. Unlike the Lords, they were bound to attend on pain of severe penalties. 0ne instance appears in the records where the knights of the shire had to provide sureties that they would dutifully attend Parliament. To say that the House was "packed" would be an understatement, and in this respect both Lancastrians and Yorkists were equally guilty. To our eyes, the whole procedure was corrupt and objectionable beyond belief. A body assembled by a process which has nothing to be said in its favour should not logically be a good assembly. Yet by one of those contradictions which are so often found in English life, both then and since, the Common House worked supremely well. Packed it may have been, but it did not do the King's bidding in a mindless fashion. It did speak for the country as a whole, and as the story of the 15th-century unfolded, we can see how independantly minded it could be, and how insistent it frequently was on matters which required reform.

The Speaker

The first Speaker of the Common House was Sir Peter de La Mare, one of the knights for the shire of Hereford in the 1376 Parliament. Sir Peter, the Earl of March's steward, seems to have been chosen as the spokesman of the Common House because of his powers of eloquence, and his out-spoken manner gave the King such offence that he was promptly imprisoned. This did nothing to make him any less objurate, and he was only released in 1377 as one of the first acts of King Richard II. [page ] By the turn of the century, the Speaker was a well established figure, to be elected in one of Parliament's very first acts, whose job it was to communicate the views of the Common House to the King. He was not just a mere messenger however, and was seen as somebody who could 'steer' the Common House in the desired direction. He had to be 'accepted' by the King, and it was thus inevitable that he was a person of some influence and prominence. Some were elected on several occasions. Sir Arnald Savage, [1401, 1404], Sir William Burley, [1437, 1445] and John Russell[1423, 1432] were twice elected. Sir John Say[1449, 1463, 1467] occupied the Chair on three occasions. Roger Flore[1416, 1417, 1419, 1422] and Sir William Tresham[1439, 1442, 1447, 1449] each enjoyed four terms of office, whilst Thomas Chaucer, the son of the poet, was elected Speaker no less than five times.[1407, 1410, 1411, 1414, 1421]

The reader of J.S.Roskill's book [The Commons and their Speakers in English Parliaments 1376-1523] will be left in no doubt that a considerable amount of chicanery must have gone on behind the scenes in the choice of a 'suitable' Speaker in which those close to the King played a full part.

After all, the King had only summoned Parliament because he needed money, and this he intended to have. Furthermore the Speaker, already a man of some substantance and station, could expect handsome rewards from a grateful Monarch, and it is very noticable that many Speakers later achieved high rank.

This did not mean that they were in the pocket of the King.

Sir Peter de La Mare's resolute manner of being frank, fearless and out-spoken, even in the awesome presence of His Majesty, was adopted in ample measure by his successors.

King Henry IV was far too sensible to lock up the Speaker, but there could be other consequences. In 1404 Sir Arnald Savage, who was a member of the Council and was thus well known to the King, was so outspoken to King Henry IV that the King is said to have withdrawn from Parliament for 5 or 6 days to let his rage abate. In 1406 Sir John Tiptoft, whilst presenting the apologies of the Common House for things said during its deliberations and insisting that no disrespect of the King was intended, then followed with a forthright dissertation to His Majesty, this time without causing a Royal withdrawal. His plain-speaking did not prevent him from later becoming a member of the Council and the Treasurer of the Royal Household. It was thus well established that the Common House would make its views and concerns known, and moreover would do so in a way that could not be misunderstood. Thomas Chaucer, in the manner that had become usual, asked King Henry IV for leave to speak plainly. The King glowered, paused for a moment to let the impression make itself felt, and then said that Thomas had such leave, but added that he had better be respectful.

[page ]

The practise of plain speaking being well established by the end of King Henry IV's reign, the Speaker would have found in King Henry V, and the Regent John Duke of Bedford during the King's absences in France, ready listeners who to some extent shared the concerns they were expressing. There was thus little need to be pressing or clamorous. No doubt in the time of King Henry VI, Speakers felt the need to be extremely insistent, particularly on the subject of Resumption. It must have been very frustrating to find that, in the nature of all week and witless men, the King agreed with all they said and made all sorts of promises, only to break them later at the behest of his unsrupulous Queen and his equally grasping favourites. King Edward IV was extremely polite to the Speaker of his first Parliament, James Strangeways, [page ] and always listened attentively to the Speakers of his subsequent Parliaments. He was a King of a very firm and determined cast of mind, and the Speakers would have been well aware that whilst he listened politely, and did not take offense however directly they may have addressed him, he would still carry on with his chosen course of action whether they approved or not.

Proceedings in Parliament

Statutes of 1330 and 1362 provided that Parliament should be summoned once a year, but they were not strictly observed. There were no Parliaments between 1373 and 1376, when the Good Parliament was summoned. This Parliament petitioned the King for annual Parliaments to correct the errors and faults of the Realm, and King Edward III loftily replied that the Statutes should be observed. Since the summoning of Parliament lay with the King, the Good Parliament could make no more headway than this. Yet between 1371 and 1422, there were no less than 50 Parliaments, 42 of which were held at Westminster. This was regarded as the most suitable venue, and while Parliaments were sometimes held elsewhere, they were regarded with suspicion unless there was a very compelling and obvious reason, such as the plague in London (the most common cause), or as once happened, there was an enemy fleet in the Thames. Long gaps between Parliaments tended to be a feature after King Henry IV became King in 1399. There was no Parliament between 1407 and 1410. In the early years of the reign of King Henry VI (1422-1433), there was a measure of improvement, and annual Parliaments, with only occasional gaps of two years, were normal. After 1433 however, gaps of 2 years became the normal, and sometimes these extended for 3 years or even more; no Parliaments were held between 1439 and 1442, 1442 and 1445, and 1455 and 1459. When they were held, it was commonly indicative of some more than usually acute crisis during these troubled years. King Edward IV, in spite of his professed care in the way he said he would handle Parliament, frequently allowed 4 or even 5 years to pass before he summoned it, although he often kept his Parliaments in being by frequent proroguations.

Between 1399 and 1422, the length of the Sessions varyied enormously, from one week in 1415 to 23 weeks (excluding the two adjournments) in 1406. The average was 5 to 6 weeks, and the longer Parliaments tended to show that there was trouble with the grant of taxation. After 1422, members could expect longer Parliaments. Some of King Henry VI's were as short as 9 or 10 weeks, but 14, 18 or even 20 weeks actually sitting in Parliament, relieved by 2 proroguations, were not unusual. King Edward IV had a special way of treating his Parliaments. In the first half of his reign (1461-1470), the actual sitting times were quite short, being no more than 7 weeks in 1461 and 4 weeks in 1467. He left his Parliaments in being by more than the usual number of proroguations, so that the 1467 Parliament was prorogued 3 times, whilst that of 1463 was prorogued no less than 5 times; it lasted from April 1463 to January 1465. After the battle of Tewkesbury 1471, the 1472 Parliament lasted from 0ctober 1472 until March 1475; there were 45 sitting weeks and 5 proroguations. Parliament seems to have been co-operative and uncomplaining. It passed an Act allowing the King to re-summon it on 20 days notice irrespective of the date to which it had been prorogued.

Proceedings in Parliament were organised in a structured way that did much to increase its effectiveness. At the start of a Parliament held in Westminster, the Lords assembled in the Painted Chamber whilst the Commons gathered in Westminster Hall. 0ften there was an adjournment to give late arrivals a chance to appear. When all were present, the Commons were lead through to stand at the Bar where the King in his robes and Crown sat facing them. He was flanked by the Lords, also robed and seated, in order of precedence. The Chancellor then read out the reasons why Parliament had been summoned and gave a discription of the state of the Realm. Usually it was taxation that was required, and the Chancellor explained the reasons. 0ften other matters required Parliament's attention, and these also were explained. 0nce the Speach was finished, and Parliament had an agenda, both Houses were dismissed to begin their deliberations. The Lords usually had the White Chamber to themselves, whilst the Commons went to the Chapter House or to the Refectory of Westminster Abbey.

It must not be supposed that Parliament's attentions were confined to the Agenda, although they were expected to complete it. Parliament could initiate business or proposals of its own, and the Common House in particular frequently did so by bringing up grievances or problems that required attention. Further, it must not be supposed that the two Houses worked in isolation from one another. In practise, there was much consultation and interplay between them, and also with the King himself during the course of a Parliament. The Lords had a general duty to give counsel to the King, whereas the Common House was required to consider the King's requests, usually for taxation, and decide how far they could be met. By the start of the 15-century however, it was recognised that "advice"might be tendered to the King by the Common House. This had its origins when in 1386 the Common House, through the Speaker, tendered"advice"to the King on how the proposed war with France might be persued with greater economy, and added its view that more attention should be paid to the Scottish March. In his haughty and dismissive way, King Richard II said that he saw no difference between "counsel" and "advice", and that the Commons would do better to leave such matters to the Lords. Nevertheless the Common House persisted, and King Henry IV accepted, albeit without much enthusiasm, "advice"direct from the Common House. His son, King Henry V, took matters further when they were of great importance. The Treaty of Troyes 1420, which consolidated the military gains made in France from the Battle of Agincourt 1415 and the subsequent campaigns, was refered by the King for ratification by the prelates and clergy, the magnates and nobles, and the Common House. The Treaty's terms required this, but the King dealt with the matter as a consultation process as much as anything else.

The 14th-century saw some further advances in the rights and duties of Parliament, and particlarly the Common House, which had a great bearing on the events of the 15th-century and the period of the Wars of the Roses. [Chapter Parliament even took on itself the disposal of the Crown]

By the 1350s, King Edward III had accepted that taxation was a matter for the Commons. He went even further than this in two important respects; unless the Common House had voted its assent, taxation could not be levied, and in addition, the grant of any taxation would be the last business dealt with by Parliament before it dissolved. At the same time he accepted that impeachment of the King's ministers could begin in Parliament, and, on occasions, on a petition from the Common House. Things had progressed so far that in 1365 Chief Justice Thorpe could declare that an Act of Parliament was binding on all as soon as it was made because Parliament represented the body of the Realm. Whilst it was generally accepted that a statute could change an existing law, the King agreed in 1377 that an Act of Parliament could not be repealed or changed except with Parliament's consent; if this was forthcoming in an amending Act however, this could freely be done. This is of importance when considering the position of the Beaufort family, which was debarred from the Throne by a staute of 1406, and the attempt in 1460 by Richard, Duke of York, to persuade Parliament to depose King Henry VI and open the way for him to become King instead.

[Chapter ]

The making of Statutes

The law of the land was the Common Law, which derived from ancient custom as interpreted by the King's Justices. Before the 14th-century, whenever the necessity arose to change any detail of the law or to add to it, the ancient law-making body, the King advised by his Council, issued a Statute under the Great Seal, and this was effective to repeal, change, or add to the existing law.

By 1399, in spite of the changes made in the course of the 14th-century, when it became accepted that statutes could be made in Parliament, there was still a measure of uncertainty whether the ancient statute-making processes could still be used, or whether they had disappeared entirely so that Statutes could now only be made by Parliament. In spite of all that been done in King Edward III's reign,  events during that of King Richard II had indicated that a return to the ancient practice, particularly where new statutes were concerned, was still possible. The Common House did not find this reassuring, seeing that here was a possible instrument for tyranny. The position as at best confusing, and there was some genuine doubt about the present powers of the Crown. In 1391, Parliament had added to the confusion by desiring that King Richard II should enjoy and use the Royal Prerogative as extensively as his predecessors had done. To this end a statute passed in 1322 during the reign of King Edward II, which had sought, not very effectually, to limit the exercise of the Royal Prerogative, was then repealed.

King Henry IV went some way to clarifying the position when the Parliament which had deposed King Richard II on 30th September 1399 met again on 6th 0ctober. Parliament had asked the King a few days before whether or not the ancient statute-making practice was now finally abandoned. The King's answer, a remarkable piece of casuistry even by the standards of Thomas Arundel's drafting, gave nothing away. No limits were placed on the Royal Pre-rogative which, although some may have been minded to dispute this, must have contained the ancient Statute-making process. At least this must be said; neither King Henry IV nor any of his successors made any attempt to use it. From henceforth, all Stututes were made "with the advice and assent" of Parliament. The ancient procedure was left to wither on the vine. [For the full story of King Henry IV's answer - see pages ]

Petitions

Petitions were of two types, individual and common. Individual petitions concerned private grievences, and in the 13th-century King Edward 1 was innundated by them. He sent the Petitioners to the Courts to seek their remedies there. When the Courts could give no remedy in cases of rank injustice, the King, as the fountain-head of all justice, refered them to his Chancellor as the Keeper of the King's Conscience. The Chancellor, as a churchman, had at his desposal all the fearsome means of the medieval church for dealing with errant churchmen. He enforced his judgements with peine forte et dure (in fact torture) and with scouging, and he found these means most effective, even with the most recalcitrant. 0ut of this grew the principles of Equity, which today are one of the pillars of modern law. By the beginning of the 15th-century, individual petitions were of less importance, and such as were presented bordered on the common petitions in their nature.

Common Petitions were of much greater importance, and these dealt with matters which concerned society as a whole. They were the commonly used means by which the Common House would instigate a proposal. Frequently they were drafted with great and time consuming care, and the hands of skilled lawyers can be seen in their wording. As will be seen in the account of Resumption [Chapter ], Parliament, and particularly the Common House, frequently petitioned for a change in the law, and could usually insist on a Statute being passed which gave expression to its wishes before it would grant taxation. [In the 15th-century, the accepted procedure was that the grant of taxation was the last item on Parliament's agenda before it dissolved] Even so, when a statute had been passed and only needed the Royal Assent, it was still perfectly proper for the King, as the Supreme Lawgiver, to add his own provisos, particularly on matters which touched upon his Royal Prerogative, before he would give his assent. It was however the practise to add these provisos only during the lifetime of the Parliament before it finally dissolved. It is worth noting the terms of King Edward IV's assent to the Act of 1461 which declared his title to the throne and gave certain people the right to enter upon lands formerly held by the Lancastrians:-

"The Kyng, by the advis, and assent of the Lordes Spirituell and Temporell in this present Parlement assembled, at the request of the Commyns beyng in the same, agreeth and assenteth to this Petition, and hit [he] accepteth, with certeyn moderacions, provisions, and exceptions, by His Highnes theruppon made, and in certeyn cedules writen, and in the same Parlement delyvered, the tenours of which hereunder folowen".

The "cedules" covered eight and a half large folio pages, all of which were thought to be quite proper. There were many other instances of this happening, particularly during the reign of King Henry VI.

Conclusion

What does shine through the pages of history is that, in spite of all the difficulties under which it laboured, and the extraordinary methods by which its members were chosen Parliament, and particularly the Common House was a strong, independantly minded, and very effective institution which really tried to represent the country as a whole. The well informed and objective views which it expressed are most remarkable, particularly bearing in mind the narrow classes from which its members came, the lack of continuity from one Parliament to the next, and the difficulties which it faced in obtaining the facts and figures which it needed for its discussions. Then, as since, there were outstanding people and great servants of Parliament in the 15th-century assemblies.

If in certain respects Parliament was a strong institution, there were others in which it was weak, and over the main one it had no ready control. This was the personality and character of the King himself. The King summoned and dismissed Parliament, and these facts alone gave him considerable power over it. Where the King was a strong character, well in control of himself and his Council, who recognised, however reluctantly, the necessity of working with the representatives of his subjects, great things could be achieved by Parliament. Where the King was autocratic or weak, frustrations, then as now, would lead to dispute and confrontation. That is why the Parliaments of the Kings Edward III, Henry IV, Henry V, and later Edward IV, were so often successful in spite of their disputatious and some-times acrimonious nature. That is why King Richard II, with his haughty and despotic outlook which lead him to regard Parliament as an impertinence, was less successful with his. That also explains why King Henry VI, who had no character or firmness of spirit, and who allowed himself to be misguided and mislead by bad, selfish and greedy people,failed time and again with the Parliaments summoned during his reign.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003