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English Parliament

Privacy Level: Open (White)
Date: [unknown] to 1708
Location: Englandmap
Surname/tag: British_Isles_Politicians
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House of Commons

From c. 1236, although there is notice of earlier service in Parliament, there were:

  • 74 Knights of the Shire - two knights elected for each of the 37 counties under royal jurisdiction;
  • 222 burgesses, two from each town allowed to return representatives, known as a borough. Another 12 joined after 1536 when Wales was united to England.
  • In 1536 Parliament increased to 86 Knights and 234 burgesses, with an additional twelve of each, one Knight and one burgess from the twelve Welsh counties;
  • From 1543, the county palatine of Chester was able to return two members each to Parliament.
  • From 1673, the county palatine of Durham was able to return two members to Parliament.

When a new Parliament was summoned, writs were issued from Chancery (the royal secretariat) to the county's sheriff to call a County Court for an election of knights of the shire, and in the early days of Parliament all freemen, that is those who were not serfs, had the right to vote for their representatives.

Finding that elections were crowded by people of "low estate", in 1429 a statute decreed that only freemen who owned freehold land (that is, not leased from the land's owner) worth 40 shillings had the vote. This restricted the vote to a much smaller group of landowners. The 40 shilling franchise was abolished in 1832 by the Great Reform Act.

House of Lords

Two types of Lords sat in the House of Lords:

  • the lords spiritual, bishops (two archbishops and 19 bishops, later 24 bishops, were all summoned to every Parliament from 1305 until 1642, then restored in 1661) and abbots (after 1539 there were no abbots); and
  • the lords temporal, earls and barons, about a third of the barons were summoned to any individual Parliament. In 1321 called peers, by mid-15th century the lords had five ranks, in descending order: dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons.

The peers insisted that a summons to the Lords was due to their noble status, not just an expression of the King's will, transferable to their heirs in perpetuity. By 1485 a House of Lords consisting exclusively of the lords spiritual and every member of all five ranks of the hereditary peerage, was well in existence.


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