The king-in-parliament concept

February 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Not an easy thing to grasp. Here’s an extract from Angela Anderson’s The Civil Wars, 1640-9 (2nd ed., 2002, p. 27 ):

“The modern concept of a parliamentary opposition, seeking to change government policy…was unknown in the seventeenth century. Government belonged to the king, and the ministers and officers who carried out its executive functions were his servants, appointed and dismissed by him according to his own choices and desires. The role of parliament was threefold–to inform the king of his subjects’ needs and desires through the medium of petitioning, to pass such laws as were necessary for government to function, and to provide money through taxation for occasional and exceptional expenses. The concept of king-in-parliament, which underpinned the seventeenth-century constitution, related more to the supremacy of law than to any idea that parliament had a separate or restraining power on the king’s choice of policy or ministers. The king made the law, but the laws that he made in parliaments could only be changed in a parliament and with the consent of both Lords and Commons. Such laws could not be ignored or removed by the king alone–hence the concept of king-in-parliament as the highest authority offered subjects some legal protection against arbitrary actions of the king.”

FYI, Anderson’s book (which is designed to help British students get through A levels) is really helpful, particularly in boiling complex relationships and events down to the nub.

–Jane

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