A Thousand Years of Political Development
1066–1100 England United
England has been invaded in historic times by Romans, Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Danes, and Normans. The last invasion occurred in 1066 under William the Conqueror. He succeeded in bringing all England under his rule.
1154–1189 Common Law Established
In feudal society local barons administered the law—pretty much as they pleased. Henry II appointed trained judges to apply the “king’s justice” equally to all. The jury system was developed at this time, too.
1215 Magna Carta
King John had overridden the rights of the church, nobility, gentry, and townsfolk. All united to force his assent to Magna Carta. This great charter of liberty required the king to rule according to law.
1295 First Parliament
Edward I said, “What touches all must be approved by all.” So he called together representatives of all classes with political rights to confer with him about making laws and levying taxes.
1300–1400 Parliament Controls Taxation and Lawmaking
Early Parliaments met only to hear the king’s wishes and to present grievances of the people. During this century the power of Parliament grew by practice and precedent.
1500–1600 Church of England Established
In the 15th and 16th centuries parts of Europe revolted from the papacy. England became Protestant with its own national and official Church of England. The pope was denied both influence in and revenue from England.
1600–1700 Struggle between King and Parliament—Bill of Rights
The Stuart kings thought that they were above law and could levy taxes without the consent of Parliament. The struggle that ensued—part civil war and part revolution—cost Charles I his head and James II his throne. After the right of habeas corpus was established in 1679 citizens could not be imprisoned without trial. In 1688 the Bill of Rights set forth the constitutional supremacy of Parliament over king.
1824 Repeal of Anti-Union Laws
In 1824 the so-called “Combination Laws” of 1799 and 1800 were repealed. These had made it illegal for workmen to unite for the purpose of improving their wages, hours, and working conditions.
1829 Political Rights for Catholics and Nonconformists
Before 1829 only members of the Church of England were allowed to vote, hold office, and the like. Since then these rights of citizenship have not been limited because of religious belief.
1832 The First Reform Bill
The Reform Bill of 1832 fixed new election districts by population. “Rotten boroughs” (ghost towns) lost their members of Parliament to new factory cities which had none. Later bills gave the vote to all men.
1911 Payment of Members of Commons
Power to veto bills passed three times by the popularly elected House of Commons was denied to the hereditary Lords. Salaries provided for members of Commons allowed poor men to run for Parliament.
1918 Votes for Women
Women over 30 were given the vote in 1918. In 1928 the voting age for women was lowered to 21. Now every adult citizen in Britain has the vote and can help govern the country.