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CHA P. XIV.”
OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
*« HE third estate, of which we shall Knights, citi
zens, and burI herein principally treat, is on all gesses the re
presentatives of hands confessed to consist of the knights, citi- the people. zens, and burgesses, with the barons of the cinque-ports; all which being at this day elected by the free votes of the freemen of Great-Britain, are properly esteemed the representative body of the people, and constitute that part of the parliament, usually called the house of commons. (N.B.) The ancient modus tenendi parl. reckons up six degrees or orders of parliament, but that division can: not be denominated fix estates.”
“ The numbers of the commons I find to Their numbers have been formerly variant, according as the a
discretion of the sheriffs of counties (from what motive is theriffs. uncertain) were pleased to direct their precepts to the several cities or boroughs within their respective counties, or as the same sheriffs made their returns thereupon; but indeed another cause of this variation was, that it was usual for the prince, on his accession to
* Lex Parliamentaria, p. 4, 5, 6, 70/
at their acces
representatives to parliament.
Kings formerly the throne, to grant charters to ancient de
mesne vills, and other popular towns, therecharters to towns to send by erecting them into free boroughs, and this
consequently gave them a right to be represented in parliament; and by this artifice, among others, the crown advanced its interests in the house of commons.
« For it must be confessed, that by the ancient constitution, there were no representatives of the commons, as commons in parliament, besides the knights for the fires, the barons for the cinque-ports *, the citizens for
the cities, and the burgesses for the ancient By whom the boroughs only; and that the elections for all elections were formerly made. those were to be made by such persons only,
as were pofseffed of lands or tenements, held by them as freeholds or free burgage tenures, which consequently excluded all villeins and copyholders t, as also tenants in ancient demesne (which were but the king's villeins) and the tenants and dependants of other lords, from being either the electors, or ele£ted of the house of commons I. Indeed, the practice of encreasing the number of the representatives
* Crompt of Courts, f. 2, 3, &c. Stat. 23 H. VI. C. II.
+ Stat. 12 R. II. c. 12. Crom. 2, 3, 4, 5. Bro. Ant. Dem. 431.
Parl. 96. Reg. 261. Nat. Bre. 14.
ters for money
of the commons, began very early, viz. temp.
King John Johan. (if not before) for I find it a practice granted charof that prince* to grant, usually in consideration of money, &c. charters to ancient demesne towns (as generally all sea port towns were) thereby erecting them into free boroughs t, and hence it was, as I conceive, that Bridport, Dorchester, Harwich, Helstone, Kingston upon Hull, and divers other ancient demesne towns came to be erected into free boroughs, which originally had no right of being represented in parliament.
But whatever methods were then taken to increase the number of the house of commons, I find their number to be I much the fame from the end of Henry the Sixth's reign I, to the beginning of that of Henry the Eighth, viz. about three hundred. . 1 “ That H. VIII. added to their The former and number
prefent num. bers of repre. Tentatives.
* See Bohun's Col. per. tot.
+ The Representative of London and Westminster, p. 14 to p. 21. Spelm. in voce Major.
| Fortescue, p. 40.
.." And king Charles I. about ten or twelve;
so that at the time of the restoration of king Charles II. I find their numbers to have been about five hundred. But the commons
about that time restrained this mischievous King Charles's practice for the future, so that they declared charters de clared void. the elections made by virtue of that prince's
charters void; and as Chefter had been enabled to send two members for the county, and two for the city, by virtue of a * stat. 34, 35 H. VIII. fo an act passed in the 25 Car. II. enabling Durham to fend four members in like manner, and thus the number of the house of commons stood at five hundred and thirteen, till the union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland, when by virtue of
the union att † forty-five Scottish members Present number were added, which made the whole number jave hundred and fifty-eight.
of that house to be five hundred and fifty.
Mr. De Lolme has collected a very just Origin and progreis of the and impartial historical account of the origins power of the
gradual increase, and establishment of the der Edward I.
influence and power of the house of commons I. “Edward I. continually engaged in
* St. 34, 35. H. VIII. c. xiii. St. 25. c. ii. c. ix. .
wars, wars, either against Scotland or on the continent, seeing moreover his demesnes considerably diminished, was frequently reduced to the most pressing necessities. But though, in consequence of the spirit of the times, he frequently indulged himself in particular acts of injustice, yet he perceived, that it was impossible to extend a general oppression over a body of nobles and a people, whé so well knew how to unite in a common cause. In order to raise subsidies therefore, he was obliged to employ a new method, and to endeavour to obtain, through the consent of the people, what his predecessors had hitherto expected from their own power. The sheriffs were ordered to invite the towns and boroughs of the different counties to send deputies to parliament; and it is from this æra, that we are to date the origin of the house of commons *.
“ It must be confessed however, that these The commons deputies of the people were not at first pof- m fessed of any considerable authority. They wants of the were far from enjoying those extensive pri- king. vileges, which, in these days, constitute the house of commons a collateral part of the government; they were in those times called
• A. D. 1295