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CH A P. XIV.
OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
zens, and bur
HE third estate, of which we shall Knights, citiherein principally treat, is on all gelies 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 cannot be denominated fix estates.” « The numbers of the commons I find to their numbers
formerly varied have been formerly variant, according as the according to 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
discretion of the
.Lex Parliamentaria, p. 4, 5, 6, 7,
charters to towns to send
Kings formerly the throne, to grant charters to ancient defion granted mesne vills, and other popular towns, there
by erecting them into free boroughs, and this representatives to parliament. consequently gave them a right to be repre
sented 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 shires, 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 possessed 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 elečtors, or elected 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.
+ Stat. 12 R. II. C. 12. Crom. 2, 3, 4, 5. Bro. Ant.
| Parl. 96. Reg. 261. Nat. Bre. 14.
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 conside- ters for moneya ration 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 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. «. That H. VIII. added to their
present numnumber King Ed. VI.
44 Queen Mary,
25 Queen Elizabeth, 62 King James I.
The former and
bers of repre. sentatives.
* See Bohun's Col. per. tot.
of The Representative of London and Westminster, p. 14 to p. 21. Spelm. in voce Major.
Fortescue, p. 40. || Mmft. penes Auctorem. Dd
"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 Kinetharles's practice for the future, so that they declared clared void. the elections made by virtue of that prince's
charters void; andas Chester 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 Durbam 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 aft † forty-five Scottish members Present number were added, which made the whole number ave hundred and fifty-eight.
of that house to be five hundred and fifty. eight, as it now stands."
Mr. De Lolme has collected a very just Origin and pro
and impartial historical account of the origini gradual increase, and establishment of the influence and power of the house of commons I. Edward I. continually engaged in 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, who 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 *.
gress of the
* St. 34, 35. H. VIII. c. xlii. Șt. 25. c. ii. c. ix.
« It must be confessed however, that these The commons deputies of the people were not at first por- moned only to 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