EDWARD II, EDWARD III, AND RICHARD II
The period between the death of Edward I and the accession of Henry IV is chiefly significant for the rapid development of parliamentary institutions. This development involved, not only the definitive organization of a bicameral parliament, but also the assertion by that body of positive constitutional functions, principally directed toward restraint of the crown. And no matter what may have been the legality of such claims under Edward III, the triumph of parliament was assured by the Revolution of 1399.
That most of the materials presented below have a direct bearing upon this issue will be apparent without detailed comment. Edward II's reign is represented by five documents, of which only two run to any great length. The Ordinances of 1311, generally neglected by the compilers of source books, are here reproduced almost entire, because they provide a comprehensive criticism of the royal government and so link the parliamentary contests under Edward III with the baronial uprisings of the previous age. The Household Ordinance of 1318 is even less known.1 Yet it gives us our most graphic picture of the royal entourage at which so many attacks were levelled and, by comparison with the Constitutio Domus Regis of about 1135 (no. 29), throws into historical perspective the whole intervening evolution of the English administrative system.
Aside from nos. 60 and 65, the remaining documents in this section fall under two main heads: statutes and ordinances, and excerpts from the rolls of parliament. In so far as possible, records of local government have been grouped in the following section and in those preceding; but the Durham Halmote Rolls are too important to be omitted, and their date necessitates an isolated position here. Although the chief value of the two writs of summons is merely that of typical examples, it should be noted that the great council of 1353 inaugurated some famous legislation (no. 62G, H). Such ordinances and statutes as are here included have been selected, first, on account of their actual provisions, that is to say, their reform or restatement of pre-existing law and custom; secondly, in order to show the methods by which enactments, more or less formal, came to be made. In the latter respect, however, statutes and ordinances serve at most to supplement the parliament rolls, which are unquestionably our best source for the constitutional history of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
How rich and varied is the information supplied by these documents no one can possibly realize until he has worked through formidable volumes of Old French. What is translated in the following pages is, of course, but a small fragment of the whole series; yet the selections are extensive enough to reveal the characteristic features of the record and to illustrate many developments of great significance for the English monarchy. Among them may be mentioned the organization, powers, and procedure of the parliament as a whole and of its two houses separately; private suits, impeachment of ministers, and other judicial business in parliament; the growth of parliamentary control over taxation and expenditure; the constant agitation on the part of both houses for thorough reform of the royal administration; and the relation to all these matters of the king and his council. For it should not be thought that, on account of their name, the parliament rolls deal only with parliament in the modern sense. Throughout the fourteenth century parliament was still what the word originally implied a specially important meeting of the king and his counsellors, including peers and deputies of the commons alongside of the more permanent advisers. To attempt a logical separation of parliamentary affairs from those of crown and council is futile. And a glance at the substance of the petitions and enactments in parliament will show that they were concerned with virtually all phases of the government, local as well as central.
Mainly because Stubbs was able to draw most of the material for his last six chapters from the parliament rolls, this portion of his Constitutional History remains authoritative an indispensable commentary for one who would understand the purport of the following documents. But inevitably, through the advance of research, some of his views have been modified or superseded; and the most useful guide in this connection is the volume of Studies and Notes by Petit-Dutaillis and Lefebvre, which contains an especially valuable essay on the Revolt of 1381. Particular reference may also be made to T. F. Tout, Chapters in Mediaeval Administrative History, vols. II-VI, and The Place of the Reign of Edward II in English History; J. C. Davies, The Baronial Opposition to Edward II; J. F. Baldwin, The King's Council in England during the Middle Ages; C. H. McIlwain, The High Court of Parliament; A. F. Pollard, The Evolution of Parliament; H. L. Gray, The Influence of the Commons on Early Legislation; M. V. Clarke, Medieval Representation and Consent; and M. McKisack, The Parliamentary Representation of the English Boroughs during the Middle Ages. These and other scholars have likewise published numerous special articles, some of which are cited in the footnotes. An excellent introduction to all this literature and to the problems involved has recently been provided by Eleanor C. Lodge and Gladys A. Thornton in their English Constitutional Documents, 1307-1485.
1 The French text, published without emendation by Tout, is corrupt in spots and is difficult throughout. Francis Tate's translation, reprinted by F. J. Furnivall in Life Records of Chaucer, Pt. II (Chaucer Society, 1876), is hopelessly inaccurate.