HENRY III AND EDWARD I
That the period from 1216 to 1307 is one of the most important in the
whole constitutional history of England has long been recognized. At the
accession of Henry III the royal government was essentially that of his
grandfather — an amazingly efficient system for the age, but one still
contained within the prescriptive custom of feudalism. At the death of Edward I
feudal principles, though by no means forgotten, had ceased to dominate
political practice. The framework of what we know as the English constitution
had been solidly built. How this development has tended to simplify the task of
selecting illustrative material may at once be appreciated by turning to the
documents in the following section. Our wealth of sources for the thirteenth
century cannot so easily be classified.
One thread that can be followed throughout the confusion is Magna Carta,
the reissues of which have already been summarized (no. 44). Intimately
associated with them from the outset of Henry III's reign was his Forest
Charter, here given in full. Another related document, the Provisions of
Oxford, since it was never put into effect, has been considerably abbreviated.
The Provisions of Westminster, being largely concerned with details of private
law, have been cut down to a few articles. And it has not seemed necessary to
retain more than the principal clauses in the famous settlements of 1264 and
1266 (no. 47D, E). Likewise the product of a baronial crisis was Edward I's
Confirmation of the Charters, which, however, embodied much more than a reissue
of Magna Carta and the Forest Charter. In it there clearly appeared an issue
that was long to be of paramount interest — parliamentary control of
By 1297 the parliament of the ensuing centuries, or at least its
constituent elements, had definitely emerged, and precedents had been set with
regard to its deliberative, judicial, and fiscal powers. To explain when and
how all these complicated developments took place is a difficult problem, to
which no complete solution is possible in a brief source book. All that has
been attempted here is to illustrate its more significant phases through a
number of extracts from the rolls of Henry III and Edward I: principally writs
of summons for meetings with the king or his ministers, ordinances for the
collection of taxes, and demands for the performance of other service. From
such documents it is hoped that the student may obtain a fairly accurate
knowledge of how the king made up his greater councils, together with a few
revealing glimpses of military, naval, and financial administration. Edward's
major statutes are given at least in part, and a good many pages have been
devoted to a variety of judicial records.
The materials available under this last heading are so extensive as to
defy representative selection within brief scope. No effort has been made to
set forth in adequate fashion the growth of the common law. Under no. 54 will
be found merely some typical entries in the rolls, illustrating such matters as
manorial justice and administration, the beginnings of jury trial in criminal
cases, the local activities of the coroner, the gradual differentiation of the
central courts, and the adjudication of petitions in parliament. For additional
information on these subjects the student is referred, not only to the standard
works on English law, but also to the introductions of the volumes published by
the Selden Society — a series which includes various kinds of records that
have been entirely passed over in the present collection.
Of the enormous mass of other official writings produced in the
thirteenth century, lack of space prevents the inclusion of more than a few
extraordinary pieces. Thus the selections already given from pipe rolls,
household accounts, and similar records must serve to exemplify the
continuations of such enrolments in the later age. And in the field of borough
institutions an impressive accumulation of charters and customals has also been
left to one side. How old privileges were extended to new communities and how
more elaborate machinery came to be set up for the government of the greater
towns can be readily learned from the second volume of Ballard's British
Borough Charters, which is provided with an admirable introduction by James
Tait. On the other hand, a place has been made for two early forms of the oath
taken by royal councillors and for Edward I's Household Ordinance — next
to the Constitutio Domus Regis (no. 29) the oldest regulation of the
sort that has survived.
For the constitutional development of thirteenth-century England the
work of Stubbs remains generally valuable, although some of his dominant ideas
have now been abandoned by most historians. Among the books that have brought a
new approach to the study of parliamentary origins may be mentioned the
following:1 G. B. Adams, The Origin of the English
Constitution; C. H. McIlwain, The High Court of Parliament; D.
Pasquet, Essay on the Origins of the English House of Commons; A. F.
Pollard, The Evolution of Parliament; A. B. White, Self-Government at
the King's Command; Petit-Dutaillis and Lefebvre Studies and Notes
Supplementary to Stubbs' Constitutional History. This last work is
particularly valuable for its concise review of the literature on parliamentary
origins, as well as for its chapters on the forest and forest law. T. F. Tout's
volumes on The Administrative History of Mediaeval England provide much
information concerning the more routine phases of the royal government. All the
tax levies that appear in the documents grouped under no. 46, together with
many others, are considered in detail by S. K. Mitchell in his Studies in
Taxation under John and Henry III. And Edward I's reorganization of the
whole fiscal system has recently acquired fresh significance from the
scholarship of our lamented friend, J. F. Willard.2 As previously,
additional references are given in the footnotes.
1 See also the numerous essays by H. G. Richardson and G.
Sayles: Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Fourth Series, XI,
137 f.; Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, V, 129 f., and
VI, 71 f.; likewise those cited below, pp. 152, n. 4, 186, n. 18.
2 Parliamentary Taxes on Personal Property 1290-1334,
recently published by the Mediaeval Academy of America.