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History of the constitution of the United Kingdom

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Palace of Westminster was rebuilt in the 1840s and 1850s. It is considered the "mother of Parliaments".
The Palace of Westminster was rebuilt in the 1840s and 1850s. It is considered the "mother of Parliaments".

The history of the constitution of the United Kingdom concerns the evolution of UK constitutional law from the formation of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland to the present day. The history of the UK constitution, though officially beginning in 1800,[1] traces back to a time long before the four nations of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland were fully formed.[2]

The UK constitution is an accumulation of various statutes, judicial precedents, convention, treaties and other sources which collectively can be referred to as the British Constitution. It is thus more accurate to describe Britain's constitution as an ‘uncodified’ constitution, rather than an ‘unwritten’ one.[3][4][5][6]

Ancient and Roman Britain

Roman Britain from 43 to 410 AD was governed under the Roman Constitution, subject to the Emperor.
Roman Britain from 43 to 410 AD was governed under the Roman Constitution, subject to the Emperor.

Before the Roman Empire’s conquest, Britain and Ireland were populated by Celtic migrants from the European continent, but ones who left no recorded history of law.[7] Near the end of the Roman Republic in 55 and 54 BC, the former Consul and legion commander Julius Caesar invaded Britain during the broader Gallic Wars. This did not establish permanent occupation, as Caesar returned to Rome, became dictator and was assassinated. The Republic was transformed into an Empire, when Caesar’s heir Augustus took power in 27 BC. In the reign of Augustus’ grandson, Claudius, Britain was conquered from 43 AD. Under Rome's uncodified constitution, Roman Britain was administered by a governor, usually member of the Senate but appointed by the Emperor for their military record. Londinium was a provincial capital of 60,000 people, and Britain a cosmopolitan society of around 3 million people. Roman law was based upon a slave economy, and highly militarised. Hadrian constructed a wall from 122 as part of the Empire's limits, but this was soon moved north by Antoninus Pius from 142. Constantine the Great was stationed in York in 306 when he left to claim his title to be Emperor. Constantine marched on Rome under the cross in 312, and issued an Edict of Milan in 313. This triggered a series of events where the Church assumed more and more power over the law.[8] But under constant assault, the Empire began to collapse and Britain was abandoned in 407.[9] Neither the Theodosian Code issued in 438, nor the great Corpus Juris Civilis of Justinian I in 534 entered the laws of Britain.[10]

Dark ages

Anglo-Saxon king with his witan. Biblical scene in the Illustrated Old English Hexateuch (11th century), portraying Pharaoh in court session, after passing judgment on his chief baker and chief cupbearer
Anglo-Saxon king with his witan. Biblical scene in the Illustrated Old English Hexateuch (11th century), portraying Pharaoh in court session, after passing judgment on his chief baker and chief cupbearer

In the Dark Ages, during power struggles between Anglo-Saxons, Britons, Danes and Vikings, kings convened regular councils, called the Witan, composed of lords and church leaders.[11]

The Kingdom of England was formed in the mid 9th Century. Alfred the Great issued laws as King of the West Saxons, and what is now recognised as England came about in 927 AD when the last of the Heptarchy kingdoms fell under the rule of the King of the English, Athelstan.[12] On 14 October 1066, King Harold II of England was killed while leading his men in the Battle of Hastings against Duke William of Normandy. The event completely changed the course of English history. Until 1066, England was ruled by monarchs that were elected by the witan, (meaning wise). There were various elements of democracy at a local level too, known as folkmoot.

It was not until the Norman Invasion of 1066 that one common law was established through England under one monarch.

Middle ages

John Ball, a leader of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 following repression after the Black Death, preached that "matters goeth not well to pass in England, nor shall not do till everything be common, and that there be no villains nor gentlemen, but that we may be all unied [sic] together, and that the lords be no greater masters than we be."[13]
John Ball, a leader of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 following repression after the Black Death, preached that "matters goeth not well to pass in England, nor shall not do till everything be common, and that there be no villains nor gentlemen, but that we may be all unied [sic] together, and that the lords be no greater masters than we be."[13]

Under William the Conqueror, advised by a King’s Council (Curia Regis), the Domesday Book was compiled in 1086 cataloguing all land and labour to levy taxes. Just 12 per cent of people were free, while the feudal system made others serfs, slaves or bordars and cottars.[14] Henry I of England (1068-1135) also granted a Charter of Liberties, a set of assurances to the barons including "that by the mercy of God and the common counsel of the barons of the whole kingdom of England I have been crowned king of said kingdom".

In 1190 Richard the Lionheart, more closely tied with the Pope in Rome, joined the Third Crusade to invade the Holy land, but at great cost. Taxes levied by Richard I,[15] and his successor King John to pay for the wars led to intense discontent, and the aristocracy forcing the King to sign the Magna Carta 1215. This was a commitment to hold ‘common counsel’ before any taxation, hold courts at a fixed place, hold trials according to law or before an accused’s peers, guarantee free movement of people for trade, and give back common land.[16] Failure to abide by Magna Carta led to the First Barons' war, and the popular legend of Robin Hood emerged: a returned crusader who robbed from the rich to give to the poor.[17] The commitments on common land were soon recast in the Charter of the Forest 1217, signed at St Paul's by Henry III.[18] These documents established that the monarch, even with apparent authority from God, was bound by law, and it remains ‘the nearest approach to an irrepealable “fundamental statute” that England has ever had.’[19] Henry III was nine years old when he became king and so the country was ruled by regents until he turned 20. Under pressure from the barons, led by Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, Henry accepted the Provisions of Oxford, Provisions of Westminster and the first representative English Parliament, which limited his power. The Ordinances of 1311 were a series of regulations imposed on King Edward II by the Lords and higher clergy to restrict the power of the king.

Throughout the middle ages, common land was a source of welfare for common people, peasant labourers bound by a feudal system of control. In 1348, the Black Death struck England, and killed around a third of the population. As peasants lost their lords, and there was a shortage of workers, wages rose. The King and Parliament responded with the Statute of Labourers 1351 to freeze wage rises. This led to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, where leaders demanded an end to feudalism, and for everything to be held in common.[20] Despite the revolt’s violent repression, slavery and serfdom broke down,[21] yet most people remained without any substantial liberty, in political or economic rights.

As sheep farming became more profitable than agricultural work, enclosures of common land dispossessed more people, who turned into paupers and were punished.[22] Under Henry VIII, to seal a divorce from Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn (who he soon beheaded for supposed infidelity), the Church of England was declared separate from Rome in the Act of Supremacy 1534, with the King as the head. The Law in Wales Act 1535 united Wales and England in one administrative system, while the King became ever more despotic, executing the Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More in 1535, and dissolving the monasteries and murdering those who resisted. After Henry VIII died, and power struggles following the death of his boy Edward VI at age 15,[23] Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, took the throne in 1558. Half a century of prosperity followed as Elizabeth I largely avoided wars.

A second Act of Supremacy 1559 restored powers over the church to Elizabeth I, reversing Mary I's catholic laws, and required all office-holders including the clergy to take an oath of allegiance acknowledging the Queen as the supreme governor of the Church of England.[24] After the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588, Parliament felt safer and thus it decreased its loyalty to the monarchy. Its two levels of administration were the House of Lords, composed of influential peers of the realm and Lords Spiritual, and the House of Commons, which consisted of representative members of the aristocracy and the middle-class. The House of Commons doubled in size due to the prosperity of the middle-class during that time. Puritans in the House of Commons began demanding more rights, but their demands were ignored.[25] James I would later have problems with them.

Before 1600, the Crown founded corporations including the East India Company to monopolise trade routes. Under her successor, James I, further companies were created to colonise North America, including the London Company and the Virginia Company in 1606, and the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1628. Many religious dissidents left England to settle the new world.

Renaissance and enlightenment

The Glorious Revolution of 1688 confirmed Parliament's supremacy over the monarch, represented by John Locke's Second Treatise on Government (1689). This laid the foundations for a peaceful unification of England and Scotland in the Act of Union 1707.
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 confirmed Parliament's supremacy over the monarch, represented by John Locke's Second Treatise on Government (1689). This laid the foundations for a peaceful unification of England and Scotland in the Act of Union 1707.

While Elizabeth I maintained a protestant Church, under her successor James, who unified the Scottish and English Crowns, religious and political tensions grew as he asserted a divine right of Kings.[26] In 1605, Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament, but was caught, tortured and executed. A wave of repression against catholics followed. James acceded to Puritan requests by commissioning the "King James Bible" in 1604, an English language translation and interpretation of the Bible completed in 1611. Possibly persuaded by his secretly Catholic wife), James exempted Catholics from paying tithes to the Anglican Church, but this caused a great decrease in Anglican Church revenue, so he quickly took those rights away.

The assertion of divine right prompted a series of cases from Sir Edward Coke,[27] the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas and then King's Bench courts, which denied that the King could pass judgment in legal proceedings,[28] and held that the royal prerogative was subject to the law and cannot be expanded.[29] Coke CJ went even further in Dr Bonham's case, holding that even that "the common law will control Acts of Parliament".[30] Though supported by some judges,[31] the idea that common law courts could nullify Acts of Parliament was rejected, and the common law was formally placed under the King's control in the Earl of Oxford’s case, establishing that equity (then administered by the Lord Chancellor in the House of Lords) was above common law.[32] Coke fell from favour,[33] and was removed from judicial office.

Traditionally, Parliament had voted at the beginning of a King's reign on the amount allowed for a King's Tonnage and Poundage, the customs duties (taxes on imported goods like wool and wine) that made up a large portion of a king's annual income. Now Parliament wanted to re-evaluate these taxes annually, which would give it more control over the king. James I resisted this abrogation of his 'Divine Right' and dealt with the situation by dissolving Parliament. Charles I did the same at first and later just ignored its annual evaluations.

When Charles I succeeded to the throne in 1625, and more fervently asserted a divine right, including the ability to levy tax without Parliament, particularly a Ship Money tax that required the counties bordering the sea to fund a navy to protect the English coastline. The coastal counties were unhappy as it was not actually used to fund the navy. Charles then placed the Ship Money tax on the interior counties as well. A London MP named John Hampden refused to pay this "new," interior Ship Money tax, so he was tried for a crime by Charles I and was convicted with a vote of 7 to 5. This meant that 5 of 12 jurors were against their king, which did not look good or bode well for Charles I.[34] Coke and others presented the Petition of Right 1628.[35] This demanded the King to abide by Magna Carta, levy no tax without Parliament, not arbitrarily commit people to prison, not have martial law in times of peace, and not billet soldiers in private homes. As Charles I was at war with France and Spain, he signed the Petition of Right, but then responded by shutting down or proroguing Parliament and taxing trade (or "ship money") without authority.

The country descended into the English Civil War in 1642 culminating in the capture and execution of King Charles I on Whitehall in 1649 by the New Model Army led by Oliver Cromwell.[36] Cromwell, not wishing to become a King, became a de facto dictator. After his death,[37] the monarchy was restored with Charles II in 1660, but his successor James II again attempted to assert divine right to rule. In 1688, Parliament 'invited' a replacement King and Queen, William and Mary of Orange, and after a brief conflict forced Charles II out.[38] Known as the Glorious Revolution, Parliament proclaimed a new Bill of Rights 1689, with a Claim of Right Act 1689 in Scotland, that cemented Parliamentary sovereignty. As well as reaffirming Magna Carta, it says the 'pretended power of suspending laws or the execution of laws by regal authority without consent of Parliament is illegal’, that 'election of members of Parliament ought to be free’, and that 'Parliament ought to be held frequently'.[39] The justification for government itself, encapsulated by John Locke in his Second Treatise on Government was the protection of people's rights: "lives, liberties and estates."[40]

Civil war

William Laud and Thomas Wentworth were appointed to fill the void that the Duke of Buckingham left. On top of the wars England had with France and with Spain (both caused by the Duke of Buckingham), Charles I and William Laud (the Archbishop of Canterbury) began a war with Scotland in an attempt to convert Scotland to the Church of England (the Anglican Church). This was called the Bishops' War (1639–1640) and it had two major parts: The first Bishops' War (1639) ended in a truce. The second Bishops' War, the following year, began with the a Scottish invasion of England in which the Scottish defeated the English and remained stationed in England until their issues were solved. To get the Scottish out, Charles I signed the Treaty of Ripon (1640), which required England to pay an indemnity of £850 for each day that the Scottish were stationed in England.

During the second part of the Bishops' War, Charles I had run very low on money (since he was also fighting France and Spain), so he was forced to call a Parliament to make new taxes. He and the Parliament could not agree on anything, so after three weeks, Charles I dissolved the Parliament. Then he desperately needed new taxes, so Charles I called a Parliament again and it would only help him if he agreed to some terms, which ultimately made Charles I a constitutional monarch. It was called the Long Parliament (1640–1660), because it was not officially dissolved by its own vote until 1660.

These terms were:

  • That Charles I had to impeach Thomas Wentworth and William Laud. He reluctantly placed them under arrest and put them in The Tower, executing Wentworth in 1641 (for which Charles I never forgave himself since he was close to Thomas Wentworth) and William Laud in 1645.
  • Charles I had to agree to the Triennial Act (1641), which required the Parliament to meet every three years with or without the king's consent.
  • Charles I had to abolish the Court of the Star Chamber, a royal court controlled completely by Charles I in which the prosecutor was also the judge (which pretty much guaranteed a guilty verdict for the defendant) and it was intended to be used to implement the will of the king legally with a "judicial" façade. It was considered an "extralegal" court. It dealt with odd cases and punishments.
  • Charles I had to abolish the High Court, which was the same as the Court of the Star Chamber, though it dealt with religious heresy. It was considered an "extralegal" court.
  • Charles I had to accept the Grand Remonstrance and allow the circulation of its copies, and it was a document that outlined (hyperbolically) the crimes that officials had accused Charles of committing since the beginning of his reign. Charles I was also never to do any of those crimes again.
  • Charles I, most importantly, had to agree never to dissolve a Parliament without the consent of the Parliament.

Most of England believed that Parliament had done enough to curb the power of King Charles I, but the radicals in Parliament (the extremist Puritans) and the radicals around the country (again, extremist Puritans) wanted to reform the Church of England by getting rid of the bishops (and all other things with the semblance of Catholicism) and by establishing the Puritans' method of worship as the standard. This caused a political division in Parliament, so Charles I took advantage of it. He then sent 500 soldiers into the House of Commons to arrest five of the Puritans' ringleaders (John Hampden included). The five ringleaders had been tipped off, so they had left Parliament and Charles I was left with only shame for storming Parliament.

King Charles I left London and went to Oxford, and the English Civil War began (1642). The North and West of England were on Charles I's side (along with most of the Nobles and country gentry). They were known as the Cavaliers. Charles I created an army illegally (since he needed the Parliament's consent).

The South and East of England were on Parliament's side and were known as Roundheads, for their haircuts. In response to Charles I raising an army, they did so as well. Yet, they didn't have the military might that King Charles I (and his nobles) had, so they solicited the help of the Scottish with the Solemn League and Covenant that promised to impose the Presbyterian religion on the Church of England. They called their army the New Model Army and they made its commander Oliver Cromwell, who was also a member of Parliament. The New Model Army was composed mostly of Presbyterians.

Cromwell and Commonwealth

Though Parliament won, it was clear to the Scots that it was not going to uphold the Solemn League and Covenant by imposing Presbyterianism on England (Puritanism wasn't quite Presbyterian), so the New Model Army, Parliament and the Scots began falling apart. The Scots were paid for their help and sent back to Scotland.

The Presbyterian Roundheads were interested in freedom to practice their religion and not in making the Presbyterian religion the state religion.

Cromwell proposed that Parliament reinstate the bishops of the Church of England and King Charles I as a constitutional monarch, but allow for the toleration of other religions. Though at the end of the war, the people of England could accept Charles I back in office but not religious toleration. They also wanted the New Model Army dissolved since it was a provocative factor. Thus Parliament disallowed religious toleration and voted to disband the New Model Army, but the New Model Army refused the order.

Charles I then made the same deal that the Roundheads had made with the Scottish and Parliamentary Presbyterians. He solicited the help of Scotland (and the Presbyterians) and in return he promised to impose Presbyterianism on England. The New Model Army would not allow this deal to be made (because it would give Charles I military power once more). Thus a "new" civil war broke out in 1648.

This time, Scotland, the Parliamentary Presbyterians and the royalists were on the side of Charles I. The New Model Army and the rest of Parliament were against him.

In the Battle of Preston (1648) Cromwell and his New Model Army defeated Charles I.

Then one of Cromwell's officers, Colonel Pride, destroyed the Presbyterian majority in Parliament by driving out of Parliament 143 Presbyterians of the 203 (leaving behind 60). The new Parliament constituted a Rump Parliament, which was a Parliament in which the minority (Presbyterians) carried on in the name of the majority that was kicked out. The Rump Parliament:

  • Abolished the monarchy and the House of Lords in Parliament (it then executed Charles I after publicly trying him for crimes).
  • Created a republic called the "Commonwealth" that was really just a dictatorship run by Cromwell.

Scotland was against Cromwell's "Commonwealth" (Republic) and declared Charles I's son king at Edinburgh as King Charles II, but Cromwell and the New Model Army defeated him (1650) and he fled to France where he stayed until 1660.

Cromwell then went to Ireland to govern it, but was "disgusted" with the Catholics, so he massacred many of them (in battle) and so the Irish rebelled against him as well. Cromwell then dissolved the Rump Parliament and declared himself to be the Lord Protector (dictator).

Cromwell died (1658) and was succeeded by his son Richard Cromwell, who tried to keep power militarily and absolutely, but he was also incapable of unifying all of the diverse groups (religious and ethnic). General George Monk came down from Scotland and overthrew Richard. He then invited the remnants of the Long Parliament (the Rump Parliament) to reconvene. The Long Parliament met and officially ended (in 1660, after being open since 1640) when it voted to dissolve itself and create a new Parliament. The new Parliament began the Restoration (of the monarchy) by choosing Charles I's son Charles II to be the King of England.

Popular political movements

The idea of a political party with factions took form around the time of the Civil War. Soldiers from the Parliamentarian New Model Army and a faction of Levellers freely debated rights to political representation during the Putney Debates of 1647. The Levellers published a newspaper (The Moderate) and pioneered political petitions, pamphleteering and party colours. Later, the pre-war Royalist (then Cavalier) and opposing Parliamentarian groupings became the Tory party and the Whigs in the Parliament.

In 1649 Diggers, a small people's political reform movement, published The True Levellers Standard Advanced: or, The State of Community opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men.[41] This is another important document in the history of British constitutionalism[citation needed], though different from the others listed here because the Diggers' declaration comes from the people instead of from the state. They are some times called "True Levellers" to distinguish themselves from the larger political group called the Levellers, which had supported the republicans during the civil war. The Diggers were not satisfied with what had been gained by the war against the king and wanted instead a dismantling of the state. They can be best understood through such philosophies as libertarianism, anarchism, and religious communism.

Also at this time, the Polish Brethren arrived in England and Holland. The sect of Polish Brethren had been driven out of Poland after The Deluge because they were commonly considered to be collaborators with the Swedish.

The Diggers' radical ideas influenced thinkers in Poland, Holland, and England, playing an especially important role in the philosophy of John Locke. Locke, in turn, profoundly impacted the development of political ideas regarding liberty, which would later influence the Founding Fathers of the United States.

The Glorious Revolution was the overthrow of James II in 1688 and his replacement with William III and Mary II as joint monarchs. The Convention Parliament of 1689 drew up a Declaration of Right to address perceived abuses of government under James II and to secure the religion and liberties of Protestants. This was enacted by the Parliament of England as the Bill of Rights 1689, which limited royal power and reaffirmed certain civil rights, building on the  Petition of Right 1628 and the Habeas Corpus Act 1679.[42] The Parliament of Scotland approved it as the Claim of Right.

Both the Bill of Rights and the Claim of Right contributed a great deal to the establishment of the concept of parliamentary sovereignty and the curtailment of the powers of the monarch.[43][44] Leading, ultimately, to the establishment of constitutional monarchy. They furthered the protection of the rule of law, which had started to become a principle of the way the country is governed.[45][46]

United Kingdom development

With Parliamentary sovereignty as the cornerstone of the new constitution, Parliament proceeded to set up a system of finance in the Bank of England Act 1694 and the Act of Settlement 1700 created an independent system of justice: judges were salaried and could not be removed except by both Houses of Parliament if they maintained "good behaviour" (reversing that a judge's position was held at the discretion of the monarch), no member of the House of Commons could be paid by the Crown, and the Crown had to be Anglican. The line of succession to the throne, to preserve the Protestant succession, would pass to Sophia, the granddaughter of James I and first cousin to Charles II and James II. Sophia's son George I became King in 1714 and his descendants, including the incumbent monarch Queen Elizabeth II, have reigned Britain ever since.[47]

In 1703, Ashby v White established that the right to vote was a constitutional right.[48] The Act of Union 1707 formally joined the Parliaments of England and Scotland, by giving Scottish electors representation in Westminster.[49] Forty-five Scots were added to the 513 members of the House of Commons and 16 Scots to the 190 members of the House of Lords. It was also a full economic union, replacing the Scottish systems of currency, taxation and laws regulating trade.[50]

The new union was soon faced with disaster as in the War of the Spanish Succession, the Spanish promised the right for British ships to trade (mostly slaves) in the seas around South America. The South Sea Company, duly incorporated to monopolise trade routes, became the object of mass financial speculation, provoked by government ministers interested in its rising share price. When it transpired, contrary to promoters' stories, that no trade was done because the Spanish had revoked their promise the stock market crashed, driving economic chaos.[51] This was made worse by the decision of conservative politicians to endorse the company to take over the national debt as an alternative financier to the government over the Whig dominated Bank of England. The result of the crash was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was imprisoned in the Tower of London for his corruption, the Postmaster General committed suicide, and the disgraced Lord Chancellor was replaced with Lord King LC who promptly ruled that people in a position of trust must avoid any possibility of a conflict of interest.[52] Out of the chaos, Robert Walpole emerged as a stable political figure who for 21 years held a majority of the House of Commons,[53] and is now considered the first "Prime Minister".[54] Walpole chaired cabinet meetings, appointed all other ministers, and developed the doctrine of cabinet solidarity.[55][56]

In 1765, the first teacher of English law, William Blackstone represented the standard view in his Commentaries on the Laws of England that slavery was unlawful and that "the spirit of liberty is so deeply ingrained in our constitution" any person enslaved in England must be freed. However, the transatlantic slave trade had accelerated to North American colonies. In 1772, when Lord Mansfield ruled in Somerset v Stewart that slavery was unlawful at common law,[57] this set off a wave of outrage in southern, enslavement colonies of America. Together with northern colonies grievances over taxation without representation, this led to the American Revolution and declaration of independence in 1776.[58] The British military failed to hold control. Instead, it began settling Australia from 1788.[59] In 1789, the French Revolution broke out, and the King was deposed with demands for "liberty, equality and fraternity". The British aristocracy reacted with repression on free speech and association to forestall any similar movement.[60] While figures like Jeremy Bentham called natural rights "nonsense upon stilts",[61] Mary Wollstonecraft called for A Vindication of the Rights of Woman as well as men, arguing that unjust gender and class oppression flowed from "the respect paid to property... as from a poisoned fountain".[62] While successful in the Napoleonic wars in defeating France, and cementing union with Ireland in the Act of Union 1800,[63] liberty, freedom and democracy were scarcely protected in the new "United Kingdom".

Political and industrial revolution

To demand democratic reform, the Chartists met on Kennington Common during the Revolutions of 1848.
To demand democratic reform, the Chartists met on Kennington Common during the Revolutions of 1848.

During this time, with the invention of the steam engine the industrial revolution had begun. Poverty had also accelerated through the Speenhamland system of poor laws by subsidising employers and landowners with parish rates. The Corn Laws from 1815 further impoverished people by fixing prices to maintain landowner profits.[64] While the Great Reform Act 1832 extended the vote slightly, only those with property had any representation in Parliament. Although the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 abolished the slave trade within the British Empire, it only compensated slave owners and made ex-slaves in colonies pay off debts for their freedom for decades after. With the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, further punishment for poverty was inflicted as people were put into work houses if found to be unemployed. In R v Lovelass a group of agricultural workers who formed a trade union were prosecuted and sentenced to be transported to Australia under the Unlawful Oaths Act 1797,[65] triggering mass protests.

The British Empire ended after WW2 as countries, where democracy and freedom were suppressed, demanded independence. The Commonwealth is now open to any country committed to peace, liberty, equality, and development, as in the Harare Declaration of 1991.
The British Empire ended after WW2 as countries, where democracy and freedom were suppressed, demanded independence. The Commonwealth is now open to any country committed to peace, liberty, equality, and development, as in the Harare Declaration of 1991.

A movement called Chartism grew demanding the right to vote for everyone in free and fair elections. As the great famine hit Ireland and millions migrated to the United States, Chartists staged a mass march from Kennington Common to Parliament in 1848 as revolutions broke out across Europe, and the Communist Manifesto was drafted by German revolutionary Karl Marx and Manchester factory owner Friedrich Engels. While the Crimean War distracted from social reform and Viscount Palmerston opposed anything,[66] the American civil war of 1860 to 1865 ended slavery in the US, and the UK gradually enabled greater political freedom. In the Second Reform Act 1867 more middle class property owners were enfranchised, the Elementary Education Act 1870 provided free primary school, and the Trade Union Act 1871 enabled free association without criminal penalty.[67] William Ewart Gladstone's UK Midlothian campaign between 1878-80 began the move towards modern political campaigning. The Representation of the People Act 1884 reduced the property qualification further, so that around one third of men could vote.

Outside the UK liberty and the right to vote were violently repressed across the vast British Empire, in Africa, India, Asia and the Caribbean.[68]

Social reform and war

From the start of the 20th century, the UK underwent vast social and constitutional change, beginning with an attempt by the House of Lords to suppress trade union freedom.[69] In response, the labour movement organised to support representatives in Parliament, and in the 1906 general election won 29 seats and supported the Liberal Party's programme of reform. This included a legal guarantee of the right of unions to collectively bargain and strike for fair wages,[70] an old age pension,[71] a system of minimum wages,[72] a People's Budget with higher taxes on the wealthy to fund spending. After a further election brought by the House of Lords blocking reform, Parliament pass a National Insurance system for welfare,[73] and the Parliament Act 1911 prevented the House of Lords blocking legislation for more than two years, and removed the right to delay any money bills.[74] Despite this, the Liberal government, against the opposition of Labour, armed for and entered World War One. At the end of the War, with millions dead, Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act 1918 which enabled every adult male the vote, although it was only after the mass protest of the Suffragettes that the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 enabled all women to vote, and that the UK became democratic. The War also triggered uprising in Ireland, and an Irish War of Independence leading to the partition of the island between the Republic of Ireland in the south and Northern Ireland in the Government of Ireland Act 1920. The Versailles Treaty at the end of the War demanded German reparations, beggaring the country through the 1920s and upon the Great Depression leading to a fascist collapse under Hitler.[75]

Irish independence and partition

In 1912, the House of Lords managed to delay a Home Rule bill passed by the House of Commons. It was enacted as the Government of Ireland Act 1914. During these two years the threat of religious civil war hung over Ireland with the creation of the Unionist Ulster Volunteers opposed to the Act and their nationalist counterparts, the Irish Volunteers supporting the Act. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 put the crisis on political hold. A disorganized Easter Rising in 1916 was brutally suppressed by the British, which had the effect of galvanizing Catholic demands for independence. Prime Minister David Lloyd George failed to introduce Home Rule in 1918 and in the December 1918 General Election Sinn Féin won a majority of Irish seats. Its MPs refused to take their seats at Westminster, instead choosing to sit in the First Dáil parliament in Dublin. A declaration of independence was ratified by Dáil Éireann, the self-declared Republic's parliament in January 1919. An Anglo-Irish War was fought between Crown forces and the Irish Republican Army between January 1919 and June 1921. The war ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of December 1921 that established the Irish Free State.[76] Six northern, predominantly Protestant counties became Northern Ireland and have remained part of the United Kingdom ever since, despite demands of the Catholic minority to unite with the Republic of Ireland.[77] Britain officially adopted the name "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" by the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927.


With the European Communities Act 1972, the UK is a member of the European Union, with representation in the European Parliament. This is "not merely an economic union" but is intended to "ensure social progress and seek the constant improvement of the living and working conditions of their peoples".[78]
With the European Communities Act 1972, the UK is a member of the European Union, with representation in the European Parliament. This is "not merely an economic union" but is intended to "ensure social progress and seek the constant improvement of the living and working conditions of their peoples".[78]

The failed international law system, after World War Two was replaced with the United Nations where the UK held a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. However the British Empire began to crumble as India, Israel and nations across Africa fought for democracy, human rights, and independence. To prevent any recurrence of the Holocaust and war, the Council of Europe was established to draft the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950. Further it was seen that the only way to prevent conflict was through economic integration. The European Economic Community, which became the European Union in 1992, was supported by Winston Churchill with the UK to be "at the centre",[79] although it did not enter until the European Communities Act 1972.

Under Margaret Thatcher, significant cuts were made to public services, labour rights, and the powers of local government, including abolishing the Greater London Council. However some powers were restored with extensive devolution of power in the Scotland Act 1998, Northern Ireland Act 1998, Greater London Authority Act 1999 and the Government of Wales Act 2006. After many years of armed conflict in Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 brought peace.

The Life Peerages Act 1958 had allowed the creation of life peers which gave the Prime Minister the ability to change the composition of the House of Lords. The House of Lords Act 1999 reduced but did not fully eliminate hereditary peers.

Since a financial crisis of 2007–2008 brought about by bankers' speculation,[80] a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition launched a programme of "austerity" cuts, and cemented their term in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011. After 2015, however, early elections were held anyway in 2017, following a referendum on EU membership that resulted in 52.89 per cent of people favouring to leave but without any clear plan, and 48.1 per cent of voters favouring to remain. Since then, the UK has been unable to decide what to do.


In Labour's first term (1997–2001), it introduced a large package of constitutional reforms, which it promised in its 1997 manifesto. The most significant were:

The House of Commons voted on seven options in February 2003 on what proportion of elected and appointed members (from 100% elected to 100% appointed) the House of Lords should have. None of the options received a majority.

In 2004, a Joint Committee of the House of Commons and House of Lords tasked with overseeing the drafting of the Civil Contingencies Bill, published its first report, in which, among other things, it suggested amending the bill's clauses that grant Cabinet Ministers the power "to disapply or modify any Act of Parliament" as overly wide, and that the bill should be modified to preclude changes to the following Acts, which, it suggested, formed "the fundamental parts of constitutional law" of the United Kingdom:[81]

This amendment was defeated by the government and the bill was passed without it. However, the government partially one recommendation — the Human Rights Act 1998 may not be amended by emergency regulations.

The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 created the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and guarantees judicial independence.

Coalition reforms

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition introduced several reforms including the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, which reformed the Royal Prerogative and made other significant changes; the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which introduced fixed-term parliaments of 5 years.

A key Liberal Democrat policy was that of voting reform, to which a referendum took place in May 2011 on whether or not Britain should adopt a system of Alternative Vote to elect MPs to Westminster. However, the proposal was rejected overwhelmingly, with 68% of voters in favour of retaining first-past-the-post.

In late October 2011, the prime ministers of the Commonwealth realms voted to grant gender equality in the royal succession, ending the male-preference primogeniture that was mandated by the Act of Settlement 1701.[82] The amendment, once enacted, also ended the ban on the monarch marrying a Catholic.[83] Following the Perth Agreement in 2011, legislation amending the Bill of Rights 1689 and the Act of Settlement 1701 came into effect across the Commonwealth realms on 26 March 2015 which changed the laws of succession to the British throne. In the United Kingdom, it was passed as the Succession to the Crown Act 2013.

Further devolution

Further powers were devolved under the Government of Wales Act 2006, Northern Ireland Act 2006, Northern Ireland Act 2009, Scotland Act 2012, Wales Act 2014, and the Scotland Act 2016. On 18 September, a referendum was held in Scotland on whether to leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country. The three UK-wide political parties - Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrats - campaigned together as part of the Better Together campaign while the pro-independence Scottish National Party was the main force in the Yes Scotland campaign, together with the Scottish Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party. Days before the vote, with the opinion polls closing, the three Better Together party leaders issued 'The Vow', a promise of more powers for Scotland in the event of a No vote. The referendum resulted in Scotland voting by 55% to 45% to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The Smith Commission was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron on 19 September 2014 to propose the powers that would be devolved to the Scottish Government. Once the recommendations had been published they were debated in the UK Parliament and a command paper was published in January 2015 putting forward draft legislative proposals. A Scottish Parliament committee report published in May 2015 said that this draft bill did not meet the recommendations of the Smith Commission, specifically in relation to welfare payments. A spokesman for the UK Government said that a full Parliamentary discussion would follow.[84] A bill based on the Smith Commission's recommendations was announced by the UK government in the May 2015 Queen's Speech.[85] The bill subsequently became law as the Scotland Act 2016 in March 2016.

EU referendum

On 20 February 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union would be held on 23 June 2016, following years of campaigning by eurosceptics. Debates and campaigns by parties supporting both "Remain" and "Leave" focused on concerns regarding trade and the single market, security, migration and sovereignty. The result of the referendum was in favour of the country leaving the EU with 51.9% of voters wanting to leave.[86] The UK remains a member for the time being, but is expected to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would begin negotiations on a withdrawal agreement that will last no more than two years (unless the Council and the UK agree to extend the negotiation period) which will ultimately lead to an exit from the European Union.[87]

In October 2016 the prime minister, Theresa May, promised a "Great Repeal Bill" which would repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and import its regulations into UK law, with effect from the date of British withdrawal. The regulations could then be amended or repealed on a case-by-case basis.[88]

The Supreme Court issued a ruling in January 2017 that an Act of Parliament is needed before the government can trigger Article 50 to leave the European Union.[89]

Kingdom of Scotland

From the fifth century AD, north Britain was divided into a series of petty kingdoms. Ferocious Viking raids beginning in AD 793 may have speeded up a long-term process of gaelicisation of the Pictish kingdoms, which adopted Gaelic language and customs. There was also a merger of the Gaelic and Pictish kingdoms. This culminated in the rise of Cínaed mac Ailpín (Kenneth MacAlpin) as "king of the Picts" in the 840s (traditionally dated to 843),[90] which brought to power the House of Alpin.[91] When he died as king of the combined kingdom in 900 one of his successors, Domnall II (Donald II), was the first man to be called rí Alban (King of Alba).[92] The term Scotia would increasingly be used to describe the heartland of these kings, north of the River Forth, and eventually the entire area controlled by its kings would be referred to as Scotland.[93] The long reign (900–942/3) of Donald's successor Causantín (Constantine II) is often regarded as the key to formation of the Kingdom of Alba/Scotland, and he was later credited with bringing Scottish Christianity into conformity with the Catholic Church.[94]

Máel Coluim I (Malcolm I) (reigned c. 943–954) annexed Strathclyde, over which the kings of Alba had probably exercised some authority since the later ninth century.[95] The reign of David I has been characterised as a "Davidian Revolution",[96][97] in which he introduced a system of feudal land tenure, established the first royal burghs in Scotland and the first recorded Scottish coinage, and continued a process of religious and legal reforms.[98]


Coronation of Alexander III of Scotland at Scone Abbey; beside him are the Mormaers of Strathearn and Fife while his genealogy is recited by a royal poet.
Coronation of Alexander III of Scotland at Scone Abbey; beside him are the Mormaers of Strathearn and Fife while his genealogy is recited by a royal poet.

The unified kingdom of Alba retained some of the ritual aspects of Pictish and Scottish kingship. These can be seen in the elaborate ritual coronation at the Stone of Scone at Scone Abbey.[99]

While the Scottish monarchy in the Middle Ages was a largely itinerant institution, Scone remained one of its most important locations, with royal castles at Stirling and Perth becoming significant in the later Middle Ages before Edinburgh developed as a capital city in the second half of the fifteenth century.[100][101]

The Crown remained the most important element of government, despite the many royal minorities. In the late Middle Ages, it saw much of the aggrandisement associated with the New Monarchs elsewhere in Europe.[102] Theories of constitutional monarchy and resistance were articulated by Scots, particularly George Buchanan, in the sixteenth century, but James VI of Scotland advanced the theory of the divine right of kings, and these debates were restated in subsequent reigns and crises. The court remained at the centre of political life, and in the sixteenth century emerged as a major centre of display and artistic patronage, until it was effectively dissolved with the Union of the Crowns in 1603.[103]

The Scottish Crown adopted the conventional offices of western European courts, including High Steward, Chamberlain, Lord High Constable, Earl Marischal and Lord Chancellor.[104] The King's Council emerged as a full-time body in the fifteenth century, increasingly dominated by laymen and critical to the administration of justice.[105] The Privy Council, which developed in the mid-sixteenth century,[106] and the great offices of state, including the chancellor, secretary and treasurer, remained central to the administration of the government, even after the departure of the Stuart monarchs to rule in England from 1603.[107] However, it was often sidelined and was abolished after the Acts of Union 1707, with rule direct from London.[108]

The Parliament of Scotland also emerged as a major legal institution, gaining an oversight of taxation and policy.[109] By the end of the Middle Ages it was sitting almost every year, partly because of the frequent royal minorities and regencies of the period, which may have prevented it from being sidelined by the monarchy.[110] In the early modern era, Parliament was also vital to the running of the country, providing laws and taxation, but it had fluctuating fortunes and was never as central to the national life as its counterpart in England.[111]

In the early period the kings of the Scots depended on the great lords of the mormaers (later earls) and toísechs (later thanes), but from the reign of David I, sheriffdoms were introduced, which allowed more direct control and gradually limited the power of the major lordships.[112] In the seventeenth century the creation of justices of the peace and the Commissioner of Supply helped to increase the effectiveness of local government.[113] The continued existence of courts baron and introduction of kirk sessions helped consolidate the power of local lairds.[114]

Principality of Wales


The Principality of Wales existed between 1216 and 1536, encompassing two-thirds of modern Wales during its height between 1267 and 1277. For most of its history it was "annexed and united" to the English Crown. However, for a few generations, specifically the period from its foundation in 1216 to Edward I's completion of the conquest of Wales in 1284, it was de facto independent under a Welsh Prince of Wales, albeit one who swore fealty to the King of England.

Cyfraith Hywel, also known as Welsh law, was the system of law practised in medieval Wales before its final conquest by England. Subsequently, the Welsh law's criminal codes were superseded by the Statute of Rhuddlan in AD 1284 and its civil codes by Henry VIII's series of Laws in Wales Acts between 1535 and 1542.

The Laws in Wales Acts formally incorporated all of Wales within the Kingdom of England. There has been no geographical or constitutional basis for describing any of the territory of Wales as a principality since then, although the term has occasionally been used in an informal sense to describe the country, and in relation to the honorary title of Prince of Wales.

After 1542: union with England

The Encyclopaedia of Wales notes that the Council of Wales and the Marches was created by Edward IV in 1471 as a household institution to manage the Prince of Wales's lands and finances. In 1473 it was enlarged and given the additional duty of maintaining law and order in the Principality and the Marches of Wales. Its meetings appear to have been intermittent, but it was revived by Henry VII for his heir, Prince Arthur. The Council was placed on a statutory basis in 1543 and played a central role in co-ordinating law and administration. It declined in the early 17th century and was abolished by Parliament in 1641. It was revived at the Restoration before being finally abolished in 1689.

From 1689 to 1948 there was no differentiation between the government of England and government in Wales. All laws relating to England included Wales and Wales was considered by the British Government as an indivisible part of England within the United Kingdom. The first piece of legislation to relate specifically to Wales was the Sunday Closing (Wales) Act 1881. A further exception was the Welsh Church Act 1914, which disestablished the Church in Wales (which had formerly been part of the Church of England) in 1920.

In 1948 the practice was established that all laws passed in the Parliament of the United Kingdom were designated as applicable to either "England and Wales" or "Scotland", thus returning a legal identity to Wales which had not existed for hundreds of years following the Act of Union with Scotland in 1707. Also in 1948 a new Council for Wales was established as a parliamentary committee. In 1964 the Welsh Office was established, based in London, to oversee and recommend improvements to the application of laws in Wales. This situation would continue until the devolution of government in Wales and the establishment of the autonomous National Assembly for Wales in 1998.

Key statutes

Although there is no definitive list of constitutional statutes, there are certain statutes that are significant in the history of the Constitution of the United Kingdom. Some have been repealed, several have been amended and remain in statute, while others are current legislation as originally enacted. None are entrenched.[115][116][117]

Scottish documents and statutes
Welsh statutes
English statutes
UK statutes

See also


  1. ^ The Acts of Union 1800 unified the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland, while the Acts of Union 1707 unified England and Wales with Scotland, but did not yet officially use the name ‘United Kingdom’.
  2. ^ See AW Bradley, KD Ewing and CJS Knight, Constitutional and Administrative Law (2018) ch 2, 32-48, on historic structure, and devolution.
  3. ^ "What is the UK Constitution?". UCL Constitution Unit. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  4. ^ "What is the British Constitution?". The Constitution Society. Archived from the original on 11 December 2014. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  5. ^ "The Big Question: Why doesn't the UK have a written constitution, and does it matter?". The Independent. 14 February 2008. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  6. ^ "Magna Carta and contemporary constitutional change". History and Policy. 13 March 2015. Retrieved 28 April 2015. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ See F Pollock and FW Maitland, The history of English law before the time of Edward I (1899) Book I, ch I, 1, ‘Such is the unity of all history that anyone who endeavours to tell a piece of it must feel that his first sentence tears a seamless web.’
  8. ^ Pollock and Maitland (1899) 4-5
  9. ^ cf E Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1789) arguing Christianity led to weakness that caused Rome’s fall.
  10. ^ Pollock and Maitland (1899) 5-6
  11. ^ FW Maitland, The constitutional history of England (1909) 6
  12. ^ Feilden, p.2
  13. ^ J Froissart, Froissart's Chronicles (1385) translated by GC Macaulay (1895) 251–252.
  14. ^ DD McGarry, Medieval History and Civilization (1976) 242, 12% free, 30% serfs, 35% bordars and cottars, 9% slaves.
  15. ^ T Purser, Medieval England, 1042-1228 (2004) 161, this included a 25% tax on income and property, all the year's wool, and all churches gold and silver, to pay a ransom after Richard I was captured when returning from the crusades by Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor.
  16. ^ Magna Carta 1215 clauses 12 (Parliament), 17 (court), 39 (fair trial), 41 (free movement), 47 (common land).
  17. ^ See W Langland, Piers Plowman (1370) Passus 5, 3278, "But I kan rymes of Robyn Hood" is the first mention of the tales, notably in the run up to the Peasants' revolt of 1381. As ballads and poems evolved, see John Stow, Annales of England (1592)
  18. ^ Charter of the Forest 1217. This allowed, for example, in clause 9, ‘Every freeman shall at his own pleasure provide agistment' or grazing rights, and in clause 12, ‘Henceforth every freeman, in his wood or on his land that he has in the forest, may with impunity make a mill, fish-preserve, pond, marl-pit, ditch, or arable in cultivated land outside coverts, provided that no injury is thereby given to any neighbour.’
  19. ^ Pollock and Maitland (1899) Book I, 173
  20. ^ J Froissart, The Chronicles of Froissart (1385) translated by GC Macaulay (1895) 250–52, "What have we deserved, or why should we be kept thus in servage? We be all come from one father and one mother, Adam and Eve: whereby can they say or shew that they be greater lords than we be, saving by that they cause us to win and labour for that they dispend? They are clothed in velvet and camlet furred with grise, and we be vestured with poor cloth: they have their wines, spices and good bread, and we have the drawing out of the chaff and drink water: they dwell in fair houses, and we have the pain and travail, rain and wind in the fields; and by that that cometh of our labours they keep and maintain their estates: we be called their bondmen, and without we do readily them service, we be beaten; and we have no sovereign to whom we may complain, nor that will hear us nor do us right."
  21. ^ EP Cheyney, ‘The Disappearance of English Serfdom’ (1900) 15(57) English Historical Review 20 and A Fitzherbert, Surueyenge (1546) 31, servitude was ‘the greatest inconvenience that nowe is suffred by the lawe. That is to have any christen man bounden to an other, and to have the rule of his body, landes, and goodes, that his wyfe, children, and servantes have laboured for, all their life tyme, to be so taken, lyke as it were extorcion or bribery’.
  22. ^ See Inclosure Acts and Vagrancy Act 1547. cf T More, Utopia (1516) Book I, "wherever it is found that the sheep of any soil yield a softer and richer wool than ordinary, there the nobility and gentry, and even those holy men, the abbots not contented with the old rents which their farms yielded... stop the course of agriculture, destroying houses and towns, reserving only the churches, and enclose grounds that they may lodge their sheep in them... Stop the rich from cornering markets and establishing virtual monopolies. Reduce the number of people who are kept doing nothing. Revive agriculture and the wool industry, so that there is plenty of honest, useful work for the great army of unemployed – by which I mean not only existing thieves, but tramps and idle servants who are bound to become thieves eventually."
  23. ^ On his behalf Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset ruled as Lord Protector until he was replaced and executed by John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. Somerset House was transferred to the crown, and Elizabeth was allowed to live there by Mary, Queen of Scots as she killed Lady Jane Grey (1554) and ruled until 1558. Mary then died without children, after killing hundreds of protestants.
  24. ^ The title "Supreme Governor of the Church of England" not "supreme head", was intended to indicate no control over the church's doctrine, or usurping the primacy of Jesus. John Aylmer, a Greek scholar, saw an immediate resemblance of the Tudor constitution to that of the classical republic of Sparta, a mixed government from Classical antiquity. Geoffrey Elton, who wrote The Tudor Constitution approves Aylmer's conclusions.
  25. ^ Sir John Neale identified a unified bloc of 43 members, whereas revisionists have suggested that this is an exaggeration.
  26. ^ James, The True Law of Free Monarchies (1598)
  27. ^ Coke had already reported on many significant constitutional judgments, often adding his own style, including Heydon's Case (1584) 76 ER 637, that the task of a court in construing any statute is to find its mischief and the intention of Parliament, and Semayne's Case (1604) 5 Coke Rep 91, that nobody can enter another's property without lawful authority and that "the house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence as for his repose." See also Calvin's Case Calvin's Case (1572) , 77 ER 377 that a person born in Scotland is entitled to all rights in England.
  28. ^ Case of Prohibitions [1607] EWHC J23 (KB)
  29. ^ Case of Proclamations [1610] EWHC KB J22
  30. ^ (1610) 77 Eng Rep 638
  31. ^ e.g. Day v Savadge (1614) Hob 85, 80 ER 235, Hobart CJ, ‘even an Act of Parliament, made against natural equity, as to make a man judge in his own case, is void in itself, for jura nutrae sunt immutabilia, and they are leges legu.’ R v Love (1653) 5 State Tr 825, 828, Keble J, ‘Whatsoever is not consonant to the law of God, or to right reason which is maintained by scripture... be it Acts of Parliament, customs, or any judicial acts of the Court, it is not the law of England.’ City of London v Wood (1701) 12 Mod 669 per Holt CJ. cf W Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765) "if the parliament will positively enact a thing to be done which is unreasonable, I know of no power that can control it..." In the US, Coke CJ's argument was applied in Marbury v Madison 5 US (1 Cranch) 137 (1803).
  32. ^ (1615) 21 ER 485
  33. ^ Compounded by a ruling in Peacham's Case (1614) that held it would not be treason to advocate the King's death.
  34. ^ See Five Knights' case (1627) 3 How St Tr 1
  35. ^ Petition of Right 1628 (3 Car 1 c 1)
  36. ^ Debates on the proper nature of liberty were held at the Putney debates, October to November 1647, summarised in ASP Woodhouse, Puritanism and Liberty (1938) 52. By contrast, a bitter opponent of the civil war was T Hobbes, Leviathan (1651)
  37. ^ Richard Cromwell, Oliver's son, briefly succeeded but lacking support swiftly renounced power after 9 months.
  38. ^ The conflict ended at Battle of the Boyne.
  39. ^ Bill of Rights 1689 and Claim of Right 1689 arts 2, 8 and 13
  40. ^ John Locke, Second Treatise on Government (1689) ch IX
  41. ^ [1]
  42. ^ "Bill of Rights". The British Library. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  43. ^ "Rise of Parliament". The National Archives. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  44. ^ "Constitutionalism: America & Beyond". Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP), U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 24 October 2014. Retrieved 30 October 2014. The earliest, and perhaps greatest, victory for liberalism was achieved in England. The rising commercial class that had supported the Tudor monarchy in the 16th century led the revolutionary battle in the 17th, and succeeded in establishing the supremacy of Parliament and, eventually, of the House of Commons. What emerged as the distinctive feature of modern constitutionalism was not the insistence on the idea that the king is subject to law (although this concept is an essential attribute of all constitutionalism). This notion was already well established in the Middle Ages. What was distinctive was the establishment of effective means of political control whereby the rule of law might be enforced. Modern constitutionalism was born with the political requirement that representative government depended upon the consent of citizen subjects.... However, as can be seen through provisions in the 1689 Bill of Rights, the English Revolution was fought not just to protect the rights of property (in the narrow sense) but to establish those liberties which liberals believed essential to human dignity and moral worth. The "rights of man" enumerated in the English Bill of Rights gradually were proclaimed beyond the boundaries of England, notably in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 and in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789.
  45. ^ "Rule of Law". The British Library. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  46. ^ "The Rule of Law". The Constitution Society. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 3 October 2014.
  47. ^ "The Act of Settlement". UK Parliament. Retrieved 8 November 2014.
  48. ^ (1703) 92 ER 126, per Holt CJ confirmed by the House of Lords.
  49. ^ Union with Scotland Act 1706 arts 18 and 19, stipulate that Scottish private law would continue under a Scottish court system.
  50. ^ R. Mitchison, A History of Scotland (London: Routledge, 3rd edn., 2002), ISBN 0415278805, p. 314.
  51. ^ A Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776) Book V, ch 1, §107
  52. ^ Keech v Sandford [1726] EWHC J76, an English trust law case following Lord Macclesfield LC, disgraced by his role on the South Sea Company, impeached by the House of Lords and found guilty of taking bribes in 1725. Keech reversed Bromfield v Wytherley (1718) Prec Ch 505 that a fiduciary could take money from a trust and keep profits if they restored the principal afterwards.
  53. ^ Attorney General v Davy (1741) 26 ER 531 established that any body of assembled people can do a corporate act by a majority.
  54. ^ Walpole's tenure lasted from 1721-1742.
  55. ^ Dr Andrew Blick and Professor George Jones — No 10 guest historian series, Prime Ministers and No. 10 (1 January 2012). "The Institution of Prime Minister". Government of the United Kingdom: History of Government Blog. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  56. ^ Carter, Byrum E. (2015) [1955]. "The Historical Development of the Office of Prime Minister". Office of the Prime Minister. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400878260.
  57. ^ (1772) 98 ER 499 Charles Stewart from Boston, Massachusetts had bought James Somerset as a slave and taken him to England. With the help of abolitionists, Somerset escaped and sued for a writ of habeas corpus (that "holding his body" had been unlawful). Lord Mansfield, after declaring he should "let justice be done whatever be the consequence", held that slavery was "so odious" that nobody could take "a slave by force to be sold" for any "reason whatever".
  58. ^ AW Blumrosen, 'The Profound Influence in America of Lord Mansfield's Decision in Somerset v Stuart' (2007) 13 Texas Wesleyan Law Review 645
  59. ^ Using the Transportation Act 1717 and then the Transportation Act 1790.
  60. ^ See the Combination Acts, etc.
  61. ^ J Bentham, Anarchical Fallacies; Being an examination of the Declaration of Rights issued during the French Revolution (1796)
  62. ^ M Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) ch IX
  63. ^ Union with Ireland Act 1800 arts 3-4 gave Irish representation at Westminster.
  64. ^ T Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) supported this, arguing that working class "vice" and overpopulation was the cause of poverty.
  65. ^ (1834) 172 ER 1380
  66. ^ Letter to Lord Russell (October 1862) 'Power in the Hands of the Masses throws the Scum of the Community to the Surface. ... Truth and Justice are soon banished from the Land.'
  67. ^ See also the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act 1875 and Allen v Flood [1898] AC 1
  68. ^ See S Tharoor, Inglorious Empire (2018)
  69. ^ Taff Vale Railway Co v Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants [1901] UKHL 1
  70. ^ Trade Disputes Act 1906
  71. ^ Old Age Pensions Act 1908
  72. ^ Trade Boards Act 1909
  73. ^ National Insurance Act 1911
  74. ^ Parliament Act 1949 reduced the power to delay to one year.
  75. ^ Predicted by JM Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919)
  76. ^ Joost Augusteign, ed., The Irish revolution, 1913–1923 (Basingstoke, 2002)
  77. ^ Thomas Henessy, A History of Northern Ireland, 1920–1996 (1998)
  78. ^ Defrenne v Sabena (1976) Case 43/75
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  118. ^ US Senate Resolution 155 of 10 November 1997 formally acknowledges aforementioned declaration.
  119. ^ The single legal jurisdiction is now known as England and Wales.
  120. ^ Agreed to by Parliament of Scotland as part of the Treaty of Union.


  • Henry St Clair Feilden, "A Short Constitutional History of England". Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1882.

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