Failure of absolutism in England

The English Civil War (1642–1651) was a series of armed conflicts and political machinations between Parliamentarians and Royalists. The first (1642–46) and second (1648–49) civil wars pitted the supporters of King Charles I against the supporters of the Long Parliament, while the third war (1649–51) saw fighting between supporters of King Charles II and supporters of the Rump Parliament. The Civil War ended with the Parliamentary victory at the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651.

Charles I came to the throne in 1625 after the death of his father, James I. Like his father, he believed in the Divine Right of Kings (that Kings could do what they wished and were only answerable to God). Although only parliament could pass laws and grant money for war, Charles chose to rule without parliament if they refused to do what he wanted. He made repeated mistakes throughout his reign that took the country into Civil War and ultimately led to his death on January 30th 1649, the exile of his son, Charles II, and replacement of English monarchy with first, the Commonwealth of England (1649–53), and then with a Protectorate (1653–59), under Oliver Cromwell’s personal rule.
Constitutionally, the wars established the precedent that an English monarch cannot govern without Parliament’s consent, although this concept was legally established only with the Glorious Revolution later in the century.

I – Magna Carta

By 1215, thanks to years of unsuccessful foreign policies and heavy taxation demands, England’s King John was facing down a possible rebellion by the country’s powerful barons. He agreed to a charter of liberties known as the Magna Carta (or Great Charter) that would place him and all of England’s future sovereigns within a rule of law.

Magna_Carta_(British_Library_Cotton_MS_Augustus_II.106)
It stated the right of the barons to consult with and advise the king in his Great Council (this term became parliament in 1236)

II – Chambers in Parliament

The Parliament consist in two legislative chambers (or houses): an elected lower house, and an upper house which may be appointed or elected by a different mechanism from the lower house. This style of two houses is called bicameral.

The Commons

The Commons is elected. Today, the party with the largest number of members in the Commons forms the government. Members of the Commons debate the political issues and proposals for new laws. The Commons alone is responsible for making decisions on financial Bills, such as proposed new taxes. The Lords can consider these Bills but cannot block or amend them.

The Lords

The House of Lords is the second chamber of the Parliament. It is independent from, and complements the work of, the elected House of Commons. The Lords shares the task of making and shaping laws and checking and challenging the work of the government.The House of Commons, by long political evolution (plus a Civil War), eventually became a House elected by citizens in the United Kingdom. This democratic legitimacy (plus the fact that all the primary members of the government sit in it) is the heart of why the House of Commons can claim to be the ‘voice of the people’ against the ‘aristocratic’ Lords.

III – Cromwellian Interregnum

The king was executed in 1649. The monarchy was then abolished and a republic called the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland – also known as the Cromwellian
Interregnum – was established. The Commonwealth lasted until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

execution charles I - 1649

The Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights is an Act of the Parliament of England passed on 16 December 1689. It was a restatement in statutory form of the Declaration of Right presented by the Convention Parliament to William and Mary in March 1689, inviting them to become joint sovereigns of England. It lays down limits on the powers of the crown and sets out the rights of Parliament and rules for freedom of speech in Parliament, the requirement for regular elections to Parliament and the right to petition the monarch without fear of retribution. It reestablished the liberty of Protestants to have arms for their defence within the rule of law, and condemned James II of England for « causing several good subjects being Protestants to be disarmed at the same time when papists were both armed and employed contrary to law ».

Bill of rights

The Bill of Rights laid out certain basic rights for all Englishmen. The Act stated that there should be:

• no royal interference with the law. Though the sovereign remains the fount of justice, he or she cannot unilaterally establish new courts or act as a judge.
• no taxation by Royal Prerogative. The agreement of the parliament became necessary for the implementation of any new taxes
• freedom to petition the monarch without fear of retribution
• no standing army may be maintained during a time of peace without the consent of parliament.
• no royal interference in the freedom of the people to have arms for their own defence as suitable to their class and as allowed by law (simultaneously restoring rights previously taken from Protestants by James II)
• no royal interference in the election of members of Parliament
• the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be
impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament
• « grants and promises of fines or forfeitures » before conviction are void.
• no excessive bail or « cruel and unusual » punishments may be imposed.