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British Constitution:- Historical & Political Background

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

Historical & Political background of the British Constitution.

Question 1: Briefly explain the historical background and political traditions of the British Constitution.

Answer: Historical Background and Political Traditions of the British Constitution: The British Constitution is a developed constitution. Instead of its entire form being fixed at a particular time, it has attained its present form after fourteen hundred years of development and is still in development. There has never been a revolution in England that can be equated with the French Revolution of 1789 or the Soviet Revolution of 1917. Therefore, without taking a look at the constitutional development, the present constitution and the system of governance cannot be understood properly.


From the point of view of constitutional development, the history of the British Constitution can be divided into the following eras.


(1) Anglo-Saxon period - from the fifth century to 1066 AD. to 1153.

(2) Norman-Angevian Period (Norman-Angevian Period) 1066 AD. until .

(3) Plantagenet (1153-1399) and Lancastrian Period (Plantagenet and lanecastrian Period) - 1399 AD. to 1485.

(4) Tudor period 1485 AD. From . up to 1603.

(5) Stuart Period - (Stuart Period) - 1603 AD. From . Until 1714.

(6) Hanover Period - 1714 AD. From . Beginning.


(1) Anglo-Saxon period Establishment of limited monarchy (from the fifth century to 1066 AD) - The development of British political institutions certainly begins with the Anglo-Saxon period. "England was ruled by the Keldons till 54 AD. In 54 AD, the Roman Empire was established there, which lasted for more than 450 years. But there was no constitutional development of England during this period. On the constitutional development of Britain The system of governance established in the Anglo-Saxon period had its effect. Two of the main institutions established during this period are controlled royalty and the system of local self-government. Under the Saxon period in England, first small states of 7 tribes were well established. Whose names were East Anglia, Mercia, Northumberland, Kent, Sussex, Essex and Wessex. In the ninth century, Alfred the Great (849 AD 901 AD) established a vast kingdom by combining these seven kingdoms and since then England The monarchy arose .


The powers of the Anglo-Saxon king were not unlimited and were controlled by Witenagamot or Witen. Apart from this, his powers depended to a great extent on his personality, intelligence and strength. Britain was presided over by the king himself and he appointed its members. Generally it included influential feudal lords, chieftains and bishops, etc. The Viton was such an advisory body of the king, whose functions were not fixed, it advised the king in relation to law making, administrative matters and treaties and sat with the king as the Supreme Court. Generally, the Saxon kings gave due importance to the advice of Witten and did not act in an autocratic manner.


The second contribution of the Anglo-Saxon period to constitutional development is the system of local self-government. Even in this ancient stage, the local units had an important place in the administration. The three units of local government during this period were the Township, the Hundred and the Shire. Since that time the practice of local self-government has been going on in Britain and it has contributed appreciably to the success of British democracy.


(1) Establishment of limited monarchy in the Anglo-Saxon period (from the fifth century to 1066 AD)


(2) Norman-Angevin period: rise of state autocracy and strong central government (1066 AD to 1153 AD)

(i) Magnum Consilium and Curia Regis


(3) Plantagenet (1153–1399) and Lancastrian (1399–1445) periods

(i) The rise of the theory of representation'

(ii) Magna Carta or Greater Rights

(iii) Rise of Parliament


(4) Tudor period: Establishment of rigid monarchy again ( 1485 AD to 1603 AD )


(5) Struggle between the parties of Stuart period autocratic monarchy and limited monarchy and establishment of the foundation of democracy (from 1603 AD to 1714 AD)

(i) Establishment of the Republic

(ii) Re-establishment of monarchy

(iii) Glorious Revolution

(iv) Charter of Rights, 1689:

(v) Succession Act of 1701


(6) Hannover Period: Development of Parliamentary Democracy (starting from 1714 AD)

(i) Decline of the real powers of the emperor

(ii) Development of ministerial system


(2) Norman-Angevin period: the rise of state autocracy and strong central government (1066 AD to 1953 AD) - 1066 AD. Till the Anglo-Saxon race dominated Britain, but this year the Norman country's Villier of Normandy successfully attacked Britain and established the Norman state. The governance system of the Anglo-Saxon period was organized on a local basis, but weak on a national basis. The work of establishing a rigid and centralized government was done by the Norman king William.


The Saxon monarchy was weak, William decided to strengthen the position of the king and adopted many measures for this. He snatched the princely states of the Saxon feudatories and divided them among his trusted Norman chieftains and placed a condition on these feudal lords that they would provide financial and military assistance to the king. Thus he weakened the powers of the feudatories. He also made himself the head of the church and himself got the right to appoint bishops. The Norman king also created unity in the field of law and established central control over local institutions by arranging the post of sheriff appointed by the king in the shire.


(i) The Magnum Consulium and the Curia Regis William had abolished the Wittnezmat as an obstacle in the way of autocracy, but the king's jurisdiction and functions increased so much that the need for advisory committees was felt. Therefore, to assist the king in policy making and governance, two institutions - Magnum Consulium or Great Council and Curia Regis or Raj Council arose. Magnum Kausilium was the substitute of Vinesmot' and it used to meet three or four times a year to assist and advise the king on matters relating to policy-making. It was a large institution and its sessions were short-lived, so the daily administration works were performed by the 'Raj Parishad', which There was a relatively small institution, the chamberlain, the chancellor, the guards and guards of the inner city, etc. were the kings. For this reason the Curia Rejus was a relatively more influential institution. The cabinet evolved from the 'curia regis' to the 'privy council' and from the 'privy closest person's council'. In the words of Monroe, “In the very early form we can see the modern • Parliament in the Maisonum Consulium and the modern Cabinet in the Curia Regis. ,


(3) Plantagenet (1153–1399) and Lancastrian (1399–1445) Periods: Rise of Legal Institutions – The governance established in the Norman period was reformed by Henry I. The 'Qu' Reia Regis' in its original form was concerned with both administrative and judicial subjects and there was no division of its scope. After some time, in order to achieve the goal of speedy and efficiency in the work of governance, the justice and administration-related functions of the Curia Regis were divided and its membership was separated. A part of its members remained in the form of 'Rajya Sabha' as before and it was later named 'Privy Council'. The second part remained confined to judicial functions only and thus became the 'exchequer' and father of the High Courts of Justice.


(i) Origin of the Theory of Representation - While entering the Plantagenet period, the work of the Magnum Concilium remained confined to the making of the law. Earlier, only the people of the royal family and the feudal lords of the high order were its members, but gradually its member number increased and people of lower classes also started coming in it. In 1213, for one reason its membership increased greatly. Emperor John had to collect a lot of money from the public in the form of taxes and he realized that this task could be accomplished well with the cooperation of the knights. So bound by circumstances, he ordered the sheriffs to send four noble knights from each county to the magnum council. Although King John's intention in inviting representative knights from different counties to the council was not to recognize the principle of representation, it had far-reaching consequences. Thus John inadvertently gave birth to the principle of 'No Taxation without Representaion'. Later it became a valid principle that taxes should be levied only after the approval of the representatives of the people. Thus the principle of representation was adopted in the 13th century, but these representatives lived completely under the orders of the king and the king's eyes were also on the representatives. Therefore, electing a representative was not considered a matter of honour, but representatives had to be sent to the council by force.

(ii) Magna Carta - John ascended the throne of England in 1199. this | He was an incompetent, short-sighted and tyrannical ruler. The feudal lords, unhappy with his atrocities, revolted against him and forced him to sign a charter on June 15, 1215, at a place called Ranymede. This charter is known as 'Magna Carta' or 'Great Charter' and is considered a great frontier in the legal history of Britain. In the words of a priest named William Stubbs, 'The history of the Constitution of England is the interpretation of this great charter. Instead of giving rise to any new rights, Magna Carta recognized the traditional rights of the commoners, which were dissolved by Emperor John. The main provisions of Magna Carta are as follows:

(1) The king should impose tax on the feudatories only on the consent of the great council.

(2) No citizen shall be imprisoned or deported until his guilt is proved.

(3) The punishment of a person should be according to his condition and the extent of the offence, the punishment should not be arbitrary.

(4) The 'Court of Common Plea' should work only at a fixed place, do not visit with the king.

(5) The king should not interfere in the organization of the church and the appointment of its officers.

(6) Influential feudatories and office bearers should be called to the meeting of the 'Great Council'.

(7) The free movement of foreign merchants in England should be banned only during war time, they should not be banned in normal times.

(8) The same scales of weighing should be used in all the states.


Although the Magna Carta was mainly concerned with the commoners and the clergy, it also provided the general public the freedom not to be imprisoned without due process. Apart from this, the rights which Magna Carta had given to the feudal class, they gradually became available to the common people also. Thus Magna Carta became the fundamental basis of the freedom and rights of the common people. The importance of this charter is that it ended the autocracy of the king and established a limited monarchy and the rule of law. Thompson and Johnson, while analyzing its importance, wrote that "Magna Carta is in fact the cornerstone of the British Constitution, because it propounded the principle that the king is not above the law, but above the law." "It was from here that the king's autocracy ended and the limited rule began.

(iii) Rise of Parliament - After Magna Carta, Parliament emerged from the Platouganet period. 1254 AD In AD, Emperor Henry III invited two barbers from each county to attend the Parliament's meeting. No agreement could be reached between the emperor and the feudatories regarding the proposed taxes, as a result of which both armed struggle started. In this struggle, the chief of the feudal lords, Simon de Montford, was victorious and he became the dictator of the country. 1262 AD In AD Mantford called a meeting of Parliament to which he called all the Earl, Bishop, Baron and Reign Knight representatives in addition to representatives of the towns with which he had friendly relations. This was done by him only to get the support of more and more people to levy taxes. When the dictatorship of Simon de Montford came to an end, the practice of calling representatives of the towns also ended, and for the next 30 years the British Parliament continued to meet without them.

Rise of Parliament 1295 AD It is believed to date from when Emperor Edward I convened a meeting of Parliament. This meeting of the Parliament is called the Model Parliament. The members of the Parliament convened by Edward I were from three classes - the common class, the clergy and the representatives of the cities or the commons. If the practice of the three houses had become permanent, the British Parliament would have been trinitarian in form, but incidentally there were two members of the Parliament. It was the same house. The people of the feudal class and the high clergy got together, because both had common economic and social interests and both obtained membership of the parliament on the basis of their high status and not on the basis of election. Similarly, the interests of the representatives of the towns and the 'Knight', the representative of the governments, were to some extent similar and the membership of the two was based on election, so these two classes got together. The group of feudal lords and high clergy was called Lok Sabha and the group of representatives of cities and knights was named Lok Sadan (House of Commons). In this way a bicameral legislature developed in Britain, which was adopted by the whole world in the later years. After the Plantagenet period, the Lancastrian period (1399–1485) began, in which some very important changes took place from the constitutional point of view. The major changes are as follows:

(1) Henry IV selected some of his counselors in the 'Curia Regis' and named the institution of these counselors as 'Privy Council'. Thus arose the Privy Council, which later gave birth to the Cabinet.

(2) 1401 AD. The Lok Sabha demanded that before imposing new taxes, the king should listen to the grievances of the people and try to redress them. This demand later became a tradition.

(3) In 1407, the Lok Sabha itself took away the right to introduce the Finance Bill. Later on, this right of Lok Sabha became valid for all the parties.


(4) Tudor period: Establishment of rigid monarchy again (1485 AD to 1603 AD) - 1341 AD. After that, there was a civil war and unrest in Britain for 30–3 years. The war between the Lancaster and York clans continued, which is famous as the 'War of Roses', finally in 1485 AD. In AD Henry Tudor of the Lancaster dynasty defeated his Yorkist rival and ascended the throne as Henry VII. From this time the reign of the Tudor dynasty began, in 1603 AD. continued till During the reign of this dynasty, the power of the feudatories and parliament was weakened and again a rigid monarchy was established. The people were fed up with the long civil war, unrest and plunder of the feudal lords and they themselves wanted that the emperor should establish peace and order by establishing control over the feudal lords. The Tudor emperors were very powerful and capable, they controlled the feudal lords and ruled like autocratic rulers, but keeping in view the interest of the people. The Tudor emperors had amassed a lot of money, so they did not need to convene a parliament, and the parliament became less important. Apart from establishing peace and order, another important thing of this period was that the royal power was freed from the control of the Pope.


(5) Stuart period : Struggle in favor of absolute monarchy and limited monarchy and establishment of the basis of democracy (from 1603 AD to 1714 AD) - Queen Elizabeth after her death in 1603 AD due to no son or close relatives . The throne of England fell in the hands of King James I of Scotland. In the time of James I, the conflict between the Emperor and the Parliament had started, but James I, acting cleverly, did not allow the Parliament to become more agitated.

1625 AD after the death of James I. In this his son Charles I ascended the throne. He started neglecting and arbitrariness of Parliament and started emphasizing on the divine rights and privileges of the king. In such a situation he quarreled with the Parliament and in 1628 AD. The Parliament was successful in getting the 'Petition of Rights' from Charles I, which imposed the following restrictions on the powers of the king:

(1) The king cannot levy any tax without the approval of the Parliament.

(2) The king cannot collect any tax without the prior approval of the Parliament.

(3) A person cannot be imprisoned without giving any definite reason.

(4) The king cannot impose martial law during peace time.


Under the pressure of Parliament, Charles I gave his approval to the 'Letter of Rights', but did not keep his promise. When Parliament opposed this, the emperor dissolved the parliament and ruled without a parliament for 11 years. Parliamentary leaders opposed this autocracy of the emperor and on both sides from 1642 to 1645 AD. until civil war. walked . Parliamentary leaders were victorious in this civil war and Emperor Charles was prosecuted in 1646. He was given the death sentence.


(i) Establishment of the Republic in 1649 AD. In England, a republic was established under the chairmanship of Cromwell by ending the monarchy and the Lord's Assembly. A written constitution of England was also adopted at this time. September 3, 1648 AD. Cromwell died.


(ii) Again the establishment of the monarchy, the republic and the written constitution were not according to the nature of the British residents, so they ended with the death of Cromwell. 1660 AD In 1685 AD, Charles II, the son of Charles I, was placed on the throne. reigned till The Privy Council had now become a large institution, so Charles II appointed it in 1667 AD. started consulting a committee of some important persons, which came to be known as 'CABAL'. It was after this that the cabinet emerged. During the reign of Charles II, the Habeas Corpus Act was also passed in 1679, which provided that no person could be placed under house arrest without trial.


(iii) Glorious Revolution - 1685 AD. After the death of Charles II, his brother James II ascended the throne, who ruled for only three years. He assumed the right to repeal laws without the permission of the Parliament. This greatly displeased the Parliamentarians and invited Prince William III of Orange to attack England in order to remove James II from the throne. William III attacked England with a huge army. When James II saw that all sides had abandoned him, he fled to France. In this way the desired change happened without any bloodshed. This is known as the Glorious Revolution of England.


(iv) Bill of Rights, 1689 - After the glorious revolution, William and Mary were made joint rulers of Britain. On this occasion, the Parliament was successful in getting the authorization letter from the Emperor, which contained the following points:

(i) The king cannot levy any tax without the prior approval of the Parliament.

(ii) The king must call a meeting of the Parliament at least once.

(iii) The king cannot maintain an army without the prior approval of the Parliament.

(iv) The king cannot establish a new court like High Commissioner for his selfishness.

(v) The representatives of the people in the Parliament will have freedom of speech.

While highlighting the importance of this charter, Munro wrote, "It declared the statutory sovereignty of the Parliament." Although in general this charter was not a constitution, but as Prof. Adams has said, "British There was something closest to a written constitution in history. ,



( v ) Act of Settlement of 1701 - William and Mary were childless , et . In 1701 the Succession Act was passed, deciding that the kingdom of England would go to Princess Sophia of Hanover (great-granddaughter of James I) or her heir upon the death of Queen Ann (Mary). By this act, the judges were provided with the security of the office of virtue and it was also ensured that the king could neither go abroad nor declare war without the approval of the Parliament.


(6) Hannover period: Development of parliamentary democracy (starting from 1714 AD) - the supremacy of Parliament over the monarchy was established from the Charter of 1689; On the death of Empress Ann in 1714, George I of Hanover became Emperor of Britain according to the 'Act of Succession'. It was from here that the development of federal democracy began, which attained its perfection by the first half of the twentieth century. The development of parliamentary democracy took place in these phases:


( i ) Decline of the real powers of the Emperor - The supremacy of Parliament over the throne had been established by the Charter of 1689 , but the king had enough in the appointment and removal of ministers until the Hanover dynasty ascended the throne . The hand was there. From the Hanover period, this authority of the king declined and these rights reached the hands of the Parliament. "The rights were revived to some degree during the reign of George III, but it proved to be temporary and from the time of William Constitutional IV, the king's rights were gradually diminished. By the time of the reign of Victoria, the emperor became a mere ruler.

(ii) Development of the cabinet system - Before the Hanover period, the emperor used to preside over the meetings of the cabinet and the cabinet system was not fully developed, but King George I of Hanover was not familiar with the English language and also in the politics of England. He was not interested. So he stopped attending the meetings of the cabinet. In 1721, the Emperor assigned Sir Robert Walpole, the leader of the Hrig Party, the responsibility of presiding over the cabinet, and Walpole became the first Prime Minister of Britain. Gradually other principles of the cabinet system were adopted. Walpole did not resign after being defeated in the House of Lords, but in 1742, when he did not have a majority in the House of the People, even after being a complete confidant of the Emperor, he resigned and established that a person can remain Prime Minister only as long as he is Get the confidence of the majority in the Lok Sabha. Over time, the concept of collective responsibility and other principles of ministerial governance developed. - but still


(iii) Democracy of the House of the People Although the Parliament attained supremacy only in the 17th century, it was not powerful enough, as it represented only a very small section of the people. Therefore, there was a movement to widen parliamentary franchise inside and outside the Parliament, which was successful in the nineteenth century. Beginning in this direction by the Reform Act of 1832, the people of the middle class were given the franchise in some limited form for the first time. After this, by the Reform Act of 1867, the right to vote was given to the artisans and the working people of the cities, making the franchise more widespread. After this, by the Reform Act of 1884, agricultural laborers were given the right to vote. Later on by the Act of 1918, women over the age of 30 years were granted the right to vote. Finally, by the 1928 Act, accepting public adult suffrage, men and women 21 years of age or older were granted the right to vote. Thus, on the basis of the Reform Acts of 1832, 1867 and 1884 and the Acts of 1918 and 1928, the Lok Sabha was democratized and this is the main basis of the power of the Lok Sabha. According to the bills passed in 1970, now everyone in Britain who has attained the age of 18 has the right to vote.


(iv) The decline of the powers of the Lord's House in comparison to the Lok Sabha - Till the 18th century, the terror of the Lord's House was overshadowed by the Lok Sabha. Lord used to send his nominated members to Lok Sabha, but to achieve the goal of democracy It was necessary to reduce the powers of the House of Lords as compared to the Lok Sabha, because the constitution of the Lord's House was on a hereditary basis, not on the basis of election. The Reform Act of 1832 was passed only against the wishes of the Lord's Assembly and at this time the powers of the Lord's Assembly began to diminish. In the nineteenth century it was established that the Lok Sabha was the ultimate authority in financial matters, but in 1910 the House of Lords broke this convention by rejecting Lloyd George's progressive budget. In such a situation the powers of the House of Lords were reduced by passing a Parliamentary Act in 1911 which was further reduced by the Parliamentary Act of 2949. England has been able to achieve full democracy only by reducing the powers of the House of Lords as compared to the Lok Sabha.

(v) Development of party system The functioning of parliamentary democracy is based on political parties and the full development of parliamentary democracy in England has been possible with the help of political parties. In this regard, Dragnich has said, "Until the political parties became strong, the king kept fighting one party with another, but in the end the king could not do anything against a well-organized party with a majority in the Lok Sabha." Of the party system. The rise took place in the Stuart period itself. Charles II had no children and a bill 'Exclusion Bill' was introduced in Parliament to keep Charles II's brother James II out of the throne. On this bill itself, the Parliament split into two parties, Higgs and Tory. The question of difference was resolved soon, but both the parties took the form of conflicting political parties and the bipartisan system was established. By the end of the seventeenth century, the situation was such that if some people formed opposing parties, they were called traitors. Later the situation changed and the opposition party came to be called His Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Later, the post of leader of the opposition party got state recognition. The main feature of this constitutional development of Britain is that it has happened in a steady pace and peaceful manner and the direction of this constitutional development, despite some obstacles and obstacles, was the establishment of democracy from monarchy. ,






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