“Before 1640, parliament was not powerful and it did not contain anopposition”. Discuss.
There are two schools of thought concerning parliamentary power and opposition prior to 1640. The older Whig ideal argues that Parliament was indeed powerful, and contained opposition to the government, i.e. the Crown, because a power struggle ensued, while the Revisionist faction denounces this view of a power struggle between Crown and Parliament. it is important that two key words are defined (Chambers dictionary); powerful will be known as “having great power” and “force”, while opposition will be regarded as “the parliamentary body that opposes the government”, i.e. the Crown.
The Revisionist critique that Parliament did not contain opposition and was not powerful has many followers with many of the recent historians, such as Loades, Sharpe and Russell. Their argument stands on shaky ground. The three reigns prior to the Civil war (greatest power struggle of all time) were littered with Parliamentary opposition and power struggle.
The more viable Whig argument states that Parliament was indeed powerful and contained vast opposition against the Crown. With two contradicting ideals, Elizabeth and her prerogatives over the “matters of state” (religion, foreign policy, marriage, succession and finance) in which Parliament couldn’t discuss without her consent. Parliament having the contradictory view that it was their privilege and right to discuss these matters. The era of Elizabeth is a chronological chart of parliamentary opposition. 1566, a petition from Parliament over her marriage, Elizabeth ordered them to stop this debate because it was a “matters of state”, Wentworth reacted to this by saying this was “a breach of the liberty of the free speech of the House”. Elizabeth, strongly as possible; “let this my discipline stand you in stead of sorer strokes, never tempt too far a prince’s patience”, a warning to Parliament that they should not oppose her wishes. There were many instances in which the Queen had to rebuke Parliament for infringing her prerogatives, 1572 where a passing of a Bill concerning Mary Queen of Scots was delayed because Parliament were indulging in other matters, the Queen gave them this message “the Queen Majesty’s pleasure is that this House do proceed in weighty causes, laying aside all private matters”. Constitutionally parliament had not gained any extra power, but by their actions they had gained important precedents which was detrimental to the struggles of future monarchs. The impeachment of Wentworth set an important precedent, this proves to be decisive in James’ and Charles reign. The question of free speech within Parliamentary sessions, it is true that she denounced many of their debates over the “matters of state”, but many of these debates led to actions such as the monopoly abuse, in which parliament originally ordered an investigation, but the Queen stepped in and ordered it herself, reminding her dutiful and loving subjects “that they must not entrench her prerogatives”. This again left another precedent in which parliament could directly form a constitution or redress a grievances by investigating it themselves.
James inherited a Parliament with a new ideal and the means to follow this. Parliament gained new precedents from Elizabeth’s reign which they would use against James, as well as the rise of new power hungry Councillors. Parliament was seen as the standard bearer for common law, and they saw James as the potential enemy.James a king who entrusted upon divinity as he explained; “King’s are not only God’s lieutenants on earth and sit upon God’s throne, but by even God himself they are called Gods”.. Sir Edwin Sandys remarked in 1614 “our impositions increase in England as it come to be almost a tyrannical government”.. Within each session, parliament opposed James’ policies; such as the Unification of Scotland England, in which Parliament rejected because of their xenophobic attitude, the Great Contract in which James was willing to give up certain prerogatives in return for an annual subsidy of 200,000, but it was rejected, the attempted impeachment of Buckingham. Parliament began to extend their prerogatives and privileges. James enjoyed debates, which led to the rise of parliamentary power by allowing free debate in the House this led to a precedent to free speech. James argued that the