The British Parliament: Origins and development


Studying the main aspects of historical development of the British Parliament, its role in the governing of the country in the course of history. The Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot. The functions of the British Parliament in the modern state management system.

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Учреждение образования

«Гомельский государственный университет имени Франциска Скорины»

Факультет иностранных языков

Кафедра теории и практики английского языка

Курсовая работа

The British Parliament: Origins and Development

Исполнитель: Билизек М.О.

Преподаватель Полевая К.В.

Гомель 2013



1. The Beginnings of Parliament

1.1 The Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot

1.2 The King's Feudal Council - Curia Regis

1.3 Magna Carta

1.3.1 Struggle for the Limitation of the King's Power

1.3.2 Magna Carta and the Decline of Feudalism

1.4 Summoning of the First Elected Parliament in 1265

1.5 The “Model Parliament” of Edward I (1295)

2. The Development of Parliament in the Late Middle Ages

2.1 Splitting into the Two Houses in the 14th Century

2.2 The War of the Roses and the Beginning of Tudor Absolutism

2.3 Government and Society in the 14th - 15th Centuries

2.3.1 Social Structure

2.3.2 The Growth of Parliamentary Power in the 14th - 15th Centuries

2.4 Tudor Absolutism and the Decline of Parliament

2.4.1 The Age of Henry VII Tudor's Reign (1485-1509)

2.4.2 Tudor Parliaments in the 16th Century

3. Stuart Parliaments in the 17th Century

3.1 Social Structure

3.2 The Growth of Contradictions between the Crown and Parliament

3.2.1 The Age of James I Stuart's Reign (1603-1625)

3.2.2 The Age of Charles I Stuart's Reign (1625-1649)

3.3 The Bourgeois Revolution (1640-1653)

3.3.1 The Parliament Opposition against the King

3.3.2 The Civil War (1642-1645)

3.3.3 The Struggle within the Parliament Party

3.3.4 The Civil War of 1648. The Establishment of the Republic

3.4 Republican Britain and Cromwell's Dictatorship (1649-1660)

3.5 The Restoration of the Monarchy in Britain (1660-1688)

3.5.1 The First Political Parties - the Whigs and the Tories

3.5.2 The Glorious Revolution of 1688

4. The Modern British Parliament

4.1 The British Parliament Today

4.2 The House of Commons

4.3 The House of Lords

4.4 The Work of Parliament




Parliament is one of the oldest and most honored parts of the British government. Its name, from the French word “parler” (“to talk”), was given to meetings of the English king's council in the middle of the 13th century. Its immediate predecessor was the king's feudal council, the Curia Regis, and before that the Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot. It was a device resorted to by the medieval kings to help them in running their governments and reflected the idea that the king should consult with his subjects.

In the 13th century, King Edward I (1272-1307) called joint meetings of two governmental institutions: the Magnum Concilium, or the Great Council, comprising lay and ecclesiastical magnates, and the Curia Regis, or King's Court, a much smaller body of semiprofessional advisers. At those meetings of the Curia Regis that came to be called “concilium regis in parliamento” (“the king's council in parliament”), judicial problems might be settled that had proved beyond the scope of the ordinary law courts dating from the 12th century. The members of the Curia Regis were preeminent and often remained to complete business after the magnates had been sent home; the proceedings of Parliament were not formally ended until they had accomplished their tasks. To about one in seven of these meetings Edward I summoned knights and burgesses to appear with the magnates.

The Parliament called in 1295, known as the Model Parliament and widely regarded as the first representative parliament, included the lower clergy for the first time as well as two knights from each county, two burgesses from each borough and two citizens from each city. Early in the 14th century the practice developed of conducting debates between the lords spiritual and temporal in one chamber, or “house”, and between the knights and burgesses in another. Strictly speaking, there were, and still are, three houses: the king and his council, the lords spiritual and temporal, and the commons.

But in the 15th century the kings of the House of Lancaster were usually forced to take all their councilors from among the lords, and later under the House of Tudor, it became the practice to find seats in the commons for privy councilors who were not lords. Meanwhile, the greater cohesion of the Privy Council achieved in the 14th century separated it in practice from Parliament, and the decline of Parliament's judicial function led to an increase in its legislative activity, originating now not only from royal initiative but by petitions, or “bills”, framed by groups within Parliament itself. Bills, if assented to by the king, became acts of Parliament; eventually, under King Henry VI (1422-1461; 1470-1471), the assent of both Houses - the House of Lords (a body now based largely on heredity) and the House of Commons - was also required. Under the Tudors, though it was still possible to make law by royal proclamation, the monarchs rarely resorted to such an unpopular measure, and all major political changers were affected by acts of Parliament.

In 1430 Parliament divided electoral constituencies to the House of Commons into counties and boroughs. Males who owned freehold property worth at least 40 shillings could vote in these elections. Members of the House of Commons were wealthy, as they were not paid and were required to have an annual income of at least ?600 for county seats and ?300 for borough seats. In most boroughs, very few individuals could vote, and some members were elected by less than a dozen electors. These rotten boroughs were eventually eliminated by the Reform Bill of 1832. As parliamentary sessions became more regular from the 15th to the 17th centuries, a class of professional parliamentarians developed, some of whom were used by the king to secure assent to his measures; others would sometimes disagree with his measures and encourage the Commons to reject them, though the firm idea of an organized “opposition” did not develop until much later.

In the 17th century Parliament became a revolutionary body and the centre of resistance to the king during the English Civil Wars (1642-1651). The Restoration period (1660-1688) saw the development of the first political parties - the Whigs and the Tories. The modern parliamentary system, as well as the principle of parliamentary sovereignty, quickly developed after the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688. England became a "parliamentary monarchy" controlled by a constitution.

Nowadays one of the fundamental principles of the unwritten constitution is the sovereignty of the British Parliament. It means that Parliament has unlimited power in the legislative and the executive spheres and there is no institution that can declare its acts unconstitutional.

Parliament consists of the Crown, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The main functions of Parliament are as follows: to pass laws, to provide the means of carrying on the work of Government, to control the Government policy and administration, to debate the most important political issues of the day. Nevertheless, the principal duty of Parliament is legislation.

The purpose of this course paper is to study the main aspects of historical development of the British Parliament; to determine its role in the governing of the country, its structure, organization, main functions in different historical periods and nowadays.

The course paper consists of four chapters. The main task of the first chapter is to determine the principles of the formation of Parliament as an institution of power, to study the historical conditions of the 11th - 13th centuries which affected the formation of the earliest predecessors of the British Parliament - the Anglo-Saxon Witan, Curia Regis and the Parliaments of 1265 and 1295.

The second chapter tells about the further development of Parliament in the Late Middle Ages, under the House of Tudor. The main task of this chapter is to reflect the main changes in the society and government in the 14th - 16th centuries, to determine the reasons of the growth of parliamentary power.

The third chapter describes Stuart Parliaments in the 17th century. The main task of the chapter is to single out the reasons of the bourgeois revolution that resulted in the establishment of the republic in 1649, and also the reasons of the Restoration of monarchy.

The main task of the fourth chapter is to determine the structure and main functions of...