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That with the Mightiest raised me to contend,
“What though the field be lost ?
Hath lost us heaven, and all this mighty host
Whereto with speedy words the Arch-Fiend replied :
“ But see! the angry victor hath recalled
Of heaven received us falling; and the thunder,
THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE HOUSE OF
COMMONS. It is well known that the earliest writs of summons to cities and boroughs of which we can prove the existence, are those of Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester, bearing date 12th December, 1264, in the forty-ninth year of Henry III. After a long controversy, almost all judicious inquirers seem to have acquiesced in admitting this origin of popular representation. The argument may be very concisely stated. We find from innumerable records that the king imposed tallages upon his demesne towns at discretion. No public instrument, previous to the forty-ninth of Henry III., names the citizens and burgesses as constituent parts of Parliament; though prelates, barons, knights, and sometimes freeholders are enumerated ; whilst since the undoubted admission of the Commons, they are almost invariably mentioned. No historian speaks of representatives appearing for the people, or uses the word citizen or burgess in describing those present at Parliament. Such convincing though negative evidence is not to be invalidated by some general and ambiguous phrases, whether in writs and records or in historians. Matthew Paris tells us that in 1237 the whole kingdom repaired to a Parliament of Henry III. But such monkish annalists are poor authorities upon any point where their language is to be delicately measured. It is hardly possible that writing circumstantially, as Roger de Hovedon and Matthew Paris sometimes did, concerning proceedings in Parliament, they could have failed to mention the Commons in unequivocal expressions, if any representatives from that order had actually formed part of the assembly.
Two authorities, however, which have been supposed to prove a greater antiquity than we have assigned to the representations of the Commons, are deserving of particular consideration, the cases of St. Albans and Barnstaple. The burgesses of St. Albans complained to the Council in the eighth year of Edward II., that, although they held of the king in capite, and ought to attend his Parliaments whenever they are summoned, by two of their number, instead of all other services, as had been their custom in all past times, which services the said burgesses and their predecessors had performed in the time of the late king Edward and his ancestors, as in that of the present king until the Parliament now sitting, the names of their deputies having been constantly enrolled in Chancery, yet the sheriff of Hertfordshire, at the instigation of the Abbot of St. Albans, had neglected to cause an election and return to be made ; and prayed remedy. To this petition it was answered : “Let the rolls of Chancery be examined, that it may appear whether the said burgesses were accustomed to come to Parliament, or not, in the time of the king's ancestors, and let right be done them.”
This is, by far, the most plausible testimony for the early representation of boroughs. The burgesses of St. Albans claim a prescriptive right from the usage of all past times, and more especially those of the late Edward and his ancestors. Could this be alleged, it is said, of a privilege at the utmost of fifty years' standing, once granted by
an usurper in the days of the late king's father, and afterwards discontinued till about twenty years before the date of their petition, according to those who refer the regular appearance of the Commons to the twenty-third of Edward I. ? It was observed by Madox, that the petition of St. Albans contains two very singular allegations : it asserts that the town was part of the king's demesne, whereas it had invariably belonged to the adjoining abbey ; and that its burgesses held by the tenure of attending Parliament, instead of all other services, contrary to all analogy, and without parallel in the condition of any tenant in capite throughout the kingdom. “It is no wonder, therefore," says Hume, “that a petition which advances two falsehoods should contain one historical mistake, which, indeed, amounts only to an inaccurate expression.” But it must be confessed that we cannot so easily set aside the whole authority of this record. For whatever assurance the people of St. Albans might show in asserting what was untrue, the king's councils must have been aware how recently the deputies of any towns had been admitted into Parliament. If the lawful birth of the House of Commons were in 1295, as is maintained, is it conceivable that in 1315 the council would have received a petition claiming the elective franchise by prescription, and have referred to the rolls of Chancery to inquire whether this had been used in the days of the king's progenitors ? No answer can easily be given to this objection by such as adopt the latest epoch of borough representation, namely, the Parliament of the twenty-third year of Edward I.
But they are by no means equally conclusive against the supposition that the communities of cities and towns, having been first introduced into the legislature during Leicester's usurpation in the forty-ninth year of Henry III., were summoned, not perhaps uniformly, but without any long intermission, to succeeding Parliaments. There is a strong presumption from the language of a contemporary historian that they sat in the Parliament of 1269, four years after that convened by Leicester. It is more unequivocally stated by another annalist that they were present in the first Parliament of Edward I., held in 1271,