“England” began to unify politically under the first Anglo-Saxon Kings which developed into familial dynasties.

However, regional rule under local landed lands and the peasant farmers who worked their farms in a system called FEUDALISM dominated English society.  

The role of the elite, aristocratc nobility led to the advisory and representative political body called PARLIAMENT.

It started with the WITAN, an early advisory group made of most important earls and bishops. The Witan met when the monarch summonsed it.  

Eventually, this body of earls would be called the House of LORDS  Parliament became firmly established under Edward III during the 1300s.  

In the 1340s, Parliament began to grant money to the king.  

Usually to fund wars.  

In the 1350s, the Houses of Lords and Commons (the “lower” nobility of knights and burgesses) began to meet separately.  

The post of Speaker was created to voice their views after their debates. 


In 1154, King Henry II took the throne.  He broadened the system of royal justice.

The monarch could not simply write new laws, but had to follow accepted customs Henry sent out traveling judges to enforce royal laws.  

Royal courts became the basis of what was called COMMON LAW. a legal system based on customs and precedents  (previous court rulings)  

Common law served to standardize justice throughout England.  

Local legal trials including juries (from became common accepted practice.  

Trial by jury beame a foundation for democratic rule.   


This “great charter” sought to limit the power of the English monarch, seeking to end “arbitrary” and “oppressive” royal rule. It was forced on King John due to war debts and his attempt to raise taxes.

Certain civil liberties or rights of the elite, aristocratic nobility were to be protected – “no free man shall be seized or imprisoned, except by lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land”.  

Trial by jury was reinforced.  

Also, royal officials would not take goods without payment.  

However, the Magna Carta was not always “enforced” by future kings.


This Tudor king practiced supreme power over the kingdom.  

King Henry VIII came  conflict with the power of the Roman Catholic Pope in Rome and the Catholic Church hierarchy in England,  Henry’s wive[s] failed to produce a male heir to the throne,.  This led to the seeking of annulment from his wife, Catherine of Aragon from Spain.  The Roman Pope refused Henry’s request.  

Henry broke with Rome.  

Henry’s ACT of SUPREMACY of 1534 declared the English king to be head of the English “Anglican” national church.  Politically, Henry recognized the value of good will and relations with Parliament, continuing to use it in an advisory role.

However, Parliament met only when the king summoned them.  

The English monarch  dominated both Parliament and Church.      

CIVIL WAR (1642-49)

“Royalists” came into conflict with “Parliamentarians”.

Both Stuart Kings James I (1603-25) abd Charles I (1625-1649) both asserted “absolute” royal power, atempting to ignore and rule without Parliament. 

Conflict over religious reform and taxation continued.  

James dissolved and sent Parliament home in 1614. In 1628, Charles I asked for money. Parliament refused, unless Charles signed the PETITION of RIGHT, which limited royal power under LAW.  

In 1640,  Charles I called on Parliament for funds for war with the Scots.  He faced a barrage of complaints from Parliament. 

After two years of argument and conflict, Charles declared war on Parliament.  

Royalist forces lost the war.  

Charles I was eventually executed ..      


The House of Commons abolished the Monarchy and House of Lords, establishing a republic called the Commonwealth.  

The Parliamentary “Puritan” General Oliver Cromwell assumed leadership as the “Lord Protector”. A series of threats led to military rule in 1552.  

After Cromwell’s death in 1558, Puritans lost their grip on power.  

People grew tired of military rule and Puritan religious reforms. 

In 1660, a newly elected Parliament asked Charles’ exiled son to return to the throne.


Charles II was crowned king in 1660.  Charles was popular, but left no legitimate male heir. 

His brother James became king in 1685. seeking to re-establish royal political dominance.  

James was a Catholic, which created division and fear of a potential Catholic “revival” and conflict. .  

Britons who supported James were called “TORIES”.  Critics were called “WHIGS”.  

This division was the first development of what would become political PARTIES within Parliament.  

The division would lead to “liberal’ and “conservative” factions during the 1800s, which continues today. 


James II was forced to flee in 1688.  

James’ daughter Mary, married to Holland’s William of Orange, were asked by Parliament to became king and queen.  

A series of acts of Parliament LIMITED the POWER of the monarchy.  Parliament had to meet every year. 

 TAXES could only be collected one year at a time

 The monarch had to be a PROTESTANT, HEAD of the Church of England.

BILL of RIGHTS was added in 1689, including no “cruel and unusual punishment”, no excessive bail or fines, the right to bear arms and the right to petition government for “redress of grievances” without punishment.   

The king could still appoint and dismiss MINISTERS.and decide on government policy. 

However, future kings became LESS involved in the daily government of England.  

The post of PRIME MINISTER developed, who would be advised by a CABINET. 

Britain, with “unified” Scotland in 1707, became a CONSTITUTION-al MONARCHY (“LEX REX”the law is king), unless most monarchies around the world, which maintained “absolute” political power. 

“REX LEX” – the KING is LAW vs. “LEX REX” – the LAW is KING 

England arguably birthed “modern” government, the “parliamentary” system that is still used throughout much of the “democratic” world.  

The Prime Minister and his Cabinet were the “executive” branch performing government functions along with a bureaucratic civil service.

Parliament served as the legislative, law-making branch.  

The “judiciary” branch provided a justice system.