Jan 202018
 

On this date in 1265 Simon de Montfort called a parliament that, for the first time in English history, included commoners as well as nobles. Many historians date the formation of the House of Commons from this moment.  Things are a lot murkier than that, of course. Historians can be a bit over the top from time to time. Nonetheless, it was a significant turning point in the way that English kings viewed their subjects, and de Montfort is often spoken of as the founder of the House of Commons, even though that’s a bit of a stretch. Prior to de Montfort’s parliament, the nobility ruled their lands without any concern for the opinions or desires of the common people. Over the centuries, the situation completely reversed itself – but it took time.

Henry III

In 1258, Henry III of England faced a revolt among the English barons. Anger had grown about the way the king’s officials were raising funds, the influence of his Poitevin relatives at court (bloody foreigners !!), and his unpopular Sicilian policy (he wanted to control the kingdom as a gift for his son, Edmund). Even the English Church had grievances over its treatment by Henry. Within Henry’s court there was a strong feeling that the king would be unable to lead the country through these problems. On 30 April, Hugh Bigod marched into Westminster in the middle of the king’s parliament, backed by his co-conspirators, including Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, and carried out a coup d’état. Henry, fearful that he was about to be arrested and imprisoned, agreed to abandon his policy of personal rule and instead govern through a council of 24 barons and churchmen, half chosen by the king and half by the barons.

The pressure for reform continued to grow unabated and a parliament met in June. The term “parliament” had first appeared in the 1230s and 1240s to describe large gatherings of the royal court, and parliamentary gatherings were held periodically throughout Henry’s reign. They were used to agree upon the raising of taxes which, in the 13th century, were single, one-off levies, typically on movable property, intended to support the king’s normal revenues for particular projects. During Henry’s reign, the counties had begun to send regular delegations to these parliaments, and came to represent a broader cross-section of the community than simply the major barons – but they were still nobles.

The new parliament passed a set of measures known as the Provisions of Oxford, which Henry swore to uphold. These provisions created a smaller council of 15 members, elected solely by the barons, which then had the power to appoint England’s justiciar, chancellor and treasurer, and which would be monitored through triennial parliaments. Pressure from the lesser barons and the gentry present at Oxford also helped to push through wider reform, intended to limit the abuse of power by both the king’s officials and the major barons. More radical measures were passed by the new council the next year, in the form of the Provisions of Westminster.

The disagreements between the leading barons involved in the revolt soon became evident. De Montfort championed radical reforms that would place further limitations on the authority and power of the major barons as well as the Crown. Others promoted only moderate change, while the conservative barons expressed concerns about the existing limitations on the king’s powers. Over the next 4 years, neither Henry nor the barons were able to restore stability in England, and power swung back and forth between the different factions. By early 1263, what remained of Henry’s authority had disintegrated and the country slipped back towards open civil war. De Montfort convened a council of rebel barons in Oxford to pursue his radical agenda and by October, England faced a likely civil war. De Montfort marched east with an army and London rose up in revolt. De Montfort took Henry and Queen Eleanor prisoner, and although he maintained a fiction of ruling in Henry’s name, the rebels completely replaced the royal government and household with their own, trusted men.

Simon de Montfort

De Montfort’s coalition began to fragment quickly. Henry regained his freedom of movement, and renewed chaos spread across England. Henry appealed to his brother-in-law Louis IX of France for arbitration in the dispute. De Montfort was initially hostile to this idea, but, as war became more likely again, he decided to agree to French arbitration as well. Initially de Montfort’s legal arguments held sway, but in January 1264, Louis announced the Mise of Amiens, condemning the rebels, upholding the king’s rights and annulling the Provisions of Oxford. The Second Barons’ War finally broke out in April, when Henry led an army into de Montfort’s territories. Becoming desperate, Montfort marched in pursuit of Henry and the two armies met at the Battle of Lewes on 14 May. Despite their numerical superiority, Henry’s forces were overwhelmed. Captured, Henry was forced to pardon the rebel barons and reinstate the Provisions of Oxford, leaving him a figurehead only.

Simon de Montfort claimed to be ruling in the king’s name through a council of officials. However, he had effective political control over the government even though he was not himself the monarch, the first time this had happened in English history. De Montfort successfully held a parliament in London in June 1264 to confirm new constitutional arrangements for England; four knights were summoned from each county, chosen by the county court, and were allowed to comment on general matters of state – the first time this had occurred. De Montfort was unable to consolidate his victory at Lewes, however, and widespread disorder persisted across the country. In France, Eleanor made plans for an invasion of England with the support of Louis.

In response, and hoping to win wider support for his government, de Montfort summoned a new parliament for 20th January 1265 which continued until mid-March that year. It was held at short notice, with the summons being issued on 14th December, leaving little time for attendees to respond. He summoned not only the barons, senior churchmen and two knights from each county, but also two burgesses from each of the major towns such as York, Lincoln, Sandwich, and the Cinque Ports, the first time this had been done. Due to the lack of support for de Montfort among the barons, only 23 of them were summoned to parliament, in comparison to the summons issued to 120 churchmen, who largely supported the new government. It is unknown how many burgesses were called. The event was overseen by king Henry, and held in the Palace of Westminster in London, the largest city in England, whose continuing loyalty was essential to de Montfort’s cause.

This parliament was a populist, tactical move by de Montfort in an attempt to gather support from the regions, and was made up of selected, partisan representatives. It was not some kind of proto-democratic representative body.  The business of the parliament focused on enforcing the Provisions of Westminster, in particular its restrictions on the major nobles, and promising judicial help to those who felt they were suffering from unfair feudal lordship.

The parliament bought temporary calm, but opposition grew once more, particularly as de Montfort and his immediate family began to amass a huge personal fortune. Prince Edward escaped his captors in May and formed a new army, resulting in a fresh outbreak of civil war. Edward pursued de Monfort’s forces through the Welsh Marches, before striking east to attack his fortress at Kenilworth and then turning once more on the rebel leader himself. De Montfort, accompanied by the captive Henry, was unable to retreat and the Battle of Evesham ensued. Edward was triumphant. De Montfort was killed, and his corpse was mutilated by the victors.

The rebellion dragged on in pockets and was not fully crushed until July 1267. Henry III ruled England until his death in 1272, continuing to summon parliaments, sometimes including the county knights and on one occasion including burgesses from the towns. After 1297 under Edward I’s reign, this became the norm, and by the early 14th century it was normal to include the knights and burgesses, a grouping that would become known as the “Commons” of England and, ultimately, form the “House of Commons.”

Simon de Montfort’s parliament of 1265 is sometimes referred to as the first English parliament, because of its inclusion of both the knights and the burgesses, and de Montfort himself is often regarded as the founder of the House of Commons. This is certainly a case of overreach, or, at best, looking at history in hindsight. The House of Commons did eventually develop into a fully representative and democratically elected body, so historians can look back to how it evolved, and where it started. By looking backwards from what developed later, historians can mark de Montford’s parliament as the first body that involved commoners, and, by that standard, peg it as the beginning of the House of Commons. But the burgesses at the court were chosen by de Montfort, and, although they were free to speak on matters beyond taxation, they could not initiate nor pass laws. Whether this was the beginning of the House of Commons seems a stretch, but you can decide.

De Montfort’s parliament met in the palace of Westminster, and parliaments still do, although the buildings have changed considerably in the interim. The current building was built in 1834, after a fire destroyed large sections of the old one.

Back when I posted about Big Ben I mentioned HP sauce, because HP stands for Houses of Parliament: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/big-ben/ Now we are not talking about the Houses of Parliament in general, but the House of Commons, which meets in a chamber of the palace of Westminster. Therefore, we should focus on another recipe. The House of Commons once put out a cookbook of favorite recipes by MPs, so you could check that out if you want.

I am going to give a recipe (not from the book) for House of Commons pudding. It’s a bit like spotted dick except that the pudding is sponge cake and crumbled ratafia biscuits (or almond macaroons), infused with egg custard, mixed with raisins, and steamed.

House of Commons Pudding

Ingredients

2 oz/50 g seedless raisins
2 tbsp/30 ml medium-dry sherry
4 trifle sponges, cut into ½ inch dice
9 ratafias or 2 almond macaroons, crumbled
14 fl oz/400 ml milk
3 eggs
1 oz/25 gm caster sugar
vanilla essence
glace cherries
angelica, cut in strips
butter (for greasing)

Instructions

Put the raisins in a small bowl with the sherry and macerate overnight.

Grease a pudding basin with butter and line it with greaseproof paper. Decorate the bottom with glace cherries and angelica.

Place the diced sponges in a mixing bowl. Mix in the crumbled ratafias (or macaroons).

Drain the raisins and discard the sherry.

Place a layer of the sponge mixture in the pudding base, being careful not to disturb the cherries and angelica. Sprinkle in a few of the raisins. Repeat the layering until the basin is filled.

Bring the milk to just below boiling point over medium heat in a saucepan. Take off the heat. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a mixing bowl, then pour in the scalded milk. Add a few drops of vanilla essence.

Slowly strain the custard mix on to the sponge mix in the pudding basin, so that it seeps down through the layers. Let it rest for 1 hour.

Meanwhile prepare a steamer setup. You can either use a conventional steamer with boiling water in the bottom, and a perforated top part to hold the pudding basin. Or you can invert a saucer in the bottom of a saucepan and add one or two inches of water, and set the pot to boil. The saucer will keep the pudding basin off the bottom of the pan.

Cover the pudding basin with greaseproof paper, and secure it with string. You can also add a layer of aluminium foil.

Place the basin in the top of the steamer or on the saucer, cover the pan and steam for 1 hour.

Carefully remove the basin from the steamer, place a plate over the top, invert the basin and plate, and unmold the pudding carefully. Serve with egg custard.

Jun 152014
 

mc2

On this date in 1250 King John of England sealed Magna Carta, also called Magna Carta Libertatum or The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, at Runnymede, on the bank of the River Thames near Windsor. Magna Carta was the first document imposed upon a King of England by a group of his subjects, the feudal barons, in an attempt to limit his powers by law and protect their rights. The charter is widely known throughout the English speaking world as an important part of the protracted historical process that led to the rule of constitutional law in England and beyond.

The 1215 charter required King John to proclaim certain liberties and accept that his will was not arbitrary—for example by explicitly accepting that no freeman (in the sense of non-serf) could be punished except through the law of the land, a right that still exists under English law today. The name Runnymede may be derived from the Anglo-Saxon ‘runieg’ (regular meeting) and ‘mede’ (mead or meadow), describing a place in the meadows used to hold regular meetings. The Witan, Witenagemot or Council of the Anglo-Saxon kings of the 7th to 11th centuries was held from time to time at Runnymede. The Council usually met in the open air.

MC3

The water-meadow at Runnymede is the most likely location at which King John sealed the Magna Carta, and is the site of the Magna Carta Memorial. Magna Carta Island on the opposite bank of the river is another possible site. The charter indicates Runnymede by name. The Magna Carta influenced common and constitutional law, as well as political representation and the development of parliament. The charter’s association with ideals of democracy, limitation of power, equality and freedom under law has attracted placement at Runnymede of monuments and commemorative symbols.

Magna Carta was preceded and directly influenced by the Charter of Liberties in 1100, in which King Henry I had specified particular areas wherein his powers would be limited. Magna Carta was important in the colonization of North America, as England’s legal system was used as a model for many of the colonies when they were developing their own legal systems.

It was translated into vernacular French as early as 1219, and reissued later in the 13th century in modified versions. The later versions excluded the most direct challenges to the monarch’s authority that had been present in the 1215 charter. The charter first passed into law in 1225; the 1297 version, with the long title (originally in Latin) “The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, and of the Liberties of the Forest,” still remains on the statute books of England and Wales.

Despite its recognized importance, by the second half of the 19th century nearly all of its clauses had been repealed in their original form. Three clauses currently remain part of the law of England and Wales, however, and Magna Carta is generally considered a major part of the uncodified constitution (England has no written constitution). It has special constitutional status along with the Habeas Corpus Act (1679), the Petition of Right (1628), the Bill of Rights (1689), and the Act of Settlement (1701).

It was Magna Carta, over other early concessions by the monarch, which survived to become a “sacred text.” In practice, Magna Carta did not generally limit the power of kings in the medieval period, but by the time of the English Civil War it had become an important symbol for those who wished to show that the King was bound by the law. It influenced the early settlers in New England and inspired later constitutional documents, including the United States Constitution.

A group of barons began to conspire against King John in 1209 and in 1212; promises made to the northern barons and John’s submission to universal rule of the papacy in 1213 delayed a French invasion. Over the course of his reign a combination of higher taxes, unsuccessful wars that resulted in the loss of English barons’ titled possessions in Normandy following the Battle of Bouvines (1214), and the conflict with Pope Innocent III (ending with John’s submission in 1213) had made King John unpopular with many of his barons.

mc5

In 1215 some of the most important barons engaged in open rebellion against their king. Such rebellions were not particularly unusual in this period. Every king since William the Conqueror had faced rebellions. What was unusual about the 1215 rebellion was that the rebels had no obvious replacement for John; in every previous case there had been an alternative monarch around whom the rebellion could rally. Arthur of Brittany would have been a possibility, if he had not disappeared years earlier whilst he was John’s prisoner. He was widely believed to have been murdered by John. The next closest alternative was Prince Louis of France, but as the husband of Henry II’s granddaughter, his claim was tenuous, and the English had been at war with the French for thirty years. Instead of a claimant to the throne, the barons decided to base their rebellion on John’s oppressive government. In January 1215, the barons made an oath that they would “stand fast for the liberty of the church and the realm,” and they demanded that King John confirm the Charter of Liberties, from what they viewed as a golden age.

John attempted to use the lengthy negotiations to avoid a confrontation while he waited for support from the Pope and hired mercenaries, adopting various measures to weaken the rebels’ position and improve his own, including taking the cross as a crusader in March 1215 (which the Pope applauded but most other observers considered insincere), demanding a new oath of allegiance, and confirming London’s city charter in May 1215. During negotiations between January and June 1215, a document was produced, which historians have termed ‘The Unknown Charter of Liberties,’ seven of the articles of which later appeared in the ‘Articles of the Barons’ and the Runnymede Charter. In May, King John offered to submit issues to a committee of arbitration with Pope Innocent III as the supreme arbiter, but the barons continued in their defiance. With the support of Prince Louis, the French heir, and of King Alexander II of the Scots, they entered London in force on 10 June 1215, with the city showing its sympathy with their cause by opening its gates to them. They, and many of the moderates not in overt rebellion, forced King John to agree to a document later known as the ‘Articles of the Barons,’ to which his Great Seal was attached in the meadow at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. In return, the barons renewed their oaths of fealty to King John on 19 June 1215, which is when the document Magna Carta was officially agreed upon by all parties.

MC1

In return for King John’s submission to his papal and universal authority, Innocent III declared Magna Carta annulled, though many English Barons did not accept this action. The contemporary, but unreliable chronicler, Roger of Wendover, recorded the events in his Flores Historiarum. A formal document to record the agreement was created by the royal chancery on 15 July: this was the original Magna Carta, though it was not known by that name at the time. An unknown number of copies of it were sent out to officials, such as royal sheriffs and bishops.

The 1215 document contained a large section that is now called clause 61 (the clauses were not originally numbered). This section established a committee of 25 barons who could at any time meet and overrule the will of the King if he defied the provisions of the Charter, seizing his castles and possessions if it was considered necessary. This was based on a medieval legal practice known as distraint, but it was the first time it had been applied to a monarch.

Distrust between the two sides was overwhelming. What the barons really sought was the overthrow of the King; the demand for a charter was mere subterfuge. Clause 61 was a serious challenge to John’s authority as a ruling monarch. He renounced it as soon as the barons left London; Pope Innocent III also annulled the “shameful and demeaning agreement, forced upon the King by violence and fear.” He rejected any call for restraints on the king, saying it impaired John’s dignity. He saw it as an affront to the Church’s authority over the king and the ‘papal territories’ of England and Ireland, and he released John from his oath to obey it. The rebels knew that King John could never be restrained by Magna Carta and so they sought a new king.

England was plunged into a civil war, known as the First Barons’ War. With the failure of Magna Carta to achieve peace or restrain John, the barons reverted to the more traditional type of rebellion by trying to replace the monarch they disliked with an alternative. In a measure of some desperation, despite the tenuousness of his claim and despite the fact that he was French, they offered the crown of England to Prince Louis of France. Therefore, as a means of preventing war, Magna Carta was a failure, rejected by most of the barons, and was legally valid for no more than three months. The death of King John in 1216, however, secured the future of Magna Carta.

Magna Carter was, thus, not the single great turning point in English history as it is characterized in basic school textbooks; the simplistic notion that most people believe. It was based on a royal charter that was over 100 years old at the time John went to Runnymede, and it had little effect on John’s subsequent actions. Nonetheless, most of its central articles were reaffirmed in later charters, and it was, indeed, the first time that an English king had sealed a document limiting his powers against his will.

1225

1225

King John’s nine-year-old son Henry was crowned King of England in Gloucester Abbey, though much of England lay under the usurper Prince Louis. The papal legate Guala Bicchieri declared the struggle against Louis and the Barons a holy war, and the loyalists led by William Marshal rallied around the new king. Earl Ranulf of Chester left the Regency to Marshall. Marshall and Guala issued a Charter of Liberties, based on the Runnymede Charter, in the King’s name on 12 November 1216 as a Royal concession, in an attempt to undermine the rebels. The Charter differed from that of 1215 in only having 42 as compared to 61 clauses; most notably the infamous article 61 of the Runnymede Charter was removed. The Charter was also issued separately for Ireland. Subsequent charters based on Magna Carta were issued in 1217, 1225, 1237, and 1297.

1297

1297

Edward I of England reissued the Charter of 1225 in 1297 in return for a new tax. Constitutionally, the Magna Carta of Edward I is the most important because it remains in Statute today (albeit with most articles now repealed).

The clauses of the 1297 Magna Carta inherited from 1215 and still on statute are:

Clause 1, the freedom of the English Church

Clause 9 (clause 13 in the 1215 charter), the “ancient liberties” of the City of London

Clause 29 (clause 39 in the 1215 charter), a right to due process

1. FIRST, We have granted to God, and by this our present Charter have confirmed, for Us and our Heirs for ever, that the Church of England shall be free, and shall have all her whole Rights and Liberties inviolable. We have granted also, and given to all the Freemen of our Realm, for Us and our Heirs for ever, these Liberties under-written, to have and to hold to them and their Heirs, of Us and our Heirs for ever.

9. THE City of London shall have all the old Liberties and Customs which it hath been used to have. Moreover We will and grant, that all other Cities, Boroughs, Towns, and the Barons of the Five Ports, as with all other Ports, shall have all their Liberties and free Customs.

29. NO Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.

I’ve discussed peasant food in Medieval England before (30 May 2014). Now is the turn of the nobility. Here’s a 13th century recipe for a kind of pie that was popular. It resembles what we would call a quiche these days. If you don’t feel like knocking off a pigeon in the park you can find squab in good markets or online. Otherwise another small bird, such as a game hen, will work.

mc4

King John’s Croustade

Ingredients

8-12oz/225-350g wholemeal or whole wheat pastry
1 pigeon
2 chicken joints (2 breasts or 2 whole legs)
? cup dry white wine
2 cups light stock
4 cloves
½ oz/15 g butter
2 oz/50g mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 oz/25g raisins
3 large eggs
½ tsp ground ginger
salt and pepper

Instructions

Roll out 8 oz/225g of the pastry and line a 20cm (8 inch) flan dish, back the crust blind. Put the pigeon in a pot with the stock, wine, pepper, and cloves and cook very slowly for 30 minutes. Add the chicken and continue to cook for a further 45 minutes or until the meat of both birds is really tender.

Meanwhile cook the mushrooms lightly in the butter. Remove the birds from the stock and bone them. Cut the flesh into quite small pieces, mix it with the mushrooms and the raisins and spread them over the base of the flan case.

Beat the eggs with a fork and season with the salt, pepper, and ginger. Add 1 cup of the cooking juices and pour over the meat in the flan case. If you want to have a lid, roll out the rest of the pastry and cover the flan. Bake at 350°F/180°C for 25 minutes if uncovered, 35 minutes if covered. Serve warm.