The House of Commons of England was the lower house of the Parliament of England from its development in the 14th century to the union of England and Scotland in 1707, when it became the House of Commons of Great Britain. In 1801, with the union of Great Britain and Ireland, that house became the House of Commons of the United Kingdom.
The Parliament of England developed from the council that advised the English monarch in medieval times. This royal council, meeting for short periods, included ecclesiastics, noblemen, as well as representatives of the counties (known as "knights of the shire"). The chief duty of the council was to approve taxes proposed by the Crown. In many cases, however, the council demanded the redress of the people's grievances before proceeding to vote on taxation. Thus, it developed legislative powers.
In the "Model Parliament" of 1295, representatives of the boroughs (including towns and cities) were also admitted. Thus, it became settled practice that each county send two knights of the shire, and that each borough send two burgesses. At first, the burgesses were almost entirely powerless; while the right to representation of each English county quickly became indisputable, the monarch could enfranchise or disfranchise boroughs at pleasure. Any show of independence by burgesses would thus be likely to lead to the exclusion of their towns from Parliament. The knights of the shire were in a better position, although less powerful than their noble and clerical counterparts in what was still a unicameral Parliament.
The division of the Parliament of England into two houses occurred during the reign of Edward III: in 1341 the Commons met separately from the nobility and clergy for the first time, creating in effect an Upper Chamber and a Lower Chamber, with the knights and burgesses sitting in the latter. They formed what became known as the House of Commons, while the clergy and nobility became the House of Lords. Alhough they remained subordinate to both the Crown and the Lords, the Commons did act with increasing boldness. During the Good Parliament of 1376, the Commons appointed Sir Peter de la Mare to convey to the Lords their complaints of heavy taxes, demands for an accounting of the royal expenditures, and criticism of the King's management of the military. The Commons even proceeded to impeach some of the King's ministers. Although de la Mare was imprisoned for his actions, the benefits of having a single voice to represent the Commons were recognised, and an office of Speaker of the House of Commons was created. Mare was soon released after the death of Edward III and became the second Speaker of the House in 1377.
During the reign of the next monarch, Richard II, the Commons once again began to impeach errant ministers of the Crown. They insisted that they could not only control taxation, but also public expenditures. Despite such gains in authority, however, the Commons still remained much less powerful than the Lords and the Crown.
The influence of the Crown was increased by the civil wars of the late fifteenth century, which destroyed the power of the great nobles. Both houses of Parliament held little power during the ensuing years, and the absolute supremacy of the Sovereign was restored. The domination of the monarch grew further under the Tudor dynasty in the sixteenth century. This trend, however, was somewhat reversed when the House of Stuart came to the English Throne in 1603. The first two Stuart monarchs, James I and Charles I, provoked conflicts with the Commons over issues such as taxation, religion, and royal powers.
The differences between Charles I and Parliament were great, and resulted in the English Civil War, in which the armed forces of Parliament were victorious. In December 1648 the House of Commons was purged by the New Model Army, which was supposed to be subservient to Parliament. Pride's Purge was indeed the only military coup in English history. Subsequently, King Charles I was beheaded and the Upper House was abolished. The unicameral Parliament that remained was later referred to by critics as the Rump Parliament, as it consisted only of a small selection of Members of Parliament approved by the army - some of whom were soldiers themselves. In 1653, when leading figures in this Parliament began to disagree with the army, it was dissolved by Oliver Cromwell. However, the monarchy and the House of Lords were both restored with the Commons in 1660. The influence of the Crown had been decreased, and was further diminished when James II was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
|Officers of the House of Commons and the House of Lords|
|House of Commons||House of Lords|
|Serjeant-at-Arms||Jill Pay||Black Rod||Freddie Viggers|
|Clerk of the House||Malcolm Jack||Clerk of the Parliaments||Michael Pownall|
|Speaker||John Bercow||Lord Speaker||Baroness Hayman|
|Leader of the House of Commons||Harriet Harman||Leader of the House of Lords||Baroness Royall|