COMMONS, HOUSE OF. The ob ject of this article is to present a compen dious view of the history and actual state of the House of Commons as a part of the Imperial Parliament of Great Britain and Ireland.
Long after the first signing of the great charter, the levying of tallape upon the burgesses, as upon the villains, was still claimed as an inherent right of the Anglo Norman crown, and was of itself an abundant source of vexatious oppression. To show the galling nature of this ex action, we may instance the levy made by Henry II., on pretext of a crusade, in 1087, one of the last years of his reign : —He had a list made out of the richest citizens and burgesses of all the munici pal towns, and had them individually summoned to appear before him at an appointed time and place. The honour of being admitted into the presence of the Conqueror's great grandson was in this manner granted to two hundred citi zens of London, one hundred of York, and to a proportionate number in the other cities and boroughs. The letters of con vocation admitted neither of excuse nor of delay. The burgesses thus summoned were received a certain number at a time, at several different days and places; and as each band presented themselves, it was notified to them, from the Norman king, through an interpreter, what sum he required from them. " And thus," says a contemporary historian (Roger de Hoveden, Annales), the king take from them a tenth of their pro perties, according to the estimate of good men and true, that knew what income they had, as likewise what goods and chattels. Such as he found refractory he sent forthwith to prison, and kept them there until they had payed the uttermost farthing. In like manner did he to the Jews within his realm, which brought him incalculable sums." This assimila tion of the great mass of Anglo-Saxon burgesses to the Jews gives us the exact measure of their political condition at the commencement of the second century of the regime of the Conquest.
To the sagacity of Simon de Montfort, the great Earl or rather Count of Leices ter, who led the national resistance to the tyranny of the weak and treacherous Henry III., the first general summoning of representative citizens and burgesses to parliament seems to be attributable, for it was in the year 1265, while Henry was a captive in De Montfort's power, after the battle of Lewes, that, in calling a parliament, he issued the earliest writs requiring each sheriff of a county to re turn, together with two knights for the shire under hisjurisdiction, two citizens for each city, and two burgesses for each borough within its limits. Although the defeat and destruction of De Montfort, shortly after, by the exertions of Prince Edward, appear to have prevented this plan of representation to the commons from taking immediate effect, yet it was permanently adopted by Edward himself, at least from the twenty-third year of his reign, as an amelioration which, under the existing internal circumstances of the country, sound policy dictated.
It is plain, however, that in this mea sure little was contemplated by Ed ward beyond the facilitating of the extra ordinary supplies of money, indispensable for the prosecution of those schemes of national aggrandizement which so ac tively and steadily occupied his vigorous reign. The advantage immediately de rived to the burgess population from the substitution for the arbitrary and vexa tious mode already described of summon ing their deputies to the king's court for the purposes of taxation, of the uniform practice of calling them together at the same times and places at which the established estates of the Anglo-Norman parliament were convened, was, not so much the lightening of their pecuniary burdens on the whole, as the effecting and maintaining a more equal and regu lar distribution of them. The Anglo
Norman king and his great council, into which, among the laity, none but his immediate feudal tenants and a few sum moned by his personal letters were yet admitted, still claimed and exercised the power of taxing the burgesses almost at discretion. Although the knights of the shires, at that period, that is, the repre sentatives of the county freeholders at large, were first regularly summoned to attend on parliament at the same time as the representative burgesses, and, like them, for the purpose of taxation only, yet they and the burgesses were for so pie time longer regarded as forming two dis tinct representative bodies. Thus the writs for the parliament of the 23rd of Edward I expressly direct that the elected citizens and burgesses shall have full power to act on behalf of the citizens and burgesses at large separately (dini sim) from the county representatives, for transacting what shall be ordained by the great council (whose composition is above described) " in the premises," that is, in providing remedies for the dangers of the kingdom, as set forth in the preamble of the writ, sufficiently intimating that a " grant of supply," as it is now termed, was a primary object of this parliament ary convocation. And we find that while the county freeholders at large, as regards the rate of impost on their personal property, were placed on the same level as the tenants-in-chief, the citizens and burgesses were constantly called upon to give a full third more. This very circumstance, however, the large proportion which they were made to bear of the burden which each great pecuniary exigency of the state imposed, inevitably accelerated their advance to wards the attainment of a permanent control over all the great operations of government, by rendering their peaceable assent to the several impositions the more indispensable. The lasting establishment just described, of the practice of convok ing them collectively, at the same places and times as the legislative estates of par liament, indicates the first great step in this progression. Arbitrary intimidation was no longer felt to be the best means of exacting through the town delegates the desired contributions. It was found expedient that they should at least hear the objects stated and discussed, to which the proceeds were to be applied. Their second step naturally was, to exercise a judgment on the wisdom and fitness, first, of the objects themselves, and next of the means by which they were to be prose cuted. So rapid was the march of the delegated body of citizens and burgesses in this career, that in the year 1297, the 25th of Edward I., we arrive at the first solemn recognition of their political exist ence in the statutum de tallagio, which has been commonly called statutum de tallagio non coneedendo, by which the right of taxing them arbitrarily was finally relinquished. The statute de clares—" No tallage or aid shall be taken or levied by us or our heirs in our realm without the good will and assent of the archbishops, bishops, earls, barons knights, burgesses, and other freemen of the land." At this date then we may Ss that important step in the constitutional progression, the union of the representa tive freeholders or knights of the shire with the representative citizens and bur gesses in one assembly.