The first Parliaments

The first known official use of the term Parliament was in 1236. It described the consultative meetings of the English monarch with a large group of his nobles (the earls and barons), and prelates (the bishops and abbots). The word Parliament means an event arranged to talk and discuss things, from the French word "parler".

Place to talk

For the first few centuries of its existence Parliament was only an occasion and not an institution. It was called at the whim of the monarch, consisted of whoever he wanted to speak with, met wherever he happened to be, could last as long as he wanted, and had no independent officials of its own.

During the 13th century the barons were frequently in revolt against the kings whom they thought were governing the realm badly, that is, against the barons' own wishes. In 1215 King John was forced to agree to Magna Carta, the "great charter" of legal rights which insisted that he listen to and follow the advice of the barons.

Radical proposals

Then, at the meeting of Parliament at Oxford in 1258 the barons stated their dissatisfaction with Henry III, and tried to force him to accept a set of conditions called the Provisions of Oxford. These radical proposals called for regular meetings of Parliament three times a year, which should also include 12 non-noble representatives chosen from the counties.

Henry III refused to agree to the provisions and war broke out between him and the leader of the barons, Simon de Montfort, who was victorious in 1264. In January 1265 de Montfort called his own Parliament to discuss the peace terms.

Simon de Montfort's Parliament

This Parliament is seen as the earliest forerunner of the modern Parliament because it included not only the men who made up the Great Council, but also representatives from each county and from the cities and towns, known as burgesses.

De Montfort was killed in battle, only a few months after his Parliament, by Henry III's son, Edward. When he became King in 1272, Edward I developed Parliament into an institution for his own purposes.

Did you know?

Magna Carta was not intended to be a great charter of rights for all people, but designed by the barons to ensure that their rights were protected against the king's power.

External links

View the Magna Carta on the British Library's website

Glossary link


You can access biographies of

King John
Henry III
Simon de Montfort, 8th earl of Leicester
Edward I

from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free, online, using your local library card number (includes nine out of ten public libraries in the UK) or from within academic library and other subscribing networks.