The origins of Parliament

In the Middle Ages, the monarch's rule was supreme. If advice or support were needed, the King would summon his richest and most powerful subjects to his Council.

In the 13th century, some towns and each county started to send representatives to some of these meetings. The term Parliament was used to describe these assemblies.


Representatives from the towns were called burgesses.The process for electing burgesses varied from town to town, according to local custom. Representatives from the counties were called knights of the shire and were publicly elected at county court meetings.

The laws governing who could vote in parliamentary elections changed very little in substance between the 15th and the 19th centuries.There was little change after the early 17th century in which towns were allowed to send representatives to Parliament.

Distribution of seats

By the 18th century the distribution of House of Commons seats did not reflect the real distribution of population and wealth across the country.

Growing industrial towns like Birmingham and Manchester had no representation, but tiny villages sometimes had two Members of Parliament. The system was notoriously corrupt and bribery was common.

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