BA Thesis, American University of Central Asia (2011)
Abstract: England was the first country in Europe to develop representative institutions. This paper looks into this development through the prism of the perception of royal power. The English developed a specific understanding of what their king should be. The king has to be just and care about the land, and if he was not his subjects felt that they could make him so. This principle would guide their political and social life through the XI-XIII centuries. This would lead to the Magna Carta and then the formation of the Parliament. The Magna Carta was a proto-constitution of the English states, defining the responsibilities of the government. And it is considered in this paper a supreme manifestation of English perception of royal power. This paper would try to analyze this development. At first it provides a historical background, to enable the reader to better understand the events at work. Then it continues with the analysis of the important documents of the era. Then it looks into the development of English institutions and processes behind the events.
Introduction: The strong hostility of the English Parliament in XVIIth century, which openly defied the king’s rule, is one of the long-standing effects of many struggles between the king and his subjects, which happened in medieval part of English history. Being a history of constant struggles of king to gain more power, and of his’ subjects that did not wish that, England could develop strong representative institutions, a specific understanding of what the king should do, and what he should not. The representativeness and a good system of centralized government created a quite different perception of king’s power and the role of the king in the state system that the rest of Europe had. The old Anglo-Saxon local administration system, combined with the new methods of state ruling brought by Normans, strongly contributed to the formation of such views. As John of Salisbury, a prominent English scholar wrote in his work Policraticus: “Between a tyrant and a prince there is this single or chief difference, that the latter obeys the law and rules the people by its dictates, accounting himself as but their servant.” John of Salisbury wrote this in XIIth century, when most of other European countries still believed the king to be a Vicarius Christi, just a person to temporarily substitute for Jesus Christ on Earth, while he has some unattended business God know where. And while in some places monarchs tried to disprove this belief, nevertheless the monarchies of Europe remained very weak. On the other hand, England starting with the time of William I also known as the Conqueror had a strong centralized government, and a good administration. Such strong positions of the king lead to a different perception of how king should behave, and this is where the ideas similar to those of John of Salisbury come to life. Those ideas further lead to a number of events, when the subjects of the king though his actions unbefitting of his position, and took arms to stop him or make him change his ways. “We fight the king to defend the King” indeed. This very specific understanding of what the king should and should not do is what gave birth to the English political ideas of a king’s power limited by the parliament.