The burgesses could refuse indeed the invitation to contribute to the " free aid" demanded by the royal officers, but the suspension of their markets or trading privileges brought them in the end to submission. Each of these " free aids," however, had to be extorted after a long wrangle between the borough and the officers of the Exchequer; and if the towns were driven to comply with what they considered an extortion, they could generally force the Crown by evasions and delays to a compromise and abatement of its original demands. The same financial reasons, therefore, existed for desiring the presence of their representatives in the Great Council as existed in the case of the shires; but it was the genius of Earl Simon which first broke through the older constitutional tradition, and dared to summon two burgesses from each town to the Parliament of 1265. Time had, indeed, to pass before the large and statesmanlike conception of the great patriot could meet with full acceptance. Through the earlier part of Edward's reign we find a few instances of the presence of representatives from the towns, but their scanty numbers and the irregularity of their attendance show that they were summoned rather to afford financial information to the Great Council than as representatives in it of an Estate of the Realm. But every year pleaded stronger and stronger for their inclusion, and in the Parliament of 1295 that of 1265 found itself at last reproduced. "It was from me that he learnt it," Earl Simon had cried, as he recognized the military skill of Edward's onset at Evesham; "It was from me that he learnt it," his spirit might have exclaimed, as he saw the King gathering at last two burgesses "from every city, borough, and leading town " within his realm to sit side by side with the knights, nobles, and barons of the Great Council. To the Crown the change was from the first an advantageous one.
The grants of subsidies by the burgesses in Parliament proved more profitable than the previous extortions of the Exchequer. The proportion of their grant generally exceeded that of the other estates by a tenth. Their representatives too proved far more compliant with the royal will than the barons or knights of the shire; only on one occasion during Edward's reign did the burgesses waver from their general support of the Crown. It was easy indeed to control them, for the selection of boroughs to be represented remained wholly in the King's hands, and their numbers could be increased or diminished at the King's pleasure. The determination was left to the sheriff, and at a hint from the royal Council a sheriff of Wilts would cut down the number of represented boroughs in his shire from eleven to three, or a sheriff of Bucks declare he could find but a single borough, that of Wycomb, within the bounds of the county. Nor was this exercise of the prerogative hampered by any anxiety on the part of the towns to claim representative privileges.
It was difficult to suspect that a power before which the Crown would have to bow lay in the ranks of soberly clad traders, summoned only to assess the contributions of their boroughs, and whose attendance was as difficult to secure as it seemed burthensome to themselves and the towns who sent them. The mass of citizens took little or no part in their choice, for they were elected in the county court by a few of the principal burghers deputed for the purpose; but the cost of their maintenance, the two shillings a day paid to the burgess by his town, as four were paid to the knight by his county, was a burthen from which the boroughs made desperate efforts to escape. Some persisted in making no return to the sheriff. Some bought charters of exemption from the troublesome privilege. Of the 165 who were summoned by Edward the First more than a third ceased to send representatives after a single compliance with the royal summons. During the whole time from the reign of Edward the Third to the reign of Henry the Sixth the sheriff of Lancashire declined to return the names of any boroughs at all within that county, "on account of their poverty." Nor were the representatives themselves more anxious to appear than their boroughs to send them.
The busy country squire and the thrifty trader were equally reluctant to undergo the trouble and expense of a journey to Westminster. Legal measures were often necessary to ensure their presence. Writs still exist in abundance such as that by which Walter le Rous is "held to bail in eight oxen and four carthorses to come before the King on the day specified" for attendance in Parliament. But in spite of obstacles such as these the presence of representatives from the boroughs may be regarded as continuous from the Parliament of 1295. As the representation of the lesser barons had widened through a silent change into that of the shire, so that of the boroughs - restricted in theory to those in royal demesne - seems practically from Edward's time to have been extended to all who were in a condition to pay the cost of their representatives' support. By a change as silent within the Parliament itself the burgess, originally summoned to take part only in matters of taxation, was at last admitted to a full share in the deliberations and authority of the other orders of the State.
The admission of the burgesses and knights of the shire to the assembly of 1295 completed the fabric of our representative constitution. The Great Council of the Barons had become the Parliament of the Realm, a parliament in which every order of the state found itself represented, and took part in the grant of supplies, the work of legislation, and in the end the control of government. But though in all essential points the character of Parliament has remained the same from that time to this, there were some remarkable particulars in which this assembly of 1295 differed widely from the present Parliament at St. Stephen's. Some of these differences, such as those which sprang from the increased powers and changed relations of the different orders among themselves, we shall have occasion to consider at a later time. But a difference of a far more startling kind than these lay in the presence of the clergy. If there is any part in the Parliamentary scheme of Edward the First which can be regarded as especially his own, it is his project for the representation of the ecclesiastical order.