The reign of William Rufus, the second of the Norman Kings of England, was notable mainly for the King's wasteful expenditure of money obtained by tyrannical exactions from the people, and for the beginning of the long struggle between the royal and feudal powers which, playing the one off against the other, brought each party at times to the point where they were compelled to seek aid from the commonalty of England; it was to these causes more than to any other that the revival of the liberties of the English people after the Norman conquest can be traced. Upon the death of William, the disputed succession of Henry the First to the throne, threw him for support upon the English people. With their assistance Henry was enabled, not only to make good his claims to the throne of England, against that of his brother Robert, but also to wrest from the latter his hereditary Duchy of Normandy, and to resist the power of the great feudal barons of England. His concessions to the people were contained in his Charter of Liberties, a more liberal document than the Magna Charta, but one which soon became generally disregarded.

The reign of Henry the First was, on the whole, despotic; he was not a lawgiver nor did he entrust the National Council with any power of legislating. He, however, did much towards organizing the judicial system of the country, leading the way for the more important and far reaching reforms of the second Henry. Henry the First also granted a charter to the boroughs and the board guilds, both of which were afterwards to play an important part in strengthening the commonalty of England. With the twenty years of anarchy incident to the disputed succession between Stephen and Matilda, the fortunes of war swayed backwards and forwards between the contesting parties and was finally ended by the conditions of the Treaty of Wallingford, giving the throne to Stephen, and the succession to Henry, son of Matilda. Throughout the whole period, whoever for the moment sat upon the English throne, the English nobles seized the opportunity offered by the troubled times to strengthen their position and to extend their power and privileges, both at the expense of the royal prerogative and the rights of the people. It was the undoing of the centralizing work of Henry the First, and more.