This section is from the book "Popular Law Library Vol1 Introduction To The Study Of Law Legal History", by Albert H. Putney. Also see: Popular Law-Dictionary.
The history of England during the thirteenth century, and again during the fifteenth, centered around the nobility of England; but in the fourteenth century, for the first time, and for the last time prior to the seventeenth century, we find a prominent place taken by the House of Commons. It was in fact, during this century that Parliament became definitely divided into two houses.
Even as early as the reign of Edward II, the Commons had asserted their power of granting a subsidy "upon this condition," that the King should take advice and grant redress upon certain articles in which their grievances were set forth. The reign of Edward II from a Constitutional standpoint is in the main very similar to that of Henry III, and in the resistance to the King, the leading part is taken by the barons of England. The attack upon Parliament and upon the King's favorites, is the forerunner of the right of Parliament to hold ministers and the King responsible to them for their conduct. The reign of Edward III, which occupied exactly one-half of the fourteenth century was mainly a period of foreign warfare which took the King for long psriods of time out of England and required constant calls upon Parliament for financial support. It was upon the House of Commons, as the special representatives of the commercial class of the nation, that the responsibility of granting these supplies chiefly fell, and it was through this power of the purse that the House of Commons for the first time obtained a position of real importance in the Government of England. Parliamentary history of the reign of Edward III is very full, there being no less than forty-eight sessions of Parliament held in the fifty years of his reign. Twice during his reign a provision for an annual session of Parliament was adopted. During this long reign the Commons succeeded in establishing five great rights; 1st. That all taxation without the consent of the Parliament should be illegal. 2nd. That Parliament had the right to examine public accounts and appropriate supplies. 3rd. The necessity for the concurrence of both houses in legislation. 4th. The right of the Commons to inquire into and amend the abuses of the administration. 5th. That Parliament had the right to impeach the King's ministers for misconduct.
This last right, that of impeachment, was actually exercised by the so-called "Good Parliament" of 1376. It is strongly indicative of the growing strength of the Parliament that during the closing years of the reign of Edward III, the contest between John of Gaunt and his enemies for the control of affairs in England, was fought out in the halls of the House of Commons rather than upon the battlefield.
The history of the reign of Richard II is an alternate triumph of despotism and constitutional government, ending with the vindication of the right of Parliament to depose an unworthy King and to elect for him a more worthy successor.