- Analyze why the power to determine taxation was so important
- Charles I of England continued his father’s policy and decided to support Christian IV of Denmark and Frederick V, Elector Palatine, during the Thirty Years’ War, which caused major tensions with a Parliament that refused to finance the war.
- After the Commons continued to refuse to provide money and began investigating the Duke of Buckingham, Charles I dissolved Parliament. By 1627, with England still at war, Charles decided to raise “forced loans,” or taxes not authorized by Parliament.
- To cope with the ongoing war situation, Charles had introduced martial law, which, as then understood, was not a form of substantive law, but instead a suspension of the rule of law.
- Charles decided that the only way to prosecute the war was to again ask Parliament for money, and Parliament assembled in 1628. As a result, a series of parliamentary declarations establishing a series of personal liberties known as the Resolutions were prepared after tense debates.
- In the end, a suggestion to pass the Resolutions as a petition of right won. A committee produced a petition covering discretionary imprisonment, non-Parliamentary taxation, martial law, and forced billeting.
- The 1628 Petition of Right marks the founding of the United Kingdom’s modern constitutional monarchy.
Petition of Right
A major English constitutional document that sets out specific liberties of the subjects that the king is prohibited from infringing. Passed in 1628, it contains restrictions on non-Parliamentary taxation, forced billeting of soldiers, imprisonment without cause, and the use of martial law.
In medieval Latin it means literally “You may have the body,” a recourse in law whereby a person can report an unlawful detention or imprisonment before a court, usually through a prison official.
Thirty Years’ War
A series of wars in Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. Initially a war between various Protestant and Catholic states in the fragmented Holy Roman Empire, it gradually developed into a more general conflict involving most of the great powers.
Tonnage and Poundage
Certain duties and taxes first levied in Edward II’s reign on every tun (cask) of imported wine, which came mostly from Spain and Portugal, and on every pound weight of merchandise exported or imported. Traditionally it was granted by Parliament to the king for life until the reign of Charles I.
Charles I of England and the English Parliament
In 1625, King James I of England died and was succeeded by his son, who became Charles I. Along with the throne, Charles inherited the Thirty Years’ War, in which Christian IV of Denmark and Frederick V, Elector Palatine, who was married to Charles’s sister Elizabeth, were attempting to take back their hereditary lands and titles from the Habsburg Monarchy. James had caused significant financial problems with his attempts to support Christian and Frederick, and it was expected that Charles would be more amenable to prosecuting the war responsibly. After he summoned a new Parliament to meet in April 1625, it became clear that he was not. He demanded over £700,000 to assist in prosecuting the war. The House of Commons refused and instead passed two bills granting him only £112,000. In addition, rather than renewing the customs due from Tonnage and Poundage for the entire life of the monarch, which was traditional, the Commons only voted them in for one year. Because of this, the House of Lords rejected the bill, leaving Charles without any money to provide to the war effort.
After the Commons continued to refuse to provide money and began investigating the Duke of Buckingham, Charles’s favorite, Charles dissolved Parliament. By 1627, with England still at war, Charles decided to raise “forced loans,” or taxes not authorized by Parliament. Anyone who refused to pay would be imprisoned without trial, and if they resisted, would be sent before the Privy Council. Although the judiciary initially refused to endorse these loans, they succumbed to pressure. While Charles continued to demand the loans, more and more wealthy landowners refused to pay, reducing the income from the loans and necessitating a new Parliament being called in 1627.
To cope with the ongoing war situation, Charles had introduced martial law to large swathes of the country, and in 1627 to the entire nation. Crucially, martial law as then understood was not a form of substantive law, but instead a suspension of the rule of law. It was the replacement of normal statutes with a law based on the whims of the local military commander. However, Charles decided that the only way to prosecute the war was to again ask Parliament for money, and Parliament assembled in 1628. As a result, a series of Parliamentary declarations known as the Resolutions were prepared after tense debates. They held that imprisonment was illegal, except under law; habeas corpus should be granted to anyone, whether they are imprisoned by the king or the Privy Council; defendants could not be remanded in custody until the crime they were charged with was shown; and non-Parliamentary taxation such as the forced loans was illegal (the first three later became the foundations of the Habeas Corpus Act 1679). The Resolutions were unanimously accepted by the Commons in April, but they met a mixed reception at the House of Lords, and Charles refused to accept them.
The Petition of Right
The conflict between the king and Parliament escalated. A number of possible alternatives to the Resolutions were debated, but finally Sir Edward Coke made a speech suggesting that the Commons join with the House of Lords and pass their four resolutions as a petition of right (although he was not the first to do so). The idea of a petition of right was an established element of Parliamentary procedure, and in addition, had not been expressly prohibited by Charles. A committee produced a petition containing the same elements as the Resolutions, covering discretionary imprisonment, non-Parliamentary taxation, martial law, and forced billeting.
The Commons accepted the recommendations on May 8, and after a long debate that attempted to accommodate the hostile king, the House of Lords unanimously voted to join with the Commons on the Petition of Right, while passing their own resolution, assuring the king of their loyalty.
Following the acceptance of the Petition by the House of Lords, Charles sent a message to the Commons “forbidding them to meddle with affairs of state,” which produced a furious debate. On June 7, Charles capitulated and accepted the Petition. After setting out a list of individual grievances and statutes that had been broken, the 1628 Petition of Right declares that Englishmen have various “rights and liberties,” and provides that no person should be forced to provide a gift, loan, or tax without an Act of Parliament, that no free individual should be imprisoned or detained unless a cause has been shown, and that soldiers or members of the Royal Navy should not be billeted in private houses without the free consent of the owner. It also restricts the use of martial law except in war or direct rebellion and prohibited the formation of commissions.
Some historians have argued that the passage of the Petition of Right marks the founding of the United Kingdom’s modern constitutional monarchy. The Petition of Right also marked a substantial cooperative work between individual parliamentarians and between the Commons and Lords, something that had previously been lacking and that in the end led to the formation of political parties.
Within what is now the Commonwealth of Nations, the Petition was also heavily influential. It remains in force in both New Zealand and Australia, as well as the United Kingdom itself. The Petition also profoundly influenced the rights contained by the Constitution of the United States.