Published online by Cambridge University Press: 06 October 2020
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE parliamentary Commons and the crown has long fascinated scholars of late medieval England: a huge corpus of work now exists, published over the past hundred years or so, which explores the many different facets of this political dynamic. But in one important area – legislation – our understanding of the principles which shaped the interactions between MPs and the royal executive remains, arguably, underdeveloped. While particular statutes or programmes of legislation, especially those dating to the fourteenth century, have attracted the attention of more modern scholars, we continue to rely for the most part on older work, and older assumptions, for our understanding of the legislative process in more general terms. This present discussion revisits some of these earlier themes and reassesses the principles which underpinned negotiations between the crown and political community over new legislation. My particular concern is to establish the rules which governed the relationship between common petitions and statutes: that is, between the suggestions for legislation put forward by the Commons in the form of written supplications, on the one hand, and the formal, solemn declarations of new statutory law issued by the crown, often in response to these supplications, on the other hand. It is an inquiry which combines a close reading of the parliamentary records (i.e. the parliament roll and statute roll) with a consideration of the broader constitutional principles which demarcated how legislative power came to be shared between the king and the wider political community. At the heart of my investigation is the question of whether we see the late medieval legislative process as a competitive or cooperative (indeed corporative) undertaking between all those who had a part to play in forging new statutory law.
This is a subject inspired by Mark Ormrod's huge contribution to the study of the late medieval English parliament, and my own special debt to his work in this field. Mark Ormrod's contributions have been instrumental not only in enhancing the accessibility of the records of the medieval parliament – notably in his work on the PROME and ‘Medieval Petitions’ projects – but also, with the publication of numerous incisive essays on taxation, legislation, common petitions and parliamentary record-keeping (amongst other subjects), in helping us better understand how parliament worked.