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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: July 2019

5 - Magna Carta and Statutory Law

from Part I - Legal Contexts


Traditionally the impetus for legislation came from the sovereign. The law-codes attributed to Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman kings exemplified the monarch’s apparent lead in promulgating laws for the good of his subjects. Royal confirmation of the laws of the realm (especially the laws of St Edward the Confessor) was expected of a monarch at his coronation. The experience during the thirteenth century of calling extraordinary assemblies of representatives to discuss the affairs of the realm and approve royal edicts was reflected in Edward II’s coronation oath (1308), which included an obligation on the king to uphold ‘the laws and rightful customs which the community of your realm shall have chosen’. The consensual element to royal legislation developed further during the fourteenth century with the frequent summoning of parliaments and general recognition that this was where adjustments to the law of the land should be deliberated and enunciated. The commons’ request for remedy of specific matters deemed to be for the welfare to the realm in return for their assent to taxation became an established part of parliamentary procedure. The common petitions in which the knights and burgesses attending parliament articulated their demands were frequently used as a basis for legislation. By Richard II’s reign it could be declared that ‘the law of the land was made in parliament by the king and the lords spiritual and temporal and all the commons of the kingdom’. As Bishop Alcock expressed in his sermon at the opening of parliament in 1485, it was a cooperative enterprise uniting the sovereign and his people in pursuit of ‘good governance’.

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