THE “MAD PARLIAMENT”
BEGINNING OF ENGLAND’S HOUSE OF COMMONS
With the loss of Normandy under King John, the barons of Norman descent in England had become patriotic Englishmen. They forced their monarch to sign the Magna Charta and thus laid the foundation of English constitutional liberty.
John died in 1216 and was succeeded by his son Henry of Winchester, a minor in his eleventh year. The celebrated Hubert de Burgh, chief justiciar, soon became regent, and reigned comparatively without control, even after the young King attained his majority. But in 1232 Henry, being in need of money, imprisoned the regent and compelled him to forfeit the greater part of his estate.
After De Burgh’s fall, King Henry III became his own master, and was responsible for the measures of government, the wars with foreign powers, the disputes with the Pope and with the barons, during which the evolution of the English parliament made important progress, chiefly through the efforts of Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester.
One of the most important episodes of that evolution was the “Mad Parliament”—derisively so called by the royal partisans—at which the Provisions of Oxford, long considered the rash innovations of an ambitious oligarchy, were promulgated. Of this Mad Parliament it has been said, “It would have been well for England if all parliaments had been equally sane.”
As to the opinion, repeatedly emphasized in the following account, that De Montfort was false and ambitious, it is well to remind the reader that other historians have looked upon Earl Simon as a disinterested patriot of the highest type.
It was Henry’s misfortune to have inherited the antipathy of his father to the charter of Runnymede, and to consider his barons as enemies leagued in a conspiracy to deprive him of the legitimate prerogatives of the crown. He watched with jealousy all their proceedings, refused their advice, and confided in the fidelity of foreigners more than in the affection of his own subjects. Such conduct naturally alienated the minds of the nobles, who boldly asserted that the great offices of state were their right, and entered into associations for the support of their pretensions. Had the King possessed the immense revenues of his predecessors he might perhaps have set their enmity at defiance; but during the wars between Stephen and Maud, and afterward between John and his barons, the royal demesnes had been considerably diminished; and the occasional extravagance of Henry, joined to his impolitic generosity to his favorites, repeatedly compelled him to throw himself on the voluntary benevolence of the nation. Year after year the King petitioned for a subsidy, and each petition was met with a contemptuous