Petition of Right 1628

The Petition of Right 1628

The Petition of Right, is held by the National Archives: it is available online both as an image and as a transcription in English. So why is it important and what is its historical context in this year celebrating 800 years of Magna Carta.

It was officially a legal document making a formal appeal to the monarch. This was a device resurrected from legal history by Sir Edward Coke (a great technical and principled lawyer, more of his exploits shortly) to resolve the head-on clash between the Commons and Charles I. Once a petition was accepted it could be recorded in the law courts and this would enshrine the subject’s rights against the principles of ROYAL PEROGATIVE. It was approved by the Lords and subsequently grudgingly accepted by Charles I, but as with Kings before him laws made and principles by the grace of the King, could equally be undone, or so he thought. Charles susbequently published an altered and dcoored version and then proceeded to ignore its provisions anyway. But more of that later.

It is the content of the Petition that matters most, continuing toa ssert rights established in Magna Carta as it does and which as we all know now continues in its spiririt to be part of the very essence of the letter of the common law of this land and many more. Charles I was an arrogant monarch but no more so than many that had gone before him, but as we all know he ignored the will of the people as expressed in this petition at his own very peril ultimately. When we explore the life and contributions of Sir Edward Coke, you can make your own judgement as to wether this was the fervor of a republican, or just a royalist wanting and seeking to establish justice as a cornerstone of our society.

Royal Prerogative

A term describing the discretionary powers and rights of the crown, its vague boundaries would hide a multitude of sins for hundreds of years. Richard II, the Tudors and the Stuarts would cite and exercise the undefined rights culminating in the confrontation between Charles and Parliament that eventually led to legislative curbs of the monarchs potential to abuse such a general right. even after the Restoration these curbs were reinforced by the Bill Of Rights in 1689.

Suspending and Dispensing Powers

Suspension of legislation would render it completely inoperative, a dispensation (special dispensation) would enable the commission of an act that otherwise was legislatively illegal. Both were seen at least by the Monarchs as part of the Royal Prerogative. An example would be both Elizabeth I and James I both giving some Catholics Recusants dispensation from some penal laws.

When Charles II and James II attempted to exploit such rights using their individual forms of Rights of Indulgence, again in relation to Catholic Recusancy and appointment of judges here were protests from The Commons and the Lords forcing their respective indulgency acts to be withdrawn.

In the Declaration of Rights 1689 it was stated ” that the suspending power’ as it has been exercised of late’ was illegal. It was the Bill of Rights that asserted unless permitted by Act of Parliament all dispensations were void. Censure of the crown was now becoming legally enforceable. The need to assert the rights and accountability enshrined in Magna Carta echo down through the centuries.

In all these the events the wit, genius and principles pf Sir Edward Coke are hugely significant, so take a look at our forthcoming post on this exceptional individual still admired by scholars and practicing lawyers alike to this day.

Bill of Rights 1689

This was an act of the Convention Parliament of 1689 and gave a statutory form to the Declaration of Rights. It also provided the prohibition preventing a Catholic or (a non Protestant Monarch) from ascending to the throne, a remarkably long surviving provision.

Declaration of Rights 1989

This was a document presented to William of Orange (future William III) and Mary at the Convention Parliament together with the offer of the crown in 1689.

The Bill and Declaration were closely debated. The Declaration stated that;

  • Parliaments must be held frequently, history shows Monarchs were good at calling them as and when it had suited their purposes
  • Elections must be free
  • that freedom of speech, debates and the proceedings of parliament should not be questioned other than in Parliamentary process
  • that parliamentary consent must be obtained to suspend statutes, levy taxation and maintain a peacetime standing army

It swept away and condemned as illegal various acts of Charles II and James II, the use of the Royal Dispensing Power, the eccesiastical Commission, the prosecution of petitioners and the imposition of cruel and unusual punishments

Rights,Declarations, Petitions and Bills of Rights

How much the history of our law, casts a bright light on good sense and reason as it develops down through the centuries and gradually reflects the cumulative learning and reasoning of the exceptional few who have the will, knowledge and principle to focus and exercise their pen to get the words quite right to deal with what the pat has taught us the future may otherwise hold.

If you would like to discover some more of what the Laws of the Land can tell us about the fabric of our history, take a look at our Legal Theme here or consider Magna Carta itself.  Along with forthcoming articles on the core concepts behind the history of our law and an interactive extended timeline of the build-up before and post the initial sealing of Magna Carta in 1215, lookout for more on the distinguished contribution of Sir Edward Coke and citations in modern recent legal cases of Magna Carta itself.

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