First English Parliament Held
Bodies providing monarchs with support, counsel, and opinion had a long and complex history in England well before the idea of Parliament surfaced. In the Saxon era the Witenagemot, a council of the great figures in the land, was of major significance to the monarch. Under the Normans a Great Council performed a similar function, called to back the king on issues of import, and disseminate the decisions through their holdings throughout the country.
Parliaments of sorts evolved in the period after the Magna Carta was signed by John , but they were still confined to the nobility, church and figures of some local military and administrative significance, the Knights of the Shire who were selected to attend by the Sheriffs of their respective counties.
But it was not until the turbulent reign of Henry III that some form of democracy was involved. It is surely significant that this came about when the King was in the hands of Simon de Montfort, who captured King and heir at the Battle of Lewes in May 1264 . De Montfort had become de facto ruler of the country, and the fear and jealousy of the nobility who had previously backed his stand for a say in the running of the land meant that the great of the kingdom deserted his cause, forcing him to seek support from the gentry: the middle classes were developing economically, and offered the rebellious and ambitious de Montfort a potential financial and popular power base.
Thus on December 14 1264 de Montfort summoned a representative Parliament: as usual the nobility and senior figures in the Church were called; as per recent precedent Knights of the Shires were invited too. But for the first time two burgesses from each borough were summoned, some of whom were it seems chosen in a roughly democratic method by their peers.
This Parliament met at Westminster Hall on January 20 1265, sitting until February 15 that year.
Although Edward I is often credited with calling the first representative Parliament in 1295 - the so-called Model Parliament - de Montfort was its true architect. Not through true democratic zeal of course - it was a necessary power play in a whirl of factional interests - but the concept of the Commons was established by him, and endures.
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