Elizabeth and Parliament Notes

Elizabeth and Parliament Notes

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Elizabeth and Parliament Notes

The situation of parliament faced by Elizabeth I was extremely
different to how it would have been today. She was firmly at the heart
of the nation's political life. Parliament played no part in either
its selection or its policy making. The House of Lords was at least as
important as the House of Commons. Over a 1/3 of MPs were effectively
nominated by powerful lords. It met only when and for as long as the
queen wished it. In total there were 13 sessions called by Elizabeth,
these being in

1. 1559

2. 1563

3. 1566

4. 1571

5. 1572

6. 1576

7. 1581

8. 1584

9. 1586

10. 1589

11. 1593

12. 1597

13. 1601

No session lasted for more than a few months. Its main action was to
consider the issues that the Elizabeth's representatives asked it to.
When any questioning of Elizabeth's actions actually happened they
would always be moderate, cautious and highly respectable. Elizabeth
clearly defined what issues could be raised and which could not be and
those that were her prerogative e.g.: Religion (she was divinely
appointed)

Foreign Policy (as Queen she dealt with other monarchs)

Marriage and Succession.

Though people may have felt she was taking too much for herself they
ultimately respected her.

There were no political parties so no party politics, the only
connections that can be seen were those of patrons and clients (for
example the Earl of Essex had over 30MPs as clients in the 1590's) but
even these had nothing in common with modern day party politics. It is
also seen that Burghley had some servants in each parliament to keep
an eye on what was going on but these did not make up a party in the
modern meaning.

How historians have approached the topic.

Whig historians claim that although Elizabeth's rein saw the first
steps towards the Civil War they see that the struggle between Crown

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and Commons began after 1603. It was to be expected that the main area
of research was focused on Elizabeth's dealings with parliament to
find the origins of the break down and the "seeds of the Civil War"
which they believed to occur in the Tudor period.

Neale.

Neale in the 1950's claimed that the breakdown was a result of a group
within the House of Commons. His interpretation was immediately
accepted as the new orthodoxy. For about a generation it was widely
accepted that this view was to be the last word on the matter. However
the Whig view was being slowly eroded up until about the 1070's when
it was regarded as being "old-fashioned". Now historians were thinking
that aspects of history should be studied with the context of their
own times rather than being used to provide explanations. Historians
interested in the causes of the Civil War wondered whether long-term
causes were as important as had been traditionally thought. Thus they
agreed that there was no need to look back any further than 1637.

In the 1980's historians such as Jones, Graves and Elton made claims
that Neale had misunderstood the evidence on which his work was
focused, his evidence was unreliable and conclusions were dubious and
invalid. Now Elton has filled most of the spaces left open but there
is still a lot of work to be done.

The Neale Interpretation.

Neale identifies the "Puritan Choir". He describes this a group of MPs
who made attempts to force Elizabeth to make policies that its members
liked and to raise the status of the House of Commons. To make this
view he cam across a pamphlet that named 43 MPs of 1566 and from this
he was able to identify on numerous occasions of when these men
opposed the Queen's wishes, raised the profile of the House of Commons
and made attempts to change laws. The Choir was responsible for
forcing Elizabeth to create a more Protestant religious settlement
that she really wanted. Also for creating problems with the marriage
and succession problems in 1563 and 1566 and the problems with Mary
Queen of Scots in 1572.

Neale highlights parts where it seemed that the MPs foreshadowed
events leading up to the Civil War (1566: the commons refusing to give
money until she satisfied their grievances, not successful immediately
but worked in 1640). Also, Neale highlights the actions of the
Wentworth brothers, Peter and Paul, in parliament between 1576 and
1593, for example making speeches that attacked Elizabeth, however
Peter (the most active in this) was sent to the Tower twice remaining
there on the second time until he eventually died there.

The Correction to Neale.

In the 1980's it became well known that Neale's idea of a Puritan
Choir was not correctand so his interpretation fell apart. The most
notable of the corrections was that some of the members of the choir
were also members of the Privy Council and that though it's members
may have influenced some MPs it was not to force Elizabeth for
Protestant reform or to alter the balance between Crown and
Parliament. It seems that what was happening in the Commons was
nothing different to what was happening between Elizabeth and her
counsellors and that Parliament was simply being used as another
method to get Elizabeth to do what they wanted. For example Burghley
hoped that is parliament joined in on the persuasions for something to
be done then Elizabeth would comply with the desires of her ministers.

It is Elton who has made the biggest efforts to explaining the
significance of the "Puritan Chorus" pamphlet of 1566. He has approved
that it was not a list of MPs who shared Puritan sympathies. For
example about 12 of the MPs was Privy Counsellors and some had a
Catholic education. However it is still unclear as to what the
pamphlet actually was although it seems very likely that it was a list
of MPs appointed to consult with the representatives of the House of
Lords. But no evidence has been found that allows us to criticise the
committee or the publication.

Neale's work though should not be discredited; his work has brought up
some correct findings. For example there was sometimes discontent
between Elizabeth's actions and the MPs, for example the marriage
problems of the 1560's and 1570's. Also he was correct in saying that
a large number of MPs did work to try and get the Church of England to
become more Protestant. There is the danger of saying that since some
of his work has been wrong he is a poor historian however this is
unfair and absurd. Most of his work is still being used today though
it is 60 years old. He simply allowed himself to fall into the trap of
selecting evidence that supported his claims and rejecting evidence
that didn't.

Many present day historians would claim that Whig historians have
fallen into this trap by looking back into history for explanations of
event that occur later on. Therefore those that write on the topic now
have been careful to study the theme within its own time and contest
(Elton for example). Thus Elton has found that the House of Lords was
much greater than Neale had thought and that the attempts made by the
House of Commons were simply "knee-jerk" that they had been forced to
face by the inferiority of their positions.
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