BRIEF BRITISH HISTORY
British history can be divided into four stages. Each stage is antidote to the problems of the day.
The first is the administrative stage. This starts from 1066 and goes up to 1500.
It begins with the problem of succession which had led to the famous Battle of Hastings. After the issueless death of Edward the Confessor, there was no way to find out who would rule England. This was settled through a conquest wherein the victor was William of Normandy.
Its second problem was incoherence. England had been divided into counties and Henry II was eager to install a system of uniformity for all. To this end, he introduced Kings’ court and staffed it with royal judges who heard cases from counties and made a record of decisions which would form precedent for their colleagues. In this way, a system of law common to England was put into place.
Its third problem was self-interested rulers such as King John. He had been desperate to win back Normandy and even went to the extent of imposing taxes on Barons to fund his war desire. This put him in an uncomfortable situation with the country’s elite, and pushed them to oppose him through forceful signing of Magna Carta in 1215. This took away from monarch the right to put people behind bars without breach of law. It also gave them the right to jury-trial.
Its fourth problem was lack of legitimacy. It overcame this by giving propertied men the right to vote to House of Commons. In this way, the problems of succession, coherence, infidelity and legitimacy were handled step by step in the hope that things will get better.
The second is the religious stage. This is the timeline from 1500 to 1700. England had been a Roman Catholic country until Henry VIII decided to part ways with the Pope of Rome. He had applied to the Pope for annulment of his first marriage with Catherine of Aragon, so he could marry Anne Boleyn. As this was refused, he decided to give England its own Protestant faith and set in the Church of England. This led to fights between his daughters Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I. This continued till the matter was resolved through the Glorious Revolution of 1688. This was a conditional invitation to the William of Orange and Mary, the son-in-law and daughter of King James II. Under it, they had agreed not to raise taxes or make laws without parliament. It had, however, left the question of faith of the monarch to future legislation. This was addressed by the Act of Settlement 1700 which made Protestant faith a condition for monarchy: not only did it make it a legal condition for monarchs to be Protestant, it also confined their marriage to a Protestant. Thus, the religious dissent was settled through a legal agreement between parliamentarians and the monarchy.
The third is the expansion stage. This is the time frame from 1700 to 1902. It is this time period in which it built its ties with Scotland and brought it under its realm through Act of Union 1707. Having appointed Sir Robert Walpole as its first Prime Minister and establishing Cabinet, it then began its colonization process and colonized Canada, parts of Southern-Eastern America and Islands of Caribbean. This shows that handling of internal affairs comes before making a mark in the international place.
The fourth and last one is the negotiation stage. This is the events of the twentieth century up until now. It empowered House of Commons by curtailing the veto power of House of Lords to one year under Parliament Act, 1949. It settled uprisings in Ireland by first dividing it into Northern and Southern Ireland and giving the latter independence which is now the Republic of Ireland. On the international plane it joined European Convention on Human Rights in 1952 and became a member of European Economic Community (now European Union) in 1972. The membership of these intergovernmental and supranational organizations has had implications for parliamentary supremacy. As a result, the UK has begun its process of Brexit from EU and is thinking about replacing ECHR with a British Bill of Rights. This shows that governance requires progression in the light of people’s needs. And as needs change so should the rules of governance.
The author teaches jurisprudence and legal theory at Pakistan College of law, Lahore. She can be
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