In England, the system in place was feudalism as put there by William the Conqueror in 1066. It consisted of vassals and lords. The vassals or serfs worked on the lord's land in return for other services. The lord would protect them. This was all set down in contracts between them. This system is also known as manorialism since the "land grants" were known as manors. In England, there were certain, fundamental rights that no one could be denied, including the right to a trial by jury, protection from unlawful entry, and no taxation without consent. Everyone was a loyal subject of the monarch, a king or queen. The British Constitution is an unwritten one, consisting of the common law, acts of Parliament, and political tradition and customs. Later on, after the Magna Carta, the parliaments or councils that the government was based on would split into two parts or houses, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. This allowed a few more levels of society to participate in the government of the time. Primogeniture was also followed. Estates and lands were passed down through the families by the oldest son.
In 1215, a group of barons who had the support of the church and others forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. It established certain traditional rights and, by implication, promised not to violate them. The Magna Carta is most important because it established the idea of a limited government, one in which the ruler's power is not absolute but limited. It also talked of rights that could not be violated. Even though most of these applied to feudal lords, others were written specifically to limit the king's power. The concept of a social contract came through, as well. It was an agreement between the king and a few of the people. Some of its other ideas would later become more important. For example, the American colonists found the idea of "no taxation without representation" embedded in the Magna Carta.
In 1628, Parliament forced King Charles I to sign the Petition of Right. Previously, he had tried to raise funds through illegal means. One example of this is that he forced people to quarter or keep soldiers in their households. This document did a few things. It reaffirmed that taxes could only be raised with the consent of Parliament. It also guaranteed English subjects of other rights, including one saying that they could not be forced to quarter soldiers in their homes.
This act protected the people by requiring the government to "try" anyone who is arrested in a court of law. The government must also tell the person exactly what he or she is being accused of. If there is not enough evidence to prove the person's guilt, he or she is to be set free.
The English Bill of Rights of 1689 was passed by Parliament after the Glorious Revolution to ensure that no monarch would ever be able to do what James II had done. It severely limited the power of the monarch by empowering Parliament more. It restates many of the freedoms and protections the people already enjoyed. However, it did not provide for freedom of religion, press, or speech. However, shortly after the Glorious Revolution, an Act of Toleration was passed by Parliament. It effectively gave religious freedom to Protestant dissenters and Roman Catholics.
Copyright © 1997 Jonathan Chin & Alan Stern