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How the "Mother of Parliaments" was born

The Origins of the English Parliament, 924-1327 - J. R. Maddicott

One of the things I enjoy most about reading is the process of learning that takes place. It's one of the main reasons why I'm usually reading nonfiction instead of fiction, as I always enjoy seeking out new information and new ways of looking at our world. This also shapes how I regard the books I read, as some, while well-written, can unfortunately be superficial, while others prove to be profoundly revelatory, with fresh insights on practically every page.


The Origins of the English Parliament is a perfect example of one of those books that reading proves a true revelation. In it, John Maddicott explains the evolution of Parliament from its precursors in Anglo-Saxon times into its fully-formed existence in the 14th century. To do this, he immerses the reader in a detailed overview of the councils, meetings, and issues involved over the nearly four centuries covered in his narrative. In this way he explains the organic emergence of Parliament as an institution, though one the development of which was determined by circumstances of the moment. Perhaps the most critical of these was the death of King John and the minority of his son Henry III. As Maddicott notes, institutions similar to Parliament were developing throughout Europe at that time, yet it was the vacuum of executive leadership in England at that critical point which allowed Parliament to develop an institutional standing without a challenge from the monarchy.


This may have been the most important point in the development of Parliament, but it was far from the only one. Maddicott describes all of them, using the available records to explain their composition, business, and standing within the English legal and political system. In this the expects from his readers a considerable degree of familiarity with medieval English history -- this is not a book for the novice to the subject. But those who possess it will find reading Maddicott's book to be a richly rewarding experience, as it offers a superb explanation of the evolution of one of the vital institutions of the English constitutional system and a defining body that would shape English and British history down to the present day.