Show Less
Restricted access

House of Lords Reform: A History

Volume 1. The Origins to 1937: Proposals Deferred- Book One: The Origins to 1911- Book Two: 1911–1937

Peter Raina

One of the peculiarities of British history is the development of a constitution headed by the Crown and the two Houses of Parliament. This system emerged to become a balance of democracy, efficiency and moderation that became the admiration of the world.
The contribution of the House of Lords to this balance is all too often overlooked. In this richly documented two-volume work, the author offers a detailed examination of the Lords’ constitutional position and the predicament they faced as the Commons increasingly championed popular rule. With a landowning membership based on the hereditary principle, the Lords struggled to adapt. Yet, valiant attempts were made. The author gives us the first thorough, full-length history of the Lords’ ambiguous responses to the new democracy and the stream of arguments, proposals and bills raised for reform of their House.
Drawing on speeches, letters, reports and memoranda of the times (some never previously published), the book brings to life the inner wranglings and arresting personalities, the hopes and anxieties and the sheer frustrations of a House divided between entrenched interests and idealism, and often threatened by progressives outside.
The two books in Volume One cover the period from the medieval origins of the House of Lords and proceed, through many tumultuous events, to the outbreak of the Second World War.
Show Summary Details
Restricted access

Chapter 1: The Evolution of the House of Lords: The origins to the Restoration


← i. xxviii | i. 1 → CHAPTER ONE

The Evolution of the House of Lords: The origins to the Restoration

The House of Lords: the roots

We must go to the dawn of English political history to look for the roots of the House of Lords. The early English kings, presumably from the beginning of the seventh century on, ruled with the assistance of witan, the ‘wise men’. This group of ‘wise men’ assembled together in what was called the witenagemot.1 The members of this assembly were the king’s favourites, and therefore could hardly be called representative.

We learn, again from history, that about 695 the witan took a leading part in drafting the Dooms of King Withred of Kent (about 695). And about two hundred years later King Alfred (871–900) approved some of the laws observed by his predecessors, but ‘annulled’ those he did not approve of on ‘the advice of my witan’, ordering these laws ‘to be observed in a different fashion’. But then, Alfred alleges, that ‘I, Alfred, King of the West Saxons, have shown these to all my witan, and they have declared that it met with the approval of all that they should be observed.’

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.