This article is about the English constitutional document created in 1628. For the pre-1947 contractual remedy against the Crown, see petition of right
Following a series of disputes with Parliament over granting taxes, in 1627 Charles I
imposed "forced loans", and imprisoned those who refused to pay, without trial. This was followed in 1628 by the use of martial law
, forcing private citizens to feed, clothe and accommodate soldiers and sailors, which implied the king could deprive any individual of property, or freedom, without justification. It united opposition at all levels of society, particularly those elements the monarchy depended on for financial support, collecting taxes, administering justice etc, since wealth simply increased vulnerability.
committee prepared four 'Resolutions', declaring each of these illegal, while re-affirming Magna Carta
and habeas corpus
. Charles previously depended on the House of Lords
for support against the Commons, but their willingness to work together forced him to accept the Petition. It marked a new stage in the constitutional crisis
, since it became clear many in both Houses did not trust him, or his ministers, to interpret the law.
policy pursued by James prior to 1623 had been unpopular, inefficient and expensive, and there was widespread support for declaring war
. However, money granted by Parliament for this purpose was spent on the royal household, while they also objected to the use of indirect taxes and customs duties. Charles' first Parliament
wanted to review the entire system, and as a temporary measure while doing so, the Commons
granted Tonnage and Poundage
for twelve months, rather than the entire reign, as was customary.
Charles instructed the House of Lords
to reject the bill, and adjourned Parliament on 11 July, but needing money for the war, recalled it on 1 August.
However, the Commons began investigating Charles' favourite and military commander, the Duke of Buckingham
, notorious for inefficiency and extravagance. When they demanded his impeachment
in return for approving taxes, Charles dissolved his first Parliament on 12 August 1625.
The disastrous Cádiz expedition
forced him to recall Parliament in 1626
, but once again they demanded the impeachment of Buckingham before providing funds. to finance the war, Charles adopted "forced loans"; those who refused to pay would be imprisoned without trial, and if they continued to resist, sent before the Privy Council
The judges avoided the issue by denying bail
, on the grounds that as there were no charges, "the [prisoners] could not be freed, as the offence was probably too dangerous for public discussion".
A clear defeat, Charles decided not to pursue charges; since his opponents included the previous Chief Justice, and other senior legal officers, the ruling meant the loans would almost certainly be deemed illegal.
So many now refused payment, the reduction in projected income forced him to recall Parliament in 1628
, while the controversy returned "a preponderance of MPs opposed to the King".
To fund his army, Charles resorted to martial law
. This was a process employed for short periods by his predecessors, specifically to deal with internal rebellions
, or imminent threat of invasion
, clearly not the case here.
Intended to allow local commanders to try soldiers or insurgents outside normal courts, it was now extended to require civilians to feed, house and clothe military personnel, known as 'Coat and conduct money.' As with forced loans, this deprived individuals of personal property, subject to arbitrary detention if they protested.
In a society that valued stability, predictability, and conformity, the Parliament assembled in March claimed to be confirming established and customary law, implying both James and Charles had attempted to alter it. On 1 April, a Commons committee began preparing four Resolutions, led by Sir Edward Coke
, a former Chief Justice, and most respected lawyer of the age.
One protected individuals from taxation not authorised by Parliament, like forced loans, the other three summarised rights in place since 1225, and later enshrined in the Habeas Corpus Act 1679
. They stipulated individuals could not be imprisoned without trial, deprived of habeas corpus
, whether by king or Privy Council, or detained until charged with a crime.
Sir Edward Coke
, former Chief Justice who led the Committee that drafted the Petition, and the strategy that passed it
Despite being unanimously accepted by the Commons on 3 April, the Resolutions had no legal power and were rejected by Charles.
He presented an alternative; a bill confirming Magna Carta
and six other liberty-related statutes, on condition it contained "no enlargement of former bills". The Commons refused, since Charles was only confirming established rights, which he had already shown willing to ignore, while it would still allow him to decide what was legal.
After conferring with his supporters, Charles announced Parliament would be prorogued
on 13 May, but was now out-manoeuvred by his opponents. Since he refused a public bill, Coke suggested the Commons and Lords pass the resolutions as a Petition of Right, and then have it "exemplified under the great seal".
An established element of Parliamentary procedure, this had not been expressly prohibited by Charles, allowing them to evade his restrictions, but avoid direct opposition.
The Committee redrafted the content as a 'Petition', which was accepted by the Commons on 8 May, and presented the same day to the Lords by Coke, with a bill approving subsidies to encourage acceptance.
After several days of debate, they approved it, but attempted to "sweeten" the wording; they then received a message from Charles, claiming he must retain the right to decide whether to detain someone.
Despite protestations on both sides, in an age when legal training was considered part of a gentleman's education, significant elements within both Commons and Lords did not trust Charles to interpret the law. The Commons ignored both the request, and alterations proposed by the Lords to appease him; by now, there was a clear majority in both houses for the Petition as originally submitted. On 26 May, the Lords unanimously voted to join with the Commons on the Petition of Right, with the minor addition of an assurance of their loyalty, approved by the Commons on 27 May.
Charles now ordered John Finch
, the Speaker of the Commons
, to prevent "insult", or criticism of any Minister of State. He specifically named Buckingham, and in response, Selden moved the Commons demand his removal from office.
Needing money for his war effort, Charles finally accepted the Petition, but first increased the level of mistrust on 2 June by trying to qualify it.[a]
Both houses now demanded "a clear and satisfactory answer by His Majesty in full Parliament", and on 7 June, Charles capitulated.
After setting out a list of individual grievances and statutes that had been broken, the Petition of Right declares that Englishmen have various "rights and liberties", and provides that no person should be forced to provide a gift, loan or tax without an Act of Parliament, that no free individual should be imprisoned or detained unless a cause has been shown, and that soldiers or members of the Royal Navy
should not be billeted in private houses without the free consent of the owner.
In relation to martial law, the Petition first repeated the due process chapter
of Magna Carta
, then demanded its repeal.[b]
This clause was directly addressed to the various commissions issued by Charles and his military commanders, restricting the use of martial law except in war or direct rebellion and prohibiting the formation of commissions. A state of war automatically activated martial law; as such, the only purpose for commissions, in their view, was to unjustly permit martial law in circumstances that did not require it.
Charles' acceptance was greeted with widespread public celebrations, including ringing of church bells and lighting of bonfires throughout the country.
However, in August, Buckingham was assassinated by a disgruntled former soldier, while the surrender of La Rochelle
in October effectively ended the war, and Charles' need for taxes. He dissolved Parliament in 1629, ushering in eleven years of Personal Rule
, in which he attempted to regain all the ground lost.
For the rest of his reign, Charles used the same tactics; refusing to negotiate until forced, with concessions seen as temporary and reversed as soon as possible, by force if needed.
Once Parliament adjourned, he resumed the policy of imposing unauthorised taxes, then prosecuting opponents using the non-jury Star Chamber
. When Parliament and the normal courts quoted the Petition in support of objections to the tax, and the detention of Selden and Sir John Eliot
, Charles responded it was not a legal document.
- ^ The citation of this Act by this short title was authorised by section 5 of, and Schedule 2 to, the Statute Law Revision Act 1948. Due to the repeal of those provisions, it is now authorised by section 19(2) of the Interpretation Act 1978.
- ^ These words are printed against this Act in the second column of Schedule 2 to the Statute Law Revision Act 1948, which is headed "Title".
- ^ The Petition of Right .
- ^ "The King willeth that right be done according to the laws and customs of the realm; and that the statutes be put in due execution, that the subject may have no just cause of complaint for any wrong or oppression, contrary to their just rights and liberties, to the preservation whereof he holds himself in conscience as well obliged of his just prerogative.
- ^ Neverthelesse of late tyme divers Comissions under your Majesties great Seale have issued forth, by which certaine persons have been assigned and appointed Comissioners with power and authoritie to proceed within the land according to the Justice of Martiall Lawe against such Souldiers or Marriners or other dissolute persons joyning with them as should comitt any murther [sic: murder] robbery felony mutiny or other outrage or misdemeanor whatsoever, and by such sumary course and order as is agreeable to Martiall Lawe and as is used in Armies in tyme of warr to proceed to the tryall and condemnacion of such offenders, and them to cause to be executed and putt to death according to the Lawe Martiall. ... They doe therefore humblie pray your most Excellent Majestie, ... that the aforesaid Comissions for proceeding by Martiall Lawe may be revoked and annulled. And that hereafter no Comissions of like nature may issue forth to any person or persons whatsoever to be executed as aforesaid, lest by colour of them any of your Majesties Subjects be destroyed or put to death contrary to the Lawes and Franchise of the Land.
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