The Scottish Parliament in the 15th and 16th centuries

O'Brien, Irene E. (1980) The Scottish Parliament in the 15th and 16th centuries. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Earlier histories of the Scottish parliament have been
somewhat constitutional in emphasis and have been
exceedingly critical of what was understood to be
parliament's subservience to the crown. Estimates by
constitutional historians of the extreme weakness of
parliament rested on an assessment of the constitutional
system. The argument was that many of its features were
not consistent with a reasonably strong parliament.
Because the 'constitution' is apparently fragmented,
with active roles played by bodies such as the lords of
articles, the general council and the convention of
estates, each apparently suggesting that parliament was
inadequate, historians have sometimes failed to appreciate
the positive role played by the estates in the conduct
of national affairs. The thesis begins with a discussion
of the reliability of the printed text of APS and proceeds
to an examination of selected aspects of the work of
parliament in a period from c 1424-c 1625. The belief of
constitutional historians such as Rait that conditions
In Scotland proved unfavourable to the interests and.
effectiveness of parliament in the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries, is also examined.
Chapter 1 concludes that APS is a less than reliable
text, particularly for the reign of James I. Numerous
statutes were excluded from the printed text and they
are offered below for the first time. These statutes
have been a useful addition to our understanding of the
reign of James I. Chapter 2 analyses the motives behind
the schemes for shire representation and concludes that
neither constitutional theory nor political opportunism
explains the support which James I and James VI gave to
these measures. Both these monarchs were motivated by
the realisation that their particular ambitions were
dependent on winning the support of the estates whose
ranks should include representatives from the shires.
Chapter 3 examines the method of electing the lords of
articles, the composition of this committee, and some
aspects of its operation. The conclusion is that in the
main the estates were the deciding force in the choice of
the lords of articles. The committee's composition was
more a reflection of a desire for a balance between
representatives from north and south of the Forth and
for the most important burghs and clergy to be selected
than an attempt at electing government favourites. The
articles did exercise a significant control over the
items which came before parliament but this control was
not absolute and applied to government as well as private
legislation. Chapter 4 questions the traditional view
that the general council and convention of estates were
the same body. It is argued that they were two different
institutions with different powers, but that they nevertheless worked within certain limits and were careful not to
usurp the authority of parliament. Chapter 5 concedes
that taxation was sometimes decided outside parliament;
that the irregularity of taxation certainly weakened the
bargaining power of the estates and that the latter did
not appear to capitalise on these occasions when taxation
was an issue. But the tendency was to ensure that,
whether in or out of parliament, the decision to
impose taxation was taken by a large number of each
estate. The infrequency of taxation was a direct
consequence of an unwillingness among the estates to
agree to a regular taxation and their preference to
ensure for the crown an alternative source of income.
Moreover taxation was one issue, which more than any other,
would be subject to contentious opposition by the estates,
and could lead to the crown's defeat. Chapter 6 is
concerned with ecclesiastical representation after the
Reformation and the church's attitudes to the possibility
of ministerial representation. Some ministers had
doctrinal misgivings but the majority came to believe
that the church's absence from parliament bad severely
reduced. the influence of the church. That no agreement
was forthcoming on a system of ministerial representation,
particularly after 1597, is attributable to the estates'
unwillingness to compromise and, not to the strength of
opposition in the church. Chapter 7 examines the
institutions which are sometime seen as 'rivals' of
parliament and concludes that institutions such as the
privy council were generally very careful in matters which
needed the approval of parliament, and seemed aware of the
greater authority of parliament. Chapter 8 which illustrates
how parliament had the right to be consulted in all important
matters of state, brings together the main points of the
earlier chapters and offers further illustrations of
the essential role which parliament played in the conduct
of national affairs. Whether or not the system can be
regarded as constitutionally sound, the estates in
Scotland could observe parliament's day-to-day operation
with some satisfaction. All in all, there is little
convincing evidence that parliament was as weak as some
historians would have us believe.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: Supervisor, not known
Date of Award: 1980
Depositing User: Adam Swann
Unique ID: glathesis:1980-7514
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 Aug 2016 15:53
Last Modified: 13 Sep 2017 15:24

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