|In the 17th and 18th centuries, although
issues relating to citizenship were many and varied, in Britain
they were, for the most part, linked by questions concerning
the location of political authority and the power of Parliament
in relation to the monarch.
Death warrant of Charles I
(160k) | Transcript
Central to the acrimonious and
sometimes bloody struggles of the period was a contest between
the various monarchs and Parliament regarding the power to
raise money, organise national defence and devise foreign
policy, and the power of the representative body of the nation
to hold the monarch to account. These issues are reflected
in two of the most famous documents of the 17th century -
the death warrant of Charles I and the Bill of Rights.
Death warrant of Charles I
The warrant for the execution of Charles I is perhaps the
most dramatic of all the records relating to English political
history. While some of Charles's predecessors had suffered
early and bloody deaths, none had been subjected to formal
legal proceedings in a High Court of Justice, established
by legislation passed by a Parliament professing to be the
supreme power in the land.
Charles was placed on trial in January 1649. Three times
the king refused to plead, denying the competence of the court
to try him. After four days of proceedings, his refusal to
plead was judged to be a confession and on January 29th he
was sentenced to death by beheading.
This evocative document, authorising the execution of the
death sentence, bears the signatures and seals of 59 of the
commissioners who sat in judgement upon the king and became
known as the 'regicides'. The sentence was carried out on
January 30th in front of the Banqueting House in Whitehall.
Bill of Rights, 1689
(348k) | Transcript
Bill of Rights,
After the short-lived constitutional experiments that followed
the Civil War, the supremacy of Parliament was finally enshrined
in the Bill of Rights passed in December 1689. Drafted in reaction
to the 'tyranny' of James II, following the latter's 'abdication'
and the acceptance of the crown by William III and Mary II,
it formed part of the events that became known as the Glorious
The Bill of Rights firmly established the principles of frequent
parliaments, free elections, and freedom of speech within Parliament.
It also prohibited 'standing' armies without parliamentary consent,
and barred Catholics from the throne. The Bill formalised the
of Rights presented to William and Mary in February 1689,
when they were offered the throne. Although the Bill of Rights
attacked the abuse of prerogative
power rather than prerogative power itself, it had the virtue
of enshrining in statute what many regarded as ancient rights
and liberties. However, some historians maintain that a more
profound change in the relationship between sovereign and Parliament
emerged as a result of the financial settlement that Parliament
negotiated with William and Mary.
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