"Before 1640, parliament was not powerful and it did not contain an opposition". Discuss.
There are two schools of thought concerning parliamentary power and opposition prior to 1640. The older Whig ideal argues that Parliament was indeed powerful, and contained opposition to the government, i.e. the Crown, because a power struggle ensued, while the Revisionist faction denounces this view of a power struggle between Crown and Parliament. it is important that two key words are defined (Chambers dictionary); powerful will be known as "having great power" and "force", while opposition will be regarded as "the parliamentary body that opposes the government", i.e. the Crown.
The Revisionist critique that Parliament did not contain opposition and was not powerful has many followers with many of the recent historians, such as Loades, Sharpe and Russell. Their argument stands on shaky ground. The three reigns prior to the Civil war (greatest power struggle of all time) were littered with Parliamentary opposition and power struggle.
The more viable Whig argument states that Parliament was indeed powerful and contained vast opposition against the Crown. With two contradicting ideals, Elizabeth and her prerogatives over the "matters of state" (religion, foreign policy, marriage, succession and finance) in which Parliament couldn't discuss without her consent. Parliament having the contradictory view that it was their privilege and right to discuss these matters. The era of Elizabeth is a chronological chart of parliamentary opposition. 1566, a petition from Parliament over her marriage, Elizabeth ordered them to stop this debate because it was a "matters of state", Wentworth reacted to this by saying this was "a breach of the liberty of the free speech of the House". Elizabeth, strongly as possible; "let this my discipline stand you in stead of sorer strokes, never tempt too far a prince's patience", a warning to Parliament that they should not oppose her wishes. There were many instances in which the Queen had to rebuke Parliament for infringing her prerogatives, 1572 where a passing of a Bill concerning Mary Queen of Scots was delayed because Parliament were indulging in other matters, the Queen gave them this message "the Queen Majesty's pleasure is that this House do proceed in weighty causes, laying aside all private matters". Constitutionally parliament had not gained any extra power, but by their actions they had gained important precedents which was detrimental to the struggles of future monarchs. The impeachment of Wentworth set an important precedent, this proves to be decisive in James' and Charles reign. The question of free speech within Parliamentary sessions, it is true that she denounced many of their debates over the "matters of state", but many of these debates led to actions such as the monopoly abuse, in which parliament originally ordered an investigation, but the Queen stepped in and ordered it herself, reminding her dutiful and loving subjects "that they must not entrench her prerogatives". This again left another precedent in which parliament could directly form a constitution or redress a grievances by investigating it themselves.
James inherited a Parliament with a new ideal and the means to follow this. Parliament gained new precedents from Elizabeth's reign which they would use against James, as well as the rise of new power hungry Councillors. Parliament was seen as the standard bearer for common law, and they saw James as the potential enemy. James a king who entrusted upon divinity as he explained; "King's are not only God's lieutenants on earth and sit upon God's throne, but by even God himself they are called Gods".. Sir Edwin Sandys remarked in 1614 "our impositions increase in England as it come to be almost a tyrannical government".. Within each session, parliament opposed James' policies; such as the Unification of Scotland England, in which Parliament rejected because of their xenophobic attitude, the Great Contract in which James was willing to give up certain prerogatives in return for an annual subsidy of ÃÂ£200,000, but it was rejected, the attempted impeachment of Buckingham. Parliament began to extend their prerogatives and privileges. James enjoyed debates, which led to the rise of parliamentary power by allowing free debate in the House this led to a precedent to free speech. James argued that the prerogatives of Parliament are not theirs but his, and he had the right to take them away, Parliament saw this differently, "we hold it an ancient, general and undoubted right of Parliament to debate freely all matters which concern the subject or the state". Parliament now had the power to impeach one of the King's favourites, Buckingham, to debate over the power of the Court of Chancery, Buckinghamshire Elections and the ordacity to reject the Kings plan for reunification of his other kingdom. Parliamentary power became so pronounce that they even rejected the King's sacrifice of wardships and collection of money in the form of the Great Contract, this shows their ambition, they wanted more power, more control.
Parliament throughout the previous two reigns became more power hungry, thus more opposive to the Crown. Parliament opposed all facets of Charles' policies. Religion, the Arminianistic approach taken by Charles was strongly opposed by Parliament, due to its high churchness an approach too similar to the Catholic doctrine. This was attacked with attempted impeachment of Montague who Charles had to protect. Foreign policy, Charles followed a policy of war, to protect his sister in the Palatinate and failed raids to Spain led by the much disliked Buckingham. Buckingham upto his death was continuously attacked because of his close relationship to the King, as Sir Edwin Sandys sarcastically remarked "that great man, the Duke of Buckingham". Charles reacted to this opposition, "...it is now the labour of some to seek what may be done against the man whom the king fits to be honoured". The Petition of Right 1628, is a prime example of Parliamentary oposive attitude, a Bill which defined their prerogatives, which inversely limits the King's rights. Charles was so disgruntled by Parliament due to their opposive nature, ruled the Kingdom for 11 years without calling a Parliament. 1640, Parliament was called, the hostility of the session is showed by Pym who stated "the breaches of our liberty and privileges of Parliament.....petitions left not heard, our last sighs and groans to his majesty...". This session epitomises the ambitions and power of Parliament, they were disgruntled for not being called for 11 years, it wanted more power.
There were many occasions were Parliament opposed Elizabeth, succession and marriage and so forth. It was not a reign of harmony, but a reign of the slow reduction of the monarch's prerogatives, and the rise of Parliamentary privileges. Parliament increased their prerogatives and power through precedents performed during the reign of Elizabeth, the power of free speech (marriage, succession, finances), impeachment (Wentworth), investigation of grievances (monopolies) and so forth. These precedents and elevation of power caused severe problem throughout the reigns of Charles and James, and the elevation of power and opposition continued. The power struggle throughout the three reigns eventually led to the Civil War because with this elevation of Parliamentary power, only one ambition and plateau could be reached, the control of the country, the struggle for power. Parliament was indeed opposive and powerful as the Whig historian s correctly stated.