Ch 04 The Decline of Feudalism

Ch.4-The Decline of Feudalism

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 De Montfort took advantage of the split between the barons, and a civil war ensued. Those barons opposed to the king were forced to rely on the support of other classes.


In 1264, Simon de Montfort defeated Henry at Lewes and desertion from the baronial ranks continued. The movement included town merchants, lesser landlords and the clergy.

De Montfort summoned to his ‘parliament’ representatives of the burgesses of chartered towns, as well as two knights from each shire.


This parliament is correctly described as a revolutionary party assembly and contained five earls, 17 barons and the burgesses - a reflection of the changing class structure of England.  

The growing difference between the great barons and lesser landowners or knights led to the barons retaining bands of armed followers prepared to fight, while the landowners and knights were increasingly content to live on their estates and make money from the wool trade.


This was the beginning of the English squirearchy, which dominated the countryside for the next five centuries.

These knights were drawn into local government, and, in 1254, as representatives of the shire, they were formally summoned regularly to council.

The balance of the council changed and was no longer regarded as merely a feudal body.

In 1267, de Montfort was defeated by Henry’s son Edward and was killed, but Edward found it wiser to adopt many of the changes that the rebels had demanded.

Like the jury, parliament was a royal convenience rather than a right of the subject but was used to collect taxes and became the focus of opposition. Many stayed away.

In 1295, a new crisis emerged in the form of a war with France and Scotland and the holding down of the Welsh.


Edward summoned a ‘model parliament’, which was made to grant large sums of money. More was needed in the following two years.

Edward I levied a heavy property tax, tolls on wool exports and seized some of the property of the Church.


In 1297, the levies were strongly resisted, and a Confirmation of the Charter was secured. Edward promised no more taxes without the consent of parliament.


The opposition was mostly baronial, but it was an opposition.


The same happened in the following reign of Edward II, alienating the barons by the failure of his Bannockburn campaign in 1315 and by grants of Crown lands to personal friends.


In 1327, Edward II was deposed by a rising of the barons, but this was carried through in regular parliamentary manner by establishing a precedent – this was important.

Edward III needed money for the Hundred Years’ War that lead to further parliamentary gains, so he agreed to elect treasurers to supervise the expenditure of the money, vote and examine the royal accounts.

This was a right of parliament not only to withhold supplies, but to exercise control over money and hence policy.

However, parliament was weak. There were three houses: Barons, Clergy and Commons. Though they acted together, at times the alliance was thin. The decline of feudalism strengthened the Commons.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the nominal power of parliament was considerable.


However, the decay of feudalism brought together a very powerful small group of noble families, mostly related to the Crown.  They saw parliament as a convenient means through which to dominate the state machine.

The whole period was one of transition and parliament became a battleground for these forces.


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