A Scottish House of Commons is born.

The short lived supremacy of the Covenanter hard liners and their clerical rule from 1638-1641,   tends to be skipped over as a short lived phase in the story of the religious fanatics. It was, however, a time of great importance to the future Scotland because the opportunity was taken to reform the legislative process and to provide much greater representation of the people in the legislature itself.

So far as the Covenanting movement was concerned, the changes involved the shire gentry and the burgesses in decision making and provided balance against clerical excesses (albeit that the representatives would have been `good` Presbyterians). The net effect was a gathering akin to a  House of Commons for Scotland, and a very serious challenge to the claimed supremacy of the Crown. The fear the Crown had of the new representation and their political strength was subsequently reflected in the Recissory Act 1661, at the Restoration of Charles II, when all the changes made and the laws passed since 1638 were cast out. But the people had tasted a freedom from supremacist rule which they did not forget.

The Parliaments abroad, in Poland, Hungary, Bohemia and England consisted of two houses (bi cameral) ; Scotland had a single, or unicameral Parliament. In common with other Parliaments the representation was made up of the three Estates. These were the three classes of persons - the Lords Temporal, the Lords Spiritual and the Commons. In other words, the nobility, the clergy and the townsmen (burgesses) who formed the governing body or Parliament. In practice the Committee of the Scottish Parliament was responsible for the day to day running of government albeit implementing the kings will. It normally consisted of 12 members from each estate and three Lords of Session.  There was, however, a total stranglehold on the submission of legislation which under the Stuart Kings, had to go to the Lords of the Articles. These were all appointees of the King and had absolute authority to decide if a bill could be presented to Parliament. The Lords of the Articles were abolished at the accession of William and Mary.

In the 9th century, under Constantine II, a convention of the Estates started to get to grips with the excesses of the priests ordering them to confine their activities to the church and to set a good example. In Scotland the first Parliament was probably the meeting called by Robert the Bruce in 1326 at Cambusnethan. This he summoned because he was in need of finances and for the first time burgesses of the towns attended. Since 1291 the attendance on the King was limited to vassals in chief, barons etc and freeholders  The seeds of more representation of the people in government goes back to the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. But Burgesses started to attend meetings regularly from about 1455. The Committee of the Articles first took form in 1367 under King David when a large number of burgesses assembled at Scone and it was resolved to delegate authority to a Committee of twelve, drawn from the six prominent burghs. Similar circumstances also created the Committee for Causes, which later became the Court of Session or Supreme Court of Justice. The Privy Council retained an interest, especially in matters of public order and riot. The King retained the right to appoint the Judges and was therefore able to exert influence when it suited him.

The Parliament in Scotland was not divided into separate houses of Commons and Lords as in England, all representatives came together in the one place. But, as was the custom and practice, the Parliament met infrequently and much legislation was done through Committee of the Estates and ratified by Parliament when next it met. There was also a lengthy period when the ruling body in Scotland was merely a Privy Council made up of membersselected by the King, and no more than a mouthpiece for an absolute monarchy under James VI/I, Charles I, Charles II and James VII/II.

The Scottish Parliament during the 16th century had a majority of nobles who were largely driven by self interest. This posed a potential threat to the Crown and James VI sought to protect his interests by encouraging support from elsewhere. The lawyers and the church he knew were traditionally loyal and the burghers simply wanted peace in order to trade. The latter he encouraged by the Convention of Royal Burghs which met regularly under his patronage. In 1587 the King sought to bring a better balance in Parliament with greater representation of the barons - the smaller land owners. The barons were more interested in the security of their tenure, held of the Crown and church lands, and had little in common with the nobles. The Privy Council at this time was the focus for policy matters and was at one time representative of the Three Estates.

However, when James VI became King of England in 1603 he was determined that the Privy Council was to be his puppet and not a powerful bureaucracy in his absence. Although the Privy Council was filled with the King`s nominees he nevertheless developed the Committee or Lords of the Articles. This was an inner circle of loyal supporters with a built in majority for the King, through which were imposed his policies. The Committee consisted of an equal number, normally eight, of each Estate with Officers of State nominated by the King. The Bishops chose eight Nobles; the Nobles chose eight Bishops; and they jointly chose another eight from the Barons and Burgesses. Under Charles I the Officers of State were eight of his nominees. The Committee of Lords of the Articles had absolute power and were the real rulers of Scotland, their bills had to either be accepted by Parliament or rejected - there was no debate on the content of a bill. The normal Estates or Parliament would adjourn when they were is session, and reassemble to ratify its proposals. The system continued with some amendments until 1661, when its structure reverted to its earlier form. It was abolished in 1689.

The changes effected by the Covenanters.

The creation of ` The Tables` was a consequence of the great uproar that followed the imposition of the Service Book on the Church of Scotland in 1637. There was great opposition to the Service Book and many petitions were presented to the Privy Council meeting in Edinburgh on 15 November 1637. Some sixty eight petitions were then presented to the King by the Duke of Lennox. The reply from the King was swift enough, coupled with his anger that the bishops had not enforced the use of the Liturgy which they had pressed on him. The response was to order all strangers from the city within twenty four hours on penalty of being declared an outlaw; the Court of Session was ordered to move to Linlithgow and then to Dundee (where it would be remote from any rabble rousing). The order also denounced a publication by George Gillespie - “ A Dispute against the English Popish Ceremonies obtruded on the Church of Scotland “ which the Scots Worthies says was “too corrosive a quality to be digested by the Bishop`s weak stomachs.”

In the tumult the magistrates were coerced into cooperation and a Committee of Public Security was allowed to be set up which included representatives of the supplicants. This allowed the rank and file to disperse while the Committee set itself up as a Convention of the Estates. They occupied the Parliament House and divided themselves into four groups, each meeting in separate rooms - at separate` Tables` - the nobles; country gentlemen, burghs and clergy. Four representatives of each group were selected and authorised to act for their class. A fifth Table was set up as a co-ordinating Table with a representative from each of the other four, with Archibald Johnston, later Lord Warriston, as its Clerk.

The formation of `The Tables` created an efficient organisation which then took the offensive. On 21 December 1637 they demanded that the Privy Council, then sitting at Dalkeith , remove the bishops from among them on the grounds that they could not be both judges and defendants in the matters under dispute. King Charles responded on 20 February with a declaration at Stirling “ that the Bishops were unjustly accused as being the authors of the Service Book and Canons, seeing whatever was done by them in that matter was by his Majesty`s authority and orders.” The declaration prohibited petitions against the Liturgy and insisted that it could not be withdrawn. The King`s declaration was rejected and ` all who love the cause of God ` were called to meet in Edinburgh. Among the ministers Alexander Henderson and David Dickson were to the fore, recalling that in 1580, in similar times of danger to the Church, there had been a National Covenant (1581). From the Edinburgh gathering came the renewal of the National Covenant, drawn up by Henderson and Johnston, which was approved by ` The Tables` and signed in Greyfriars Kirk on 28 February 1638.

Resentment and anger at the Bishops continued to mount and came to a head in October 1638 when they were cited by their respective presbyteries to compear at the general Assembly to account for the charges alleged. The Bishops did not appear, however, thus the charges were heard in their absence and sentence of excommunication passed by them on 13 December 1638, Session 30, with instruction to Alexander henderson, the Moderator, to declare the matter at the next session.

At the General Assembly in Glasgow,1639, Session 25,an act was passed on 19 December that declared it unlawful for clerics to hold civil office

" It is  both inexpedient and unlawful In this Kirk, for Pastors  separate unto the Gospel to brook civil places, and offices as to be Justices of  peace, sit and discerne in Councell Session or Exchecker; to ryde or vote in Parliament, to be Judges or Assessors in any Civill Judicatorie...."

The Assembly`s act was ratified by Parliament itself on 20 June 1640. The act stated for the present and all future Parliaments that the three Estates  should be the nobility,  the Commissioners of the Shires ( ie the gentry, and the Commissioners of the burghs ( the burgesses). Voting rights were restricted to Members of Parliament only, and plural votes by persons (usually nobility) holding official office was restricted to a single vote. There was also a doubling of the voting strength of the gentry by allowing each of the two representatives from a shire to have an individual vote. Each burgh was allowed a single representative except Edinburgh which had two. Thus in 1641  there were 56 nobles, 50 gentry representing 29 shires and 57 burgesses  from 56 burghs. The consequence of this far reaching change  was to diminish the nobilities voting powers and the collective strength of the shires and the burghs could veto legislation it did not like. This new `muscle` was reflected in subsequent events and assorted committees that governed Scotland until the Restoration, and was a foretaste of greater representation for the common man as well as a positive break from the concept of the royal prerogative.

With the arrival of Cromwell in Scotland the Committee of the Estates was forced to disperse at Alyth in 1651. It reassembled and was once more entrusted with the government of the country. The "Drunken Parliament" as it became known met on 1 January 1661 under the direction of the Earl of Middleton. On the directions of his vengeful royal master Charles II, Middleton promptly set about rescinding the laws enacted in the interim and enacting new oppressive legislation. Parliament as such was again dominated by the nobility although not all attended at every meeting.

At the Union in 1707 the make up was 10 Dukes, 3 Marquis`, 75 Earls, 17 Viscounts,52 Lords, 90 Knights of shires, and 67 burgesses – a total of 314 members - the nobles being equivalent to the shires and burgesses balanced at 157 votes each.

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