Abjuration Oath

This oath has undergone various alterations. In 1672 particular doctrines of the Church of Rome had to be abjured. In 1702, all peers, persons in office, members of the universities, of parliament, and of the legal profession, had to abjure the Pope, and the claims of the Stuarts. This oath has been changed for Roman Catholics in 1791, and in 1829; and for Jews in 1858. One oath is now substituted for the three oaths of allegiance, abjuration, and supremacy.

Abjuration of the Realm

An oath to quit the realm, and never to return to it without the royal licence. Modified in the reign of Henry VIIL, and abolished as a privilege in 1624. By an act passed in 1593, Roman Catholics and who refused to attend the service of the might be required to abjure the realm. From this law Dissenters were exempted in 1689, and Roman Catholics in 1791.

Admiralty, Court of

Erected in 1357. A civil court for the trial of causes relating to maritime affairs. It possesses one judge, who is usually an eminent doctor of civil law. In 1857 it was decreed that the judge of the Probate Court be also judge of the Admiralty Court. Appeals can be made from this court to the Privy Council. Its criminal jurisdiction was abolished in 1844.

Advocate, Lord, in Scotland

An officer who occupies the same position as Attorney-General in England. This office existed in 1479, but it was not till 1540 that it became a great office of state.

Age, of

In England, the minority of a male ceases at 21, and of a female in some cases, as that of a queen, at 18. A male of 12 may take the oath of allegiance; at 14 may consent to a marriage; and at 17 be an executor: but no will made by any person under 21 is valid. A female at 12 may consent to a marriage, at 14 choose a guardian, and at 21 is of age.


— Are those not being natives of this kingdom. The laws were formerly very strict against them, but these have been greatly modified by acts passed in 1844 and 1847. An alien cannot sit in either House of Parliament, or be a member of the Privy Council, or vote at elections.

Archbishop of Canterbury

— Is primate and metropolitan of all England, and the first peer of the realm, having precedence of all officers of state, and of all dukes, except those of the blood royal. The see was made superior to York in 1073, and the archbishop was primate of England as well as of Ireland till 1152. The see was founded by Ethelbert, when Augustine became the first archbishop.

Archdeacon's Court

The most inferior court in the whole ecclesiastical polity. It is held in the archdeacon's absence before a judge appointed by him, and its jurisdiction is sometimes in concurrence with, sometimes in exclusion of, the bishop's court of the diocese.


See Court of Arches.

Articles of Religion

Six were published in 1539, viz., transubstantiation, communion in one kind, vows of chastity, private masses, celibacy of the clergy, and auricular con-fession. In 1552 forty-two were published, but were reduced to thirty-nine in 1563, and received the royal authority and consent of parliament in 1571.

Assize Courts

Defined in old books to be an assembly of knights and other substantial men, with the justice, to meet at a certain time and place. Assizes are general when the judges go their circuits, and special when a commission is issued to take cognisance of one or more causes.


An Anglo-Saxon term, signifying a member of a royal house.

Attainder, Act of

The Norman laws provided that by attainder of treason or felony, a person forfeited his lands, and his blood became attainted, which utterly disqualified his descendants from inheriting property. Its severity was modified in 1695; and in 1814 disinheritance was restricted (except in cases of high treason) to the culprit. Two witnesses in cases of high treason are necessary, where corruption of blood is incurred, unless the accused shall confess or stand mute.


A law officer of the crown, appointed by letters patent, who has to exhibit informations, and prosecute for the king in matters criminal. He has also to file Bills in Exchequer for any claims concerning the crown in inheritance or profit. First attorney-general appointed in 1278.

Augmentation Court

Erected, in 1534, by Henry VIII., for the purpose of increasing the royal revenues, by adding those of the suppressed monasteries.

Aula Regia

An ancient court, established by William the Conqueror, and composed of all the great officers of state. It was presided over by one special-magistrate, called the chief justiciar, and settled all business, civil and criminal, and likewise the matters of the revenue.

Battel, Trial by

A trial anciently allowed by our law, when the defendant in an appeal of murder might fight with the appellant, and make proof thereby of his guilt or innocence. Abolished in 1819.

Benefit of Clergy

Arose out of the great respect paid by Christian princes to the Church, and consisted of exempting those places consecrated to religious purposes from criminal arrests, and also the exemption of all clergymen from criminal process before the secular judge in particular cases. Gradually, benefit of clergy extended to all who could read; and it was enacted that there should be a prerogative allowed to the clergy that in case of any man being condemned to death who could read, the bishop might claim him as a clerk. The prisoner who could read was only burnt in the hand, otherwise he suffered death. Benefit of clergy was entirely repealed in 1827.

Bill of Rights, 1689


1. That the power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of Parliament, is illegal.

2. That the pretended power of dispensing with laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, as it hath been assumed and exercised of late, is illegal.

3. That the commission for erecting the late Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes, and all other commissions and courts of like nature, are illegal and pernicious.

4. That levying money for or to the use of the Crown, by pretence and prerogative, without grant of Parliament, for longer time or in other manner than the same is or shall be granted, is illegal.

5. That it is the right of the subjects to petition the king, and all commitments and prosecutions for such petitioning are illegal.

6. That the raising or keeping a standing army within the kingdom in time of peace, unless it be with consent of Parliament, is against law.

7. That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions, and as allowed by law.

8. That election of members of Parliament ought to be free.

9. That the freedom of speech, and debates or proceedings in Parliament, ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.

10. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

11. That jurors ought to be duly impanelled and returned, and jurors which pass upon men in trials for high treason ought to be freeholders.

12. That all grants and promises of fines and forfeitures of particular persona before conviction are illegal and void.

13. And that for redress of all grievances, and for the amending, strengthening, and preserving of the laws, Parliament ought to be held frequently.

Resolved that William and Mary, Prince and Princess of Orange, be declared king and queen of England, France, and Ireland, and the dominions thereunto belonging, to hold the crown and royal dignity of the said kingdoms and dominions to them the said prince and princess during their lives, and the life of the survivor of them; and that the sole and full exercise of the regal power be only in and executed by the said Prince of Orange, in the names of the said prince and princess, during their joint lives; and after their deceases, the said crown and royal dignity of the said kingdoms and dominions to be to the heirs of the body of the said princess; and for default of such issue to the Princess Anne of Denmark and the heirs of her body; and for default of such issue to the heirs of the body of the said Prince of Orange. And the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, do pray the said prince and princess to accept the same accordingly.

And that the oaths hereafter mentioned be taken by all persons of whom the oaths of allegiance and supremacy might be required by law, instead of them; and that the said oaths of allegiance and supremacy be abrogated:—

"I do sincerely promise and swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to their majesties King William and Queen Mary: So help me God."

"I do swear that I do from my heart abhor, detest, and abjure as impious and heretical, that damnable doctrine and position that princes excommunicated or deprived by the pope, or any authority of the see of Rome, may be deposed or murdered by their subjects, or any other whatsoever. And I do declare that no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentate hath, or ought to have, any jurisdiction, power, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm: So help me God."

And for preventing all questions and divisions in this realm, by reason of any pretended titles to the crown, and for preserving a certainty in the succession thereof, in and upon which the unity, peace, tranquillity, and safety of this nation doth, under God, wholly consist and depend, the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, do beseech their majesties that it may be enacted, established, and declared, that the crown and regal government of the said kingdoms and dominions, with all and singular the premises thereunto belonging and appertaining, shall be and continue to their said majesties, and the survivor of them, during their lives, and the life of the survivor of them. And that the entire, perfect, and full exercise of the regal power and government be only in and executed by his majesty, in the names of both their majesties during their joint lives; and after their deceases the said crown and premises shall be and remain to the heirs of the body of her majesty; and for default of such issue, to her royal highness the Princess Anne of Denmark and the heirs of her body; and for default of such issue, to the heirs of the body of his said majesty: And thereunto the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, do, in the name of all the people aforesaid, most humbly and faithfully submit themselves, their heirs and posterities for ever; and do faithfully promise that they will stand to, maintain, and defend their said majesties, and also the limitation and succession of the crown herein specified and contained, to the utmost of their powers, with their lives and estates, against all persons whatsoever that shall attempt anything to the contrary. And whereas it hath been found by experience that it is inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this Protestant kingdom to be governed by a popish prince, or by any king or queen marrying a papist; the said Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, do further pray that it may be enacted, that all and every person and persons that is, are, or shall be reconciled to, or shall hold communion with, the see or Church of Rotne, or shall profess the popish religion, or shall marry a papist, shall be excluded, and be for ever incapable to inherit, possess, or enjoy the crown and government of this realm, and Ireland, and the dominions thereunto belonging, or any part of the same, or to have, use, or exercise any regal power, authority, or jurisdiction within the same; and in all and every such case or cases the people of these realms shall be and are hereby absolved of their allegiance; and the said crown and government shall from time to time descend to, and be enjoyed by, such person or persons, being Protestants, as should have inherited and enjoyed the same in case the said person or persons so reconciled, holding communion, or professing, or marrying as aforesaid, were naturally dead. And that every king and queen of this realm who at any time hereafter shall come to and succeed in the imperial crown of this kingdom shall, on the first day of the meeting of the first Parliament next after his or her coming to the crown, sitting in his or her throne in the House of Peers, in the presence of the Lords and Commons therein assembled, or at his or her coronation, before such person or persons who shall administer the coronation oath to him or her, at the time of his or her taking the said oath (which shall first happen), make, subscribe, and audibly repeat the declaration mentioned in the statute made in the 13th year of the reign of King Charles II., intituled, "An Act for the more effectual preserving the king's person and government, by disabling papists from sitting in either House of Parliament." But if it shall happen that such king or queen, upon his or her succession to the crown of this realm, shall be under the age of twelve years, then every such king or queen shall make, subscribe, and audibly repeat the said declaration at his or her coronation, or the first day of meeting of the first Parliament as aforesaid, which shall first happen, after such king or queen shall have attained the said age of twelve years.

Provided that no charter, or grant, or pardon granted before the 23rd day of October, in the year of our Lord 1689, shall be any ways impeached or invalidated by this act, but that the same shall be and remain of the same force and effect in law, and no other than as if this act had never been made.

Black Mail

A. compulsory payment, made in parts of Scotland by the lowlanders to the Highlanders, for the protection of their cattle. It existed up to 1745, and rendered agricultural improvement impossible.

Board of Control

Established by Pitt in 1784, for the purpose of aiding and controlling the executive government of India, and of superintending the territorial concerns of the Company. The president of this board was a chief minister of the crown, and one of the members of the cabinet. It was abolished in 1858, when the government of India was transferred to the crown.

Board of Green Cloth, or Court of Marshalsea

Was a court of justice, erected in the reign of Henry III., having exclusive jurisdiction in the king's palace, and within the verge. Its power was derived from the common law, and in 1542 took cognizance of misprisions of treasons, murders, manslaughters, bloodsheds, &c. It was abolished in 1828.

Board of Health

Established, in 1848, for sanitary purposes, and for the administration of laws relating to public health. It has power to create local boards in provincial towns.

Board of Trade

An office exercising jurisdiction over all matters relating to trade and foreign plantations. First established in 1655, and remodelled in 1786.

Campbelts Act

Passed, in 1846, to compel railway companies to grant compensation for accidents. Amended in 1864.

Catholic Relief Bill, April 13, 1829

An act which freed* the Roman Catholics from the severe disabilities they were labouring under. It substituted a different form of oath for the oath of supremacy; and there were no offices which Roman Catholics were excluded from except those of Regent, Lord Chancellor of England or Ireland, and Viceroy of Ireland. It was also enacted that no oath should be required to be taken by Roman Catholic subjects for enabling them to hold any real or personal property,, except those which might be demanded from other subjects. The franchise in Ireland was raised from 40s. to 10£. by way of security; and certain regulations enforced respecting the exercise of the Roman Catholic religion.

Central Criminal Court

Established in 1834, to hear and determine all treasons, murders, felonies, and misdemeanours, committed within the city of London and the county of Middlesex, and certain parts of Essex, Kent, and Surrey; and also all offences within the jurisdiction of the Admiralty. It sits at least twelve times a year.

Chamberlain of England, Lord Great

The sixth great officer of state, whose duties, among others, relate to coronations and public solemnities. An office of great antiquity, and hereditary in the family of Lord Willoughby D'Eresby.

Champion of England

An office instituted at the coronation of Richard II. At the coronation of English kings the champion rode completely armed into Westminster Hall, and challenged any one who should deny the title of the sovereign. The championship is hereditary in the family of Dymoke.

Chancellor of England, Lord High

An office of great antiquity. It was originally conferred upon some dignified ecclesiastic called cancellarius, or doorkeeper, who admitted suitors to the sovereign's presence. The title of lord chancellor was assumed in the reign of Edward II. In the time of Elizabeth the offices of lord chancellor and lord keeper were declared identical. The vice-chancellor was appointed in 1813. The lord chancellor takes precedence of all the law officers, and ranks next the Archbishop of Canterbury as the first subject of the realm. By his office he is a privy councillor and prolocutor of the House of Lords. He appoints all the justices of the peace, and is keeper of the king's conscience. He is patron of all the king's livings, and exercises extensive jurisdiction as presiding judge of the Court of Chancery. He is the guardian of all infants and idiots, and has the superintendence of all the charitable uses in the kingdom.


Granted to corporate towns by Henry II. to protect their manufactures; called in and modified by Charles II. Ancient charters restored in 1688.

Church Discipline Act, 3 dt 4 Vict

Enables the bishop, when a clerk in holy orders is charged with any offence against the laws ecclesiastical, or there exists any scandal or evil report about him, to issue a commission to five persons, of whom one must be the vicar-general, or an archdeacon or rural dean of the diocese, to inquire into the said charge or report. Of the commission notice must be given to the person charged; and it is to be conducted in public unless special application to the contrary is made. If the defendant admits the truth of the charge the bishop may at once pass sentence; and if he denies the charge the bishop hears and determines the cause, and gives judgment according to ecclesiastical law. The bishop can send the case to be determined in the court of appeal of the province if he thinks fit.

Civil List

All the expenses of the English government were formerly defrayed out of the royal revenue, and comprehended in one list. In 1660 a division took place between the military expenses and those incurred for ordinary purposes. The latter is the civil list, which now includes the revenue awarded to the kings of England instead of their ancient hereditary income.

Colonial Possessions

As our colonies add so materially to our power as a nation, I shall give briefly a list of the most important; though their insertion is a little out of place in a dictionary of the constitution.

Common Council

Anglo-Saxon folk mote, or court of the people. It consists now of the lord mayor, aldermen, and certain representatives out of each ward. Its elections are annual.

Commons, House of

See Parliament.

Common Law

An ancient collection of unwritten maxims and customs of British, Saxon, and Danish origin, which has subsisted immemorially in this kingdom.

Common Pleas, Court of

All controversies in civil matters between subject and subject, according to law, are here debated. Real actions are here pleadable, and this court may grant prohibitions. It was the ancient aula regia, which followed the king in all his progresses. This court was ordered to be held at Westminster by Magna Charta, where it now sits.

Congé d’Elire

License of the sovereign, as head of the Church, to chapters and other bodies, to elect dignitaries, especially bishops.

Consutory Court

A court of every diocesan bishop, held in their several cathedrals, for the trial of all ecclesiastical causes arising within their respective dioceses. The bishop's chancellor is the judge, and from his sentence an appeal lies to the archbishop of each province respectively.

Constitutions of Clarendon

In the reign of Henry I., the power of the clergy, advocated by Thomas a Becket, had reached its climax. Their authority, no longer defensive, became aggressive. A struggle ensued. On the one side were the laws of England, supported by the nobility, and on the other the laws of Rome, advocated by the clergy. The result terminated in the passing of the Constitutions of Clarendon, January 25, 1163. These enacted that all suits concerning the advowson and presentation of churches should be determined in the civil courts; that the churches belonging to the king's see should not be granted in perpetuity without his consent; that clerks accused of any crime should be tried in the civil courts; that no person, particularly no clergyman of any rank, should quit the kingdom without the royal license; that excommunicated persons should not be bound to give security for continuing in their present place of abode; that laics should not be accused in spiritual courts, except by legal and reputable witnesses; that no chief tenant of the Crown should be excommunicated, or his lands placed under an interdict, except with the king's consent; that all appeals in spiritual cases should be carried to the king, and proceed no further, unless by the royal wish; that disputes between a layman and a priest, whether lands be lay or ecclesiastical, be decided by a verdict of twelve lawful men, and if lay the cause should be determined in the civil courts; that no person should be excommunicated for nonappearance in a spiritual court, till the chief officer of the place where he resides be consulted, to compel him by the civil authority; that the archbishops, bishops, and other spiritual dignitaries, be regarded as barons of the realm, with the privileges and duties of that rank, and be bound to attend the king in his great councils, and assist at all trials till sentence be passed; that the revenues of vacant sees belong to the king; that the elections of bishops be vested in the king, and homage for that office be done to the Crown; that the royal authority should be employed to enforce submission to those who refuse to obey the spiritual courts; that churches or churchyards should not offer protection to goods forfeited to the king; that the clergy should no longer alone have the right of enforcing payments of debts contracted on oath, but be determined equally in the civil courts. By these laws the superiority of the legislature was fully established above all papal decrees.

Constitution of England

Comprehends the whole body of laws by which the British people are governed, and to which it is presumptively held that every individual has assented. (Lord Somers.)


See Board of Control.

Conventicle Act

Passed in 1664. Enacted that wherever five persons above those of the same household should assemble in a religious congregation, every one of them was liable for the first offence to be imprisoned three months, or pay 5l.; for the second, six months, or 10l. fine; and for the third offence, transportation for seven years, or fine of 100l. This act was modified in 1670, and repealed in 1689.


A general assembly of all the clergy in the nation, convened by the sovereign to consult on the affairs of the Church. It is divided into two houses, the upper consisting of the bishops, and the lower of deacons, prebendaries, archdeacons, and lower clergy. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the president. It has the examining and censuring of heretical books and persons, &c, but appeal lies to the sovereign in chancery, or to his delegates. It assembles now for a few days at the beginning of each session.

Corn Laws

The earliest enactments on this subject were to forbid the exportation of corn, while its importation was freely admitted; but in later times the policy of the legislature was altogether different. The first statute extant on corn is in 1360, which forbids its exportation, except to certain places where it was necessary to the king's interest, and to be named by him. At a later period, in the reigns of Richard II. and Henry VI, this policy was reversed, and liberty given to export to any places; though subject, in the latter reign, to restriction in case the price of corn reached 6s. 8d. the quarter for wheat. In the reign of Edward IV. we find the first protective law in favour of the agriculturist, importation of corn being forbidden unless the price of wheat exceeded 6s. 8d. the quarter. But, from some cause or another, agriculture seems to have much declined in England towards the end of the reign of Henry VIII. and in that of Edward VI., which was probably owing to the great change of property consequent on the dissolution of the abbeys and religious houses. Thus the statute 25 Hen. VIII., c. 2, positively forbids the exportation of corn; and the statute 5 and 6 Edw. VI., c. 5, entitled "An Act for the Maintenance and Increase of Tillage and Corn," attempted to make the cultivation of com compulsory, by exacting a fine of 5s., payable by each parish on every acre of land in each deficient in tillage when compared with the quantity that had been tilled at any period after the accession of Henry VIII.

The act of Henry VIII., forbidding the exportation of corn, was repealed in the reign of Mary; but the price at which exportation was allowed was gradually raised, till, in 1670, it was enacted that wheat might always be exported as long as it was under 53s. Ad. a quarter. At the same time heavy import duties were imposed; and the design of the legislature seems to have been to keep wheat at an average of about 53s. id.

Regulations were also made respecting the home-trade in corn; and in the reign of Elizabeth it was made an offence to buy corn in one market and sell it in another. By a bill of 1773 importation was allowed at the nominal duty of 6d. whenever the price of wheat should be above 48s. Subsequently, in 1791 and 1804, this price was raised to 54s. and 63s.; and in 1815 the importation of wheat for home consumption was positively forbidden when the price was under 80s., and other corn in proportion. Various modifications were introduced between that time and 1829, when the principle of a graduated duty or sliding scale was introduced; the duty, when the price was 62s., being 24s. 8d., and gradually diminishing as the price advanced, till at 73s. and upwards it fell to Is. The operation of this principle, however, was found to be inconvenient and unsalutary; and at length, by Peel's bill of 1846, the trade in corn was ultimately left entirely free.

Corporations, Municipal

Bodies politic, authorised by the king's charter, to have a common seal, one head officer or more, and members, who are able to grant or receive in law any matter within the compass of their charter. The Corporation Act was passed in 16.61. In it a religious test was combined with a political test. All corporate officers were required to have taken the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, "according to the rites of the Church of England," within one year before their elections, and, upon being elected, to take the oaths of allegiance and of supremacy, and the following oath:

I do declare and believe that it is not lawful, upon any pretence whatsoever, to take arms against the king, and that I do abhor that traitorous position of taking arms by his authority against his person, or against those that are commissioned by him;" besides subscribing a declaration against the Solemn League and Covenant. The corporation oath of non-resistance was abolished at the accession of the House of Brunswick.

County Courts

Held for the recovery of debts not exceeding 50l. in the counties of England and Wales. By an act passed in 1865, equity powers were conferred on these courts, like those of the Court of Chancery, in cases relating to sums under 500l.

Court of Arches

A court of appeal belonging to the Archbishop of Canterbury, whereof the judge is called the Dean of Arches. Its proper jurisdiction is only over the thirteen peculiar parishes belonging to the archbishop in London; but the office of the Dean of the Arches having been united with that of the archbishop's principal official, it now receives appeals from the sentences of all inferior ecclesiastical courts within the province. From its decision an appeal lies to the Queen as the head of the Church.

Court of Bankruptcy

Erected in 1831, consists of a chief court in London, and seven district courts, held at Bristol, Exeter, Birmingham, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, and Newcastleon-Tyne, having for judges one or more commissioners appointed by patent under the great seal. Each of these courts is a court of law and equity, and has all the rights of a court of record. Various statutes have regulated its means of procedure.

Court Baron

An ancient court which every lord of a manor may hold by prescription in some part of the manor. In its duties heriots and customs are received, and estates and surrenders passed.

Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes

Erected in 1857, when the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts respecting divorce was abolished. It is a court of Record, of which the lord chancellor, all the judges of the superior courts of common law at Westminster, and the judge of the Probate Court are the judges, holding its sittings in London or Middlesex. The judge of the Probate Court is the judge ordinary, and appeals can be made from his decision, when sitting alone, to the full court, and in certain cases to the House of Lords.

Court of the Duchy of Lancaster

Is a court of special jurisdiction held before the chancellor of the duchy, or his deputy, concerning all matters of equity relating to lands holden of the Crown in right of the Duchy of Lancaster, and comprises much territory which lies at a vast distance from it Courts of Equity are the courts of the lord chancellor, the vice-chancellors, and the master of the rolls. Their office is to correct the operations of the literal text of the law, and supply its defects by reasonable construction not admissible in a court of law.

Court of Honour

A court of chivalry, in which the lord high constable was a judge. It was called Curia Militaris in the time of Henry IV.

Court Leet

A court belonging to a hundred, for punishing nuisances, false weights, and offences against the Crown. The steward is the judge, and all persons (peers and clergymen excepted) are obliged to do suit within this court. It may not imprison.

Court of Quarter Sessions

A court held in every county once in every quarter of a year, whose jurisdiction is over the smaller felonies and misdemeanours, and certain matters more of a civil than criminal nature. The custody of its rolls are entrusted to a special office called custos rotulorum. Courts of Requests (also called Court of Conscience)

First instituted in 1493 for the recovery of small debts; they were superseded in 1847 by the county courts; those of the city of London excepted.

Court of Session

The highest civil tribunal in Scotland, consisting of a lord president, a lord justice, clerk, and eleven ordinary judges. Curfew

A Norman institution, introduced by William the Conqueror. On the ringing of the curfew at eight o'clock in the evening all fires and candles were to be extinguished under a severe penalty. It was abolished in 1100.


A tribute paid to the Danes to stop their ravages in this country. First raised by Ethelred in 991. It was abolished in 1136.

Domesday Book (Liber censualis Anglice)

A book of the general survey of England, commenced in the reign of William L, and completed by five justices in 1080. It was intended to be a register whereby to determine the right in the tenure of estates. It consists of two volumes admirably preserved, and is now kept in Her Majesty's Record Office.


The chief title of nobility among the AngloSaxons, and applied to any man in authority, but especially to a governor of a shire.


Land or other property that falls to a lord within his manor by death or forfeiture.


Consists of officers whose functions are financial and judicial, of whom the chancellor of the exchequer is the chief. It is an institution of great antiquity.

Exchequer Chamber, Court of

A court of appeal to correct the erroneous judgments of the courts of Queen's Bench and Common Pleas.

Exchequer, Court of

A court of law and revenue, with five judges, for the trial of all causes relating to the king's revenue, and all matters at common law between subject and subject. Its judges are styled barons. When sitting as a court of revenue it is designated the Court of Exchequer; in the exercise of its other jurisdiction as the Court of Exchequer of Pleas.


A duty upon articles of consumption produced within the state in which the tax is levied. Exclusion Bill

A bill to exclude the Duke of York, afterwards James II., from the throne. It passed the Commons, but was rejected by the Lords in 1679. The revival of the question led to the dissolution of parliament in 1681.

Feudal System

At the fall of the Roman Empire, the various tribes which over-ran Europe were all on the same terms of equality. They acknowledged no leader, and consequently were governed by no laws; united by the same habits, and wandering from country to country for their means of existence, this absence of all law and restraint became little felt. When, however, their life ceased to be one of depredation, and they were settled ino r the possessions obtained by their arms, a new system of polity necessarily had to be adopted. In order that their lands should be cultivated, and the owners ready to defend them against the attempts of their original possessors, a plan of mutual protection was instituted. Those who held the largest territories directly from the prince were compelled to appear with a proportionate array of followers for service in the field; and these followers possessed their lands from their lord on the same condition. Thus a feudal kingdom was formed, imbued essentially with military characteristics —military ideas predominating, military subordination introduced, and possession of land in lieu of pay for service. Such lands held by these tenures were called fiefs. The holder was bound to attend his lord to the wars; to aid him with his advice: to accompany him as assessor in his courts of justice; to guard his lord's castle a certain number of days in the year; to pay a certain sum when his chief's eldest son was knighted or his daughter married; and ransom him if taken prisoner. In return for these duties the vassal received protection if his fief should be attacked. The introduction of feudalism was one of the chief changes effected by the Conquest in England. First Fruits, or Annates, were the profits of one year of every vacant bishopric (afterwards of every benefice) claimed by the pope. They were introduced in England by Pandulph, the papal legate, and met with much resistance. In 1534 they were granted to the king, and were restored to the Church in 1703 by Queen Anne.

Five Mile Act

An oppressive statute passed in 1665, obliging nonconformist teachers, who refused to take the nonresistance oath, not to come within five miles of any corporation where they had preached since the Act of Oblivion (unless travelling), under the penalty of 50l. Repealed in 1689.


Anglo-Saxon term, meaning land that belonged to the state.

Foreign Enlistment Act

passed in 1819, prohibiting British subjects from enlisting in the service of a foreign power without licence from the king or privy council. It also forbids the fitting out of ships for any foreign power to be employed against any power with whom our government is at peace.

Forest Courts

Instituted for the government of the royal forests, and for the punishment of all injuries done to the king's deer.

Forest Laws

Ancient statutes exercised with great rigour after the Norman Conquest for the preservation of the hunting of the king. By these laws any who killed the beasts of the chase in the royal forests were punished with death. Under King John the laws were extended to include all the winged creation. Magna Charta greatly mitigated the severity of these statutes.


After the reign of Athelstan every man whose rank and property were not sufficient guarantees for his good conduct, was compelled to find a surety. This surety was afforded by the tythings (wards), the members of which formed a perpetual bail for one another's appearance in case of crime. In this view the tythings were called securities for the peace, or frankpledge, originally termed friborg.

Game Laws

A remnant of the Forest Laws imposed by William the Conqueror; and originated in the desire of the Norman nobility to preserve a stock of animals of the chase for their exclusive pleasure. The first statute was passed in 1389, restricting the use of hunting dogs to laymen of 40s. per annum, and to priests of not less than 1Ql. a year. Fish were first protected from poachers in 1539. Certificates for killing game were first granted in 1784. The Game Act was passed in 1831, modifying all previous laws. The shooting of hares by owners of enclosed land without certificate was legalised in 1848. Increased powers were given to the county police, in 1862, by the Game Poaching Preventive Act.


The custom of dividing paternal estates in land equally among male children, without any distinction, derived from the Saxons.

Habeas Corpus Act, 1679

This celebrated statute confirmed and rendered more available a remedy which had long existed. "The writ of Habeas Corpus, requiring a return of the body imprisoned and the cause of his detention, and hence anciently called corpus cum causâ, was in familiar use between subject and subject in the reign of Henry VI. Its use by a subject against the Crown has not been traced during the time of the Plantagenet dynasty; the earliest precedents known being of the date of Henry VII." The privilege of Habeas Corpus was twice solemnly confirmed in the reign of Charles I., first by the Petition of Right (1628), and secondly by the statute abolishing the star chamber and other arbitrary courts (1640). But as Charles II. and his ministers still found means to evade these enactments, the celebrated statute was passed in 1679, known as the Habeas Corpus. Its principal author was Lord Shaftesbury, and it was for many years called "Lord Shaftesbury's Act." It enacts:—,

I. That on complaint and request in writing by or on behalf of any person committed and charged with any crime (unless committed for treason or felony expressed in the warrant; or as accessory or on suspicion of being accessory before the fact to any petit treason or felony; or upon suspicion of such petit treason or felony plainly expressed in the warrant; or unless he is convicted or charged in execution by legal process), the lord chancellor, or any of the judges in vacation, upon viewing a copy of the warrant or affidavit that a copy is denied, shall (unless the party has neglected for two terms to apply to any court for his enlargement) award a habeas corpus for such prisoner, returnable immediately before himself or any other of the judges; and upon the return made shall discharge the party, if bailable, upon giving security to appear and answer to the accusation in the proper court of judicature.

II. That such writs shall be indorsed as granted in pursuance of this Act, and signed by the person awarding them.

III. That the writ shall he returned and the prisoner brought up within a limited time according to the distance, not exceeding in any case twenty days.

IV. That officers and keepers neglecting to make due returns, or not delivering to the prisoner or his agent within six hours after demand a copy of the warrant of commitment, or shifting the custody of the prisoner from one to another without sufficient reason or authority (specified in the Act), shall for the first offence forfeit 100Z., and for the second offence 200l. to the party grieved, and be disabled to hold his office.

V. That no person once delivered by habeas corpus shall be re-committed for the same offence, on penalty of 500Z.

VI. That every person committed for treason or felony shall, if he requires it, the first week of the next term, or the first day of the next session of oyer and terminer, be indicted in that term or session, or else admitted to bail, unless the king's witnesses cannot be produced at that time; and if acquitted, or not indicted and tried in the second term or session, he shall be discharged from his imprisonment for such imputed offence; but that no person, after the assizes shall be open for the county in which he is detained, shall be removed by habeas corpus till after the assizes are ended, but shall be left to the justice of the judges of assize.

VII. That any such prisoner may move for and obtain his habeas corpus as well out of the Chancery or Exchequer as out of the King's Bench or Common Pleas; and the lord chancellor or judges denying the same on sight of the warrant or oath that the same is refused, forfeits severally to the party grieved the sum of 500Z.

VIII. That this writ of habeas corpus shall run into the counties palatine, cinque ports, and other privileged places, and the islands of Jersey and Guernsey.

IX. That no inhabitant of England (except persons contracting or convicts praying to be transported, or having committed some capital offence in the place to which they are sent) shall be sent prisoner to Scotland, Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey, or any places beyond the seas within or without the king's dominions, on pain that the party committing, his advisers, aiders, and assistants, shall forfeit to the party aggrieved a sum not less than 500l., to be recovered with treble costs; shall be disabled to bear any office of trust or profit; shall incur the penalties of praemunire; and shall be incapable of the king's pardon.

The Habeas Corpus Act was confined to criminal cases, but by the 56 Geo. HI. c. 100, was extended not only to cases of illegal restraint by subject on subject, but also to those in which the crown has an interest, as in instances of impressment or smuggling. (Student's Hume.)

Hanaper Office

Was an office of the Court of Chancery, where writs relating to the business of the subject, and their returns, were kept in hanaperio (in a hamper), whilst those relating to the crown in a little bag. Hence the names Hanaper and Petty Bag Office. Abolished in 1842. High Commission Court \r

An ecclesiastical court, erected in 1559, by which all spiritual jurisdiction was vested in the crown. It had originally no power to fine or imprison; but under Charles I. and Archbishop Laud it assumed despotic and illegal powers, and was one of the grievances complained of by the parliament by whom it was abolished in 1641.

High Treason

The highest offence known to the law. In 1352 it was enacted that in cases of high treason two living witnesses were required. In 1695 it was decreed that persons accused thereof were to be prosecuted within three years of the alleged offence, unless it was a plot to assassinate the sovereign. In 1800 it was ordered that trials for this crime should be conducted in the same form as trials for murder. It was called high treason out of distinction to petty treason, which was declared in 1352 to be the murder of a husband by his wife; of a master by his servant; or of a prelate by his inferior ecclesiastic. This distinction was abolished in 1828, so the word treason is now alone in use.


A Danish institution, and is a division of a shire. It was so called from its having been composed of a hundred families, when the counties were originally divided by King Alfred.


The chief municipal court of London in Anglo-Saxon times.


Is an indictment found by the House of Commons, but tried by the Lords. In a bill of Attainder the Commons are the judges as well as the Lords.

Indemnity, Act of

An act relieving the minister of the crown or the government generally from the responsibility of measures adopted in extreme cases, without the previous sanction of Parliament.

India, Council of

Established in 1858 in the place of the Board of Control (which see), and consists of fifteen members, eight of whom are appointed by the Queen, and seven by the Directors of the East India Company. The members may not sit in Parliament.


An ecclesiastical mode of censure. When a king is excommunicated, all his subjects retaining allegiance are excommunicated also, and the clergy forbidden to perform any part of divine service, or any clerical duties, except baptism and confession. England has lain under a papal interdict in 1170, 1208, and 1535.

Jury, Trial by

Introduced into England during the Saxon heptarchy, though by some its institution is ascribed to Alfred. In Magna Charta juries are insisted on as the great bulwark of the people's liberty. When either party is an alien, the jury shall be one-half aliens and one-half denizens.

Justices of the Peace

Local magistrates invested with extensive powers in minor cases, but subject to the King's Bench for an abuse of their authority.

Letters of Marque

Permission by a government in time of war to a ship belonging to private individuals, called a privateer, to seize and plunder the ships of the enemy.

Lord High Steward

The first great officer of the crown. It was first established in the reign of Edward the Confessor, and belonged to the family of Montfort, Earl of Leicester, till the rebellion of Simon de Montfort. The office is only now revived, pro hdc vice, at a coronation or the trial of a peer.

Lord Keeper of the Great Seal

Differed only from the lord chancellor in not having letters patent. He had the same jurisdiction and advantages as the chancellor. The two offices were declared identical in 1562.

Magna Charta

In the reigns of King John and Henry III. the feudal tenures and forest laws were so rigorously enforced, and the liberties of the nation so seriously infringed upon, that a rebellion ensued among the barons against the absolute power of the sovereign. The result was the passing of the famous Magna Charta, the bulwark of our constitution, and the first step in advance towards that freedom from any arbitrary and unjust acts of a sovereign which we now so fully enjoy. The clauses contained in this Great Charter secured important liberties and privileges to every order of men in the nation—to the clergy, the barons, and the people. I give briefly its chief enactments:—

That freedom of elections be granted to the clergy, and the necessity of a royal congé d’elire and confirmation be superseded; that permission be accorded to every man to depart the kingdom at pleasure; that fines levied on the clergy be proportional to their lay estates, and not to their ecclesiastical benefices; heirs on their majority shall possess their estates without paying any relief; the king shall not sell his wardship, and shall only levy reasonable profits on the estate; the king shall not claim the wardship of any minor who holds lands by military tenure of a baron; no scutages (except in the three general feudal cases) to be imposed but by the great council of the kingdom; the prelates, earls, and great barons to be called to this council each by a particular writ, and the lesser barons by a general summons of the sheriff; the king shall not seize any baron's land for a debt due to the crown if his goods and chattels are sufficient to discharge the debt; no vassal shall sell so much of his land as to incapacitate him from serving his master; all privileges granted to the barons against the king to be extended to their vassals; one weight and measure to be established throughout the kingdom; merchants to transact business without being exposed to any arbitrary tolls or impositions; they and all freemen to leave the kingdom and return to it at pleasure; London, and all cities and burghs, to preserve their ancient liberties, immunities, and free customs; the goods of every freeman to be disposed of by his will; the king's courts of justice shall be stationary, and shall no longer follow his person; they shall be open to every one, and justice shall no longer be sold, re/used, or delayed by them; circuits to be held every year; no person to be tried on rumour or suspicion alone, but by the evidence of lawful witnesses; no freeman shall be imprisoned or dispossessed of his goods but by the legal judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land; every freeman to be fined in proportion to his fault, and no fine to be levied on him to his utter ruin; even a villain or rustic shall not by any fine be bereaved of his implements of husbandry.

No fewer than thirty-eight solemn ratifications of this Charter are recorded; of which six were made by Henry III., three by Edward I., fifteen by Edward III., six by Eichard II., six by Henry IV., one by Henry V., and one by Henry VI. The Charter received a few alterations upon its successive confirmations in the first, second, and ninth years of Henry III.'s reign, the last of which is in our statute book and has never received any alteration. The most important change in the Charter, as confirmed by Henry III., was the omission of the clause which prohibited the levying of aids or escuages without the consent of parliament. But though this clause was omitted, it continued to be observed during the reign of Henry, for we find the barons constantly refusing him the aids or subsidies which his prodigality was demanding. But he still retained the right of levying money upon towns under the name of tallage, and also claimed the right of levying other contributions, such as upon the export of wool. But a final stop was put to all these exactions by the celebrated statute passed in the 25th year of the reiga of Edward I., entitled Confirmatio Chartarum. This statute not only confirmed the Great Charter, but gave, to use the words of Hallam, "the same security to private property which Magna Charta had given to personal liberty." In it the king solemnly declared that "for no business from thenceforth we shall take such manner of aids, tacks, nor prises, but by the common consent of the realm, and for the common profit thereof, saving the ancient aids and prises due and accustomed." Thus was the great principle of parliamentary taxation explicitly acknowledged eighty years after the first enactment of the Great Charter. (Student's Hume.)

Marriage Act, Royal

Passed in 1772, and enacts that none of the descendants of George II., unless of foreign birth, can marry under the age of twenty-five without the consent of the king. And at and after that age the consent of parliament is necessary to render the marriage valid.

Martial Law

Power exercised by the king of dispensing with ordinary law proceedings in time of war, and proceeding by his own absolute authority. Martial law is regulated by court-martial.


—An act passed in 1279, making it unlawful to give any estates to the church without the king's leave; an act which was extended in 1391 to all lay fraternities and corporations. Mortmain is such a state of possession as makes it inalienable, whence it is said to be in a dead hand. Repealed as far as regards the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in 1805.

Mutiny Act

A statute for the discipline, regulation, and payment of the army, passed in 1688, and has been re-enacted annually ever since.

National Debt

A system introduced by William III. when the exchequer, owing to foreign wars, was very low, and it was not thought advisable to levy severe taxes on the people, by which the existing government anticipated the revenues of posterity by borrowing immense sums for the expenses of the state, laying only those taxes which would pay the interest of the sum borrowed.


Is defined to be "the making a foreigner or alien a denizen or freeman of any kingdom or city, and so becoming as it were both a subject and a native of a king or country, that by nature he did not belong to." The first act of naturalisation was passed in 1437.

Navigation Laws

A code of maritime laws supposed to have been introduced by Richard I. A law was enforced by Richard II. that no merchandise could be shipped out of the kingdom but by the king's ships. In 1650 an act was passed restricting the importation and exportation of goods from or to Asia, Africa, or America, to English ships. Many other acts of a similar exclusive tenour were passed, till the statute of 16 & 17 Vict. c. 104, threw the entire trade open to vessels of all nations, with very satisfactory results as regards commerce and private enterprise.

Non-Resistance Oath

Passed in 1661, requiring all corporate officers to declare the taking of arms against the king illegal. Repealed in 1719.

Oblivion, Act of

An act passed in 1660, granting a general pardon and indemnity to all state offences committed between 1637 and 1660, excepting certain persons mentioned by Charles II., and those who had embezzled the king's goods, and the Romish priests engaged in the Irish rebellion in 1641.

Ordeal, Trials by

Anglo-Saxon custom. This trial was only resorted to when the accused had lost all title to credibility. The two most common forms of trial were by hot water and by fire. If the injured member showed no signs of its trial after three days, the accused was acquitted. If the contrary, he had to pay the penalty of his offence.

Palace Court

An ancient court of record, to try all personal actions within twelve miles of the sovereign's palace, with the exception of London.


The derivation of the word Parliament is of French origin, signifying an assembly that meets and confers together. But long before the introduction of the Norman language in England, all matters of importance were debated and settled in the great councils of the realm. These councils were called micel synoth, micel gemote, and more frequently witena gemote. They were also called in Latin commune concilium regni, curia magna, and sometimes communitas regni Anglix. Hence it appears that Parliaments, or general councils, are coeval with the kingdom itself. The Parliament as it now exists possesses the supreme and absolute authority of the state; but the sovereign alone has the exclusive power to convene it; and this he (or she) is bound to do every year (by the ancient statutes of the realm), if need be, a clause which many of our monarchs took so great an advantage of, till in the reign of Charles II. it was enacted that a new Parliament should be called within three years after the determination of the former. Its constituent parts are the three estates of the realm: the sovereign, sitting in his royal political capacity, the lords spiritual and temporal (forming one house), and the commons (forming another); and these parts combined contain the body politic of 1 he kingdom, of which the crown is the head. Hence the balance of the constitution is admirably preserved, as every branch of our civil polity supports, and is regulated by the rest. For the crown has the power of rejecting any measure, thus preventing any encroachments; whilst in the legislature the people are a check upon the nobility, and the nobility a check upon the people, by the mutual privilege of rejecting what the other has resolved. The spiritual lords consist of the two archbishops, twenty-six bishops, and the four lords spiritual from Ireland, who sit in Parliament by rotation. The lords temporal are the peers of the realm; possessing their seats either by descent, as do all ancient peers, or by creation, as do all new made ones, or by election, as do the sixteen peers who represent Scotland, and the twenty-eight peers who represent the nobility of Ireland. Thus the number of lords temporal is indefinite. The commons are all such men of property in the kingdom who have not seats in the House of Lords; every one of whom has a voice in Parliament, either personally or by his representatives—representatives chosen by a number of separate districts where the voters are easily distinguished. The counties are represented by knights elected by the proprietors of lands; and the cities and boroughs by citizens and burgesses chosen by the trading interest of the nation. Every member must have attained to his majority. The numerical strength of the House of Commons is 500 (English), 53 (Scotch), and 105 (Irish), thus in all 658. Every member, though elected for a particular district, serves for the whole realm—not merely for. the advantage of his constituents, but for the common wealth. Such are the three essences of Parliament—each so necessary that the consent of all three is required to make a new law. Legislative authority without the king incurs the penalties of a Prsemunire. The jurisdiction of Parliament extends to all matters either ecclesiastical, civil, military, or criminal, and it is the ultimate court of appeal in this land.

Parliamentary Test

was imposed in the year 1678. The title of the Act is "An Act for the more effectual preserving the . King's person and government, by disabling Papists from sitting in either House of Parliament." Under the provisions of the Act, "No Peer or Member of the House of Commons shall sit or vote without taking the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and a Declaration repudiating the doctrine of transubstantiation, the adoration of the Virgin, and the sacrifice of the Mass. Peers and Members offending are to be deemed and adjudged Popish Recusants convict, and are to forfeit 500l.," besides suffering numerous disabilities. Repealed in the reign of George IV. It is now much modified.

Parliament, High Court of

The supreme court of the kingdom for the making and execution of all laws; by the trial of great offenders, whether lords or commons, in the method of parliamentary impeachment.

Penal Laws

Severe laws enacted against the Roman Catholics of these realms, which remained unrepealed till the passing of the Roman Catholic Emancipation Bill (which see). By these laws Roman Catholics were excluded from parliament, from civil and military offices; from serving on juries; from burying their dead in any but Protestant churchyards; from education, &c. &c.

Petition of Right

Presented to Charles I. in 1628, to limit the encroachments of the crown upon the liberties of the people. It petitioned that no tallage or aid be levied by the royal authority alone; that no person be compelled to make loans to the king against his will, or be imprisoned for not so doing; that no freeman be imprisoned without the judgment of his peers, but by the law of the land; and that the proceedings by martial law be revoked and annulled. This Petition was finally acceded to by Charles.

Poll Tax or Capitation Tax

First levied in 1379; again levied in 1513. In 1667 every subject was again assessed; a duke 100l., a marquis 80l., a baronet 30l., a knight 20l., an esquire 10l., and every single person 12d. Abolished in 1690.

Poor Law Amendment Act, 1834

amended in 1836, 1838, 1846, 1847, and 1861. Till the time of Henry VIII. the poor subsisted entirely upon private benevolence. It was then enjoined that there should be systematic maintenance of the aged and poor. In 1601 overseers of the poor were appointed, authorising the erection of poor-houses, and taxing householders for a poor-rate. Numerous other statutes followed, which were finally consolidated by the above Act. This statute first instituted "Poor Law Commissioners," who were in 1847 superseded by Commissioners and a Poor Law Board, to whom all the powers and duties of the former body were transferred. Inspectors were appointed, and provisions made for the visitation of workhouses. There is room for great improvement, however, in its present organisation.

Poynings' Law

So called after Sir Edward Poynings, one of the lord deputies of Ireland at the time of its passing in 1494. It enacted that all legislation in the Irish parliament was to be confined to matters first approved of by the king and the English council. Repealed in 1782.

Praemunire, Law of

Framed to encounter the exorbitant power exercised in England by the Pope. The first Act was passed in 1306, but what is generally considered as the statute of Prsemunire is that of 16 Ric. II. c. 5, which enacts, that whoever procures at Rome or elsewhere any translations, processes, excommunications, bulls, &c, which touch the king, his crown, and his realm, and all persons aiding therein, shall be put out of the king's protection, their lands and goods forfeited, and they shall be bound to answer the king and his council. Several other enactments of similar object followed in subsequent reigns. See Provisors.

Prerogative Court

Formerly all wills were proved here, and all administrations taken which belonged to the Archbishop of Canterbury by his prerogative. It was abolished in 1857, and the Probate Court established.

Prerogative, Royal

In England the sovereign is the supreme magistrate. He is the head of the church, the army, the navy, and the fountain of office, honour, and privilege, but is subject to the laws unless especially exempted. Under Henry VIII., Elizabeth, James I., and Charles I., the prerogative was strained to its utmost limits; but now the royal prerogative is virtually subject to Parliament.

President of the Council, Lord

The fourth great officer of state. He is appointed by letters patent, and has to attend the royal person, to manage the debates in council, to propose matters from the king at the council table, and to report to his majesty the resolutions taken thereon.

Prison Ministers' Bill

Passed in 1863, allowing inmates of prisons, not being members of the Established Church, the benefit of the attendance of ministers of their own religious persuasions.

Privy Council

An assembly of great antiquity. In ancient times the number was twelve, but it afterwards so increased that Charles II. limited it to thirty. Its number is now unlimited. Its duties are executive, judicial, and legislative.

Privy Council Judicial Committee

A committee of the President of the Council, the Lord Chancellor, the Chief Justices and Chief Baron, the Master of the Rolls, and other judges, to whom is referred all those appeals brought before the sovereign. It sits as a court, hears the appeal, and makes a report to the sovereign, who thereupon gives judgment. Though styled a committee, it is a court of record, and has full power to punish contempts and award costs.

Privy Seal, the Lord

The fifth great officer of state. He has the custody of the privy seal, which he must not put to any grant without warrant under the king's signet. This seal is used by the king to all charters, grants, and pardons, signed by him before they come to the great seal . The privy seal has been on some occasions in commission.

Probate Court

Established in 1857 to exercise all the jurisdiction in relation to the granting or revoking probate of wills and letters of administration of the effects of deceased persons then vested in any court, or person, with full authority to hear and determine all questions concerning matters and causes testamentary. It is a court of record. Provisory—Passed in the reign of Edward III., enacting that the Court of Home shall not present or collate to any bishopric or living in England; and that whoever disturbs any patron in the presentation to a living by virtue of a papal provision, be fined and imprisoned; and the same punishment to such as cite the king or any of his subjects to answer in the Court of Rome. These statutes were further confirmed by Richard II. (See Praemunire.)

Queen Anne's Bounty, 1704

A statute whereby all the revenue of first-fruits and tenths is vested in trustees for ever, to form a perpetual fund for the augmentation of poor livings.

Reform Bill, 1832

Introduced by Lord John Russell, and carried, after fierce opposition from both Lords and Commons. Its main principles were, that boroughs having a less population than 2000 should cease to return members, and that those having a less population than 4000 should cease to return more than one member. It created between forty and fifty new boroughs, including the four metropolitan ones of Marylebone, Finsbury, the Tower Hamlets, and Lambeth, each of the last returning two members It extended the county and borough franchises. In the counties the old 40s freeholders were retained, and three new classes introduced: 1, copyholders of 10l. per annum; 2, leaseholders of the value of 10l. for a term of sixty years, or of 50l. for twenty years; and 3, occupying tenants paying an annual rent of 50l. In boroughs the franchise was given to all 50l. resident householders subject to certain conditions.

Regency Bills

One was passed Feb. 5,1811, causing the Prince of Wales to be regent owing to the insanity of George III. Another in Dec. 3, 1830, providing for the administration of the government should the crown descend to the Princess Victoria while under eighteen years of age. A third, Aug. 4, 1840, appointing Prince Albert regent in case of the demise of the Queen, and her next lineal successor being under age.

Riot Act, 1 Geo. I.s. 2, c. 5

Enacts that if any twelve persons are assembled for the disturbance of the peace, and refuse to disperse upon command from the proper authority, such refusal shall be visited as felony; also if they pull down any church, chapel, meeting-house, &c, to be felony. The latter clause has been repealed, and the punishment for the former, instead of being capital, is penal servitude or imprisonment for three years.

Secretaries of State

The earliest authentic record of a Secretary of State is in 1253, when John Maunsell is described as Secretarius noster. There were formerly two Secretaries of State, occasionally varied by a third. There are now five—Home, Foreign, Colonial, War, and India, and all in the cabinet.

Self-Denying Ordinance

Passed in 1645, and ordained that no member of Parliament should, in future, hold any office, or command, civil or military, granted by either or both of the houses, or by any authority derived from them.

Septennial Act, May, 1716

Enacted that Parliament should sit for seven years at a time, so as to avoid the expense of frequent elections.

Settlement, Act of

Was passed owing to William and Mary having no children, and the son of Anne being just dead. It enacted that whoever shall take possession of the Crown be in communion with the Church of England: that in case the Crown should come to any person not a native of England, this country be not obliged to go to war for any dominions not belonging to England, without consent of Parliament: that no one born out of England, Scotland, or Ireland, be capable of being a privy councillor or member of parliament: that no one having an office irader the king be a member of the House of Commons: that no pardon under the great seal be impeached by the Commons: and that the Princess Sophia and her descendants, being Protestants, succeed to the Crown of England after William III. and the Princess Anne dying without descendants. These are the chief clauses. A previous Act had passed in 1689, conferring the Crown on William and Mary. (See Bill of Rights


An officer of great antiquity, whose title is derived from the two Saxon words Shire-reve, governor of a shire. His duties are either those of a judge, or a keeper of the peace, or a ministerial officer of the superior courts of justice, or as the bailiff of the sovereign.

Speaker of the House of Commons

An officer elected by the House of Commons to preside over its meetings. He cannot give his opinion or argue any question in the House. The first Speaker was Sir T. Hungerford, in 1377.

Stannary Courts

For the administration of justice among the tinners of Cornwall and Devonshire, who are to be sued only in these courts, except in cases of murder or maiming. They are presided over by the vice-warden of the Stannaries.

Star Chamber, Court of

This court is of great antiquity, and was originally composed of all the members of the king's ordinary council. Its jurisdiction embraced both civil and criminal cases. The title was derived from the camera stellata, or Star Chamber in the Palace at Westminster, where it held its sittings. It appears to have gradually declined till its revival by Henry VII.; and it continued to exercise its tremendous power until abolished by the Long Parliament in 1641. The judges were the Lord Chancellor or Lord Keeper as President, the Treasurer, the Privy Seal, and the President of the Council; and with these were associated the members of the Council and such peers as chose to be present. Under James I. and Charles I. only those peers being members of the Privy Council were summoned, and the bishops ceased also to attend. The civil jurisdiction extended over mercantile and testamentary disputes, but its authority over criminal cases was what rendered it so powerful and odious. It took cognizance of forgery, riot, and all kinds of misdemeanors, and had power to pronounce any sentence short of death. Fines and imprisonments were its usual punishments, and the former so enormous as often to be ruinous.

Supremacy, Act of

Passed in 1534, declaring Henry VIII. the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England. All beneficed ecclesiastics, and all laymen holding office under the Crown, were forced to take the oath abjuring the jurisdiction of the Pope. In 1547, denying the king's supremacy was declared treasonable.


—Heavy taxes levied by the king at his will, on the inhabitants within his demesne.

Test Act

— Was passed in 1673, with the object of preventing political power being placed in the hands of Papists. The title of the Act is, "An Act for preventing dangers which may happen from Popish Recusants." Under the provisions of the Act, all persons holding any office or place of trust, civil or military, or admitted of the King's or Duke of York's household, were to receive the Sacrament according to the usage of the Church of England, and to make and subscribe the following Declaration:—

I do declare that I believe there is not any transubstantiation in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or in the elements of bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.

The Dissenters entertained such fears of the Papists that they actively supported the passing of this Act, though they were included no less than the Papists, by reason of the necessity of taking the Sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England.

Toleration, Act of

Passed in 1689, for the relief of Dissenters from certain penalties. Roman Catholics relieved in 1829.

Treasurer of England, Lord High

The third great officer of the Crown, a lord by virtue of his office, possessing the custody of the king's treasure, governing the upper court of exchequer, and formerly sitting judicially among the barons. This great trust is now confided to a commission, and is vested in five persons, called Lords Commissioners for executing the office of Lord High Treasurer; and of these the chancellor of the exchequer is one, and the first lord usually premier.

Triennial Parliaments

are Parliaments, the duration of which is limited to three years. Enacted by 10 Car. II., c. 1, that the holding of Parliaments should not be intermitted above three years at the most; and 6 Wm. & Mary, c. 2, again decreed that a new parliament be called within three years after the determination of the former.

Tunnage and Poundage

Ancient duties levied on every tun of wine and pound of other goods imported or exported, and were the origin of our customs. They were granted to the kings of England for life. Charles I. gave great offence by levying them on his own authority. Abolished in 1689.

Uniformity, Act of

Passed in 1549, and ordained that the form of divine worship drawn up by Cranmer and others should be the only one employed. The penalties for refusing to use it were fine and imprisonment. This Act was repealed by Mary, but re-enacted by Elizabeth. Another statute was passed in 1662, enjoining uniformity in matters of religion, and obliging all the clergy to subscribe to the , and to use the same form of worship and same book of common prayer. Its enforcement caused upwards of 2000 ministers to quit the Church of England, and laid the foundation of the dissenting community.

Union of England and Ireland

The legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland took place in 1800. The purport of the eight articles is as follows.

I. Ireland and Great Britain to be united by the name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

II. The succession to the United Kingdom to be the same as it stood before the Union.

III. The United Kingdom to be represented in one Parliament.

IV. Four lords spiritual of Ireland by rotation of sessions, and twenty-eight lords temporal of Ireland, elected for life by the peers of Ireland, to sit in the House of Lords. One hundred commoners to sit and vote in the House of Commons on the part of Ireland. An Irish peer not elected for the House of Lords can serve in the Commons, but not for an Irish constituency. No creation of an Irish peerage to take place till three Irish peerages be extinct, until their number is reduced to one hundred.

V. The Churches of England and Ireland to be united into one Protestant Episcopal Church, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government to be the same as established in England. The preservation of the united church to be a fundamental part of the union.

VI. The subjects of Great Britain and Ireland to have the same rights and privileges in trade and navigation, and also in treaties with foreign powers.

VII. The interest of the national debt of each country is to be defrayed by each separately.

VIII. All laws and courts of each kingdom are to remain as before the union, subject, however, to alterations by the united Parliament.

Union of England and Scotland

The kingdom of Scotland, notwithstanding the union of the crowns on the accession of James VI. of Scotland to the throne of England, continued an entirely separate and distinct kingdom for more than a century after. The complete union of the two countries was not effected till 1707, when, by the 5 & 6 Anne it was enacted (I give only the chief clauses)—

I. That on the 1st of May, 1707, and for ever after, the kingdom of England and Scotland shall be united into one kingdom by the name of Great Britain.

II. The succession to the monarchy of Great Britain shall be the same as before settled with regard to that of England.

III. The United Kingdom shall be represented by one Parliament.

IV. There shall be a communication of all rights and privileges between the subjects of both kingdoms, except where it is otherwise agreed.

XVI., XVII. The standards of the coin, of weights, and of measures shall be reduced to those of England>.

XXI. The laws relating to trade, customs, and the excise shall be the same for both countries. But all the other laws in Scotland shall remain in force, though alterable by the Parliament of Great Britain.

XXII. Sixteen peers are to be chosen to represent the peerage of Scotland in Parliament, and 45 members to sit in the House of Commons.

XXIII. The sixteen peers of Scotland shall have all the privileges of Parliament, and all peers of Scotland shall be peers of Great Britain, and have the same privileges of peers, except sitting in the House of Lords, and voting on the trial of a peer.

These are the principal of the twenty-five articles of Union. The statute 5 Anne also declares that the Church of Scotland, and the four universities of that kingdom, are to be established for ever, and all sovereigns are to take oath to preserve the same.

Union of England and Wales

The finishing stroke to the independence of Wales, which had been almost abolished by the conquest of that principality by Edward I., was given by the statute 27 Hen. VIII. c. 26, which enacted:—

I. That the dominion of Wales shall be for ever united to the kingdom of England.

II. That all Welshmen born shall have the same liberties as other the king's subjects.

III. That lands in Wales shall be inheritable according to the English tenures and rules of descent.

IV. That the laws of England, and none other, shall be used in Wales.

And the statute 34 & 35 Hen. VIII., c 26, confirms the above, adding further regulations, and dividing Wales into twelve shires. After this act Wales still had courts within itself, independent of the process of Westminster Hall; till the statute 11 Geo. IV. & 1 Will. IV. c. 70, abolished those courts, and rendered the administration of justice in the principality uniform with that of England.


A price set upon a murdered corpse in Anglo-Saxon times.


The great national council of the Anglo-Saxon kings. Gemôt, assembly; witena, wise men.


Ewald, Alexander Charles. A reference book of English history containing tables of chronolgy and genealogy; a dictionary of battles; lines of biography; and a brief dictionary of the constitution. From the invasion of Julius Caesar to the present time. London, F. Warne, 1866. Hathi Digital Library Trust web version of a copy in the library of Harvard University. Web. 27 August 2016.

Last modified 27 August 2016