A2 Edexcel History Elizabethan Parliaments

Elizabethan Parliamentary sessions of Rebellion details


An overview of Parliament

  • Parliament was an assembly of over 500 men. 
  • There were thirteen parliamentary sessions in Elizabeth's 46-year reign
  • Elizabeth aimed for short sessions that granted money quickly, but MPs wanted to raise local issues from their constituency which held up government business.
  • Parliament was asked to supply taxation in eleven of the thirteen sessions, but it always had to be justified, usually through security and religious issues.
  • Only 10% of MPs spoke in debates and on average only 47 MPs voted.
  • Attendance to the sessions was never good and declined according to the length of the session. Procedures to chastise and fine absentees were introduced. 
  • Parliament was under control of the councillors who were responsible for nominations, planning business and managing procedures. They were also prepared to use Parliament to pressurise the Queen into agreeing to a particular policy.
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How did Elizabeth manage her Parliaments?


  • Her powerful personality - she could persuade, wheedle, threaten and convince people to accept her request.
  • Her presence alone - enough to silence the more outspoken members of Parliament.
  • Dissolving Parliament - required a re-election which meant Elizabeth may get a more co-operative group.
  • Proroguing Parliament - this meant suspending the session to be resumed at a later date.
  • Use of veto - Elizabeth could prevent any Bill being passed that she disliked or that wasn't worded properly.
  • Her choice of Speaker - always a Royal nominee who Elizabeth could trust to put forward to royal views.
  • Privy Council - sat on Parliament and could steer the discussion in a way Elizabeth would prefer and silence others who spoke out.
  • MP's Duty - many people were willing to give Elizabeth what she wanted as they felt duty-bound to serve her and fulfil her wishes.
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What issues caused conflict?

RELIGION: Puritan Bills that challenged the Religious Settlement introduced in 1566, 1571, 1572, 1586-7. Usually the Queen's indignation was enough for them to be abandoned but in 1571 Strickland Bill led to his exclusion by Queen and caused uproar in the Commons. in 1586 Cope was sent to the Tower over the Presbyterian Bill and Book.

MARRIAGE AND THE SUCCESSION: Puritan and other MP's were keen to avoid a Catholic succession through MQS. The 1566 subsidy was held up until Elizabeth would discuss it. She gave a vague answer and Peter Wentworth spoke out about free speech. Elizabeth got angry and closed parliament early, accepting a lower subsidy. It was not the organised action of the Puritan Choir that Neale argued for. 

MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS: Parliament pushed for an execution in 1571, 1572, 1584 and Elizabeth refused. She only accepted in 1586-7 following the Babington Plot.

FREE SPEECH: Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I all allowed more of this than Elizabeth. She believed in matters of the "Common-weal" such as social and economic affairs, but also believed in "matters of state" eg. religion and succession as private. Peter Wentworth spoke out about this in 1566 and 1576 but the Commons did not support him.

FINANCE AND ECONOMIC ISSUES: Parliament began to use the granting of money as bargaining tools. In 1587 money was offered on condition that Elizabeth accepted sovereignty of the Netherlands. She refused. There ere also some complaints over the money requested.

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Examples of Co-operation

ATTITUDES - Good government was the interest of all and many were compliant and expected to be served by the Queen.

MANAGEMENT OF PARLIAMENT - all listed examples plus the use of rumours and messages.

PATRONAGE - led to co-operation - Parliament was not packed with  MPs guaranteed to give Queen support, but Privy Council controlled 40% of the seats which gave the Queen a nucleus of support.

THE PASSING OF LAWS - More were passed in this reign than Elizabeth's predecessors.An average of 33 Acts were passed each sessions. Elizabeth was never denied subsidies - even in peacetime. Only in 1566 did she choose to accept a lower sum. 

COSTS - expensive for gentry to stay in London, so they wanted a quick session.

THE QUEEN - Her presence and speeches could be angry, indignant, charming and tactful. Very diplomatic. 

SUPPORT OF HOUSE OF LORDS - over half of the 80 were Crown dependents and could be counted on to defeat unwanted Commons' Bills. 

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Examples of Parliamentary Sessions

1563 & 1567

  • Foreign Policy: Money needed granting to finance foreign policy towards Scotland and France.
  • The Succession:The Commons, worried by Elizabeth's recent illness, petitioned for her to name a successor. 

Elizabeth vaguely promised she would marry and then forbade further discussion on the subject. She said "I am your anointed Queen. I will not be by violence constrained to to anything."


  • Mary Queen of Scots: The council feared for the Queen's security after the Northern Rebellion and the Ridolfi Plot and pushed for an execution. Two councillors pushed for the removal of Mary from the succession. 

Elizabeth agreed to execute Norfolk but used veto to avoid MQS execution. She then pretended she would consider removing her from the succession and avoided it by proroguing parliament. 

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Examples of Parliamentary Sessions 2


  • Finance:The Queen requested money, even though the country was at peace. 
  • Free Speech: Peter Wentworth demanded freedom of speech on all subjects. Revisionists believe he was a parliamentary nuisance. The commons imprisoned him for offensive remarks against the Queen.

Elizabeth continued to impose limitations on free speech. Despite his recklessness, Peter Wentworth was not alone in his belief that "royal prerogative" matters were of public importance and that Parliament was a good forum for discussion.


  • Mary Queen of Scots: This was in the interest of the Queen's safety following the Throckmorton Plot and the assasination of the Prince William of Orange. 
  • Religion: The Bill and Book campaign proposed a change to a more Calvinist model of religion. The Commons itself refused to hear Peter Turner's campaign. An act was passed against JESUIT PRIESTS.

Elizabeth prevented the Bond of Association being passed, and safeguarded Mary's son James in case Mary was implicated in a plot to kill her. 

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Examples of Parliamentary Sessions 3


  • Mary Queen of Scots:Following the Babington plot, councillors again tried to persuade Elizabeth to execute Mary. She refused to commit to such action until Waslingham revealed the so-called Stafford Plot which frightened her into signing Mary;s death warrant.
  • Religion: There was an emerging threat of Presbyterianism, with Anthony Cope reintroducing Turner's Bill and Book campaign to abolish Church courts and episcopacy and the Queen's position as head of Church. Although the Commons decided to hear Cope out, the Queen prevented it from going ahead. Wentworth, Cope and three others were arrested for discussing the Bill outside of Parliament.
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Historical Interpretations

The Traditional Interpretation:

  • A school of thought put forward by the historian Neale.
  • It suggests the power of the Commons increased during Elizabeth's reign, and attempts to explain this as a lead up to the Civil War of the 1640's.
  • Neale believed these developments were a result of the arrival of a well-educated gentry class in the Commons, some of whom orchestrated a "Puritan Choir" who deliberately planned confrontations to force the issue of parliamentary privileges
  • Neale seems to focus too much on simply conflict and confrontation.

The Revisionist Interpretation:

  • A revised view of this can be accredited to Elton and Graves who change emphasis and focus on legislative output and law-making procedures.
  • Elton claimed that parliament mostly dealt with routine administration and business, and although heated debates did occur, this was a part of normal parliamentary course and did not prevent sessions closing harmoniously.
  • There is a danger however, in revisionist views, of over-simplifying debates and reducing them to political disagreement, when there was in fact passion and true feeling over matters of royal prerogative. 
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