The year 2015 marks two anniversaries of enormous significance in English and British constitutional and legal history: the 800th anniversary of King John’s acceptance of Magna Carta, the great charter of liberties of the English nation in 1215; and the 750th anniversary of the Parliament summoned by Simon de Montfort in 1265, following his defeat of King Henry III in a civil war which was the culmination of a baronial revolt. Magna Carta is still widely seen as a starting point in the history of English freedom, cited worldwide in the defence of human rights. Many authorities have seen the 1265 Parliament as the origin of the English Parliament (the 700th anniversary was celebrated in Parliament in 1965 with an exhibition and an address from both Houses of Parliament to the Queen): although that view is no longer generally held, 1265 is still regarded as a key moment in the history of the evolution of Parliament.
To mark these anniversaries, the History of Parliament Trust hosted the annual conference of the International Commission for the History of Representative and Parliamentary Institutions (ICHRPI). The conference took 1215 and 1265 as a starting point for an exploration of the initiation and development of political institutions from the early Middle Ages onwards, and an assessment of their role in state formation or national building. It considered the significance of foundational documents and events such as Magna Carta and the de Montfort Parliament and how these – and the historiography of Parliaments – became so important in the subsequent history of Parliament and political institutions – how, for example, Magna Carta and the de Montfort Parliament were built up and depicted as central events in the building of the English state. We are delighted that the conference is part of the 2015 celebrations organised by the UK Parliament.
The conference had a strong comparative element, and will incorporate contributions from continental scholars and scholars of continental traditions. It compared the foundation of the English and British constitutional tradition with other those in other jurisdictions elsewhere: it explored other confrontations between communal traditions and royal powers and how these were expressed and resolved. It sought to compare the development of the English political tradition with contemporary parallel institutions in Europe, and explore their divergence and/or convergence.
The conference was held in the languages of the Commission: English, French and German. It took place at King’s College, London, Royal Holloway, University of London and in Portcullis House, within the Palace of Westminster.