The Scottish Parliament in the 15th and 16th centuries
Earlier histories of the Scottish parliament have been somewhat constitutional in emphasis and have been exceedingly critical of what was understood to be parliament's subservience to the crown. Estimates by constitutional historians of the extreme weakness of parliament rested on an assessment of the constitutional system. The argument was that many of its features were not consistent with a reasonably strong parliament. Because the 'constitution' is apparently fragmented, with active roles played by bodies such as the lords of articles, the general council and the convention of estates, each apparently suggesting that parliament was inadequate, historians have sometimes failed to appreciate the positive role played by the estates in the conduct of national affairs. The thesis begins with a discussion of the reliability of the printed text of APS and proceeds to an examination of selected aspects of the work of parliament in a period from c 1424-c 1625. The belief of constitutional historians such as Rait that conditions In Scotland proved unfavourable to the interests and. effectiveness of parliament in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, is also examined. Chapter 1 concludes that APS is a less than reliable text, particularly for the reign of James I. Numerous statutes were excluded from the printed text and they are offered below for the first time. These statutes have been a useful addition to our understanding of the reign of James I. Chapter 2 analyses the motives behind the schemes for shire representation and concludes that neither constitutional theory nor political opportunism explains the support which James I and James VI gave to these measures. Both these monarchs were motivated by the realisation that their particular ambitions were dependent on winning the support of the estates whose ranks should include representatives from the shires. Chapter 3 examines the method of electing the lords of articles, the composition of this committee, and some aspects of its operation. The conclusion is that in the main the estates were the deciding force in the choice of the lords of articles. The committee's composition was more a reflection of a desire for a balance between representatives from north and south of the Forth and for the most important burghs and clergy to be selected than an attempt at electing government favourites. The articles did exercise a significant control over the items which came before parliament but this control was not absolute and applied to government as well as private legislation. Chapter 4 questions the traditional view that the general council and convention of estates were the same body. It is argued that they were two different institutions with different powers, but that they nevertheless worked within certain limits and were careful not to usurp the authority of parliament. Chapter 5 concedes that taxation was sometimes decided outside parliament; that the irregularity of taxation certainly weakened the bargaining power of the estates and that the latter did not appear to capitalise on these occasions when taxation was an issue. But the tendency was to ensure that, whether in or out of parliament, the decision to impose taxation was taken by a large number of each estate. The infrequency of taxation was a direct consequence of an unwillingness among the estates to agree to a regular taxation and their preference to ensure for the crown an alternative source of income. Moreover taxation was one issue, which more than any other, would be subject to contentious opposition by the estates, and could lead to the crown's defeat. Chapter 6 is concerned with ecclesiastical representation after the Reformation and the church's attitudes to the possibility of ministerial representation. Some ministers had doctrinal misgivings but the majority came to believe that the church's absence from parliament bad severely reduced. the influence of the church. That no agreement was forthcoming on a system of ministerial representation, particularly after 1597, is attributable to the estates' unwillingness to compromise and, not to the strength of opposition in the church. Chapter 7 examines the institutions which are sometime seen as 'rivals' of parliament and concludes that institutions such as the privy council were generally very careful in matters which needed the approval of parliament, and seemed aware of the greater authority of parliament. Chapter 8 which illustrates how parliament had the right to be consulted in all important matters of state, brings together the main points of the earlier chapters and offers further illustrations of the essential role which parliament played in the conduct of national affairs. Whether or not the system can be regarded as constitutionally sound, the estates in Scotland could observe parliament's day-to-day operation with some satisfaction. All in all, there is little convincing evidence that parliament was as weak as some historians would have us believe.