Government and opposition : Initiative, reform and politics in the House of Commons, 1597-1610
This thesis represents an attempt to question the stress
traditionally placed by accounts of the last Parliaments of Elizabeth I
and the first of James I on political and constitutional change after
1603 and their association of that change with the emergence of an
increasingly coherent and purposeful opposition in the House of Commons.
It is divided into three sections. The first examines
the evidence of continuity in Parliamentary affairs provided by the
procedures of the Lower House, its personnel and their aspirations.
As such, it emphasises the importance for MPs of their duty to represent
(and be responsible to) the communities to which they belonged. The
second section seeks to re-examine the Elizabethan 'norm' against
which subsequent changes have been measured, suggesting that in 1597
and 1601 government leadership was neither as strong, nor opposition
as inchoate, as has been implied and pointing to MPs' perception of
their duties as representatives as instrumental in moderating the
one and motivating the other. The third section, examines the evidence
for explaining the conduct of business in James' first Parliament
in terms of adversary politics and suggests that the evidence of conflict
that emerges is less convincing than has often been suggested. In
particular, it argues that most MPs were reluctant to follow the leadership
of either official opinion or its critics and that the problems
that did emerge had their origins less in any 'winning of the initiative'
by an emergent opposition than in attempts on the part of Robert Cecil,
and (to a lesser extent) James himself, to secure the commitment of
MPs and thereby their constituents, to executive policies of which
they were extremely suspicious; a course of action which encouraged
inert resistance rather than overt opposition and generated politics
that were more reactionary than revolutionary.