[LMB] Medieval parliaments

phoenix at ugcs.caltech.edu phoenix at ugcs.caltech.edu
Sun Sep 18 15:52:26 BST 2011

Having some sort of popular representation in government seems more
common than not in European history, actually.  Lacking a constitution
the powers weren't formally defined, so could wax or wane depending on
the financial security and maybe military power of the Crown, but
there's something there:

Dating to 1341, or 1295 if you count town representatives in the model
parliament.  Power over taxes and impeachment of ministers; power faded
under the Tudors or the pre-Tudor wars, revived under the Stuarts.

elective component: elected by monks, by rich people in towns, in 1302.
1468 towns elect an ecclesiastic, noble, and burgess. 1484 invites all
estates to elect; universal and direct suffrage for all orders, but
countrymen couldn't get to town, so elected electors to represent them.
Early lots of control over taxes, ceded during Charles VII out of
"weariness" in Hundred Year's War. Refused to grant a regency in 1484.
1484 had deliberation in common; 1560 had orders deliberate separately.
Advisory on legislation; petition; could grant right to modify
fundamental laws of the regime.  Only met when called by the king.
Wasn't called between 1614 and 1789; revolution basically begins with
the Third Estate declaring itself a National Assembly of the People.

Basically the Three Estates for Spain, with urban representatives in the
12-15th centuries.

Frequently called, lots of tax control, an attempt to arrest the king in
1436; 16th century legislative power

Imperial cities gaining role

burghers and peasants in Sweden

clergy, nobles, citizens of royal but not feudal towns

Cossack direct democracy

I'm leaving out the Sejm of Poland, which had final decision in
everything but was limited to the "landed nobility", although that might
have been 10% of the population.

And this is all medieval stuff, never mind 19th century developments.
And there's Athens, Roman republic, Indian republics, Scandinavian
Things, Venice, Netherlands, Switzerland, Slavic veche (popular
assembly), various other small parliaments, Republic of Novgorod...


So I totally don't buy an idea that an autocratic Emperor checked only
by 60 hereditary Counts is the best Barrayar could do, especially as it
modernizes.  Being isolated and "primitive" is no excuse; far poorer and
genuinely "primitive" societies have been far more participatory, even
on the scale of France or Spain.  (Of course, go back far enough and you
get egalitarian tribes; usually need agriculture to get real

I'm not saying Barrayar's government is unrealistic either; plenty of
absolute monarchies have existed too, including many of the above
examples at different times, often later ones.  But political history is
not a morality play unfolding from primitive monarchy to modern
democracy; if there's any determinism it's far more complicated than
that, and most likely the lack of commoner political power has nothing
to do with Barrayar's material conditions, and more to do with the
willingness to kill uppity commoners.

-xx- Damien X-) 

More information about the Lois-Bujold mailing list