English Bill of Rights - European Government
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English Bill of Rights

British Bill of Rights
Beginning of the Bill of Rights

September 2016 - Ever since King John agreed to the Magna Carta in England in 1215 AD, people in England had agreed that the king or queen couldn't just do whatever they wanted - even the king had to obey the law.

By the late 1600s, though, when William and Mary were ruling England, the rich lords who were in Parliament wanted more rights than just the ones in the Magna Carta. They wanted to make sure that the kings and queens of England wouldn't get to have absolute power like Louis XIV in France. In 1689 the rich lords added these new rules:

  1. The King or Queen can't make new laws or invent new courts or judge cases on their own - Parliament has to agree too.
  2. The King or Queen can't decide on new taxes unless Parliament agrees.
  3. The King or Queen can't keep an army unless there's a war or Parliament agrees (so they can't use the army to threaten Parliament).
  4. The King or Queen can't stop people from having guns or swords to defend themselves unless there's a law passed by Parliament.
  5. The King or Queen can't interfere in the elections to choose the members of Parliament.
  6. When Parliament is debating an issue, members have complete freedom of speech.
  7. No punishments can be announced or carried out until someone is actually convicted of a crime.
  8. No excessive bail or "cruel and unusual" punishments are allowed.
  9. Nobody who is a Catholic can be King or Queen of England.

(Can you see that some of these ideas got into the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights a hundred years later?)

Because of this Bill of Rights, Parliament was really ruling England, and the Kings and Queens had to do pretty much what Parliament wanted. But this Bill of Rights only took power from the King or Queen and gave it to rich lords - not to ordinary people. Ordinary people didn't get to be in Parliament, and they didn't get to vote for Parliament either.

Learn by doing: write a bill of rights for your family, classroom, or workplace
More about Restoration England

Bibliography and further reading about British government:

Modern Europe
Ottoman Empire
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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With the Presidential inauguration this weekend, it's a good time to review the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and all the Constitutional amendments since the Bill of Rights. Also check out our articles on people who have been excluded from power in the United States - Native Americans, people of color, Mormons, Quakers, women...