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Beginning of the Bill of Rights

Beginning of the Bill of Rights

How much power did British rulers have?

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.

The Magna Carta
More about King John
All our medieval Europe articles

New rules limiting their power

In the 1600s, the English had a revolution. They killed their king. By the late 1600s, they decided they wanted kings and queens after all. But only in a limited way. So 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.

Cromwell and the revolution
Who were William and Mary?
Louis XIV of France

The rich lords 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. And 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?)

United States Constitution
United States Bill of Rights

What did the British Bill of Rights do?

Because of this Bill of Rights, Parliament was really ruling England. 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. Ordinary people didn’t get any power. Ordinary people didn’t get to be in Parliament. 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
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