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§ 12. “Of the Lords Spiritual.”

One of the oldest Acts in which this expression occurs is the Statute of 4 Hen. IV. (1402), which begins—“To the honour of God and Holy Church, and for the common wealth and profit of all the realm of England, our Lord the King, by the assent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and at the special instance and request of the Commons, assembled at the Parliament holden at Westminster the morrow after the feast of St. Michael, the fourth year of his reign, hath ordained and established certain statutes and ordinances by the manner as followeth.” (Stat. Rev. Ed., 1870, Vol. I., p. 272.) This form was used in all the Acts of Henry IV. It was followed in the Acts of Henry V., and with few exceptions it became the regular method of referring to the ecclesiastical element in the House of Lords. This reference to “Lords Spiritual” has led to the impression, in the minds of a large number of writers, that they constitute one of three estates of the realm. That is not so. The Lords Spiritual, in reality, form a component part of the House of Lords, which is, as a whole, only one of the estates. Another equally incorrect assumption, frequently met with, is that the Crown represents one of the three estates.

THE THREE ESTATES.—Among most of the nations of Western Europe, it was in the early and middle ages customary to consider a political community as divided into three orders or estates. In England it was generally held during a part of that period that the nobility, the clergy, and the commons, constituted the three states of which the Parliamentary Assembly was composed. The Crown shared in the sovereignty with the Parliamentary body, but it was not an estate.

THE CLERGY AS AN ESTATE.—When William the Conqueror assumed the Government of England, he changed the spiritual tenure of Frankalmoign or free alms under which the bishops, mitred abbots, and other Spiritual Lords held their land, in Saxon times, into feudal tenure by barony. This tenure subjected the ecclesiastical estate to civil charges, pecuniary claims, assessments and aids from which they were before exempt. The inferior clergy and owners of religious houses, however, continued to


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hold their lands on Frankalmoign, and thus free from liability to feudal burdens and taxation. As an incident of their right to the enjoyment of a succession to their baronies and of their consequent liability to feudal obligations, the bishops and abbots were summoned to attend the sittings of the King's Great Council (Magnum Concilium), which afterwards developed into the House of Lords, and they have ever since been allowed the privilege of membership of that order under the name, finally recognized, of the “Lords Spiritual.” The Lords Spiritual, however, never constituted an estate or assembly of the clergy as a whole. The parochial clergy and owners of religious houses being legally exempt from taxation, and protected by law as well as by the sanctity of their order, the King could not tax them without their consent. An expedient was therefore adopted for the purpose of obtaining their consent. A special assembly, or convocation, was organized in which the mass of the clergy could be officially represented by men of their own class, and of their own selection, charged with the duty of deciding the manner and measure of their taxation in aid of the King's revenue.

In the “Model Parliament” of 1295 (23 Edw. I.) the clergy were for the first time represented as one of the three estates in a really national Legislature. In the Parliamentary writ of summons served on every bishop, requiring his attendance in the King's Great Council, he was “pre-monished” to cause the Dean of his Cathedral Church and the Archdeacon of his Diocese in person, and the chapter and the parish clergy of the Diocese, by their proctors, to attend the Parliament and there take part in the deliberations of the assembly of the clergy. This command to the bishops, usually known from its initial word as the “Premunientes Clause,” was first issued in 1295; it was uniformly issued after 1354, and it was generally obeyed by the formal election of proctors until the Reformation (Hen. VIII. 1509–1547). (Hearn's Gov. of Eng. p. 432.)

The inferior clergy, however, though always summoned under the writ of premunientes, seldom attended. They preferred to keep aloof from secular legislation, and to tax themselves in their own Convocation. In the 14th century their attendance ceased altogether; though in Convocation they still formed a Legislative Council, by whose advice and consent alone, without that of the growing Commons, Edward III. and Richard II. passed laws, on ecclesiastical matters, to bind the laity. At last, in 1664, without any special legislative enactment, the practice of special ecclesiastical taxation ceased, and the lower clergy merged in the general body of the Commons. (Hallam, Middle Ages, III., 137; Taswell-Langmead, p. 250.) Thus the clergy ceased to be an estate of the realm, and now there are only two estates, namely, the Lords and the Commons, forming one Parliament in which the clergy are represented in common with the rest of the nation.

At common law the clergy were not qualified to vote at elections for the House of Commons, nor were they qualified to be elected members of that House; the reason being that they were of a distinct and separate estate, and that one estate could not take part in the political deliberations of another. By the Acts of 10 Anne c. 31, and 18 Geo. II. c. 18, clergymen who are not members of the House of Lords have been conceded the right to vote; and by 33 and 34 Vic. c. 91 (1870) clergymen may, by deed, renounce their clerical capacity and become qualified for election as members of the House of Commons and other public bodies.

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