The United Kingdom is governed by the parliament in Westminster.

A rich and fascinating tapestry spanning centuries is the history of the British Parliament. From early medieval assemblies and monarchial councils, it developed into the contemporary two-chamber legislature that exists today.

Early Roots (12th–13th centuries): The British Parliament’s beginnings can be found in the early Middle Ages. In 1164, nobles and clergy members assembled for the first English Parliament, convened by King Henry II. This was not a legislative body, but essentially a consultative one for the king.

King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215, marking one of the most important turning points in the history of parliament. It laid the foundation for later parliamentary developments by limiting the power of the monarch and establishing the idea that the king was responsible for the law.

The signing of the Magna Carta King John in 2015
800 years celebration, Queen E II, 2015

In 1295, King Edward I called a Model Parliament that comprised commoners as well as aristocrats and clergy. This signalled the emergence of the notion that the permission of the taxed was necessary for taxes, which would later become a cornerstone of parliamentary government.

The chaos of the Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century and the Hundred Years’ War with France resulted in a more centralised monarchy, which diminished the significance of Parliament.

The reassertion of royal authority occurred throughout the reigns of Tudor kings, especially Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Nevertheless, they continued to rely on Parliament for a number of things, such as funding raises and the implementation of religious reforms.

Tudor Rose
Tudor Rose

The English Civil War resulted in a series of battles between Parliament and King Charles I, which led to the monarchy’s temporary dissolution and Oliver Cromwell’s founding of the Commonwealth of England.

After Oliver Cromwell’s death in 1660, the monarchy was reinstated, with King Charles II taking the throne. Now that the monarchy was constitutional, Parliament was essential to the functioning of the state.

Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which William III and Mary II were crowned king and queen respectively, following the overthrow of King James II. Royal power was further curtailed and parliamentary sovereignty was created by the 1689 Bill of Rights and the 1701 Act of Settlement.

The Kingdoms of England and Scotland were merged to form the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707 by the Acts of Union. The British Parliament was also established as a result of this.

The Acts of Union in 1800 brought the Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland together, forming the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and establishing the United Kingdom Parliament. This led to the Union with Ireland (1801).

A number of Reform Acts of the 19th century changed parliamentary representation and increased the franchise, thus democratising the British Parliament.

The 20th century brought with it other democratic innovations, such as the devolution of powers to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, as well as the expansion of voting rights to women.

The United Kingdom is currently a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy. The two houses that make up the British Parliament are the appointed and hereditary peers in the House of Lords and the elected members of the House of Commons. It continues to be a crucial institution in British administration, and its past has influenced the evolution of democratic governance across the globe.