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The Scots Parliament and the Three Estaits


In Scotland, the first reference to the King's High Court of Parliament does not occur until 1293 although the term "parliament" was first recorded in 1235. Parliament was called as the king saw fit and at whatever location he nominated. The first order of business was always to appoint Lords of Articles. Often as soon as this was done may of those attending left to get on with their own, and much more important, business. Between meetings, the "Lords of the Articles" carried on the work of a parliament. Criticism of this body suggest that it was in the pocket of the monarch but research suggests that this was not always so.

In 1326 Robert the Bruce convened a parliament which included representatives from the burghs thereby establishing the "Three Estates" - nobles sitting as barons; bishops, abbots and other senior clergy as the second; and burgh commissioners constituting the third estate.

Parliament could only be called with forty days notice, so in times of emergency a Convention of the Three Estates was held. This required no formal notice and did not require the monarch or his commissioner to be present.

The Convention of the Baronage of Scotland is the representative body of the first estate.

In 1346 David II was captured at the Battle of Neville's Cross near Durham. He was released in 1357 for a ransom of 100,000 merks. This massive ransom was probably an excuse for Parliament to establish some moderation on the crown. The royal burghs established a continuing right to sit in Parliament from the 1360s onwards.

James I (1394 - 1437) was keen for the barons to attend but few did until a century later. Over one hundred attended the 'Reformation Parliament' in 1560. He passed a Statute of 1587, cap. 120, [Acts, iii, 509], relieving barons of the obligation to attend (but did not disable them) on condition that they elected two commissioners from each shire to represent them.

The Scots Parliament was seldom a large body. From 1603 to 1660 it rarely exceeded 150 and never rose above 183. After the Restoration it only twice exceeded 190 until 1703-6 when it averaged 226 with, on average, 67 nobles, 80 shires members, 67 constituent burghs and the remainder being officers of state.

The DownSitting of ParliamentIn 1632, under Charles I, the parliament moved into splendid new premises in Parliament Hall on the Royal Mile. This famous illustration (taken from Nicolas de Gaudeville's Atlas Historique) shows the Riding of Parliament, where the King or His High Commissioner, together with his nobles, burghers commissioners and clergy process from the Palace of Holyrood House to Parliament House for the formal opening. This captures the procession on foot after dismounting at the east end of St. Giles. The picture shows parliament as it would have been in the 1680s. The illustration and text were published in Paris in 1721 and is the only known illustration of the old Scots Parliament. It is of considerable interest due to its contemporary nature - it was published just after the Act of Union in 1707.


 
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