Elizabeth’s relationship with Parliament

1 January 2018

The Elizabethan Parliament was very different to the Parliament of today; it was much less powerful and not fully representative of the population. There was no Prime Minister, no political parties, Members of Parliament (MPs) were all men, and they were all voted in by wealthy landowners.Elizabeth tightly controlled ParliamentParliament could only meet if Elizabeth called it, and she set the agenda.

Parliament could only talk about what Elizabeth allowed it to discuss.Elizabeth mainly used Parliament to grant her taxes – this was her main income.Elizabeth could close (prorogue) Parliament at any time.Parliament only met 13 times in her 45 year reign for an average of three weeks per year.Elizabeth made sure her Privy Councillors sat in Parliament to help control proceedings.MPs tried to take control backDuring Elizabeth’s reign, however, MPs became more assertive and influential. They were in conflict with Elizabeth over the following issues.

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Marriage issueSome MPs felt Elizabeth should name a suitor to marry and produce an heir in order to secure the line of succession. Elizabeth’s response was that this was her private business and she would marry when and if it was convenient.At present it is not convenient; nor never shall be without some peril unto you and certain danger unto meElizabeth I asks Parliament to stop pressing her on the issue of her marriage, 1566Religion issueElizabeth was a Protestant and re-instated the Church of England when she came to power, but wanting to avoid religious conflict she offered a ‘middle-way’ which did allow some Catholic worship and traditions. Some Puritan MPs disagreed with this compromise and challenged Elizabeth by threatening to not grant her taxes. Elizabeth said religion was a ‘matter of state’, not for Parliament, and forbade them to discuss religion.Freedom of speech issueIn 1576 the Puritan MP, Peter Wentworth, complained that MPs were not free to discuss whatever they liked. Elizabeth sent him to the Tower of London for a month for speaking out.

Monopolies issueMonopolies gave individual nobles and merchants the sole right to manufacture or sell particular goods. Elizabeth intended for monopolies to promote business and boost the economy, but because one person now controlled the supply of a particular product it meant that prices rose. Elizabeth also made money from granting the monopoly licenses.Towards the end of Elizabeth’s reign, some MPs felt monopolies were unfair and were being abused. They protested against them in 1597-8 and 1601 and would not grant taxes until they had been withdrawn. At this stage, Elizabeth compromised and withdrew some monopolies. She also made a long speech flattering Parliament, which became known as her ‘Golden Speech’ which again showed her to be a clever and shrewd ruler.

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