Page:The House of Lords and the nation.djvu/20

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16
The Composition of the House of Lords.

such abbots and priors as held baronies from the Crown, and also by those tenants of the Crown who held land of less extent than a barony, but were bound to render military service in respect of it. Henry II. commenced the practice of sending special writs of summons to the individuals who were to attend the Council; and he and his successors did not confine the writs to those who, as above mentioned, had the privilege of attending, but introduced into the assembly lawyers and clerks whom it was desired to raise to judicial or administrative offices. Gradually, the receipt of a summons, and not the possession of a barony, came to be considered as conferring the right to be present, and the omission of a summons was held to debar a baron from attending. By Magna Charta, however, the King bound himself to summon all the archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, and barons, and also the lesser tenants of the Crown. After the constitution, in the latter half of the thirteenth century, of a Lower House to represent the interests of the Commons, some of the lesser tenants of the Crown were elevated to baronies, and the rest were no longer summoned. In this way the Upper House became ultimately confined to the lay and spiritual Peers. The number of the former was not at this time large. In the last Parliament before the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, fifty-three are recorded as having been in attendance. Their ranks were considerably thinned by those wars, and Henry VII. summoned only twenty-nine to his first Parliament. The spiritual Peers constituted at this time the majority of the House; but by the dissolution of the monasteries about thirty-six abbots and priors were withdrawn, and the bishops who remained formed about one-third of the, whole peerage. All this time, while the spiritual peerages had descended to the successive occupiers of the sees, or monastic dignities, in respect of which they had been originally conferred, the lay seats in the House of Lords had been occupied in successive generations by the owners of the baronies or estates to which they had been attached, and thus had, for the most part, descended from father to son.

About the end of Elizabeth's reign the general practice became recognised as a rule, and the receipt of a writ of summons to the Upper House was held to confer a hereditary peerage, independently of the question whether the son retained his ancestral estate. Moreover, in 1626, it was laid down as a fundamental principle, that every Peer of full age is entitled to