hereditary descent

The germ of the hereditary principle can be traced in the time of the Witenagemote, who, while they had the sole power of electing the king, nearly always confined their choice to the royal family, and to the oldest male representative if of full age and capacity. The Norman Conquest strengthened the hereditary principle, for men argued to the crown from the analogy of a feudal fief. But the immediate descendants of William I. could not plead an hereditary title, and so the old elective theory was maintained. William himself went through a form of election, and Henry I. declared himself crowned by the general council of the barons of the whole realm of England. So with Stephen. In 1199 the election of John over Arthur shows that the hereditary principle was not yet established. Edward I. was the first English king whose reign dates from the death of his predecessor and commenced before coronation. The theory that the king never dies, thus adumbrated was the accepted doctrine by the time of Edward IV.

The Lancastrian title, however, was purely Parliamentary, though Henry IV. showed his regard for hereditary right by claiming to be the lineal descendant of Henry III. Henry VII. claimed the crown by inherent right and by victory over his enemies, and though his title was debatable it is quite possible to maintain that he was king by hereditary right. As regards Parliament's power of deposition, it may be noted that in the case of James II., where the House of Commons declared that James had 'abdicated' the government, the Scottish Parliament substituted the term 'forfeited'.

Note by A.J.Grieve (MA), from Price's Sermon in Part One of Reflections On The Revolution In France
« LAST » Note « NEXT »