Page:The Ancestor Number 1.djvu/160

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I 12 THE ANCESTOR PEERAGE CASES THE development of the British Constitution has long been the most fascinating subject for students of British history. The evolution of constitutional monarchy from the antagonism of arbitrary power in the monarch to the assertion of rights in the subject, is the theme which underlies all serious history and attests the value of diplomatic research. The first stages of the combat between sovereign and sub- ject were fought by kings and nobles, and for this reason the origin and development of the law of peerage must always be an important factor in the study of history as distinguished from mere chronicle. It is now the general opinion that the commencement of our Parliamentary system cannot be placed earlier than the twenty- third year of King Edward I. after the Conquest, and that the definite form of Parliament, viz. an assembly consisting of lords spiritual and temporal, knights of the shire, and citizens of boroughs, was finally established in 6-8 Edward II. There is no branch of law which has contributed more to the formation of this opinion than the law of peerage. It may therefore be not without interest to those concerned with the subjects to be considered in l^he Ancestor if I offer a few observations on the materials for studying peerage law, and on the points of law decided in some of the more conspicuous cases. Before the Parliament was finally constituted the legislation for England was settled by the king, advised by the nobles who constituted the Curia Regis. These nobles were prelates, earls and barons, with whom were occasionally associated high officials who did not hold hereditary dignities. Although there can be little doubt that earldoms were in England always personal dignities, except perhaps one or two palatinates, there is no evidence to prove that baronies were personal dignities. It is indeed not by any means clear what was meant by the word baron. Accordingly when claims to sit in Parliament began there was much speculation and argument on the nature of a barony. It was asserted that a baron was a