A Scottish House of
Commons is born.

The short lived supremacy
of the Covenanter hard liners and their clerical rule from 1638-1641,  
tends to be skipped over as a short lived phase in the story of the
religious fanatics. It was, however, a time of great importance to the
future Scotland because the opportunity was taken to reform the
legislative process and to provide much greater representation of the
people in the legislature itself.

So far as the Covenanting movement was
concerned, the changes involved the shire gentry and the burgesses in
decision making and provided balance against clerical excesses (albeit that the representatives would have been `good` Presbyterians). The net
effect was a gathering akin to a  House of Commons for Scotland, and a very serious challenge to
the claimed supremacy of the Crown. The fear the Crown had of the new
representation and their political strength was subsequently reflected in
the Recissory Act 1661, at the Restoration of Charles II, when all the
changes made and the laws passed since 1638 were cast out. But the people
had tasted a freedom from supremacist rule which they did not forget.

The Parliaments abroad, in
Poland, Hungary, Bohemia and England consisted of two houses (bi cameral)
; Scotland had a single, or unicameral Parliament. In common with other
Parliaments the representation was made up of the three Estates. These
were the three classes of persons – the Lords Temporal, the Lords
Spiritual and the Commons. In other words, the nobility, the clergy and
the townsmen (burgesses) who formed the governing body or Parliament. In
practice the Committee of the Scottish Parliament was responsible for the
day to day running of government albeit implementing the kings will. It
normally consisted of 12 members from each estate and three Lords of
Session.  There was, however, a total stranglehold on the submission of
legislation which under the Stuart Kings, had to go to the Lords of the Articles. These were all appointees of the King and had absolute authority to decide if a bill could be
presented to Parliament. The Lords of the Articles were abolished at the accession of William and Mary.

In the 9th century, under
Constantine II, a convention of the Estates started to get to grips with
the excesses of the priests ordering them to confine their activities to
the church and to set a good example. In Scotland the first Parliament was
probably the meeting called by Robert the Bruce in 1326 at Cambusnethan. This he summoned because he was in need of finances and for the first time burgesses of the towns attended. Since 1291 the attendance on the King was limited to vassals in chief, barons etc and freeholders  The seeds of more representation of the people in government goes back to the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. But Burgesses started to attend meetings regularly from about 1455. The Committee of the Articles first took form in 1367 under King David when a large number of burgesses assembled at Scone and it was resolved to delegate authority to a Committee of twelve, drawn from the six prominent burghs. Similar circumstances also created the Committee for Causes, which later became the Court of Session or Supreme Court of Justice. The Privy Council retained an interest, especially in matters of public order and riot. The King retained the right to appoint the Judges and was therefore able to exert influence when it suited him.

The Parliament in Scotland
was not divided into separate houses of Commons and Lords as in England,
all representatives came together in the one place. But, as was the custom
and practice, the Parliament met infrequently and much legislation was
done through Committee of the Estates and ratified by Parliament when next
it met. There was also a lengthy period when the ruling body in Scotland
was merely a Privy Council made up of membersselected by the King, and no more than a
mouthpiece for an absolute monarchy under James VI/I, Charles I, Charles
II and James VII/II.

The Scottish Parliament
during the 16th century had a majority of nobles who were largely driven
by self interest. This posed a potential threat to the Crown and James VI
sought to protect his interests by encouraging support from elsewhere. The
lawyers and the church he knew were traditionally loyal and the burghers
simply wanted peace in order to trade. The latter he encouraged by the
Convention of Royal Burghs which met regularly under his patronage. In
1587 the King sought to bring a better balance in Parliament with greater
representation of the barons – the smaller land owners. The barons were
more interested in the security of their tenure, held of the Crown and church lands,
and had little in common with the nobles. The Privy Council at this time
was the focus for policy matters and was at one time representative of the
Three Estates.

However, when James VI
became King of England in 1603 he was determined that the Privy Council
was to be his puppet and not a powerful bureaucracy in his absence.
Although the Privy Council was filled with the King`s nominees he
nevertheless developed the Committee or Lords of the Articles. This was an
inner circle of loyal supporters with a built in majority for the King,
through which were imposed his policies. The Committee consisted of an
equal number, normally eight, of each Estate with Officers of State
nominated by the King. The Bishops chose eight Nobles; the Nobles chose
eight Bishops; and they jointly chose another eight from the Barons and
Burgesses. Under Charles I the Officers of State were eight of his
nominees. The Committee of Lords of the Articles had absolute power and
were the real rulers of Scotland, their bills had to either be accepted by
Parliament or rejected – there was no debate on the content of a bill. The
normal Estates or Parliament would adjourn when they were is session, and
reassemble to ratify its proposals. The system continued with some
amendments until 1661, when its structure reverted to its earlier form. It
was abolished in 1689.

The changes effected by
the Covenanters.

The creation of ` The
Tables` was a consequence of the great uproar that followed the imposition
of the Service Book on the Church of Scotland in 1637. There was great
opposition to the Service Book and many petitions were presented to the
Privy Council meeting in Edinburgh on 15 November 1637. Some sixty eight
petitions were then presented to the King by the Duke of Lennox. The reply
from the King was swift enough, coupled with his anger that the bishops
had not enforced the use of the Liturgy which they had pressed on him. The
response was to order all strangers from the city within twenty four hours
on penalty of being declared an outlaw; the Court of Session was ordered
to move to Linlithgow and then to Dundee (where it would be remote from
any rabble rousing). The order also denounced a publication by George
Gillespie – “ A Dispute against the English Popish Ceremonies obtruded
on the Church of Scotland
“ which the Scots Worthies says was “too
corrosive a quality to be digested by the Bishop`s weak stomachs.”

In the tumult the
magistrates were coerced into cooperation and a Committee of Public
Security was allowed to be set up which included representatives of the
supplicants. This allowed the rank and file to disperse while the
Committee set itself up as a Convention of the Estates. They occupied the
Parliament House and divided themselves into four groups, each meeting in
separate rooms – at separate` Tables` – the nobles; country gentlemen,
burghs and clergy. Four representatives of each group were selected and
authorised to act for their class. A fifth Table was set up as a
co-ordinating Table with a representative from each of the other four,
with Archibald Johnston, later Lord Warriston, as its Clerk.

The formation of `The
Tables` created an efficient organisation which then took the offensive.
On 21 December 1637 they demanded that the Privy Council, then sitting at
Dalkeith , remove the bishops from among them on the grounds that they
could not be both judges and defendants in the matters under dispute. King
Charles responded on 20 February with a declaration at Stirling “ that the
Bishops were unjustly accused as being the authors of the Service Book and
Canons, seeing whatever was done by them in that matter was by his
Majesty`s authority and orders.” The declaration prohibited petitions
against the Liturgy and insisted that it could not be withdrawn. The
King`s declaration was rejected and ` all who love the cause of God ` were
called to meet in Edinburgh. Among the ministers Alexander Henderson and
David Dickson were to the fore, recalling that in 1580, in similar times
of danger to the Church, there had been a National Covenant (1581). From
the Edinburgh gathering came the renewal of the National Covenant, drawn
up by Henderson and Johnston, which was approved by ` The Tables` and
signed in Greyfriars Kirk on 28 February 1638.

Resentment and anger at the Bishops continued to mount and came to a head in October 1638 when they were cited by their respective presbyteries to compear at the general Assembly to account for the charges alleged. The Bishops did not appear, however, thus the charges were heard in their absence and sentence of excommunication passed by them on 13 December 1638, Session 30, with instruction to Alexander henderson, the Moderator, to declare the matter at the next session.

At the General Assembly in
Glasgow,1639, Session 25,an act was passed on 19 December that declared it
unlawful for clerics to hold civil office

It is  both
inexpedient and unlawful In this Kirk, for Pastors  separate unto the
Gospel to brook civil places, and offices as to be Justices of 
peace, sit and discerne in Councell Session or Exchecker; to ryde or vote
in Parliament, to be Judges or Assessors in any Civill Judicatorie….

The Assembly`s act was
ratified by Parliament itself on 20 June 1640. The act stated for the
present and all future Parliaments that the three Estates  should be
the nobility,  the Commissioners of the Shires ( ie the gentry, and
the Commissioners of the burghs ( the burgesses). Voting rights were
restricted to Members of Parliament only, and plural votes by persons
(usually nobility) holding official office was restricted to a single
vote. There was also a doubling of the voting strength of the gentry by
allowing each of the two representatives from a shire to have an
individual vote. Each burgh was allowed a single representative except
Edinburgh which had two. Thus in 1641  there were 56 nobles, 50
gentry representing 29 shires and 57 burgesses  from 56 burghs. The
consequence of this far reaching change  was to diminish the
nobilities voting powers and the collective strength of the shires and the
burghs could veto legislation it did not like. This new `muscle` was
reflected in subsequent events and assorted committees that governed
Scotland until the Restoration, and was a foretaste of greater
representation for the common man as well as a positive break from the
concept of the royal prerogative.

With the arrival of
Cromwell in Scotland the Committee of the Estates was forced to disperse
at Alyth in 1651. It reassembled and was once more entrusted with the
government of the country. The “Drunken
as it became known met on 1 January 1661 under the
direction of the Earl of Middleton. On the directions of his vengeful
royal master Charles II, Middleton promptly set about rescinding the laws
enacted in the interim and enacting new oppressive legislation. Parliament
as such was again dominated by the nobility although not all attended at
every meeting.

At the Union in 1707 the
make up was 10 Dukes, 3 Marquis`, 75 Earls, 17 Viscounts,52 Lords, 90
Knights of shires, and 67 burgesses – a total of 314 members – the nobles
being equivalent to the shires and burgesses balanced at 157 votes each.