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The Works of John Selden

The Historical Rights of the House of Lords

John Selden. The Priviledges of the Baronage of England, When They Sit in Parliament. London: Printed by T. Badger for Matthew Wallbanck, 1642. First Edition.

Warr: “To know what obedience is due to the prince you must look into the contract betwixt him & his people, as if you would know what Rent is due to the Landlord from the Tenant, You must look into the lease. Where the Contract is broken, & there is no Third person to judge, then the division is by Armes . . . Table-Talk.

In the 1620s the House of Lords hired Title page of Historie of Tithes, 1642 Selden to research its privileges, in response to mounting tension between the king and Parliament. Before he was able to finish his work, Selden was arrested and confined without charge. Selden was eventually released, though it took many more months for him to retrieve his papers, the chief concern apparently being his notes for his report to the House of Lords. After first circulating in manuscript form, The Priviledges of the Baronage of England was eventually printed in 1642. Selden provided historical grounds for such “special rights” as freedom from lawsuits during the sitting of Parliament and the power of judicature --a topic he expanded upon in another work from the same period, Of the Judicature in Parliaments. Selden's exploration of such inflammatory topics catapulted him into the political fray.

For such a productive scholar, Selden had a notable political career. In 1624, Selden was elected to the House of Commons and served off and on until 1648. For Selden, Parliament reached its most dramatic point in 1628, a roiling session in which he joined Sir Edward Coke and others to compose a bill of rights. By the time it reached the king it had been diluted to the Petition of Right, but it was still an important precursor to the United States’ Bill of Rights. Throughout, Selden was a leading champion for such liberties as freedom from arrest and imprisonment without due process, and for freedom from seizure of personal property. The king had Selden arrested shortly after the dissolution of parliament in 1629. Charles I then had him moved to the Tower, outside the jurisdiction of the courts, and his study was sealed. Selden was not fully restored to freedom until 1634.

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