Category: Government

British Rights: Habeas Corpus and the Bill of Rights

On Wednesday, we started looking at the different rights that Regency Era subjects had in relation to their government. We talked specifically about the Magna Carta and Petition of Right of 1628. Today we’re going to continue that discussion and further analyze what protections, if any, the people of Regency England had from their king and his government.

Habeas Corpus

Habeas Corpus is the next major political document that further helped protect the British. If you recall, the Petition of Right declared that a British subject living in England could not be “detained or imprisoned without cause.” While that in and of itself is an excellent protection, it left the actual aspect of imprisonment free for abuse. Say the government had a cause to imprison you. Great. (Well, not really, but it works for our purposes). So you get thrown into prison because you were suspected of stealing a loaf of bread or some such. How long until you appear before a magistrate or a jury of your peers?

Possibly never. Because while the Petition of Right protected you from being wrongfully imprisoned, it didn’t guarantee you a trial. Habeas Corpus guarantees that a person can be take before a court if they so wish.

So did Habeas Corpus protect the average English man and woman? Definitely! In fact, most countries today have their own form of Habeas Corpus (which is still very much alive in the United Kingdom as well).

Habeas Corpus

Bill of Rights

Our last piece of legislation to look at is the Bill of Rights of 1689 (and yes, this is different from the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution). This bill limited the power of English sovereigns by guaranteeing the king or queen could not:

  • Interfere with the law.
  • Establish a tax by him or herself and without an act of Parliament.
  • Maintain a standing army during peace times.
  • Limit firearms for citizens.
  • Interfere in parliamentary elections.
  • Question the freedom of speech used in parliament.
  • Use excessive bail or cruel and unusual punishment.

King-William-Queen-Mary

So yes, the Bill of Rights did protect your average Regency subject, and furthermore, the Bill of Rights of 1689 has been considered a forerunner of similar documents in France, the United States, Canada, the United Nations, and the European Union.

Evidently the British hit on something very important when they came up with the first ever Bill of Rights. I’m certainly glad that people during the Regency Era were afforded such protections. At the same time, my heart goes out the the French and American people for having to fight so hard to secure similar freedoms for themselves in the century that followed.

Okay, thank you for joining me as we explored British rights for the past two day. I certainly hope you enjoyed the discussion.

British Rights: What Protected Regency Subjects from the Government?

Hi Everyone,

It’s July, and with this month every summer comes national celebratory days in several countries. Canada celebrates Canada Day on July 1. The United States celebrates their Independence Day on July 4. And France celebrated its Bastille Day earlier this week on July 14. So all the celebrations of the past few weeks (as well as some research I’ve been doing on the Napoleonic Wars) led me to ask a few questions about our Regency men and women.

The Americans had their Constitution and Bill of Rights by this point, and the French had their Declaration of the Rights of Man as well as Napoleon’s Civil Code to help protect its citizens from the government. But did England have anything? If so, what? The entire social class structure that so dominated the Regency Era has never really struck me as fair or liberating, nor does the concept of a hereditary monarchy and peerage. So I did some homework, and it turns out England did indeed have civil rights protection for it’s subjects during the Regency Era (at least those subjects residing in England itself). In fact, England was really one of the first countries to start implementing these protections. We’re going to spend both today and Friday looking at them.

Magna Carta

The first of these documents  is the Magna Carta, signed by King John of England on June 15, 1215. The Magna Carta established rights of English barons and large land owners–rights that the king could not take away for any reason. In so doing, the Magna Carta also limited the power of the king. It is almost a prophetical document of the constitutional monarchy that was to come in the 1600s, and is known for “bringing the king under the law.”

So did the Magna Carta protect the every day commoner? The short answer is “No, it did not.” It protected the already wealthy and powerful from the more wealthy and more powerful king. But it was a start, a very good start, at recognizing the innate value of each and every human being, not just the king.

Petition of Right of 1628

The next major political act protecting the rights of men and women was the Petition of Right of 1628. This document delineates certain liberties that the king could not infringe upon. It says no person would be:

  • Forced to provide a gift, loan, or tax without an act of Parliament.
  • Detained and imprisoned without cause.
  • Forced to house soldiers or members of the navy.
  • Made subject to martial law unless under circumstances of war or direct rebellion.

This petition was passed by Parliament in 1628 and then again in 1641, though it still had a rather rough road ahead of it and would eventually be one of the causes of the English Civil War. But it was a start in affording the common citizen with liberties. And unlike the Magna Carta, the Petition of Right protected the common Englishman and Englishwoman.

The more I study British history, the more I see how its ruling class took actions to protect the lower classes earlier in history that the rest of the world.  Did England have a ruling class that often took advantage of the lower classes? Certainly. But at the same time, the British peerage didn’t shamelessly use the commoner the way the French aristocracy and monarchy did the peasant. They didn’t even extort the average commoner the way they did the colonists across the Atlantic Ocean.

Do any of the rights mentioned above surprise you? I was a little shocked–not that the rights existed, but that some of them existed so early.  Do you feel one of the rights delineated above stands out above the others and is more important in some way? I’d love to hear which one and why in the comments below.

And don’t forget, I’ll be back on Friday to finish this discussion.

The War of 1812 ~ Guest Post by Roseanna M. White

A privateer boat in War of 1812
The Chasseur, one of the most famous privateers of the War of 1812. This Baltimore
captain harassed the British merchant fleet in their own waters.

You know, it’s really kind of funny. When reading the Regency-set novels I so love, I often find references to the on-going war with France and the audacity of Napoleon. Only rarely, however, do we see the British perspective of another war going on at the same time, one with the upstart Colonists that had declared their independence a generation before. Even America often forgets their War of 1812, and in Europe…well, it tends to dim in comparison to the Napoleonic Wars. It’s become overlooked by both sides. But oh, how interesting it is!

In 1811, England had been fighting France for long enough that the escalating troubles with America were little more than a nuisance at first. They sent men and ships, but for the first two years of the war, their focus remained set upon France. In North America, they were concerned largely with protecting their Canadian assets, using raids along the Chesapeake to distract American forces from their invasion northward. After Napoleon surrendered, however, everyone–both British and American–new exactly what it meant.

It was time for the fighting to get serious in America.

Not only were those in the Admiralty tired of fooling around with the upstarts, but the citizenry were beginning to fuss about the audacity the Americans demonstrated in this second fight, even sending privateers to harass the British in their own waters! They demanded that the Americans’ cities be burned and her people crushed for their impudence. Ready, I daresay, for a breath of peace, more men and ships were sent from Europe to Bermuda and then, finally, to either the Chesapeake or Canada.

Privateers at war during the battle of 1812
Privateers engaged in battle during the War of 1812

But the men were weary. After months and years of suffering in the war with Napoleon, followed by months idle on the ships across the Atlantic, their hearts weren’t in it. More, the humid mid-Atlantic summer–one of the hottest recorded–caused heat-stroke left and right. More men were felled by vicious storms and intense heat for the first few months than by the sword or shells.

For many, this second war with America was but a P.S. to the first. The Revolution went wrong, they were sure, because of bad leadership decisions. Their men–the fathers of those now in charge– were killed or injured because of this. So it was their duty to put it to rights, especially when America persisted in ignoring the laws of citizenship and rights-upon-the-seas that England had held to for centuries.

It was, for many of those involved, a war no one wanted to fight. It was an afterthought to some and forgotten by many more since. A war based on little more than affronted prides. But like any other, it was also a war with heroes and bravery and determination. And as such, it deserves to be remembered.

Especially now, during its two-hundredth anniversary.

~*~

Roseanna-WhiteRoseanna M. White pens her novels under the Betsy Ross flag hanging above her desk, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When she isn’t writing fiction, she’s editing it for WhiteFire Publishing or reviewing it for the Christian Review of Books, both of which she co-founded with her husband. The first book in her Culper Ring Series, Ring of Secrets, is set during the American Revolution and available now.

Fairchild’s Lady, a FREE bonus novella starring a secondary character from that first book is available for pre-order and will release June 1. The second book in the series is set during the War of 1812–Whispers from the Shadows releases this August.

Culper Ring Series