Most people know something of Oxford, England, through Oxford University, the home of England’s first university.
However, Oxford is also known for the “Provisions of Oxford,” which in 1258 placed the king under a Council of Fifteen. All this began in 1167 with the rebellious Archbishop Thomas à Becket’s escape to France. King Henry II irritation with his archbishop translated into his ordering all English students who were studying in France to return to England. Naturally, many began to set up halls of learning at Oxford, for Oxford had been considered a place of scholarly debate since the days of Alfred the Great. University College was founded by William of Durham in 1249.
Angered by Henry III’s costly foreign commitments, Simon de Montfort and other nobles holding baronies met at Oxford in 1258 to discuss what was to be done. The Provisions of Oxford were written, affirming and refining the Magna Carta’s doctrines. Basically, the document formally stripped the King of his “absolute” power — to accept a new form of government.
The King was placed under the authority of a Council of Fifteen, to be chosen from twelve nominees from the King and twelve nominees recommended by the so-called “reformers.” King Henry was required to consult the Council of Fifteen for permission to handle “the business of the King and of the Realm.” The group was to meet several times a year at a Great Council, essentially forming what is now know as the Parliament in the United Kingdom.
The sheriffs of the counties in England received written confirmation of this action to share with their constituents.
The chief ministers, the Justiciar and Chancellor were to be chosen by and responsible to the Council of Fifteen, and ultimately to the community of the realm at regular parliaments to be held three times a year. This was revolutionary. It was the most radical scheme of reform undertaken before the arrest and execution of King Charles I in the 1640s. In addition to controlling the central government, the reformers, urged on by swelling discontent among the lesser aristocracy, townsmen, merchants and freemen in the localities, began an investigation into abuses of local officials and a reform of local government. These reforms show the growing power of social groups beyond the major barons, who though still leading the reform, evidently felt they could not ignore popular discontent. In this regard they introduced reforms that were even harmful to their own local interests. [UK Parliament]
Unfortunately, Henry ignored these demands, which led to war between the King and his barons.
In response, Simon de Montford summoned the barons of the land, many knights of the shires, and some burgesses to meet at Westminster to decide upon their response to the King. This was the world’s first representative government or Parliament.
The Provisions of Oxford also claimed the “fame” of being written in several languages, so all the citizens might understand: English, French, and Latin.
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