Parliament and politics from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I: 1509-1603
The sixteenth century has often been seen as a period of immense significance for the evolution of Parliament. The Reformation Parliament of 1529-36, which existed longer than any previous Parliament, enacted a serious of statutes which transformed the relationship between the English Crown, the English people and the Church, as well as formally incorporating the principality of Wales into the kingdom of England. Traditionally it has been seen as giving a new impetus to Parliament, underlining its centrality to the law and the government of the country. It gave it the status, according to the eminent historian of sixteenth century England, Sir Geoffrey Elton, the status of the 'supreme legislator, unhampered by other laws... and dominant over the executors of the law - both crown and courts... The Parliaments that met after 1529 represented a fundamental restructuring not only of that institution but of the state and its functions, and therefore of its own impact on the nation'. But historians have also emphasised how Parliament was still a very occasional event, with long gaps between short meetings. Elton, again, wrote that the change that occurred in the sixteenth century did not shift the centre of political power: indeed, 'by apparently imposing a limitation upon the Crown they in fact greatly elevated monarchical power provided it was associated with the Lords and the Commons in the making of laws'.
There is room for argument over how great the change was. Sir Thomas Smith's description of Parliament in the 1560s as 'The most high and absolute power of the realme of England' has often been taken as indicating its newly elevated power and status, but as one recent historian, Paul Cavill, has pointed out already in the 1510s Sir Thomas More was referring to Parliament as 'the highest and absolute power among the English'.
It is certainly from the sixteenth century that we begin to know a great deal more about how Parliament worked and what went on within it. This is mainly the result of the existence of a continuous set of Journals, recording the daily decisions and proceedings of each House, starting in 1510 (the House of Lords) and 1547 (the House of Commons). It is from the later sixteenth century too that we begin to get real informal reports of what went on inside Parliaments, copies of speeches, notes of debates, especially those collected together by the seventeenth century antiquarian Sir Simonds D'Ewes. Finally, during the sixteenth century the House of Commons permanently moved into the Medieval palace of Westminster, where the House of Lords had long been used to meet. The Commons took over the great St Stephen's chapel, originally built by Henry III, after the monastic college based there was dissolved by Henry VIII. The chapel was burned down in the fire of 1834, but parts of it remain within the current Palace of Westminster, the permanent home of Parliament.