In the series, David Starkey narrates, explaining in the first episode that the collapse of the Roman system of rule from about 250 A.D. brought on the invasion of hoards of barbarians, the Anglo-Saxons, who would take over and impose their language and way of rule. Their system of rule required that a ruler be chosen by the people, and that ruler had a responsibility to the people to rule well. Perhaps just as important was the nature of the Anglo-Saxon society which did not have a class structure. Each person within the community was considered equal to everyone else. It was this egalitarian culture and the idea of rule by consent of the governed that formed the foundation for future governments and rulers. Like all human history, it was a rocky path, with some rulers occasionally stepping beyond the bounds of their authority or attempting to rule with cruelty and force or excessive taxation. Moreover, the Norman Conquest in 1066 brought on, for a time, foreign rulers with little or no sense of responsibility to the people.
But there was a growing influence that countered the absolute rule of the monarchy in Britain. The stories of Jesus and early Christians began to arrive probably in the 1st century A.D., but because of the official persecution of Christians, most Christians worshipped in secret. The arrival to Britain of Augustine in 597 A.D. marks the first public Christian mission and the beginning influence of Christianity as a counter-influence to absolute rule of the British kings. From the BBC website: “It could be argued that it was Augustine's famous mission in 597 AD from the Pope in Rome to King Aethelbert of Kent that really set up the future course of Christianity in Britain, creating a strong alliance between Christianity and Kingship.”
Other than the early Anglo-Saxon ideas of kingship with limited authority and the requirement for consent of the governed plus the ameliorating influence of the burgeoning power of the church on kings, arguably the most important event that established limits on the power of the monarch was the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215. King John was forced by his barons to sign the document because of John’s unsuccessful wars and his excessively high taxes which were both eroding the lands and wealth of his barons. Two of the most important principles in the Magna Carta were that no one could be punished except by due process of law and that the king could not impose taxation without “common consent of the realm.” In time, the power to levy taxes would be controlled by parliament, and the king would always be required to present his requests for taxation along with his justification to parliament for their vote.
This limitation of the power of the monarch to tax was such an important and well-established principle to the British by the 18th century that it is easy to understand why the English colonists in America would be so outraged by the imposition of taxes on them when they had no representation in parliament. The very imposition of such taxes went against hundreds of years of precedent and tradition in the mother country, and it is hard to understand why the king or the parliament believed that they were justified in levying these taxes on the colonists.
I pray that you will all thank God for the great freedoms that we possess and the rule of law in our country that limits the powers of our political leaders.