Like most institutions of medieval government, parliament had come into existence to serve the needs of the king. From time to time he needed to consult all, or almost all, the peers of his kingdom, as distinct from those whom he chose to call to Council. Rather less frequently it was also useful to consult those less exalted men who nevertheless had sufficient collective weight and wealth to make their views relevant to the conduct of policy, the gentry and the burgesses. The commons, as they were collectively called, were particularly important if the king was in need of money. From a representative assembly he could glean a pretty accurate idea of how much, and how willingly, they would pay. Armed with that information, he then had to decide how to frame his demand. By the end of the fourteenth century it was normal to initiate money bills in the Lower House, and essential to obtain the commons’ consent to taxation. By then it was recognised that in order to call an assembly a parliament at all, the commons had to be present. They did not meet with the lords spiritual and temporal in the main parliament chamber, but in a place apart, which varied with the convenience of the time. The medieval parliament was also a high court, and when it functioned in that capacity, the Lords acted as judges and the Commons as petitioners.
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