But there were also some great failures along the way.
In 1628, the British Parliament created a document called the ‘Petition of Right.’ It incorporated many of the ideas from the Magna Carta, and anticipated many of the ideas of the later ‘Bill of Rights’ documents. Both houses of Parliament approved the petition and sent it to King Charles I.
Previously, Charles had promised to honor the already-stated rights enumerated in the Magna Carta; but at the same time, Charles had warned that Parliament should not question, or infringe upon, what he considered to be the absolute authority of the monarch. Parliament was unwilling to rely merely on the king’s assurance, especially when the king limited that promise with his claim to absolute authority.
Sir Edward Coke led the effort of drafting and obtaining passage through Parliament for the document. Coke championed the rights of the people against the crown during the reign of James I, the predecessor of Charles I. His surname is pronounced ‘Cook’ despite its spelling.
The petition was a brilliant move, as historian John Barry writes:
Parliament would not rely on his word, especially with that limitation. Coke suggested that Parliament require the king to acknowledge English liberties in a legislative way. He proposed sending a “Petition of Right” to the king to define the rights of his subjects and Parliament and limits on the royal prerogative. Though called a “petition,” it was not to be a request granted by the king’s grace; it would be a resolution voted by Parliament and assented to by the king. King and Parliament together, representing a unified nation, would give it the strongest possible legal force and make it binding upon the crown.
Had Charles signed the document, it would have confirmed and acknowledged due process, property rights, and a slew of other freedoms. It would also have probably avoided the English Civil War, and thereby saved many lives — including the king’s: Charles was beheaded in the uproar which he partly caused by at first failing to agree to the petition, then by begrudgingly agreeing to it, and finally by reneging on his agreement to it.
1628, then, was the year in which freedom almost triumphed. But almost triumphing is actually losing.
It would require the bloody English Civil War (1642 to 1651) and the abdication of James II (1688) to finally bring about the English Bill of Rights. An additional 61 years were needed to implement the ideas of the Petition of Right.