Petition of Right

The Petition of Right, 1628, Parliament of England, public domain

The Petition of Right, 1628, Parliament of England, public domain

The Petition of Right

In this article, we shall discuss the origins of the Petition of Right in 1628. In addition, we examine its place in international human rights history. Lastly, we have quoted the entire Petition of Right for further reading.

What Is the Petition of Right?

The Petition of Right was a document put forward by the citizens of England against King Charles in 1628 to call for an end of various state abuses.  Specifically, it was a “legal petition asserting a right against the English crown,… which Parliament sent to Charles I complaining of a series of breaches of law. The term also referred to the procedure (abolished in 1947) by which a subject could sue the crown” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2014).

Charles I ascended to be King in 1625. Throughout his role as king, “he continued to collect customs duties, known as tonnage and poundage, by the royal prerogative. This continued even though Parliament had voted in 1625, against long-standing custom and precedent, that he could collect this revenue only for one year. Charles I also tried to raise money without Parliament through a Forced Loan in 1626, and imprisoned without trial a number of those who refused to pay it” (UK Parliament, 2014). Furthermore, there is also belief that Charles I abused his power by a discriminatory jailing five knights who did not want to pay this loan. The five knights were Sir Thomas Darnel, Sir. John Corbet, Sir Walter Erle, Sir John Heveningham, and John Edmund Hampden (Guy, 1982: 291). After King Charles’ actions against them, they took their case to the court on the grounds of habeus corpus, yet Charles I attempted to “imprison [them] for causes unknown to to the law” (Guy, 1982: 311) (for a detailed discussion about the court and legal proceedings with regards to King Charles and the five knights, see Guy, 1982; Young, 1984). Moreover, prior to the writing of the Petition of Right, King Charles continued a strong push for increased authoritarianism, attempting to reduce the role of parliament, and in turn granting himself additional state powers (UK Parliament, 2014). 

And as a result of this, the government demanded that King Charles I adhere to the Principles of Rights. Namely, “This asked for a settlement of Parliament’s complaints against the King’s non-parliamentary taxation and imprisonments without trial, plus the unlawfulness of martial law and forced billets. However, the King ensured that the Petition was enrolled in such a way that there would be doubts about its force as law: it was granted by his grace, rather than ‘of right'” (UK Parliament, 2014). Despite this action, King Charles refuse to share power with the government. And in fact, he dissolved parliament that day that he was called to adhere to the Petition of Right. And he proceeded to rule the country for 11 year without having a Parliament meeting (UK Parliament, 2014).

Thus, despite the fact that that King Charles I did not take heed to the calls to end abuses, the Petition of Right is nonetheless seen as a key document in the history of human rights discourse, as it shows citizens demanding that governments fulfill their obligations to protect people and their rights. This is important as the citizens not only related the document to another human rights document, the Magna Carta (1215), but it showed the importance of human rights for a society.

Petition of Right: Full Text

(quoted from The National Archives in Britain)

HLRO HL/PO/PU/1/1627/3C1n2

To the King’s most excellent Majesty.
Soit droit fait come est desire
‘HUMBLY shew unto our Sovereign Lord the King, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in Parliament assembled, That whereas it is declared and enacted by a Statute made in the time of the Reign of King Edward the First, commonly called Statutum de Tallagio non concedendo, that no Tallage or Aid shall be laid or levied by the King or his Heirs in this Realm, without the good Will and Assent of the Archbishops, Bishops, Earls, Barons, Knights, Burgesses and other the Freemen of the Commonalty of this Realm; and by the Authority of Parliament holden in the Five and twentieth Year of the Reign of King Edward the Third, it is declared and enacted, that from thenceforth no Person should be compelled to make any Loans to the King against his Will, because such Loans were against Reason and the Franchise of the Land; and by other Laws of this Realm it is provided, that none should be charged by any Charge or Imposition called a Benevolence, nor by such like Charge; by which the Statutes before mentioned, and other the good Laws and Statutes of this Realm, Your Subjects have inherited this Freedom, that they should not be compelled to contribute to any Tax, Tallage, Aid or other like Charge not set by Common Consent in Parliament.
‘II.     Yet nevertheless, of late divers Commissions directed to sundry Commissioners in several Counties, with Instructions, have issued; by means whereof Your People have been in divers Places assembled, and required to lend certain Sums of Money unto Your Majesty, and many of them, upon their Refusal so to do, have had an Oath administered unto them not warrantable by the Laws or Statutes of this Realm; and have been constrained to become bound to make Appearance and give Attendance before Your Privy Council and in other Places; and others of them have been therefore imprisoned, confined, and sundry other Ways molested and disquieted; and divers other Charges have been laid and levied upon Your People in several Counties by Lord Lieutenants, Deputy Lieutenants, Commissioners for Musters, Justices of Peace and others, by Command or Direction from Your Majesty, or Your Privy Council, against the Laws and Free Customs of the Realm.
‘III.     And where also by the Statute called The Great Charter of the Liberties of England, it is declared and enacted, That no Freeman may be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold or Liberties, or his Free Customs, or be outlawed or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, but by the lawful Judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land.
‘IV.    And in the Eight and twentieth Year of the Reign of King Edward the Third, it was declared and enacted by Authority of Parliament, That no Man of what Estate or Condition that he be, should be put out of his Land or Tenements, nor taken, nor imprisoned, nor disherited, nor put to Death, without being brought to answer by due Process of Law.
‘V.     Nevertheless against the Tenor of the said Statutes, and other the good Laws and Statutes of Your Realm to that End provided, divers of Your Subjects have of late been imprisoned without any Cause shewed; and when for their Deliverance they were brought before your Justices by Your Majesty’s Writs of Habeas Corpus, there to undergo and receive as the Court should order, and their Keepers commanded to certify the Causes of their Detainer, no Cause was certified, but that they were detained by Your Majesty’s special Command, signified by the Lords of Your Privy Council, and yet were returned back to several Prisons, without being charged with any Thing to which they might make Answer according to the Law.
‘VI.     And whereas of late great Companies of Soldiers and Mariners have been dispersed into divers Counties of the Realm, and the Inhabitants against their Wills have been compelled to receive them into their Houses, and there to suffer them to sojourn, against the Laws and Customs of this Realm, and to the great Grievance and Vexation of the People:
‘VII.    And whereas also by Authority of Parliament, in the Five and twentieth Year of the Reign of King Edward the Third, it is declared and enacted, That no Man should be forejudged of Life or Limb against the Form of the Great Charter and the Law of the Land; and by the said Great Charter and other the Laws and Statutes of this Your Realm, no Man ought to be adjudged to Death but by the Laws established in this Your Realm, either by the Customs of the same Realm, or by Acts of Parliament: And whereas no Offender of what Kind soever is exempted from the Proceedings to be used, and Punishments to be inflicted by the Laws and Statutes of this Your Realm: Nevertheless of late times divers Commissions under Your Majesty’s Great Seal have issued forth, by which certain Persons have been assigned and appointed Commissioners, with Power and Authority to proceed within the Land, according to the Justice of Martial Law, against such Soldiers or Mariners, or other dissolute Persons joining with them, as should commit any Murther, Robbery, Felony, Mutiny or other Outrage or Misdemeanour whatsoever, and by such summary Course and Order as is agreeable to Martial Law, and as is used in Armies in time of War, to proceed to the Trial and Condemnation of such Offenders, and them to cause to be executed and put to Death according to the Law Martial:
‘VIII.   By Pretext whereof some of Your Majesty’s Subjects have been by some of the said Commissioners put to Death, when and where, if by the Laws and Statutes of the Land they had deserved Death, by the same Laws and Statutes also they might, and by no other ought to have been judged and executed:
‘IX.     And also sundry grievous Offenders, by colour thereof claiming an Exemption, have escaped the Punishments due to them by the Laws and Statutes of this Your Realm, by reason that divers of your Officers and Ministers of Justice have unjustly refused or forborn to proceed against such Offenders according to the same Laws and Statutes, upon Pretence that the said Offenders were punishable only by Martial Law, and by Authority of such Commissions as aforesaid: Which Commissions, and all other of like Nature, are wholly and directly contrary to the said Laws and Statutes of this Your Realm:’
X.     They do therefore humbly pray Your most excellent Majesty, That no Man hereafter be compelled to make or yield any Gift, Loan, Benevolence, Tax or such like Charge, without Common Consent by Act of Parliament; and that none be called to make Answer, or take such Oath, or to give Attendance, or be confined, or otherwise molested or disquieted concerning the same, or for Refusal thereof; and that no Freeman, in any such Manner as is before mentioned, be imprisoned or detained; and that Your Majesty would be pleased to remove the said Soldiers and Mariners; and that Your People may not be so burthened in time to come; and that the aforesaid Commissions for proceeding by Martial Law, may be revoked and annulled; and that hereafter no Commissions of like Nature may issue forth to any Person or Persons whatsoever to be executed as aforesaid, lest by colour of them any of Your Majesty’s Subjects be destroyed, or put to Death contrary to the Laws and Franchise of the Land.
XI.     All which they most humbly pray of Your most excellent Majesty as their Rights and Liberties according to the Laws and Statutes of this Realm; and that Your Majesty would also vouchsafe to declare, that the Awards, Doings and Proceedings, to the Prejudice of Your People in any of the Premises shall not be drawn hereafter into Consequence or Example; and that Your Majesty would be also graciously pleased, for the further Comfort and Safety of Your People, to declare Your Royal Will and Pleasure, that in the Things aforesaid all your Officers and Ministers shall serve You according to the Laws and Statutes of this Realm, as they tender the Honour of Your Majesty, and the Prosperity of this Kingdom.



Encyclopedia Britannica (2014). Petition of Right. Available Online:

Guy, J.A. (1982). The Origins of the Petition of Right Reconsidered. The Historical Journal, Vol. 25, No. 2, pages 289-312.

National Archives in Britain (2014). The Petition of Right, 1628. Available Online:

UK Parliament (2014). Charles I and the Petition of Right: Available Online:

Young, M.B. (1984). The Origins of the Petition of Right Reconsidered Further. The Historian Journal, Vol. 27, No. 2, pages 449-452. 

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