For thirty years J. E. Neale’s portrait of the Elizabethan parliaments was the stuff of textbooks. Highly political and bedeviled by puritanical protobolsheviks, the Virgin Queen’s parliaments were painted as the nursery in which the modern parliamentary system, characterized by an organized Opposition, was born. In the last decade, however, Neale’s interpretations have been challenged and overturned, making obsolete most of the histories of Elizabethan England available to students. The purpose of this article is to assess the new research on Elizabethan Parliaments, to summarize what we now know about the role Parliament played in governing England, and to suggest what remains to be done.
In order to make sense of the newly emerging history of Elizabeth’s parliaments it is important to recap the working assumptions that dominated the first great era of Elizabethan parliamentary history, the Neale/Notestein age. Much of the recent work on Parliament has been in reaction to these mens’ work.