The Court of Star Chamber 1487-1641
The Court of Star Chamber was a court of law which evolved from meetings of the king's royal council. Although its roots go back to the medieval period, the court only became powerful as a separate entity during the reign of Henry VII. In 1487 the court became a judicial body separate from the king's council, with a mandate to hear petitions of redress.
Star Chamber - The Facts
- The Court of Star Chamber was named for the star pattern painted on the ceiling of the room at Westminster Palace where its meetings were held.
In a sense the court was a supervisory body; its members oversaw the operations of lower courts. As well, its members could hear cases by direct appeal. Members of the court were either privy councillors (i.e., members of the king's advisory body) or judges drawn from the courts of common law.
The mandate of the court expanded under the Tudors to include instances of public disorder. Judges would receive petitions involving property rights, public corruption, trade and government administration, and disputes arising from land enclosures. Although the court was initially a court of appeal, Henry VIII and his councillors Wolsey and Cranmer encouraged plaintiffs to bring their cases directly to the Star Chamber, bypassing the lower courts entirely.
Although the court could order torture, prison and fines, it did not have the power to impose the death sentence. Under the Tudors, Star Chamber sessions were public.
The power of the Court of Star Chamber grew considerably under the Stuarts, and by the time of Charles I, it had become a byword for misuse and abuse of power by the king and his circle. James I and his son Charles used the court to examine cases of sedition, which, in practice, meant that the court could be used to suppress opposition to royal policies.
It became used to try nobles too powerful to be brought to trial in the lower courts. Court sessions were held in secret, with no right of appeal, and punishment was swift and severe to any enemy of the crown.
Charles I used the Court of Star Chamber as a sort of Parliamentary substitute during the years 1628-40, when he refused to call Parliament.
Finally, in 1641 the Long Parliament abolished the hated Star Chamber, though its name survives still to designate arbitrary, secretive proceedings in opposition to personal rights and liberty.