Famously, Charles II summoned Parliament to Oxford in 1681, and addressed both houses — Lords and Commons — in Convocation House at the Bodleian. Less well known is another Oxford Parliament, held in 1258, and sometimes known as the Mad Parliament, or the First English Parliament. Here it was more a question of Parliament summoning the King, Henry III, to Oxford, than the other way round. For the King was forced to accept the Provisions of Oxford — a set of rules limiting Henry’s power which some say amounted to nothing short of a written constitution.

The Parliament was presided over by a commoner, namely Sir Peter de Montfort (1215-1265) — who is now credited as being the forerunner of the modern-day Speaker of the House of Commons, though in his day he was known as the parlour or prolocutor.

The fact that the name of his office changed to English from Norman French (parler; to speak) or Latin, is significant, too, because a major bone of contention between ruler and ruled was that too many foreigners were getting too many favours. The Provisions were the first Government documents since the Conquest to be produced in English (as well as French and Latin), probably as a protest against the rampant Frenchification of England.

Specifically, the Provisions demanded that the King keep to the Magna Carta agreement signed by King John at Runnymede in 1215, as well as demanding yet more. Henry was forced to hand over power to a caucus of 24 men, 12 selected by the king and 12 by the disgruntled earls and barons, headed by Peter de Montfort’s more famous relative, Simon, 6th Earl of Leicester. Each 12 of the 24 then elected two from the other 12 and this committee of four in turn appointed a King’s Council of 15 to appoint officers of state. Parliament would meet three times a year and summon commissioners from all over the realm to air their grievances.

One of the reasons the king had been forced to eat humble pie was his foolish acceptance, on behalf of his son Edmund, of Pope Innocent IV’s offer of the throne of Sicily. This involved paying out huge sums of money (which he did not posess) for troops — because the throne was already occupied by the powerful Hohenstaufen kings.

Sadly, these tentative and enlightened steps toward something like democracy — far ahead of their time, worked out in Oxford, and strengthened the following year in Westminster — came to nothing because, firstly, the Pope absolved Henry of his oath to uphold the Provisions, and secondly, because when the matter was brought before Louis IX, acting as arbitrator at the Mise of Amiens, he also found in favour of the King and his Royal Prerogative.

In the end, the dispute erupted into war between Simon de Montfort and Henry — a war which Henry won. Both Simon and Peter de Montfort were killed at the Battle of Evesham of 1265 and the Provisions of Oxford were finally annulled by the Dictum of Kenilworth in 1266.

Some say that the Mad Parliament, so called by Royalists, was remarkably sane compared to many; but the question remains, where was it held? If at St Frideswide’s Priory, which stood where Christ Church stands now it would indeed have set a precedent: Charles I summoned a Parliament at Christ Church in 1644, during the Civil War, and most peers and about a third of MPs turned up.

Then again, Charles II addressed Parliament there in 1665 when it was thought that the plague had rendered Westminster too dangerous a place in which to meet. Only the 1681 Parliament was convened at the Bodleian.

Certainly, Speaker Peter de Montfort’s granddaughter Elizabeth Montagu was a great benefactor of St Frideswide. Indeed, her tomb may still be seen in the Latin Chapel in Christ Church Cathedral.