Emergency powers and constitutional change 
in the late Middle Ages

In: Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis / Revue d'histoire du droit / The Legal History Review
Author: Marc de Wilde1
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  • 1 Faculteit der Rechtsgeleerdheid, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Postbus 1030, 1000 BA Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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This article gives an account of late medieval theories and practices of emergency powers. More particularly, it examines the relation between emergency powers and constitutional change. It thus seeks to explain how, in the course of the 13th and 14th centuries, European rulers began using their emergency powers to gradually expand their fiscal and legislative competences at the expense of local authorities and the church. As is demonstrated in this article, it was essentially the normalization of emergency powers that made the transition towards a more centralized government possible. This can be explained by a combination of factors, including the government’s claim to an exclusive right to judge what constituted a public necessity, the new focus on prevention and preparation for future necessities, and the increasing identification of necessity with more general claims to ‘public utility’ and the ‘common welfare’.

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