Elementary prudence dictated that medieval monarchs should seek the advice of their greatest subjects and should be seen to have their support. Anglo‐Saxon monarchs had the witan. Norman and Plantagenet monarchs had their council, under various names. As business became more complex, councils tended to divide into specialized bodies. Two bodies have been suggested, the great council and the king's council (curia regis). The great council began as a meeting of the tenants‐in‐chief and barons and was largely advisory. Consequently a more specialized council developed, consisting of household officers. This was the king's council, though it was not formally an institution with defined functions until the later 13th cent.
The king's council survived and coped with an ever‐increasing volume of business. In the 16th cent. it threw off the Star Chamber to take over more judicial work, and in Henry VIII's reign developed into the Privy Council, with a small membership of hard‐pressed administrators, meeting most days. For a hundred years it was the main engine of executive government, but after the Restoration it began to lose ground to the cabinet.
Subjects: British History.