To some, impeachment feels like a long, slow process in modern times. But in the 14th century, the bar for getting impeached was ridiculously high. The roots of modern-day impeachment lie in 1370s England, when the King and his friends really could do practically anything…or so they thought.
The reign of Edward III
Edward III became the King of England at age 14 in 1327, and he was an early war hero. Edward led England to several military victories. But later, his reign was marked by an Earth-shattering, history-making event. Edward was King when one of his Barons was impeached. It was the first impeachment in English history.
Baron William Latimer was good friends with the King’s third son, John of Gaunt. He was accused, among other crimes, of asking the Crown to repay loans that did not exist, keeping fines that should have been given to the King, taking bribes from enemies and even selling an entire castle to enemy forces. Yikes.
Parliament impeached Baron Latimer, stripping away his title and his seat on the Royal Council. Latimer was sentenced to prison, where he stayed for a year before John of Gaunt managed to use his own political infulene to release his friend. And while this moment seems like a small blip in history, it actually changed the course of events in England and the world.
More impeachments followed Latimer’s in the 14th and 15th century. At least 10 documented impeachments followed over the next 70 years. Parliament began sending a strong message that even royal courtiers could not behave exactly as they pleased, and would be held accountable for their actions.
England has left a lasting legacy that many other countries have followed, including the U.S. Today, many major world powers have impeachment proceedings that they can invoke to remove anyone from public office. Impeachment has been used by multiple countries around the world since England did it in the 1300s.
Impeachment has rarely happened in the U.S., and it doesn’t happen often in any country. However, impeachment measures have been brought (and failed) against every U.S. President Since Ronald Reagan in 1983.