Proceedings in Parliament 1624: the road to publication

In the third in our series of blogs marking the release of the Commons’ proceedings of the 1624 Parliament – with those for April 1624 now available here – Dr. Maija Jansson, Director Emerita of the Yale Center for Parliamentary History, places them in their wider historical context and recounts the protracted story of their publication.

The online publication of the Commons’ proceedings in the English Parliament of 1624 is a cause for celebration on two counts. For one thing, it completes the body of modern editions of parliamentary texts from 1610 through to the first year of the Long Parliament in 1640. These debates constitute the record of tumultuous years of high drama in the annals of men learning to govern themselves. Later years would build on their experience, but at the time it was a matter of mastering the balance between the interests of parliamentary expression with the assumptions of a ‘divine-right’ monarchy.

That span encompasses the accession of Scottish-born King James, the contentious sessions of 1610 where MPs argued over government finance, followed by the Parliament in 1614 that was so rancorous the King ordered many notes of its sitting burned. In 1621 the Parliament impeached Sir Francis Bacon, the Lord Chancellor, and three years later, in 1624, took on foreign policy and argued against the Spanish marriage treaty. By 1625 the Parliament welcomed a new King but within a year impeached his favourite, the Duke of Buckingham. By 1628 MPs arrived at the doors of Westminster with a multitude of grievances spelled out in the arguments for drafting the Petition of Right. Blaming the lawyers for their influence in those debates, Charles I dissolved the Parliament in 1629, ushering in a decade of governance without Parliament, followed by civil war and the (temporary) end of monarchy. The proceedings in any one of these Parliaments by itself does not tell the tale. To understand pre-civil war England we must think hard about the positions and arguments of MPs and Lords put forward in all of the parliamentary debates of these decades.

Secondly, the publication of this account marks the success of the History of Parliament Trust in an undertaking that over a period of time had defeated a number of others. Various scholars over many years had their hearts and hands in this project but almost from the outset it was fraught with problems. Briefly the story was this. A collection of photocopies and microfilm of the debates in 1624 was sent from England to the United States in 1918 or 1919 under the direction of Wallace Notestein who had himself, however, in the interval, become involved with editing the papers for 1621. Consequently, he began looking for a suitable editor and funding for the compiling of an edition of those proceedings. With the collapse of the stock market in 1929 and later, the outbreak of the Second World War, the project languished. By the 1950s Mark Curtis, a professor of history at University of California at Los Angles, and a friend and colleague of Wallace Notestein, who was then teaching at Yale University, proposed taking over the project, whereupon trunks containing the 1624 material were shipped west. It seems, however, that funding was illusory. Eventually the materials were returned to Yale where it was believed they would be edited at Jack Hexter’s Center for Parliamentary History. However, 1624 was now out of the chronological sequence of editions set up at Yale to edit the proceedings in the Caroline Parliaments, 1625, 1626, 1628, and the first session of the Long Parliament. Nevertheless, work on editing the 1624 material was undertaken elsewhere between the late 1960s and 1980s by Robert Ruigh and Mark Kennedy but eventually ran out of funding. Again, 1624 was put on hold. Following the completion of the seven volumes on the first year of the Long Parliament, when funding was no longer available, Yale closed the Center in 2007. At that time the 1624 materials were once more packed up in boxes, this time shipped back across the Atlantic to the History of Parliament Trust in London. There, from a collection of disparate memos, notes and diaries, a dedicated staff compiled a readily accessible scholarly edition of texts. With great expectation we await the full printed publication with annotation and index.

Philip Baker, the editor of Proceedings in Parliament 1624: The House of Commons, has done a masterful job with organizing this material and setting up, in tandem with British History Online, a very functional and clear website. The Leverhulme Trust, Paul Seaward and the History of Parliament Trust, and Parliament itself are to be recognized and thanked for their part in the support of this important edition.


Don’t forget that over on twitter we’re marking the publication of Proceedings in Parliament 1624: The House of Commons’ with extracts from the diaries on each day that the Commons sat using #1624Parl. Do follow us for the tweets – starting again from 12.30pm today.

You can also see Professor Chris Kyle’s earlier blogpost on the 1624 Parliament here, and Philip Baker’s blogpost on the diaries here.

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York v Lancaster: elections during time of Civil War

Today, Parliament will be officially dissolved and election writs issued for all constituencies. Over the election campaign, we’ll be running a series of blogposts on campaigning and elections throughout the centuries, starting with a post from Dr Simon Payling, Senior Fellow of the Commons 1422-1504 section, on elections during the Wars of the Roses…

Elections today may be closely-fought contests, but during the Civil Wars of the mid-fifteenth century they had a very significant role. They would often reflect the changing power dynamics between the Houses of Lancaster and York, as can be seen in the elections of 1459 and 1460.

Unfortunately for the historian, medieval parliamentary elections are poorly documented. For the most important elections, those held in the county constituencies, we are largely dependent on the election indentures instituted by a statute of 1406. These were drawn up between the sheriff, who presided over the election in the county court, and those present at the time of the election, and witnessed that the two county MPs had been duly elected. The indenture was then returned to the government at Westminster. The number of witnesses named in these indentures varies greatly, from a mere handful to, albeit infrequently, more than a hundred (as many as 450 are named in the Yorkshire indenture of 1442). It is a reasonable inference that the sheriff generally satisfied both himself and the demands of the statute by naming only the most important of those present at the election. Only when the election was contentious, did he seek added security by naming a greater number.

Some of these indentures, when seen in the context of the local and political affiliations of the individual witnesses and in the national political context of the election, can be very revealing.

Two indentures for the Parliament which assembled at Coventry on 20 November 1459 provide particularly clear illustrations of this point. This was one of the most controversial assemblies of the fifteenth century.  Writs of summons were issued on 9 October at Leominster, where Henry VI was at the head of a royal army on the march to confront the forces of Richard, duke of York, and the Neville earls of Salisbury and Warwick. The two armies met at nearby Ludford Bridge on 12 October where the Yorkists, finding themselves overmatched, fled under cover of night. The forthcoming Parliament offered the Crown the opportunity to add to its victory in the field by securing parliamentary consent to the legal confiscation of the lands of the Yorkist lords and their adherents.

One might surmise that the elections were informed by tensions of more than usual intensity. In some counties there appears to have been a concerted effort to exclude those favourable to the Yorkist cause. The Derbyshire indenture, although simply a list of 30 witnesses, is significant here. Unusually, nearly all the witnesses came from the north of the county, as did the two men, Robert Eyre and Robert Barley, they elected. Significantly both these MPs were servants of one of the principal Lancastrian lords, John Talbot, earl of Shrewsbury, whose landed interests in Derbyshire lay in the north of the county. There can be little doubt that it was the earl’s influence that brought so many minor gentry south to Derby to secure the election of his men.

The Herefordshire indenture is suggestive of more explicit tensions. The county may lay claim to having been more starkly divided than any other in the late 1450s between Yorkist and Lancastrian factions. These divisions had produced serious disorder, most notably in the spring of 1456 when a Yorkist gang unlawfully hanged six citizens of Hereford whom they blamed for the death of a kinsman of Sir William Herbert, one of the duke of York’s principal lieutenants. These factions must have been well represented in the armies that confronted each other on 12 October 1459.

On the following day they faced each other again in a very different setting. The county court, which met every four weeks on a fixed cycle, was scheduled to meet on 13 October at Hereford, some 23 miles away from Ludford Bridge, and there the sheriff, Sir William Catesby, a senior member of Henry VI’s household, convened an election. No doubt the flight of the Yorkist lords only a few hours before gave him every reason to suppose that Herefordshire’s Lancastrian faction would carry that election without opposition. On the face of it, this is what happened: the indenture names 27 attestors who witnessed the election of Sir John Barre, once a retainer of the duke of York but now, due to family ties to Catesby and Shrewsbury, firmly identified with the Lancastrian cause, and Thomas Fitzharry, an influential lawyer and one of the leaders of the Lancastrians in the county. Yet an analysis of the witnesses suggests that all may not have been so straightforward. Although several of those present at the election can be identified as Lancastrians, also present, remarkably given what had happened on the previous night, were the duke of York’s receiver-general, John Milewater, and Thomas Bromwich, one of the leaders of the Yorkist gang who had hanged the Hereford citizens. It is not unlikely that several of those gathered at the election had been on opposing sides at Ludford Bridge and then travelled swiftly to Hereford for the election. No doubt the Yorkists did so in the hope of preventing the election of Lancastrian partisans. They failed, but the significant point is that they made the attempt.

These two elections suggest that, in times of acute political crisis, medieval county elections were largely determined by prevailing national political circumstances. The result of the next elections in Derbyshire and Herefordshire supports this view. In the autumn of 1459 the Lancastrian cause had been in the ascendant with the Yorkist lords defeated and exiled; by the time the next Parliament was summoned on 30 July 1460 the political situation had been transformed by the Yorkist victory at the battle of Northampton 20 days before. Now both Herefordshire (by an indenture that named only four witnesses) and Derbyshire returned leading Yorkists, including Sir William Herbert and another of the duke of York’s principal gentry supporters, Walter Blount.

This raises a question to which the surviving records offer no clear answer: when Parliament was summoned in times of national division, did the political faction in the ascendant secure the election of its own supporters because the adherents of the rival faction were deterred from standing, or was the exclusion of the latter determined by the electorate? The Derbyshire and Herefordshire elections of 1459 imply that, even in favourable circumstances, the ascendant faction needed to manage the hustings and could not take the election of its candidates for granted. On the other hand, the composition of the Parliaments of 1459 and 1460,the Yorkists excluded from the first and the Lancastrians from the second, leaves no doubt that such management was overwhelmingly effective.


Further reading: S.J. Payling, ‘County Parliamentary Elections in Fifteenth-Century England’, Parliamentary History, xviii (1999), pp. 237-59.

S.J Payling, Political Society in Lancastrian England: the Greater Gentry of Nottinghamshire (Oxford, 1991), pp. 158-67.

Parliamentarians at Law: Select Legal Proceedings of the Long Fifteenth Century Relating to Parliament, ed. H. Kleineke (Parliamentary History, Texts and Studies, ii, Oxford, 2008), pp. 106-211.

Look out for more on historic elections over the next six weeks!

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Richard III and the Parliament of 1484

As Richard III is today reburied in Leicester Cathedral, Dr Hannes Kleineke, Senior Research Fellow on the Commons 1422-1504 section, discusses the importance of Richard’s only Parliament…

As the bones of King Richard III are laid to rest at Leicester this week, there has been much renewed debate over the kind of King he might have been, had he reigned for longer. Richard’s apologists in particular have pored over the records of Richard’s only Parliament in search of evidence in support of their hero. But what really happened?

Richard’s only Parliament opened at Westminster on 23 January 1484 and sat for less than a month before being dissolved again on 20 February. But this was only part of the story.

A Parliament had originally been summoned to Westminster to meet on 25 June 1483, three days after the date set for the young Edward V’s coronation. Although the Parliament was never cancelled, it was to the acclamation of an informal gathering of his subjects that Richard turned on 26 June to justify his assumption of the Crown: in this he was following a precedent set by his brother, Edward IV, in 1461. In late September Richard finally summoned a Parliament of his own to meet at Westminster on 6 November. Within a matter of weeks, the King was faced with the rebellion of his erstwhile ally, the duke of Buckingham, supported a large number of former servants of Edward IV. Nevertheless, Richard delayed until 2 November before he had the Parliament cancelled. Fresh writs were issued on 9 November. For the country, this repeated prevarication was nothing less than a costly nuisance. Parliamentary elections could at the best of times provide a focus for local disorder, and the cost of sending representatives to the Commons could be equally burdensome. Indeed, in frequently unruly Norfolk there was a dispute over the election of the Norwich Members, and both in June and November a number of MPs travelled to Westminster and charged their constituents for their abortive journeys.

When Parliament finally met, there were a number of notable absentees. In the Lords, the crisis of 1483 had claimed the lives of the duke of Buckingham, earl Rivers and Lord Hastings. The young duke of York’s whereabouts were uncertain, his half-brother, the marquess of Dorset and the bishops of Ely, Salisbury and Exeter had taken refuge in France. In the Commons, many leading members of the county communities who had regularly represented their neighbours during Edward IV’s reign had become implicated in Buckingham’s rising and had to be replaced by newcomers.

Central to the Parliament’s proceedings was a single item of business, the Titulus Regius, Richard III’s justification of his usurpation on the grounds of his brother’s bigamy and the consequent bastardy of his nephews. There was by now nothing unusual in placing such a document before the Lords and Commons. In both 1399 and 1461 Parliament had been invited to sanction the fait accompli of Henry IV’s and Edward IV’s respective usurpations, although in 1461 at least the new King had at least been able to base his claim on a decision reached in Parliament a year earlier.

Royal housekeeping did not stop here. The declaration of the King’s title was followed by several acts of attainder, the equally customary means of placing the King’s opponents outside the law, and of confiscating their estates, that had been used effectively in 1459, 1461 and 1472. These measures were unpopular, and like other similar bills, Richard III’s occasioned much debate. Yet, the measures of 1484 also went further than previous acts. In a highly unusual step three bishops, John Morton, bishop of Ely, Lionel Woodville, bishop of Salisbury, and Peter Courtenay, bishop of Exeter were included among those attainted. The dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, while not attainted, was stripped of the lands settled on her by her late husband and suffered the added indignity of being styled ‘late the wyf of Sir John Grey, knyght, and late callyng her selfe quene of Englond’ in the act.

Next, the King’s principal supporters needed to be rewarded. Francis, Viscount Lovell, gained part of the estates of the dukedom of Exeter, while Sir James Tyrell saw a dispute with his wife’s family, the Arundells from Cornish Lanherne, over her inheritance settled in his favour.

The King’s other immediate need was money. Edward IV had left the treasury all but empty, and Richard needed a secure stream of revenue. To this end, Parliament was prevailed upon to allow him to raise customs and subsidies on imports and exports of goods for his life time in the same way as Edward IV had done before him.

Yet, in return for their financial support the parliamentary Commons expected the King to address some of their concerns. Richard obliged. In the first instance, he made an eye-catching, but in the immediate term cost-free concession: he agreed to abolish for good the benevolence, an unpopular form of levy that Edward IV had raised repeatedly without the express consent of Parliament on the spurious grounds that it constituted a ‘free gift’ from his subjects, rather than an actual tax. The King also responded favourably to his subject’s petitions in two areas that had long been of concern to the Commons: the maintenance of law and order, and the regulation and protection of English merchants and their trade.

None of the small number of measures designed to improve the upholding of the law contained an earth shattering innovation, although one measure at least sought to plug the difficult legal loophole of landholding to the use of another individual. Several measures simply reaffirmed earlier legislation. New measures provided that henceforth juries taking inquiries should be made up of men with an annual income of at least £1 (half the sum required to qualify a man to vote in a parliamentary election). And far from introducing as a complete innovation, as has been claimed in recent days, the release of a defendant on bail, Richard’s act merely extended the power to grant bail to the justices of the peace, thus extending this power which had previously been the preserve of the professional judges to the well-born amateurs who sat on the county benches.

The importance of the merchant community in providing ready loans to King in anticipation of future taxation found its reflection in a rather more substantial portfolio of measures designed to curry their favour. It is hard to see as anything but blatantly populist a measure designed to curb the commercial activities of Italian merchants. In terms all too familiar from 21st-century political debate it complained about the proliferation of illegal immigrants, and their habits of bringing their large families and only employing their countrymen, thus taking away Englishmen’s jobs. Foreigners were also blamed for the excessive cost and poor quality of imported bowstaves, the subject of another act.

Hand in hand with this went several protectionist measures – a confirmation and extension of existing prohibitions of the import of silk and laces, and a new prohibition of the import of a wide range of goods manufactured by cloth- leather- and metal-workers of a variety of trades and other artisans, as well as regulations governing the manufacture and dying of cloth and the sale of wine. In this commercial legislation at least we may see the personal intervention of the king who – himself a known bibliophile – insisted that booksellers and printers be exempted from the restrictions on the Italians.

Taken as a whole, Richard III’s Parliament was unexceptional: it was a workmanlike and pragmatic affair. There were no important legislative initiatives comparable to those seen in, for example, the Parliaments of Henry VI in 1429 or Henry VII in 1495. In 1484, Parliament transacted the business the King wished to see transacted, and just enough business of concern to the Lords and Commons to keep them pliant. There is no suggestion of open hostility to the King on the part of Parliament, but nor is there a sense that they were being cowed into submission by an overbearing monarch. The balance of business benefitting King, Lords and Commons respectively was comparatively even, and suggests negotiation, rather than confrontation: it may be assumed that the Commons’ Speaker, William Catesby (the ‘Cat’ of the notorious trinity of ‘Cat, Rat and Dog’) played his part. When the King had achieved all he wished to achieve, parliament was dissolved: it was not prorogued and kept in existence, as had been the case with several of Edward IV’s Parliaments with a view to returning to outstanding business. Of the King himself, the proceedings of the parliament tell us little, beyond his taste for imported books. One thing, though, is clear: Richard III had no more inclination to rule through Parliament than his predecessors or successor, unless he needed to.


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Parliaments, Politics and People seminar: Rebekah Moore, ‘Contested spaces: temporary houses of Parliament and government, 1834-52′

At our last ‘Parliaments, Politics and People’ seminar, Rebekah Moore, holder of an AHRC collaborative doctoral award with the History of Parliament and Institute of Historical Research, gave a paper on the temporary Houses of Parliament after the fire of 1834. Here Rebekah gives an overview of her paper…

From 1557, the House of Commons was situated in St Stephen’s Chapel, one of the medieval buildings of the Palace of Westminster. Following the Great Reform Act of 1832, St Stephen’s was home to 658 MPs. Yet St Stephen’s was increasingly unsuitable for use by the Commons, only seating around 300 MPs on the floor of the House. The cramped conditions, and the increasingly poor ventilation led James Grant to declare that St Stephen’s was akin to the ‘second edition of the Black Hole of Calcutta’ [James Grant, Random Recollections of the House of Commons… (London, 1837), p1].

The fire of 1834 devastated the medieval Palace complex, and led to the destruction of the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Painted Chamber, as well as the numerous committee rooms and offices. A new parliamentary space was necessary. Following an architectural competition, Charles Barry (1795-1860) was commissioned to construct the New Houses of Parliament. The narrative of rebuilding the Palace of Westminster is well known. The New Palace was beset by numerous delays, and vastly exceeded its budget. In total, the New Palace took twenty five years to complete, at a cost of almost two million pounds.

Historians know little about the spaces where parliament conducted its business whilst the New Palace was under construction. From the charred remains of the Palace of Westminster, the Court of Requests (the former House of Lords) was fitted up temporarily for the reception of the Commons, and the Painted Chamber was similarly fitted up for the Lords. The Court of Requests was larger and more convenient than St Stephen’s Chapel, being large enough for the reception of 450 MPs on the floor and in the galleries. In contrast, the Painted Chamber was much smaller than the old House of Lords, leading Lord Brougham to comment that the temporary chamber was ‘the worst they had ever had’ [Hansard, 17 May 1844].

The Commons were housed in their temporary chamber for a total of eighteen years; the Lords for thirteen years. Throughout, there was a dominant discourse focused on business and efficiency. Between 1835 and 1840, there were numerous experiments to the House of Commons. For the first time there was a designated reporters’ gallery and in 1836 a second division lobby was added. Alongside experiments with ventilation and lighting, these were considerable changes to the House of Commons. Each change and addition was discussed in terms of efficiency and the potential effects the changes would have upon parliamentary business.

After 1844, the pressures of business became more acute. In 1844, Charles Barry removed a large portion of the temporary accommodation, including the refreshment rooms, writing rooms, the vote office and numerous committee rooms. This was accompanied by an increase in legislation, partially as a result of the railway boom. Although ten temporary committee rooms were hastily erected in New Palace Yard, they were not sufficient to meet the demand. There was increasing pressure on parliamentary space and committee rooms were used in properties outside the perimeter of the Palace of Westminster. Committee rooms were also fitted up temporarily in the New Palace from 1846.

In 1847, the Lords moved into their new chamber, followed by the Commons in 1852. By 1852, almost all traces of the temporary Houses of Parliament had been removed. The New Palace of Westminster was eventually completed around 1860. Yet between 1834 and 1860, when parliament was at its busiest and in an age considered to be its most golden, it was meeting in shabby and constantly changing temporary buildings. The ways parliament adapted to this, and the effects of the changing space on parliamentary behaviour, form the basis of my doctoral research.


Our latest ‘Parliaments, Politics and People’ seminar takes place tonight, when the British Library’s Alexander Lock will speak on ‘Magna Carta: law, liberty and myth′. Hope you can join us!

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Henry, 4th Lord Willoughby of Parham: an accidental life

In today’s blogpostDr Paul Hunneyball, Senior Research Fellow on the Lords 1603-1660 section, shares the story of the mysterious 4th Lord Willoughby of Parham…

The History of Parliament’s biographical approach to studying the Lords and Commons frequently throws up unexpected personal details, sometimes in the least promising places. The surviving archive for the Jacobean barons Willoughby of Parham is small, and the individuals concerned were of little note even in their own day. With limited resources and mounting debts, they avoided Court, and contented themselves with the drudgery of local administration. Most historians have ignored them. In this procession of nonentities, the prize for least memorable family member would seem to go to Henry, 4th Lord Willoughby. According to the Complete Peerage, he inherited his title in 1617, aged just four years and eleven months, and died shortly afterwards, his brother Francis succeeding him as 5th baron sometime around 1618. And yet, one quite remarkable fact has emerged about Henry which gives him a very special status in the annals of the English peerage. He never actually existed.

Unsurprisingly, the earliest historical accounts of the Willoughby family do not mention Henry. Indeed, he seems not to have featured in their pedigree until the 1756 edition of Arthur Collins’ Peerage of England. Just a few years earlier, the Harleian manuscripts had been acquired for the newly-founded British Museum. In this collection Collins found a transcript of the official survey made of the 3rd Lord Willoughby’s estates after his death, including the all-important details of his heir. Collins duly summarized this survey in the Peerage, citing the transcript as his evidence for Henry’s brief career, and his account has remained unchallenged down to the present day. But everything rests on that 1617 survey. No other evidence for Henry’s life has ever emerged. And Collins was mistaken. The surviving copies of the original survey all state quite clearly that the 3rd Lord Willoughby’s heir, aged four years and eleven months, was his son Francis. Moreover, this information was also recorded accurately in the Harleian manuscript used by Collins. In other words, Henry Willoughby owes his existence to an eighteenth-century transcription error.

How, then, do we explain Henry’s striking longevity? Three factors seem relevant here. First, the Willoughby title fell dormant in 1779, and the demise of the barony plunged the family into even greater historical obscurity, reducing the likelihood of further detailed research which might have revealed Collins’ error. Second, from the mid-eighteenth century it became standard practice for histories of the peerage to assign numbers to the successive holders of aristocratic titles, rather than simply listing them in order of descent. Thus, within a decade or so of Henry’s first appearance, he was identified in print specifically as the 4th Lord Willoughby. Being embedded in a numerical list made his place in the family’s pedigree more secure, as his removal would leave an inconvenient gap, a consideration which almost certainly discouraged subsequent historians from inquiring too closely into Henry’s insignificant life.

The third, and most important factor, is scholarly reputation. Collins’ Peerage was widely regarded as the most reliable work of its kind prior to the publication of the Complete Peerage in the twentieth century. As Collins not only provided a reference for the 1617 survey, but reproduced much of its contents, this evidently satisfied subsequent historians about the truth of Henry’s existence. Noted nineteenth-century authorities on the peerage, such as Nicholas Harris Nicolas and William Courthope, endorsed Collins’ findings in their own publications. When the great C.H. Firth contributed a lengthy biography of Francis, 5th Lord Willoughby to the Dictionary of National Biography, he also mentioned Henry’s brief tenure of the barony, confidently citing Collins as his source. By the 1950s the editors of the Complete Peerage had, to be fair, developed doubts about the veracity of the Willoughby pedigree, going so far as to speculate that the name in the 1617 survey might be a mistake. However, they then dismissed this idea, appealing to the judgment of Nicolas and Courthope to justify their decision, and drawing a veil over the vital issue that they too had copied Collins rather than checking his facts. That, in effect, was Henry’s final seal of approval. The Complete Peerage is nowadays the acknowledged arbiter in the arcane field of aristocratic titles, and the way was clear for Henry to make a final leap into the twenty-first century. With Collins, Firth and the Complete Peerage all affirming his existence, in 2004 he duly featured in the 5th Lord Willoughby’s revised entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Does any of this matter? Henry’s deletion from the Willoughby pedigree is a very minor act of historical infanticide. The family’s annals barely look any different with or without his presence. There is indeed a comedic aspect to the persistence of a ‘false fact’ through two-and-a-half centuries, and I can’t deny that I’ve enjoyed following Henry’s trail since uncovering Collins’ mistake. And yet, this is also a cautionary tale. In an era when revisionist analysis and new interdisciplinary approaches are all the rage in historical circles, Henry Willoughby is a tiny but timely reminder that we still need to get our facts right.


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The History of Parliament Schools competition: 2014 winners’ prize days and 2015 competition

2014 was the tenth year of the History of Parliament’s schools competition. As I’m sure you know, every year we run two competitions, one for A level students and one for Key Stage Three (KS3) students (11-14 year olds) – details of how to enter this year’s competition also in this post!

Our 2014 winners were Matthew Pearson (Salesian College, Hampshire) at KS3 and Alan Petri (Manchester Grammar School) at A level. Congratulations to them both!

Our KS3 competition focused on the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Students were asked to imagine that they were an MP on 3 August 1914, and to write a speech in response to the Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, who had just called on Britain to enter the war on the side of France and Russia. The judges, who included staff from the History of Parliament, Parliament’s Education Service and the Parliamentary Archives, found it very difficult to choose a winner amongst some very good entries. However, they were impressed by Matthew’s good historical knowledge (especially in placing the speech in the precise historical moment) and the fluency of his writing. Matthew’s speech supported British entry to the war, arguing that it would be ‘the height of dishonesty, disrespect and disloyalty to stand aside at Europe’s time of great peril’.

Matthew receiving his prize from Baroness D'Souza, with Lord Cormack

Matthew receiving his prize from Baroness D’Souza, with the History of Parliament’s Chairman of Trustees, Lord Cormack

Mathew won a £75 prize in book tokens, which was presented to him by the Rt. Hon. Baroness D’Souza, Lord Speaker, in the River Rooms, House of Lords after a tour of Parliament (organised with the help of Parliament’s Education Service).

As usual, our A level competition asked pupils to write an essay on a subject of the candidate’s own choice related to the parliamentary or political history of Britain and Ireland. We again had a very high standard of entries, and this year’s judges included History of Parliament staff and members of the Historical Association. Alan’s essay asked ‘To what extent can Margaret Thatcher be seen as the architect of Scottish and Welsh devolution?’ Alan surveyed various issues around the issues of devolution, including the unpopularity of Thatcher’s economic policies in Wales and Scotland; the discovery of North Sea oil; reforms of local government and the ‘democratic deficit’ caused by Thatcher’s success in England but unpopularity in Scotland and Wales. He finally concluded that Thatcher was the ‘unwittingly’ the architect of devolution thanks both to her success in winning elections in the UK without much support in Scotland and Wales, and also her ‘failed’ policies such as the poll tax. The judges were impressed by Alan’s choice of topic, discursive writing-style and thought-provoking arguments.

Alan receiving his prize from Baroness D'Souza, with Lord Cormack

Alan receiving his prize from Baroness D’Souza, with the History of Parliament’s Chairman of Trustees, Lord Cormack

Alan won a prize of £100 prize, which was also presented by the Rt. Hon. Baroness D’Souza, Lord Speaker, in the River Rooms, House of Lords, last week.

We’re delighted also to announce that details of this year’s competitions have now been announced! For our A level competition we will again ask candidates to write essays on a subject of the candidate’s own choice related to the parliamentary or political history of Britain and Ireland. The closing date will again be after the summer holidays to give pupils currently studying for their GCSEs the opportunity to enter. Full details and rules are available here.

This year’s KS3 competition will be based on our new materials on Political Reform. These resources include specially-written articles which explore how Britain changed from a country where political power was held by a few privileged people to one much more democratic – at least if you were a man! We’re especially pleased to be able to tell teachers that the resources include a full scheme of work to accompany the materials.

Our competition this year is drawn from the activities in this scheme of work. There are two options, one asking students to write a news report on events at the ‘Peterloo’ massacre in Manchester, 1819, or alternatively we would like students to write a news report on the Chartist movement.

Full details of the competition, and further resources, are available here.

Prizes remain the same, so if you would like to join us next year in Westminster, why not have a go? Good luck to you all!


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Parliaments, Politics and People seminar: Stephen Roberts, ‘The uses of a parliamentary diary in the making of a royalist: the case of Henry Townshend of Worcestershire’

Dr Stephen Roberts, editor of the Commons 1640-60 section, reports on his paper given at our last ‘Parliaments, Politics and People’ seminar: ‘The uses of a parliamentary diary in the making of a royalist: the case of Henry Townshend of Worcestershire, 1640-3’…

Henry Townshend (c. 1602-1663) was a Worcestershire gentleman who lived in Elmley Lovett, a village ten miles north of Worcester. He was the son and a half-brother of men who had sat in parliaments under Elizabeth I and James I, but he himself never became an MP. He was instead prominent in the government of his county. Just before 1640 he began to copy documents on aspects of public administration, and in 1640 he began to keep a diary. His writings, both diary and copies of documents, were eventually bound into a manuscript volume, which is now in the Worcestershire Archives.

This material has long been known to historians and a hundred years ago an edition of it was published under the title The Diary of Henry Townshend. There are many problems with this published text, however, and the Worcestershire Historical Society is bringing out a new edition, edited by Stephen Porter, Stephen Roberts and Ian Roy. Although Townshend’s manuscript contains the widest possible variety of material – at least 292 documents were copied into it – parliamentary historians will be particularly interested in what appears to be a diary or journal of events in parliament in 1640 and 1641, which is to be found near the beginning of Townshend’s manuscript and near the front of both the old and new published editions. Unlike the famous diarists of parliament in the 1640s, such as Sir Simonds D’Ewes or Walter Yonge, who wrote as sitting MPs, Townshend was writing far from London, dependent on material that came to him. His parliamentary writings are therefore a kind of ‘extramural journal’, which is relatively rare.

On close inspection, it emerges that a significant amount of the material in Townshend’s account is taken from printed speeches, and specifically a printed collection of speeches published in June 1641. Townshend took passages of the speeches that interested him and wove them into his account. But within his account of the early months of the Long Parliament, which met on 3 November 1640, he inserts a 1500-word summary of events in the Short Parliament, which had met for a few weeks in April and May of that year. This material is very terse and consists of brief comments and summaries of things said and done in the Short Parliament, and appears to be the work of someone who actually sat in that assembly. There are various possibilities as to who might have supplied Townshend with this diary: two of his neighbours were new MPs in 1640, as was a relative who sat for Much Wenlock in Shropshire. Because material on the Short Parliament is rare, this ‘diary’ is of significance, but its provenance must remain uncertain. In order to receive material to insert into his record, he must have been part of a ‘scribal community’ with whom he exchanged printed and manuscript items of interest and relevance to his concerns.

The question remains as to why Townshend copied out this kind of material. Taking everything we know about him into account, he seems to have been more interested in the Short Parliament than the Long Parliament, as he abandoned making a narrative of parliamentary events after he had covered a mere four months of its life. He seems to have been concerned about the burden of taxation on the country, the county and the individual, and invested effort in trying to work out why the Short Parliament, dissolved by Charles I after only a few weeks, failed. In his account, a deal was on the table whereby the king would have given the irregular and unpopular ‘ship money’ in exchange for a firm and irreversible grant of the subsidy, the regular direct tax granted by parliament. One reason for his growing disenchantment with the Long Parliament was the growing dominance of it by those he saw as Puritans, with whom he had little sympathy. He himself was close to successive bishops of Worcester, and did not share the view prevailing at Westminster that the country was in the grip of a plot by Catholics.

After the outbreak of the civil war in 1642, Townshend became a pillar of royalist administration, and the man concerned about heavy taxes was obliged to levy rates and taxes on behalf of the king. His scribal community was now the king’s party in Worcestershire, and he started to copy other kinds of material relating to the war effort. He also went on to keep a vivid diary of the siege of Worcester in 1646, when he was holed up in the city by the New Model army. He never returned to detailed analysis of parliaments, but his writings on 1640-41 remained by him, perhaps to remind him that there might have been a happier political outcome had the Short Parliament not been dissolved.


The Diary and Papers of Henry Townshend, 1640-1663, edited by Stephen Porter, Stephen K. Roberts and Ian Roy will be published later in 2015. Details will be announced on the website of the Worcestershire Historical Society.

Join us tonight for our next ‘Parliaments, Politics and People’ seminar. Rebekah Moore, holder of an AHRC collaborative doctoral award with the History of Parliament and Institute of Historical Research,  will speak on ‘Contested spaces: temporary houses of Parliament and government, 1834-52′ See you there!.

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