Henry VI and parliament: screaming the house down?

With parliament still debating last week’s Queen’s speech, Dr Hannes Kleineke reveals a rather different start to the 1423 parliament, during the minority of Henry VI…

As parliament really gets down to business after last week’s state opening, the Queen no longer attends regularly. It is impossible to tell how she feels about the annual ritual which sees her read out her government’s political programme. Not every monarch in history attended to his duties with quite so much good grace, although even in the middle ages the King’s attendance in Parliament was normally a routine affair.

This was different in 1423, since the King (Henry VI) was a toddler aged just less than two. It was consequently considered impolitic to make him sit through the opening of Parliament, and he was instead brought to Westminster in mid November, almost a month into the parliamentary session. This event seems to have attracted popular interest in the same way as the pageantry accompanying a modern state opening, and a number of London chroniclers commented. The King’s journey itself was fraught: on their way from Windsor the royal party (the young king was accompanied by his mother, Queen Katharine of Valois, as well as the normal entourage of attendants) spent a night at Staines, and in the morning, when young Henry was carried towards his mother’s chair, ‘he shrieked and cried and twisted, and would not be carried further’. He proved in a better mood the following day, and after a slow progress that took in Kingston-upon-Thames and Kennington, he eventually rode ‘with a happy demeanour’ in his mother’s arms from London to Westminster, and was carried into Parliament, where he seems to have managed to listen to Speaker John Russell’s short peroration without causing another disturbance. Apparently the occasion had not proved too traumatic, since two years later, in 1425, Henry (still only three and a half years old) personally presided over the state opening for the first time. This time the journey seems to have gone without incident, and the King probably walked into the Parliament chamber on his own two feet.

HK

For more on the parliament of 1423, see our website.

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