To mark the forthcoming publication of the History of Parliament Trust’s volumes for the House of Commons 1422-61, the medieval section organised two sessions at this year’s International Medieval Congress at Leeds. The first of these, chaired by History of Parliament Trust Editorial Board Member, Professor Chris Given-Wilson, consisted of only two papers, as Professor Anne Curry of the University of Southampton had to withdraw at short notice. Professor Curry had, however, provided her detailed speaking notes, and it was thus possible to summarise some of what she had intended to say on the subject of ‘Parliament and the 15th-century phase of the Hundred Years War’. The two remaining speakers were the History of Parliament Trust’s Dr. Charles Moreton and Dr. Hannes Kleineke.
Charles took as his topic the controversial Bury St. Edmunds Parliament of 1447. The Parliament, remembered chiefly for the arrest and death of King Henry VI’s uncle, Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, was followed swiftly by the trial and mock execution of a number of Humphrey’s retainers (biographies of several of whom will appear in the History’s forthcoming volumes). It was the detail of the mock-execution that attracted much interest from the audience in discussion. Hannes’s paper focused on the details of the elections to the Commons of 1453, which in a number of counties were subject to considerable delay, so much so, that it is likely that there were large gaps in the ranks of the Commons when the assembly opened on 6 March 1453.
After the morning coffee break, delegates reconvened for the second session, chaired by the 1422-61 section’s editor, Dr. Linda Clark. The opening Speaker here was Dr. Sean Cunningham, Assistant Keeper of the Public Records at the National Archives. An expert in the reign of Henry VII, and reflecting the Congress’s overarching theme of ‘Materialities’, Cunningham discussed the rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster, including the sites used for Parliament, between 1500 and 1502. He was followed by the History’s Dr. Simon Payling who returned to a long standing research interest of his in discussing the ‘invasion’ of the parliamentary boroughs by non-resident Members. Using statistics compiled from both the History’s existing and forthcoming volumes, Simon elucidated the place of the reign of Henry VI in the longer-term process of the ‘professionalization’ of the lower House of Parliament. The session was rounded off by Dr. Gordon McKelvie of the University of Winchester, who took as his theme the role of Parliament as a stage. Ranging over a wide chronological span, McKelvie examined the use of the floor of Parliament to give visibility to a spectrum of events from state trials to public proclamations.
Both sessions were more than well-attended, with some delegates forced to sit on windowsills or the floor, and others turned away at the door by IMC staff, while the lively discussions that followed both sets of papers speak vividly of the continuing interest in the parliamentary history of the middle ages.