Women MPs in the 1990s

This month’s blog for the Women and Parliament series as part of our activities in celebration of the centenary of the Representation the People Act 1918, which allowed some women to vote in the UK for the first time, comes from our Assistant Director and one of the coordinators of our oral history project, Dr Emma Peplow. She discusses the experiences of women MPs in parliament in the 1990s based on the the oral history interviews taken for the project…

Since I last wrote about the experiences of women MPs in the 1970s and 1980s, we have interviewed many more MPs for our oral history project, including many more women. This post will focus on women’s experiences during the 1990s; a decade of significant change for women in parliament. 1987 saw a small breakthrough in their representation as MPs (they passed the 5% barrier for the first time), but it was the Labour landslide of 1997 following the party’s introduction of All-Women Shortlists that we now recognise as the significant moment for female representation in the UK Parliament.

Throughout most of the late 1980s and 1990s, however, women’s experiences had changed remarkably little from previous decades. Parliament was still overwhelmingly a male space, and even after 1997 women faced similar challenges with the culture and political opportunities. The Labour MP Joyce Quin, elected in 1987, remembered being confused on her first day with a parliamentary secretary: an event which left her ‘absolutely astonish[ed]’ after her experience in the European Parliament. Even in 1997 the Liberal Democrat Jackie Ballard described the atmosphere in the chamber as overwhelmingly sexist:


For others, however, the atmosphere did not bother them. Labour’s Llin Golding (elected in 1986) felt that women’s rights were an issue for middle class women with ‘more time to think’.

For many of our interviewees, their gender still put them at a disadvantage as certain were considered off-limits to women, as described by Liberal Democrat Jenny Tonge, elected in 1997:


This impacted women across parties. Conservative Olga Maitland (elected in 1992) was told by a colleague that despite her background in foreign affairs as a pro-NATO campaigner, ‘as a woman’ she would not be accepted on the Defence and Foreign Affairs select committee, and to ‘concentrate on domestic politics for now’ – a situation she described as ‘frustrating beyond belief’. Labour’s Alice Mahon, the second woman to sit on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly described it as an ‘all-male preserve’ and felt excluded from informal debates which often took place in the toilets.

By the 1990s, many in the Labour party were campaigning hard for change. As Maria Fyfe remembered on the night of her election in 1987:

After various different schemes were tried, the Labour party introduced All-Women Shortlists before the 1997 election, and a number of women were selected on this basis before a legal challenge halted the practice. Labour’s Hilary Armstrong, Personal Private Secretary to the leader John Smith, told us how important his support and lobbying was for ensuring this measure passed:

John [Smith] was very strong on [all-women shortlists], very strong. Interesting he had three daughters himself, so he was never frightened – he always knew women had capacity and all the rest of it, even though he came from a fairly traditional background. [Hilary Armstrong, Labour 1987-2010]

Reflecting on the measure, many of our interviewees were in favour. Labour’s Helen Jackson argued that the ‘quota system was the only way to make a difference.’ However, whilst acknowledging its success in increasing the numbers of women, some found it problematic. For example Ann Taylor admitted she ‘wasn’t sure what I’d have felt like if I’d been selected on an all-women shortlist, whether I’d have felt sort of on equal terms.’ Outside the Labour party there were similar mixed feelings: Liberal Democrat Jackie Ballard described campaigning for her party to adopt the measure; whereas Conservative Olga Maitland said proudly:


Others, such as Angela Browning, just ignored the sexism, although she was proud that she had ‘never baked a cake for the Conservative Party’ despite being asked several times! Whatever their feelings, all acknowledged the change in the appearance of the House, as described here by Labour’s Ann Cryer, elected herself in 1997 but who had previously worked in Parliament for her husband, formerly an MP:

Many of the women elected soon began campaigning for more significant changes in how they were addressed, working hours, and for a crèche. Yet these changes faced opposition and were not all adopted immediately. To many women’s horror, the Labour MPs were dubbed ‘Blair’s Babes’ by the media:

I remember saying if anyone calls me a Blair’s Babe I will sue. But of course they didn’t, partly because I’d been around a while and partly because by that time I was no babe! Honestly I thought that was dreadful. [Maria Fyfe, Labour, 1987-2001]

Even with the dramatic increase in numbers in 1997, for women MPs, there was (and is) still some way to go before reaching full equality.


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Why political history still matters

Dr Katrina Navickas from the University of Hertfordshire was the keynote speaker at the History of Parliament Trust and Durham University’s Parliaments and Popular Sovereignty conference, which was held at the People’s History Museum in Manchester in November 2017. She offers a blog on the importance of political history today…

There is lively public interest in the origins of popular representation in the British political system at the moment. The attendance at the gatherings to commemorate the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester has grown over the last few years, and the 2019 bicentenary promises to be a major and significant event. I hope we can also begin to build similar momentum about the Chartist movement, encouraged by the attendance at the annual Chartism Day, which this year was held at Heronsgate, Hertfordshire; the hike up to Blackstone Edge to remember the ‘monster’ meetings held there in the 1840s; and the annual commemorations of the Newport Rising of 1839. This year marks the 170th anniversary of the presentation of the third Chartist petition to parliament and the ‘monster’ meeting on Kennington Common in south London. The commemorations planned by the Friends of Kennington Park promise to involve the local community in debates about its significance locally and nationally in the history of democracy.

After these commemorations, some commentators on social media expressed a view along the lines of ‘glad to see people commemorating past events, but hope they put as much effort into campaigning for democracy and political reform now’. They suggested that these sorts of events, with their recreations of historic banners and their memorialisation of events from 200 years ago were inward looking and tended to antiquarianism and were singing to the converted, and in the worst sort of criticism, detracting energy from modern political campaigns and issues.

So why does political history – and in particular the political history of the period c.1776 to 1884 – still matter? Why should we still care about parliamentary reform movements such as the Chartists?

Understanding the history of representation is clearly important in understanding our representative institutions today. But it also highlights how the popular representation is always contested, and indeed how the process of democratisation was never inevitable, relies on a continuity of tactics and organisation by social movements as well as by politicians to keep the issue alive, and the real connections between local and national politics and institutions.

The politics of representation was most vividly exemplified in a contemporary example, on 16 June 2017, in protest marches in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. Survivors and their supporters marched on the offices of Kensington Town Hall in order to attempt to enter a council meeting. A community activist attempted to present a manifesto, and upon protesters not being allowed into the council chamber, speeches outlining their demands were made outside the building. The protesters then moved on in a march towards Westminster (see the article here).

The forms and route of the march through west London are familiar to historians of the Chartist movement, not least the presentation a list of demands relating to rights and justice to be redressed by local authorities, who, upon being ignored then turn to process to the seat of national government.

Another resonance was also the ways in which the media portrayed this sort of grass roots political activity – the language of newspapers and broadcast journalists in this case used terms such as the ‘mob’ and the ‘contagion’ of the protests in a ‘day of rage’ (for example, in the Telegraph . George Rude and E. P. Thompson warned historians of riot and popular protest to be wary of such terms when looking at the ‘faces in the crowd’.

There are also parallels with the more ground-level attempts by Chartists all over Britain to challenge corruption and exclusion from local government from the vestry level upwards, packing vestry rooms and magistrates’ meeting rooms and village halls as a protest against their exclusion from even the most local bodies of power, and demanding both representation and justice. For example, at the annual meeting of leypayers in the Tameside village of Dukinfield in 1838, the parochial authorities faced a challenge for the first time. Over two hundred people crammed into the Sunday School. Reverend Joseph Rayner Stephens, the fiery Chartist orator, claimed that not only did the time and day (one o’clock on a weekday afternoon) prohibited working people from attending, but more broadly:

Either they were citizens or not – leypayers or not – freeborn Englishmen or not … The Constitution had clearly given the people vested rights and they would not allow them to be bartered or frittered away. (Northern Star, 7 April 1838)

He thereby inferred that parochial meetings were just as important as parliamentary elections, both part of the mythical ‘Constitution’ which gave all male inhabitants ‘vested rights’ of representation.

Another key feature of popular political reform movements then and now is the connection between the local and the national, and also the international. Groups can be grass roots local with local concerns, while also being intellectually connected and part of a broader movement organised nationally and looking internationally. The Chartists certainly were.

The continuities of the parliamentary reform movement were deeper seated features, from the supporters of John Wilkes in the 1760s, through to the ‘mass platform’ radical movement in the 1810s, to the Chartists of the 1840s and the female suffrage movement of the later 19th century:

  1. The right of political representation and a language of liberty and constitutionalism supporting that right;
  2. A language of justice, with echoes of a notion of fairness decided by the community (E. P. Thompson’s ‘moral economy’, translated to political as well as economic grievances);
  3. The exclusion of communities from power and its institutions.

These issues still ring true today in contemporary debates around political representation and public engagement with the political process in Britain.


Further reading:

  • Malcolm Chase, Chartism: a New History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007)
  • Josh Gibson, ‘The Chartists and the Constitution: Revisiting British Popular Constitutionalism’, Journal of British Studies, 56: 1 (2017), 70-90
  • George Rude, The Crowd in History: A Study of Popular Disturbances in France and England (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1964)
  • Katrina Navickas, Protest and the Politics of Space and Place, 1789-1848 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015)
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Public Petitioning and Parliament, 1689-1760

Today’s blog from Philip Loft, currently a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge, is part of our week of social media activity about all things petitioning, protest and franchise reform. This is ahead of our public event on the Thursday in Westminster, ‘Parliament and popular sovereignty in the 19th century’. Philip’s paper on petitioning before the development  of radical and mass-platform petitioning in the mid-eighteenth century was originally given in November 2017 at our joint conference with Durham University at the People’s History Museum in Manchester…

The later eighteenth and early nineteenth century was the great age of parliamentary petitioning. Millions of subscribers to tens of thousands of petitions increasingly called upon parliamentarians to pursue political and constitutional reform, the abolition of slavery, religious emancipation and the improvement of society. Such campaigning movements culminated with the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, and the Chartist Petition of 1842, which was signed by 3.3 million adults.

But before the development of radical and mass-platform petitioning from the 1760s and 1770s, were petitions presented by communities and interests in response to parliamentary legislation. These were often uncontroversial in a legal sense, but raised problems of misrepresentation and partisanship, as described in Mark Knight’s Representation and Misrepresentation (2005). The growth of this ‘responsive petitioning’ reflected the transformation in the capacity of the Westminster Parliament to create legislation after the Revolution of 1688-89. Through sitting predictability and for longer periods of time (during the Restoration, half of the 22 parliamentary sessions lasted less than fifty days, whilst after 1688-89 annual sessions lasted a hundred), Westminster was able to act as a sustained and regular point of contact for the political nation.

As a result, from the Revolution of 1688-89 to 1755, some eight thousand responsive petitions were presented to Westminster. Between seventy and eighty per cent of these related to three issues: communication schemes (particularly turnpikes and river navigation), the strength of manufactures and industry (most significantly the woollen and leather sectors), and overseas trade. Just seven river navigation schemes contributed over five hundred petitions, whilst nearly an eighth of the petitions related to the woollen industry alone.

Despite being overwhelmingly created in response to proposed acts regulating industry and society, these petitions were responsible for widening the political nation, spreading partisanship and division into the towns and counties of England and Wales, and ensuring that parliamentarians appreciated the importance of public opinion to the functioning and legitimacy of the state. From 1689 to 1722, Gloucestershire saw one petition sent to Westminster for every one hundred and sixty adult male inhabitants, and the counties of Wiltshire, Somerset and Worcestershire sent one petition to every two hundred and fifty. These areas therefore experienced a petitioning culture as strong as London (one petition to every two hundred adult males). Small Somerset towns and villages such as Ilminster, Crewkerne, Sedgemoor and Milverton sent petitions alongside larger regional centres like Taunton, Tiverton and Salisbury.

In addition to originating beyond the boundaries of incorporated boroughs, subscribers to these petitions also came from beyond the electorate. Petitions therefore operated as a supplementary mode of representation to the formal means of influencing the state via the vote. The descriptions petitioners provided of themselves are testament to the groups involved, and how the population chose to define their role in society. One petition came, ‘shipwrights, ropemakers, sailmakers, gunsmiths, anchor smiths, joiners, ship chandlers, brewers, butchers, block makers and artificers’ in London. Another represented ‘stage coachmen, coach owners, waggoneers, wagon owners, owners of carriers, drovers, clothiers, and the users of roads’ in Bradford-on-Avon, Hilperton, Melksham and Bath in 1717, cutting across county boundaries and social hierarchy. They showed that beyond the ‘rage of party’ between Whig and Tory, there was an ongoing ‘clash of interests’.

 The extent of participation and conflict meant that these petitions demonstrated the contradictory and divided nature of public opinion. On the siting of the Buckingham Assize in 1748, a petition of the ‘gentry, clergy, freeholders and other inhabitants of the county’ was presented for the bill, then ‘gentlemen, clergy and freeholders of the county’ petitioned against it. Adding to division, the lord lieutenant petitioned for the bill, whilst the grand jury petitioned against. Members of the corporation of Doncaster petitioned both for and against the Don navigation in 1722. This opened up the question of who was the legitimate representative of opinion in boroughs and counties, and how to umpire between the two.

Although not on the same scale or intensity of later mass-petitioning, responsive petitions to parliament in the later Stuart and Hanoverian period performed an essential role to the functioning of the state and acted as its eyes and ears in a locality. In mobilising and expanding the political nation, they had a challenging side too, in demonstrating the contradictory nature of public opinion, raising questions of how to arbitrate between equally-qualified experts and interests. Together with the participatory nature of elections illustrated in William Hogarth’s 1755 Humours of an Election series and in Frank O’Gorman’s, Voter’s, Patrons, Parties (1989), partisan and participatory petitioning ensured that the Whig oligarchy of the mid-eighteenth century was open to negotiation and subject to the influence of public opinion. As Paul Langford wrote, if Britain was indeed governed by a landed oligarchy in the eighteenth century, it was a consensus-seeking one, permitting and seeking out a wide variety of non elite opinion and interests.


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Irish Disputes at Westminster

To launch our new James I to Restoration blog, and also mark St Patrick’s Day, Dr Patrick Little of the Commons 1640-1660 Section discusses the controversial presence of Irish MPs at Westminster in the 1650s…

With Irish political and constitutional issues routinely hitting the headlines – not least because of implications of Brexit for the border and the fact that the Democratic Unionists hold the balance of power at Westminster – it is interesting to consider that similar problems faced the third protectorate Parliament nearly 360 years ago.

In March 1659, during Richard Cromwell’s only Parliament, the right of both Scottish and Irish MPs to sit at Westminster was challenged. Both nations had returned MPs to the previous two protectorate Parliaments, but a new constitution adopted in 1657, known as the Humble Petition and Advice, had thrown everything into doubt. Amongst other things the new constitution returned England and Wales to their ‘ancient constitution’ when it came to voting arrangements and constituencies, but it did not specify what arrangements would be in place in Ireland and Scotland. That was left to attendant legislation but, as it turned out, no further measures were passed before the session ended, and the matter was left hanging. This was an issue of more than local importance: in theory at least, the 30 Irish and 30 Scottish MPs could form the quorum for the House of Commons; furthermore, the Irish and Scottish MPs were mostly loyal supporters of the protectorate, and could use their combined weight to swing votes in the government’s favour. The influence of these non-English MPs was controversial. Perhaps their most vociferous opponent was the republican Slingsby Bethell, who denounced them in print as ‘usurpers in making laws for England’ and little better than placemen ‘chosen by the pretender’s interest’.

After a long debate the right of the Scottish MPs to sit was finally voted through on 22 March 1659. Their position was fairly straightforward, as the original ordinance of union of 1654 had been upgraded to an act in 1657; but the Irish were far more vulnerable, as they were not covered by similar legislation. The arguments put forward in the intense debate on 23 March were more about natural justice than legal rights. Sir Thomas Stanley, MP for Tipperary and Waterford, emphasised that Ireland was ‘more naturally united’ with England in ‘language, habits, laws, interest, in every respect the same in kind’. William Aston, MP for Kildare and Wicklow, went further, ‘if we should withdraw, what representation should we have here?’, and made the connection between representation and taxation: ‘you will either refund us our money to us, or give us a parliament of our own?’ This was a rhetorical flourish, but it was immediately taken up by English MPs opposed to the protectorate, who claimed in a series of jeering speeches, that they were more than willing to resurrect the Irish Parliament and wave goodbye to the troublesome representatives from that island.

Unexpectedly, the chorus was joined by an influential Irish voice: that of Arthur Annesley, MP for the city of Dublin, who had been born and brought up in Ireland, the son of Lord Mountnorris. The power of Annesley’s speech shines through the staccato notes scribbled down by the diarist, Thomas Burton:

It is much fitter for them to have Parliaments of their own. That was the old constitution. It will be difficult to change it, and dangerous to Ireland. They are under an impossibility of redress … No taxes can be abated, impose what you will! … Ireland must have the disadvantage every way. As you are reducing yourselves to your ancient constitution, why has not Ireland the same? Why not Lord and Commons there? … Nothing hinders their restitution but the 30 Members coming hither.

Annesley’s speech caused uproar, with enemies of the regime calling for an adjournment, but the government’s supporters insisted on an immediate vote, in which the right of the Irish MPs to sit at Westminster was confirmed by a comfortable majority. In a sign of his sincerity, Annesley was one of the tellers against the motion.


Arthur Annesley (John Michael Wright)

One of the reasons why Annesley’s speech caused such consternation was that it challenged contemporary assumptions that the Irish MPs were all government stooges. Why had he broken ranks? As so often in Irish politics, the reasons were not entirely straightforward. Although in this and other points of debate he sided with republican opponents of the protectorate, Annesley was in fact working for the exiled Charles II as one of a group of ‘crypto-royalists’ in the Commons. Creating confusion at Westminster and undermining the protectorate would, it was hoped, create the conditions that would allow the king to return.

When making a genuine case for the Irish Parliament it seems that Annesley was in a minority of one. For, as Slingsby Bethell and other English critics had suspected, the vast majority of Irish MPs were indeed supporters of the protectorate, and of the union of the nations and their parliaments – they had consistently supported union legislation earlier in the decade, and were soon lobbying for a new act of union. Such an act would not only confirm rights to representation, it would also address economic issues, including the lifting of unfair customs duties imposed on Irish imports. Conversely, those English MPs who joined Annesley in calling for the dissolution of the union and the resurrection of an Irish Parliament had no real interest in the island of Ireland. For them, Irish affairs were just another way of undermining a weak and controversial government, and of forcing through radical change. Then as now, it seems that when it comes to Ireland things are rarely straightforward.


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Symbolising political change: space and the temporary House of Commons

Rebekah Moore is currently completing a PhD (Institute of Historical Research/History of Parliament) on the temporary Houses of Parliament and the new Palace of Westminster, 1830-1860. In this guest blog, she draws some parallels between the current proposals for Restoration and Renewal at Westminster and events in the nineteenth century.

On 31 January 2018, the House of Commons approved plans for the restoration and renewal of Parliament, following a 2012 study that warned of ‘major, irreversible damage’ if a programme of major conservation work was not undertaken to repair the decay to the Palace of Westminster. The plans were agreed by the Lords a week later, on 6 February 2018. The ‘full decant’ option agreed by both chambers means that both Houses, along with many of the offices and facilities within the Palace of Westminster, will be housed in temporary accommodation while the repairs take place.

The last time that Parliament was housed in temporary accommodation to the extent of the ‘full decant’ was when the Lords and Commons were housed in temporary chambers after the conflagration of 1834, which destroyed the medieval Palace of Westminster. (Temporary accommodation was used after the Blitz, although this made use of the existing spaces of the New Palace of Westminster, and where possible, parliamentary activities remained on the parliamentary site.) The comparisons between the present and the nineteenth century are striking, and have been covered extensively in the national press. Caroline Shenton notes that ‘politicians want something glorious but delude themselves about the cost, the timescale and the vulnerability of the building; they worry about what the public will accept.’ The delays to improvements to the parliamentary accommodation, and the spatial restrictions upon any proposed plans, alongside fears about the financial obligations have hampered efforts to launch a programme of repairs. In the nineteenth century, this inertia was only ended by the fire which destroyed much of the Houses of Parliament on 16 October 1834.

As in the present, the planned changes to the Palace of Westminster in the 1830s were framed against a backdrop of political uncertainty. The decade before the conflagration of 1834 had been politically tumultuous and there were fears that the country would become revolutionary. The 1832 Reform Act was one of the most important changes in this period, extending and standardising the franchise and redrawing the electoral map of the United Kingdom. It was a measure that was considered to be a permanent means of representing the people in Parliament, and effectively strengthened the constitutional position of the Commons and the people in comparison to the Lords and the monarchy. Some MPs advocated for corresponding changes in parliamentary accommodation, and proposed improvements to the accommodation for the House of Commons.

WOA 15 temporary house of commons

R. W. Billings, ‘The Temporary House of Commons as fitted up in 1835’, (c) Palace of Westminster, WOA 15.

This constitutional shift was communicated through the spatial arrangements in the temporary Houses of Parliament used after the 1834 fire. Between 1835 and 1852, the House of Commons was housed in the Court of Requests, which had previously been the Lords chamber, while the Lords had to decamp to the sub-standard Painted Chamber. A comparison of the two spaces emphasised the increased importance of the Commons as the chamber which purported to represent the interests of the people. The temporary chamber was considerably larger than the previous Commons chamber that was located in St Stephen’s Chapel. Lord Brougham stated that the chamber was the ‘best [the Commons] had ever had’ and Charles Burrell agreed with Brougham’s assessment, declaring in 1840 that the temporary chamber was a ‘paradise compared to the old House of Commons’.

There were some small differences between St Stephen’s Chapel and the temporary House of Commons. A reporters’ gallery appeared in the Commons chamber in time for the opening of the 1835 session and a second division lobby was completed just a year later. These were minor alterations architecturally, but were an indication that Parliament was willing to open its proceedings, through the vehicles of the press and official publications, to the scrutiny of the people. Through the symbolic use of space, it was clear that Parliament now recognised ‘the right of the people to know… all that passes within those walls’, as one contemporary observer, Charles Greville, put it.

As a result of these alterations, the closed door of Parliament had been wedged open only a fraction, yet there was a sense that high politics was profoundly different. The Reform Act of 1832 was in many ways a conservative measure, but the methods by which it was implemented, and the small changes which were required at constituency level to enforce the acts led to meaningful differences in electoral politics. The same trend can be seen in the temporary House of Commons, where spatial experiments led to further amendments to the behaviour of politicians, and their relationship with the people they represented.

The temporary accommodation of the nineteenth century had a lasting impact upon parliamentary spaces, and upon the way that Parliament represented the people. When the New Palace of Westminster was officially opened in the 1850s, these principles were made permanent in the stone and wood of the new edifice, making them far more difficult to reverse.

Although in 2018, both chambers have approved  the ‘full decant’ option there are currently no further details of what that will involve, or where the new temporary Houses of Parliament will be located. The timeline of the restoration and renewal of Parliament is also unclear, and there are no plans to begin works in the current Parliament. However, if the twenty-first century continues to emulate the events of the nineteenth, the spaces of the temporary Houses of Parliament will be politically contested, and will continue to shape parliamentary politics in the United Kingdom in a permanent way.


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A tribute to former Director of the History of Parliament Trust, Valerie Cromwell

In this blog our current Director, Dr Stephen Roberts and Editor of the Commons 1422-1504 project, Dr Linda Clark pay tribute to Valerie Cromwell, Director of the History of Parliament Trust between 1991 and 2001. It is with sadness that we relay the news of Valerie’s passing last week to our readers.

Valerie Comwell

We were saddened to hear of the death on 7 March of Valerie Cromwell, Director of the History between 1991 and 2001. Valerie came to the History in 1991 from the University of Sussex, where she had been a long-established faculty member, leaving there as a Reader in History in the School of English and American Studies. Her academic specialisms were nineteenth-century

British politics, and in particular the areas of British foreign policy and parliamentary history.  She was appointed as General Editor of the History of Parliament, but very quickly persuaded the Trustees to change the title to Director, in line with the changing nature of the post. Under her supervision as Director, a number of reforms were brought to fruition which significantly changed not only the governance of the History but also working practices there.

The funding of the History passed from the direct control of the Treasury to the House of Commons Commission, and towards the end of her time as Director, to the House of Lords Commission as well. Secondly, Valerie brought to bear at the History an interest in computer analysis of historical data. She pioneered the use of computers and IT, unknown at the History before her arrival, and quickly secured their use as an essential tool. It would be difficult to exaggerate the impact of this change on staff working practices, which before that time had consisted entirely of typing from hand-written notes on index cards and A5 notepads. The first-fruits of this development were the appearance of the History’s first ever non-print publication – a CD-ROM of the content of all 23 previously published volumes, which provided the means for that material, 16,200 pages and 13 million words, to be searched at the click of a mouse. The History’s first website was also constructed during this period.

Another key development was the improvement in the working environment of staff.  In 1992, in the early days of Valerie’s directorship, the History moved to premises at Woburn Square. These were the first offices not shared with another organization, and better-appointed accommodation than any that had previously been home to the project.

During Valerie’s time as Director, the volumes on the Commons 1386-1421 and 1690-1715 were published, and for the first time a project on the Lords was commissioned, on the promise of funding from that House. This duly came to fruition in 2016, as the House of Lords 1660-1715 volumes. Valerie was a stalwart supporter of the International Commission for the History of Representative Institutions (ICHPRI), serving as secretary-general and vice-president. She was active in convening the History’s seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, where she was a Senior Fellow. She was a member of the editorial advisory board of the journal Parliamentary History for 25 years, from its inception in 1982 until 2007. She was High Sheriff of the County and City of Bristol in 2004-5.

Valerie’s death occurred in the week marking International Women’s Day, and her achievements should be noted among those of people of her gender who have made a mark in recent years. The first woman to be appointed executive head of the History of Parliament, she deserves recognition not only for vastly improving the working conditions of the staff, but also for meeting the challenges of the new technology of the 1990s. She took a personal interest in the welfare of the staff of the History, and appreciated the value of social events such as social gatherings at Speaker’s House and elsewhere in sustaining team spirit.  By establishing friendships in the separate worlds of academia and the palace of Westminster, she helped to erode the barriers between them.

In her life outside her professional work, Valerie enjoyed a long and happy marriage to the distinguished mathematician and vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, Sir John Kingman. We extend our sincere condolences to Sir John and their two children.



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Parliament, Politics and People: The politics of impressment, 1639-41: a Gloucestershire microhistory

Today’s blog is a summary from Sonia Tycko, PhD. candidate from Harvard University about the paper that she presented, as part of the Parliaments, Politics and People seminar series at the Institute of Historical Research,’The politics of impressment, 1639-41: a Gloucestershire microhistory’

In 1641, the House of Lords received a petition from a merchant-mariner and a clothier in Gloucestershire. Their target: Sir Ralph Dutton, a courtier of Charles I and a crown-appointed deputy lieutenant for the region around Cirencester and the Cotswolds. Dutton and his clerks were said to have improperly pressed men for the army in spring 1640, extorted them to pay for their discharge, and then pressed others, in cycle after cycle. According to the petition, “This buying and selling of men continued for a long time.” The petition further accused Dutton of having raised the requested amount of coat and conduct money and then capriciously increasing the amount demanded. Coat and conduct money was a levy, meant to be used for new soldiers’ upkeep until they reached the army rendezvous point and entered the royal payroll. Charles I’s army relied on these funds for a successful war effort against the Scottish Covenanters. But to some people in Gloucestershire, coat and conduct money suspiciously resembled ship money and other levies that the Crown had imposed on its subjects without the proper calling of a parliament. On top of this, Dutton’s men were suspected of embezzling much of the coat and conduct money that they collected, for “they could not live without money.”

At the instigation of the petitioners, the Lords formed a parliamentary commission to investigate Dutton. The commissioners collected 334 depositions from people of the middling sort in the Cotswolds and Vale of Berkeley. These depositions show that military impressment of commoners took the form of a form of compulsory contract with the king. The gentry in turn used commoners’ depositions about impressment as a basis on which to contest levies. There was, then, a practical connection between the two scales of disputes about consent to being ruled by the king—whether in his role as commander in chief over soldiers, or as the state executive over subjects.

The people under examination in this case believed that what counted as consent for impressed military service varied by social and economic status. Officers of the press put lower-status men into contractual service with a range of forceful strategies that did not work on their better-off neighbors. For the poor, violence, imprisonment, and gross manipulation did not invalidate contract; it was often constitutive of contract. But common men with some money could easily break their contracts by paying a fee to be discharged.

As the commissioners gathered depositions throughout March 1641, the remit of the investigation expanded beyond Ralph Dutton, to include some other Gloucestershire deputy lieutenants: his elder brother John Dutton, Maurice Berkeley, Richard Berkeley, and the mayor and aldermen of Gloucester. The commissioners and the deponents used their examinations as a platform to attack these key men who had imposed yet another obligation to the crown without the calling of a parliament. At the end of the investigation, the Lords found only Ralph Dutton and his elder brother John to be guilty. They agreed with the deponents that these deputy lieutenants had abused their office. In the Civil Wars that followed, people continued to connect the soldier’s contract with his sovereign to constitutional debates about the role of consent in government.


Unfortunately due to the current dispute between Universities UK and the University and College Union, it has become necessary to postpone this evening’s advertised seminar. Dr Kate Peters will now deliver her paper on 12 June. Please stay tuned on the History of Parliament’s Twitter page for further information in the coming weeks and on the IHR website for next term’s programme. 


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