Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Speaker without his mace

England’s so-called Long Parliament was disbanded exactly three and half centuries ago this day. That year, 1660, proved to be the end of a turbulent time in England, which had encompassed revolution, republicanism and regicide. It was also the year that the great Samuel Pepys began writing his diary, and - sure enough - he was there, in Westminster Hall when the Long Parliament was dissolved, and was thus able to note down in his diary how the Speaker was without his mace, and how ‘the whole Hall was joyful.’

The website of The British Civil Wars, Commonwealth and Protectorate 1638-1660 provides a very readable introduction and lots of detail about this exciting era of British history. It explains that ‘the British Civil Wars and Commonwealth period witnessed the trial and execution of a king, the formation of a republic in England, a theocracy in Scotland and the subjugation of Ireland’. It was also in this period that a first attempt was made to unite the three nations under a single government, and the foundations of the modern British constitution were laid.

More specifically on the Long Parliament the site explains: ‘The Long Parliament was first called by King Charles I on 3 November 1640, six months after the dissolution of the Short Parliament and within weeks of the defeat of the English in the Bishops’ Wars against Scotland. The King was reluctant to summon another Parliament but the expense of the wars had left him desperately short of money and in urgent need of parliamentary subsidies. The Long Parliament sat throughout the First and Second Civil wars until December 1648, when it was purged by the New Model Army. The Purged Parliament (or the ‘Rump’ of the Long Parliament) was expelled by Oliver Cromwell in April 1653. The Long Parliament was reinstated in February 1660 after the fall of the Cromwellian Protectorate and was formally dissolved on 16 March 1660.’

And here is Pepys, only a couple of months after he began writing his famous diary (thanks as ever to Phil Gyford and his Diary of Samuel Pepys website):

Friday 16 March 1660
‘No sooner out of bed but troubled with abundance of clients, seamen. My landlord Vanly’s man came to me by my direction yesterday, for I was there at his house as I was going to London by water, and I paid him rent for my house for this quarter ending at Lady day, and took an acquittance that he wrote me from his master. Then to Mr. Sheply, to the Rhenish Tavern House, where Mr. Pim, the tailor, was, and gave us a morning draft and a neat’s tongue. Home and with my wife to London, we dined at my father’s, where Joyce Norton and Mr. Armiger dined also. After dinner my wife took leave of them in order to her going to-morrow to Huntsmore. In my way home I went to the Chapel in Chancery Lane to bespeak papers of all sorts and other things belonging to writing against my voyage. So home, where I spent an hour or two about my business in my study. Thence to the Admiralty, and staid a while, so home again, where Will Bowyer came to tell us that he would bear my wife company in the coach to-morrow. Then to Westminster Hall, where I heard how the Parliament had this day dissolved themselves, and did pass very cheerfully through the Hall, and the Speaker without his mace. The whole Hall was joyful thereat, as well as themselves, and now they begin to talk loud of the King. To-night I am told, that yesterday, about five o’clock in the afternoon, one came with a ladder to the Great Exchange, and wiped with a brush the inscription that was upon King Charles, and that there was a great bonfire made in the Exchange, and people called out ‘God bless. King Charles the Second!’ From the Hall I went home to bed, very sad in mind to part with my wife, but God’s will be done.’

No comments: