THE PRESIDING OFFICER
The presiding officer, the lord chancellor or lord keeper, was both spokesman for the crown and servant of the House.1 His function was determined by the ritual of parliament, by the personality of the monarch, and by the temper of the times. It was defined also by the wishes of the House, his own nature and training, his influence at court and elsewhere, his parliamentary skills, and the regularity of his attendance.
When he presided over the high court of parliament and specifically over the upper House, he acted and spoke for the crown, calling the parliament into being on behalf of the king, conveying the king's wishes to parliament, and adjourning or dissolving it at his command. On warrant from the king, the lord chancellor or lord keeper directed the clerks of the Petty Bag office to prepare writs of summons and writs for elections.2 The lord chancellor himself sometimes attended without summons, sometimes was called by a special writ of assistance.3 Occasionally, as in the case of Bishop Williams in 1624, he received two writs, the writ of assistance and also his writ as bishop or, in the case of Edward Hyde, Lord Clarendon, in 1660, his writ as baron.4 If the lord chancellor was unable to attend the House, the king normally provided by commission for a substitute, often one of the judges.5 In August 1641, on the day the king left London for Scotland, the House formally asserted control over its presiding officer, resolving that it might choose its own Speaker and that he was not to depart from the House without leave. After the flight of Lord Keeper Littleton to the king in May 1642, the House regularly chose its presiding officer; and in 1660 the resolution of 1641 was reiterated and entered in the Standing Orders of the House.6
Like successive scenes from an illuminated manuscript, the ceremonies of the opening days of parliament graphically depicted the position and duties of the lord chancellor. He wore robes of black velvet, lined with sable. He carried the symbol of his office, the great seal, in a sumptuous purse 7 and was constantly attended by his sergeant-at-arms, who bore a
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Publication information: Book title: The House of Lords, 1603-1649:Structure, Procedure, and the Nature of Its Business. Contributors: Elizabeth Read Foster - Author. Publisher: University of North Carolina Press. Place of publication: Chapel Hill, NC. Publication year: 1983. Page number: 28.