The House of Lords, 1603-1649: Structure, Procedure, and the Nature of Its Business

By Elizabeth Read Foster | Go to book overview

3
THE CLERK

In a House where members on ceremonial occasions donned scarlet robes trimmed with ermine or on ordinary days wore the elegant dress of peers or the lawn sleeves of bishops, the clerk cut a modest figure in his black barrister's gown. He sat on a woolsack facing the presiding officer. The clerk of the crown sat beside him and to his right. Before them was a table to write on, behind them knelt one or two assistants.1 If the presiding officer was at one end of an axis upon which the business of the House revolved, the clerk, inconspicuous though he might be, was at the other. Both were present whenever the House was in session. Both had assisted in preparing agenda; both, each in his own way, brought items to the floor in orderly fashion. The clerk read aloud for members' information, recorded what was done and who was in attendance. Although his principal concern was with the House of Lords, his title, clerk of the parliaments, indicated that he served parliament as a whole.2 In this capacity, after a session was over, he prepared the parliament roll and safely kept the acts, both public and private.3

The House was fortunate in its clerks in the early Stuart period, and each left his stamp upon the office. Thomas Smith, appointed clerk in 1597 and knighted in 1603, served until 1609. He had been public orator at Oxford, clerk of the Privy Council, and a member of the House of Commons. He was Latin secretary to James I and, near the end of his life, master of requests. A later clerk, John Browne, observed that Smith had put the records of the upper House "into that order as they now are, and the same order hath been continued ever since."4Smith also expanded the journal of the House. Although Sir Simonds D'Ewes and Smith's successor, Robert Bowyer, found flaws in his work, D'Ewes recognized that Smith was "much more careful in observing and setting down the dayly passages" than earlier clerks had been.5 Smith's journals speak for themselves and will be analyzed in more detail below. Unfortunately he has left few other records of his work. He was gently born, a

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The House of Lords, 1603-1649: Structure, Procedure, and the Nature of Its Business
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • PART ONE - THE STRUCTURE OF THE HOUSE 1
  • I - THE MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE AND THEIR CHAMBER 3
  • 2 - THE PRESIDING OFFICER 28
  • 3 - THE CLERK 44
  • 4 - OTHER OFFICERS OF THE HOUSE 64
  • 5 - THE ASSISTANTS 70
  • 6 - COMMITTEES 87
  • 7 - CONFERENCES 126
  • PART TWO - THE BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE 135
  • 8 - PRIVILEGE 137
  • 9 - JUDICATURE 149
  • 10 - LEGISLATION 189
  • PART THREE - THE END OF A PARLIAMENT 203
  • II - CONCLUSION 205
  • ABBREVIATIONS AND SHORT TITLES 211
  • Index 305
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