Jan 202018
 

On this date in 1265 Simon de Montfort called a parliament that, for the first time in English history, included commoners as well as nobles. Many historians date the formation of the House of Commons from this moment.  Things are a lot murkier than that, of course. Historians can be a bit over the top from time to time. Nonetheless, it was a significant turning point in the way that English kings viewed their subjects, and de Montfort is often spoken of as the founder of the House of Commons, even though that’s a bit of a stretch. Prior to de Montfort’s parliament, the nobility ruled their lands without any concern for the opinions or desires of the common people. Over the centuries, the situation completely reversed itself – but it took time.

Henry III

In 1258, Henry III of England faced a revolt among the English barons. Anger had grown about the way the king’s officials were raising funds, the influence of his Poitevin relatives at court (bloody foreigners !!), and his unpopular Sicilian policy (he wanted to control the kingdom as a gift for his son, Edmund). Even the English Church had grievances over its treatment by Henry. Within Henry’s court there was a strong feeling that the king would be unable to lead the country through these problems. On 30 April, Hugh Bigod marched into Westminster in the middle of the king’s parliament, backed by his co-conspirators, including Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester, and carried out a coup d’état. Henry, fearful that he was about to be arrested and imprisoned, agreed to abandon his policy of personal rule and instead govern through a council of 24 barons and churchmen, half chosen by the king and half by the barons.

The pressure for reform continued to grow unabated and a parliament met in June. The term “parliament” had first appeared in the 1230s and 1240s to describe large gatherings of the royal court, and parliamentary gatherings were held periodically throughout Henry’s reign. They were used to agree upon the raising of taxes which, in the 13th century, were single, one-off levies, typically on movable property, intended to support the king’s normal revenues for particular projects. During Henry’s reign, the counties had begun to send regular delegations to these parliaments, and came to represent a broader cross-section of the community than simply the major barons – but they were still nobles.

The new parliament passed a set of measures known as the Provisions of Oxford, which Henry swore to uphold. These provisions created a smaller council of 15 members, elected solely by the barons, which then had the power to appoint England’s justiciar, chancellor and treasurer, and which would be monitored through triennial parliaments. Pressure from the lesser barons and the gentry present at Oxford also helped to push through wider reform, intended to limit the abuse of power by both the king’s officials and the major barons. More radical measures were passed by the new council the next year, in the form of the Provisions of Westminster.

The disagreements between the leading barons involved in the revolt soon became evident. De Montfort championed radical reforms that would place further limitations on the authority and power of the major barons as well as the Crown. Others promoted only moderate change, while the conservative barons expressed concerns about the existing limitations on the king’s powers. Over the next 4 years, neither Henry nor the barons were able to restore stability in England, and power swung back and forth between the different factions. By early 1263, what remained of Henry’s authority had disintegrated and the country slipped back towards open civil war. De Montfort convened a council of rebel barons in Oxford to pursue his radical agenda and by October, England faced a likely civil war. De Montfort marched east with an army and London rose up in revolt. De Montfort took Henry and Queen Eleanor prisoner, and although he maintained a fiction of ruling in Henry’s name, the rebels completely replaced the royal government and household with their own, trusted men.

Simon de Montfort

De Montfort’s coalition began to fragment quickly. Henry regained his freedom of movement, and renewed chaos spread across England. Henry appealed to his brother-in-law Louis IX of France for arbitration in the dispute. De Montfort was initially hostile to this idea, but, as war became more likely again, he decided to agree to French arbitration as well. Initially de Montfort’s legal arguments held sway, but in January 1264, Louis announced the Mise of Amiens, condemning the rebels, upholding the king’s rights and annulling the Provisions of Oxford. The Second Barons’ War finally broke out in April, when Henry led an army into de Montfort’s territories. Becoming desperate, Montfort marched in pursuit of Henry and the two armies met at the Battle of Lewes on 14 May. Despite their numerical superiority, Henry’s forces were overwhelmed. Captured, Henry was forced to pardon the rebel barons and reinstate the Provisions of Oxford, leaving him a figurehead only.

Simon de Montfort claimed to be ruling in the king’s name through a council of officials. However, he had effective political control over the government even though he was not himself the monarch, the first time this had happened in English history. De Montfort successfully held a parliament in London in June 1264 to confirm new constitutional arrangements for England; four knights were summoned from each county, chosen by the county court, and were allowed to comment on general matters of state – the first time this had occurred. De Montfort was unable to consolidate his victory at Lewes, however, and widespread disorder persisted across the country. In France, Eleanor made plans for an invasion of England with the support of Louis.

In response, and hoping to win wider support for his government, de Montfort summoned a new parliament for 20th January 1265 which continued until mid-March that year. It was held at short notice, with the summons being issued on 14th December, leaving little time for attendees to respond. He summoned not only the barons, senior churchmen and two knights from each county, but also two burgesses from each of the major towns such as York, Lincoln, Sandwich, and the Cinque Ports, the first time this had been done. Due to the lack of support for de Montfort among the barons, only 23 of them were summoned to parliament, in comparison to the summons issued to 120 churchmen, who largely supported the new government. It is unknown how many burgesses were called. The event was overseen by king Henry, and held in the Palace of Westminster in London, the largest city in England, whose continuing loyalty was essential to de Montfort’s cause.

This parliament was a populist, tactical move by de Montfort in an attempt to gather support from the regions, and was made up of selected, partisan representatives. It was not some kind of proto-democratic representative body.  The business of the parliament focused on enforcing the Provisions of Westminster, in particular its restrictions on the major nobles, and promising judicial help to those who felt they were suffering from unfair feudal lordship.

The parliament bought temporary calm, but opposition grew once more, particularly as de Montfort and his immediate family began to amass a huge personal fortune. Prince Edward escaped his captors in May and formed a new army, resulting in a fresh outbreak of civil war. Edward pursued de Monfort’s forces through the Welsh Marches, before striking east to attack his fortress at Kenilworth and then turning once more on the rebel leader himself. De Montfort, accompanied by the captive Henry, was unable to retreat and the Battle of Evesham ensued. Edward was triumphant. De Montfort was killed, and his corpse was mutilated by the victors.

The rebellion dragged on in pockets and was not fully crushed until July 1267. Henry III ruled England until his death in 1272, continuing to summon parliaments, sometimes including the county knights and on one occasion including burgesses from the towns. After 1297 under Edward I’s reign, this became the norm, and by the early 14th century it was normal to include the knights and burgesses, a grouping that would become known as the “Commons” of England and, ultimately, form the “House of Commons.”

Simon de Montfort’s parliament of 1265 is sometimes referred to as the first English parliament, because of its inclusion of both the knights and the burgesses, and de Montfort himself is often regarded as the founder of the House of Commons. This is certainly a case of overreach, or, at best, looking at history in hindsight. The House of Commons did eventually develop into a fully representative and democratically elected body, so historians can look back to how it evolved, and where it started. By looking backwards from what developed later, historians can mark de Montford’s parliament as the first body that involved commoners, and, by that standard, peg it as the beginning of the House of Commons. But the burgesses at the court were chosen by de Montfort, and, although they were free to speak on matters beyond taxation, they could not initiate nor pass laws. Whether this was the beginning of the House of Commons seems a stretch, but you can decide.

De Montfort’s parliament met in the palace of Westminster, and parliaments still do, although the buildings have changed considerably in the interim. The current building was built in 1834, after a fire destroyed large sections of the old one.

Back when I posted about Big Ben I mentioned HP sauce, because HP stands for Houses of Parliament: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/big-ben/ Now we are not talking about the Houses of Parliament in general, but the House of Commons, which meets in a chamber of the palace of Westminster. Therefore, we should focus on another recipe. The House of Commons once put out a cookbook of favorite recipes by MPs, so you could check that out if you want.

I am going to give a recipe (not from the book) for House of Commons pudding. It’s a bit like spotted dick except that the pudding is sponge cake and crumbled ratafia biscuits (or almond macaroons), infused with egg custard, mixed with raisins, and steamed.

House of Commons Pudding

Ingredients

2 oz/50 g seedless raisins
2 tbsp/30 ml medium-dry sherry
4 trifle sponges, cut into ½ inch dice
9 ratafias or 2 almond macaroons, crumbled
14 fl oz/400 ml milk
3 eggs
1 oz/25 gm caster sugar
vanilla essence
glace cherries
angelica, cut in strips
butter (for greasing)

Instructions

Put the raisins in a small bowl with the sherry and macerate overnight.

Grease a pudding basin with butter and line it with greaseproof paper. Decorate the bottom with glace cherries and angelica.

Place the diced sponges in a mixing bowl. Mix in the crumbled ratafias (or macaroons).

Drain the raisins and discard the sherry.

Place a layer of the sponge mixture in the pudding base, being careful not to disturb the cherries and angelica. Sprinkle in a few of the raisins. Repeat the layering until the basin is filled.

Bring the milk to just below boiling point over medium heat in a saucepan. Take off the heat. Beat the eggs and sugar together in a mixing bowl, then pour in the scalded milk. Add a few drops of vanilla essence.

Slowly strain the custard mix on to the sponge mix in the pudding basin, so that it seeps down through the layers. Let it rest for 1 hour.

Meanwhile prepare a steamer setup. You can either use a conventional steamer with boiling water in the bottom, and a perforated top part to hold the pudding basin. Or you can invert a saucer in the bottom of a saucepan and add one or two inches of water, and set the pot to boil. The saucer will keep the pudding basin off the bottom of the pan.

Cover the pudding basin with greaseproof paper, and secure it with string. You can also add a layer of aluminium foil.

Place the basin in the top of the steamer or on the saucer, cover the pan and steam for 1 hour.

Carefully remove the basin from the steamer, place a plate over the top, invert the basin and plate, and unmold the pudding carefully. Serve with egg custard.

May 312015
 

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On this date in 1859, Big Ben in the clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London started chiming the hours. As every smarty pants knows Big Ben is NOT the name of the clock nor of the clock tower. Big Ben is the nickname (not the official name) of the bell that sounds the hours. Its actual name is Great Bell. The tower is officially known as the Elizabeth Tower, renamed as such to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II (prior to being renamed in 2012 it was known as simply “Clock Tower”). The tower was completed in 1858 and had its 150th anniversary on 31 May 2009, during which celebratory events took place. The tower has become one of the most prominent symbols of the United Kingdom and is often in the establishing shot of films set in London.

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Clock Tower was raised as a part of Charles Barry’s design for a new palace, after the old Palace of Westminster was largely destroyed by fire on the night of 16 October 1834. The new Parliament was built in a Neo-gothic style. Although Barry was the chief architect of the Palace, he turned to Augustus Pugin for the design of the clock tower, which resembles earlier Pugin designs, including one for Scarisbrick Hall. The design for the tower was Pugin’s last design before his final descent into madness and death, and Pugin himself wrote, at the time of Barry’s last visit to him to collect the drawings: “I never worked so hard in my life for Mr Barry for tomorrow I render all the designs for finishing his bell tower & it is beautiful. The tower is designed in Pugin’s celebrated Gothic Revival style, and is 315 feet (96.0 m) high.

The bottom 200 feet (61.0 m) of the tower’s structure consists of brickwork with sand colored Anston limestone cladding. The remainder of the tower’s height is a framed spire of cast iron. The tower is founded on a 50 feet (15.2 m) square raft, made of 10 feet (3.0 m) thick concrete, at a depth of 13 feet (4.0 m) below ground level. The four clock dials are 180 feet (54.9 m) above ground.

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Due to changes in ground conditions since construction, the tower leans slightly to the north-west, by roughly 230 millimeters (9.1 in) over 55 m height, giving an inclination of approximately 1/240. This includes a planned maximum of 22 mm increased tilt due to tunneling for the Jubilee line extension. Due to thermal effects it oscillates annually by a few millimeters east and west.

Journalists during Queen Victoria’s reign called it St Stephen’s Tower. As MPs originally sat at St Stephen’s Hall, these journalists referred to anything related to the House of Commons as news from “St. Stephens” (The Palace of Westminster contains a feature called St Stephen’s Tower, a smaller tower over the public entrance). The usage persists in Welsh, where the Westminster district, and Parliament by extension, is known as San Steffan.

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The clock and dials were designed by Augustus Pugin. The clock dials are set in an iron frame 23 feet (7.0 m) in diameter, supporting 312 pieces of opal glass, rather like a stained-glass window. Some of the glass pieces may be removed for inspection of the hands. The surround of the dials is gilded. At the base of each clock dial in gilt letters is the Latin inscription:

DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM

O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First.

Unlike most other Roman numeral clock dials that show the ‘4’ position as ‘IIII’, the Great Clock faces depict ‘4’ as ‘IV’. The dial also has an adapted ‘X’, used for number ‘9’, ’10’, ’11’ and ’12’. This is due to Pugin and his dislike of the numeral ‘X’. You’ve gotta love eccentric Brits.

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The clock’s movement is famous for its reliability. The designers were the lawyer and amateur horologist Edmund Beckett Denison, and George Airy, the Astronomer Royal. Construction was entrusted to clockmaker Edward John Dent; after his death in 1853 his stepson Frederick Dent completed the work, in 1854. As the tower was not complete until 1859, Denison had time to experiment: Instead of using the deadbeat escapement and remontoire as originally designed, Denison invented the double three-legged gravity escapement. This escapement provides the best separation between pendulum and clock mechanism. The pendulum is installed within an enclosed windproof box beneath the clockroom. It is 13 feet (4.0 m) long, weighs 660 pounds (300 kg) and beats every 2 seconds. The clockwork mechanism in a room below weighs 5 tons. On top of the pendulum is a small stack of old penny coins; these are to adjust the time of the clock. Adding a coin has the effect of minutely lifting the position of the pendulum’s centre of mass, reducing the effective length of the pendulum rod and hence increasing the rate at which the pendulum swings. Adding or removing a penny will change the clock’s speed by 0.4 seconds per day.

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The main bell, officially known as the Great Bell, is the largest bell in the tower and part of the Great Clock of Westminster. The original bell was a 16 ton (16.3-tonne) hour bell, cast on 6 August 1856 in Stockton-on-Tees by John Warner & Sons. The bell was supposedly nicknamed in honor of Sir Benjamin Hall, and his name is inscribed on it. However, another theory for the origin of the name is that the bell may have been named after a contemporary heavyweight boxer Benjamin Caunt who was called “Big Ben” which became a name for anything that was biggest in its class. It is thought that the bell was originally to be called Victoria or Royal Victoria in honor of Queen Victoria, but that an MP suggested the nickname during a Parliamentary debate; the comment is not recorded in Hansard.

Since the tower was not yet finished, the bell was mounted in New Palace Yard. Cast in 1856, the first bell was transported to the tower on a trolley drawn by sixteen horses, with crowds cheering its progress. Unfortunately, it cracked beyond repair while being tested and a replacement had to be made. The bell was recast on 10 April 1858 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a 13½ ton (13.76-tonne) bell. This was pulled 200 ft (61.0 m) up to the Clock Tower’s belfry, a feat that took 18 hours.

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It is 7 feet 6 inches (2.29 m) tall and 9 feet (2.74 m) diameter. This new bell first chimed in 1859. In September it too cracked under the hammer, a mere two months after it officially went into service. According to the foundry’s manager, George Mears, Denison had used a hammer more than twice the maximum weight specified. For three years Big Ben was taken out of commission and the hours were struck on the lowest of the quarter bells until it was repaired. To make the repair, a square piece of metal was chipped out from the rim around the crack, and the bell given an eighth of a turn so the new hammer struck in a different place. Big Ben has chimed with a slightly different tone ever since and is still in use today complete with the crack. At the time of its casting, Big Ben was the largest bell in the British Isles until “Great Paul”, a 16¾ ton (17 tonne) bell currently hung in St Paul’s Cathedral, was cast in 1881.

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Along with the Great Bell, the belfry houses four quarter bells which play the Westminster Quarters on the quarter hours. The four quarter bells sound G♯, F♯, E, and B. They were cast by John Warner & Sons at their Crescent Foundry in 1857 (G♯, F♯ and B) and 1858 (E). The Foundry was in Jewin Crescent, in what is now known as The Barbican, in the City of London. The quarter bells play a once-repeating, 20-note sequence of rounds and four changes in the key of E major: 1–4 at quarter past, 5–12 at half past, 13–20 and 1–4 at quarter to, and 5–20 on the hour (which sounds 25 seconds before the main bell tolls the hour). Because the low bell (B) is struck twice in quick succession, there is not enough time to pull a hammer back, and it is supplied with two wrench hammers on opposite sides of the bell. The tune is that of the Cambridge Chimes, first used for the chimes of Great St Mary’s church, Cambridge, and supposedly a variation, attributed to William Crotch, based on violin phrases from the air “I know that my Redeemer liveth” in Handel’s Messiah. The notional words of the chime, again derived from Great St Mary’s and in turn an allusion to Psalm 37:23–24, are: “All through this hour/Lord be my guide/And by Thy power/No foot shall slide”. They are written on a plaque on the wall of the clock room.

One of the requirements for the clock was that the first stroke of the hour bell should register the time, correct to within one second per day. So, at twelve o’clock, for example, it is the first of the twelve hour-bell strikes that signifies the new day (the New Year on New Year’s Day at midnight).

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The great British brown sauce for steaks, sauces, chops, pies, or whatever found in British pubs and cafes is HP sauce® I suspect that few people realize that HP stands for “Houses of Parliament,” although it ought to be obvious given the image on the label (with Big Ben prominent). You could do worse, therefore, than make yourself a roast beef sandwich on whole wheat bread with HP sauce® to celebrate the day.

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Or, here is a simple marinade for BBQ from the HP kitchen:

¼ cup HP steak sauce
¼ cup dry wine (red or white, your choice)
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 clove garlic, minced

Here’s the main site for HP recipes:

http://www.hpsauce.ca/recipes.asp