We all know the rhyme said around this time of year: ‘Remember, remember, the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot…’. The gunpowder plot of 1605 was certainly one of the more memorable episodes of our Parliament’s long and eventful history, however Parliament’s long and varied history certainly goes beyond (and before) this. So strap yourselves in for a tale of deceit, uprising and betrayal. Oh, there was a few executions, also.
1042 – The origins of the Palace of Westminster can be traced back to this date, where Edward the Confessor decided to have an abbey church on the swampy land where the Palace of Westminster now sits.
1215 – Ah, the Magna Carta. Signed by King John due to his unpopularity and the very real fear we could have (yet another) French King, it was then naturally ignored completely by the king, but John died in 1216, anyway.
1265 – Simon de Montfort captured his brother-in-law, Henry III, to stop him spending too much money. He then called a sort of Parliament from meetings where representatives from across the country were called in. This type of Parliament has stood the test of time.
1305 – Oh look, our first execution at Parliament. William Wallace is the unlucky guy here, who denied his charge of treason. After being found guilty, he was naturally dragged naked through the streets, and then hanged. Whilst still alive, he was taken from the gallows and publicly disemboweled and mutilated. Lovely.
1605 – Probably the most famous date in Parliament’s history, and everyone knows the story: a group of Catholics led by Robert Catesby tried to blow up Westminster at the State Opening of Parliament. Authorities found Fawkes (who was not the main instigator of the plot) guarding several barrels of gunpowder, and the plotters were killed in shootings or tortured & executed.
1629 – Charles I dismisses Parliament and arrests some MPs. As we will see later, big mistake!
1642-49 – Charles’ disagreement with Parliament results in a fully-blown Civil War, resulting in half a million casualties. He is put on trial by Parliament and then beheaded.
1653-60 – England was a republic for a few years in the seventeenth century under the rule of Oliver Cromwell (until 1658). When the royals returned to power, a few people decided to dig up his corpse and chop the head off it. Delightful.
1707 – The 1707 Act of Union meant that England and Scotland were united, and have remained so ever since.
1720 – Robert Walpole becomes the First Prime Minister.
1771 – Reporting is legally allowed in Parliament for the first time. Since, the Civil War, journalists had illegally been reporting on the events of Parliament, and many consequently had been arrested.
1812 – Spencer Percival is killed – our first and (so far) only assassinated Prime Minister.
1834 – Fire, Fire! Most of Westminster is burned down, causing what we recognise as Parliament today to rise from the ashes.
1908 – The Suffragettes storm Westminster as a result of Parliament refusing a bill to give votes to women.
1918 – Women finally get the vote – but only if they were over 30. A year later the first woman was elected to Parliament.
1921 – The Anglo-Irish treaty separated Southern Ireland from Northern Ireland – but the fighting still carried on.
1945 – The House of Commons chamber was rebuilt after bombings by the Germans – also, Clement Attlee’s Labour Party swept into power in the General Election of that year, with a resounding majority.
1969 – The voting age is lowered to 18.
1979 – Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first female Prime Minister.
1989 – The House of Commons is televised for the first time – audio recordings stated in 1978.
1999 – The Parliaments of Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland were devolved.
So that’s it! 950-odd years of Parliament, in 600 words.