Parliament--House of Commons.
A series of 76 folio manuscript volumes produced in the early 18th century, covering Parliaments of James I in 7 volumes (from 19 March 1603/4 (misdated "29 Martii 1602" ) to 17 March 1620/1 only), Charles I in 3 volumes (from 21 June 1625 to 2 March 1629 only), Charles II in 18 volumes, the final volume also detailing the Parliaments of James II (from 25 April 1660 to 28 April 1687), William III and Mary II in 33 volumes (from 22 March 1688/9 to 7 March 1701/2), and Queen Anne in 15 volumes (from 8 March 1701/2 to 15 February 1708/9), in total about 49,000 pages written in 32 distinct scribal hands (in most cases each volume being the work of a single scribe), on various paper-stocks (the most common watermarks including Arms of Amsterdam with 'VI' and 'KWM' countermarks and the Seven Provinces of the Netherlands with crowned 'GR' countermark, all consistent with an early-eighteenth century date), each volume red-ruled, most volumes with contemporary pagination and the remainder with paragraph numbers, each volume indexed, five volumes (temp. Charles II) made up of two shorter booklets bound together but separately indexed, six volumes incorporating fold-out tables, seven volumes for Parliamentary proceedings between 1689-92 with additional notes on final blanks in another hand, and two volumes with two-page summaries of content in another hand tipped in, uniformly bound in contemporary calf with spines in six compartments, five gilt and one with red morocco lettering pieces, bindings restored, five volumes affected by damp[together with:] 'Calendar or Abstracts of the Journals of the House of Commons from Edward 6th Anno 1546 to the year 1642 [1660-1710]', two volumes, folio, in a single hand, large folio, red ruled margins, contemporary pagination, 527 and 776 pages, blanks, contemporary calf, rebacked and restored, spotting; Journal of the House of Lords, 1 volume, 25 April to 29 December 1660, also incorporating a copy of Sir Harbottle Grimstone's speech to the King, in a single hand, large folio, red ruled margins, contemporary pagination, 1000 pages, blanks, contemporary speckled calf, rebacked retaining original lettering piece; 'A Calendar of the Journals of the House of Lords Beginning with the Reign of King Henry VIII and Ending with the Reign of King Charles I' ['Beginning with the Reign of King Charles II and ending with the VIth Parliament of Great Britain Upon the Death of King George I', i.e. 1727 but with some later entries], in a single hand, large folio, red ruled margins, contemporary pagination, 631 and 725 pages plus blanks and indexes, modern calf backed marbled boards with new endpapers, dampstained
"... [1 May 1660] the Earle of Manchester had acquainted the Committee of this House with the Lords receit of a Letter from his Majesty and of a Declaracion inclosed he told us it was a maxim where the word of a King is there is power and where the word of our King is as it is now received there is truth and power and Truth are the best Supports of Government ...
That this House doth agree with the Lords and doe own and Declare that according to the antient and fundamentall Lawes of this Kingdom the Government is and ought to be by the King Lords and Commons.
That it be referd to a Committee to peruse the Journalls and Records and to examin what pretended Acts or Orders have been passed which are inconsistent with the Government by the King, Lords, and Commons and report them with their opinion therein to this House..."
The most extensive surviving set of copies of the early House of Commons Journals, and an extraordinary production of the last age of the professional scribe. This lavish production records the business of the Commons from the accession of James I to after the Act of Union. It documents the establishment of the modern British state through such monumental constitutional events as the Restoration, the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights, the foundation of the Bank of England, and the Act of Union; it records the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, periods of great tension between the Commons and the Crown from the days of James I to those of the Exclusion Crisis, and the potent combination of hysteria and cynicism of the Popish Plot; it also provides a detailed insight into the matters – petitions and bills often of local interest – that occupied the Commons from day to day.
The House of Commons Journals were kept by the Clerk of the House and developed in the mid-sixteenth century, as successive Clerks began to maintain a record of proceedings in the House that was more detailed than a simple register of Bills. It recorded (and indeed still records) the business transacted on each day's sittings: Bills read, Orders and Resolutions, Divisions, Licences, and the like. Its purview is acts, not words, so it does not typically record the text of speeches, except at Parliamentary openings. The Journal's importance as a source for Parliamentary precedent was soon recognised, and on 3 July 1607 it was acknowledged as an integral and official part of the Parliamentary process, with the following resolution being recorded in the Journal itself:
"That, between this and the next Session of Parliament the Clerk shall perfect his Journal for these Three first Sessions; and that no Matter, concerning Privilege, Order, or Matter of Message, or Conference, or Resolution of the House, proceeding thereupon, shall be of Record, or in Force, till such Time as the same be perused, and perfected, by a Committee to be chosen the next Session of Parliament, and approved by the House ; and that from henceforth the Committee for Privileges do, every Saturday in the Afternoon, peruse and perfect the Book of Entries in all such Matters as aforesaid"
This set of journals represents a vast cache of highly privileged information about Parliamentary privileges, precedents, and powers. The Journals were jealously guarded by the House of Commons: in 1628 they refused to allow members of the House of Lords to consult the Journals, and in 1666 it was ordered that only MPs should be allowed access to the Journals. It was produced by two Clerks (increased to three by the end of the period covered by this set) who sat at the Table of the House noting down proceedings, the duplication allowing for cross-checking. After the sitting these 'Originals' or 'Scribbled Books' were copied into neatly written journals, although this was not always done and a few journals survive in rough 'Original' form only. The process was refined in the 1680s when it became normal for a draft journal to be produced during the sitting, which was then inspected and rewritten as the definitive journal.
There is evidence for a market in copies of Commons Journals in the late-seventeenth century. In 1680, with the Popish Plot ensuring strong public interest, two recent Journal Books reached the printing press, while in 1683 the Clerk of the House petitioned the King for the return of copies in the hands of two Westminster booksellers, William Henchman and Thomas Fox (Menhennet, p.19). Scribal copies of individual volumes of Commons Journals survive in major collections such as the Petyt manuscripts at Inner Temple, and a very small number have appeared at auction. A series of 19 volumes, covering the period from the Restoration to the Glorious Revolution, from the library of William Bromley of Baginton, are now at the British Library (Add. MSS 36830-36848). However, we have found no record of any other set on the scale of the current series.
In 1742 there was a significant shift of opinion within the House when a committee determined that the Journals should be printed, although officially only for the use of Members. At the time of the order to print the Clerk was paid £1000 in compensation for loss of fees – from searches and copying of entries – revealing that scribal copying of the Journals remained a lively business until that time. The original manuscript Journals, comprising 241 volumes bound in uniform blue morocco, were among the only records of the Commons to survive the fire that laid waste to the Palace of Westminster in 1834.
The current set of Journals ends in early 1709, midway through the reign of Queen Anne and shortly after the Act of Union. It seems likely that the volumes were produced at about that time. There is no doubt that these volumes were produced as a set: the same scribes were responsible for volumes of very different dates (one hand, A, was responsible for both the earliest and latest volume as well as two intermediate volumes) and the same watermarks are also found throughout the volumes. It also seems very likely that the set originally included the Long Parliament, the Parliamentary experiments of the Interregnum, as well as the missing last sessions of the 1621 Parliament and the Parliament in 1624.
It is most likely that the set was commissioned by a very wealthy Parliamentarian (see provenance below). However it is also possible that the set originally had a more official function. On 5 May 1698 Sir Rowland Gwyn reported to the House on the state of the Journals: "many of the Books of the Journals of the House, before the Year One thousand Six hundred and Eighty-five, are much worn, ill written, and without any Indexes. Ordered, That all the Journals of this House, until the Year One thousand Six hundred and Eighty-five, be fairly transcribed; and Indexes made, by the Clerk, of the Journals so transcribed, with references to the Folios of the original Books." No set that matches the 1698 order is known (although it may have been lost in the 1834 fire), and the current volumes could well have been a somewhat delayed and expanded response to the order.
The production of about 49,000 folio pages of manuscript was an enormous undertaking. The number of different hands involved (32) is strikingly large, especially given that the copying must have taken place in the House of Commons (it is surely inconceivable that the original Journals were loaned out for copying) and was presumably undertaken by the Clerk's office. The number of different hands means that there was no attempt at a consistent appearance through the volumes. One hand, Hand I, was responsible for twenty volumes and parts of another five, far more than any other contributor; two others, Hand A and Hand X, were responsible for four volumes each; while the other hands were responsible for between one and three volumes. Only one scribe, the strikingly amateurish and uneven Hand M, produced less than an entire volume.
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