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Speakers of the House of Commons
Posted on Jul 12, 2002 - 02:28 PM by Bill McCann

The Speaker of the House of Commons is one of the most important officials in the English Constitution. Since the first Parliament of 1270, the post has evolved and developed into the rigorous and, some might say, stylised aspects of the governance of Britain. The advent of television has helped to make the functions of this office more clear and, of course, raised the profile of the individual who holds the office. The first female Speaker, Betty Boothroyd is now perhaps also the best known and can certainly be reckoned as one of the most effective holders of the post in modern times.



The Speakership of the House of Commons is an ancient office, the appointment of a spokesman predates the first summoning of the Commons to Parliament in 1258. The Speaker is non-partisan and is elected by the House at the beginning of each new Parliament. However, speakers were not always non-partisan. Up to the seventeenth century, the Speaker was very often an agent of the King. This began to change during the Civil Wars in the 1640s and the turning point when the Speaker became an agent of Parliament itself is often dated to Speaker Lenthall's famous riposte to Charles I who came to Parliament and demanded that five members be arrested for treason:
May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see, nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here, and I humbly beg Your Majesty's pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this to what Your Majesty is pleased to demand of me.

Following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, the Speaker was normally a political ally of the Government and some speakers were appointed to Government posts. Another famous Speaker, Arthur Onslow who served from 1728 to 1761 is credited with changing this arrangement and establishing many of the practices associated with the post today. The idea that the Speaker should be above politics and non-partisan was firmly established by the middle of the nineteenth century. The Speaker now neither speaks in debates and only votes in a division when the Ayes and Noes are tied.

The Speaker enjoys a high order in the precedence of the Kingdom. Only the Prime Minister and the Lord President of the Council rank above him. The Speaker takes precedence over all Peers except the two Archbishops (Canterbury and York) and almost invariably will be raised to the Peerage on retirement. The Deputy Speaker is the Chairman of Committees, officially Chairman of Ways and Means and presides in the absence of the Speaker and when the House goes into Committee Session by passing the Motion that the Speaker do now leave the Chair.

Below is a list of Speakers to the House and the year in which they were known to have served or been appointed, chosen or elected. The List is not quite complete and there are some gaps, particularly in the second half of the 13th and first quarter of the 14th centuries where the records are lost. It should be noted that prior to the 18th century, Parliaments were called and dismissed by the Monarch and there might be a long gap between successive parliaments. For example, James I dispensed with the services of Parliament for much of his reign (1604-25). Some names appear more than once as they were elected Speaker to more than one parliament. Sometimes this was to successive parliaments but election of the Speaker from the preceding Parliament was not a foregone conclusion.

Early Speakers were known as Parlour or Prolocutor and it was not until Sir Thomas Hungerford in 1377 that the name and office of Speaker became more or less established. The list from his tenure to modern times is practically complete and he is traditionally taken as the "first" Speaker. His predecessors certainly fulfilled a similar function but the office was frequently held by the Lord Chief Justice four of whom are known and are identified in the list here.

Early Parliaments
Year
Speaker
1258Peter de Montfort
1325William Trussell
1331Henry Beaumont
1331Geoffrey Le Scrope (Chief Justice)
1348William de Thorpe (Chief Justice)
1353William de Shareshulle (Chief Justice)
1361Sir Henry Green (Chief Justice)
1376Sir Peter de la Mare
Parliament of England
Year
Speaker
1377Sir Thomas Hungerford
1378Sir James Pickering
1380Sir John Gildesburgh
1381Sir Richard Waldegrave
1394Sir John Bussy
1399Sir John Cheyne
1399John Doreward
1401Sir Arnold Savage
1402Sir Henry Retford
1404Sir Arnold Savage
1405Sir William Sturmy
1406Sir John Tiptoft
1407Thomas Chaucer
1410Thomas Chaucer
1411Thomas Chaucer
1413Sir Walter Stourton
1414Thomas Chaucer
1414Walter Hungerford
1421Thomas Chaucer
1422Roger Flore
1423John Russell
1425John Doreward
1439William Tresham
1450Sir William Oldhall
1453Thomas Thorpe
1455Sir John Wenlock
1459Sir Thomas Tresham
1461Sir James Strangeways
1472William Allington
1483John Wode
1484William Catesby
1485Thomas Lovell
1487John Mordaunt
1489Sir Thomas Fitzwilliam
1491Sir Richard Empson
1495Robert Drury
1497Sir Thomas Englefield
1504Sir Edmond Dudley
1510Sir Thomas Englefield
1512Sir Robert Sheffield
1515Sir Tomas Neville
1523Sir Thomas More
1529Thomas Audley
1533Sir Humphrey wingfield
1536Richard Rich
1539Sir Nicholas Hare
1542Sir Thomas Moyle
1545Sir Thomas Moyle
1547John Baker
1553Sir James Dyer
1553Sir John Pollard
1554Sir Robert Brooke
1554Sir Clement Higham
1555Sir John Pollard
1558Sir William Cordell
1558Sir Thomas Gargrave
1562Thomas Williams
1566Richard Onslow
1571Christopher Wray
1572Robert Bell
1575Robert Bell
1580John Puckering
1586John Puckering
1588Thomas Snagg
1592Edward Coke
1597Christopher Yelverton
1601John Crooke
1603Sir Edward Phelips
1604Sir Heneage Finch
1614Ranulph Crew
1624Sir Thomas Crewe
1628Sir John Finch
1629Sir John Glanville
1640William Lenthall
1653Francis Rous
1654William Lenthall
1656Sir Thomas Widdrington
1659Chaloner Chute
1659Sir Lislebone Long
1659Thomas Bampfield
1659William Lenthall
1660Sir H Grimston
1661Sir E Turner
1673Sir J Charlton
1673Edward Seymour
1678Sir Robert Sawyer
1679Serjeant William Gregory
1680Sir William Williams
1685Sir John Trevor
1688H Powle
1694Paul Foley
1698Sir T Lyttleton
1700Robert Harley
1702John Smith
Parliament of Great Britain
Year
Speaker
1708Sir Richard Onslow
1710William Bromley
1714Sir Thomas Hanmer
1715Sir Spencer Crompton
1728Arthur Onslow
1761Sir John Cust
1770Sir Fletcher Norton
1780C Wolfran Cornwall (Died in office)
1789W W Grenville
1789Henry Addington
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Year
Speaker
1801Sir John Mitford
1802Charles Abbot
1817Charles Manners-Sutton
1835James Abercromby
1839Charles Shaw-Lefevre
1857J Evelyn Denison
1872Sir H B W Brand
1886Arthur Wellesley Peel
1895William Court Gully
1905James W Lowther
1921John Henry Whitley
1928Edward Algernon FitzRoy (Died in office)
1943Col.D Clifton Brown
1951William Shepherd Morrison
1959Sir Harry Hylton-Foster
1965Dr Horace King
1971J Selwyn Lloyd
1976T George Thomas
1983Bernard Weatherill
1992Miss Betty Boothroyd
2000Michael J. Martin


 

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