The Reputation and Authority of the Speaker and the Speakership of the House of Commons, 1640–60




The speakership during the civil war and interregnum has received scant attention by historians. This article considers the occupants of the Speaker's chair as a group, making some observations about their age and background, including within its scope the short-lived and irregular speakerships of men such as Sir Sampson Eure and Henry Pelham. The popularity of the Speaker within the Commons is found to have depended much on his perceived competence and goodwill, while his reputation in the country at large depended greatly on the unpredictable cut and thrust of political opinion. The speakership of William Lenthall in the Long Parliament is examined in some detail and judged to be exceptional in a number of respects, not least in his grappling with the explosion in the number and power of executive committees. Lenthall's dealings with the press suggest that he was well aware of the uses of print as well as its potential for damage to his reputation. The contemporary allegations of venality aimed at Speakers are examined with respect to individual occupants of the office and are also set in the context of fee-taking by Commons' officials. While this period seems not to have been a particularly important one in terms of lasting procedural innovation in the chamber, it was significant in heralding the possibility of a separation between the person and office of Speaker. The article provides as an Appendix an authoritative list of Speakers in this period.