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About the Archives

Behind the scenes look at the Parliamentary Archives.

Westminster Hall Exhibition

Documents on this site and much more featured in an exhibition at Westminster Hall that is now closed.

Parliamentary Archives

Glossary

B

Barracoon

A barrack-like hut or enclosure used to temporarily hold enslaved Africans under guard, typically before being transported to slave ships.

Bill of Rights

The 1689 Bill of Rights limited the powers of the monarch and formalised their relationship with Parliament, ending the concept of 'The Divine Right of Kings' to govern and making the monarch subject to the laws of Parliament. It is one of the key written parts of the British constitution.

C

Court of Chancery

A court that dealt with issues of equity, or 'fairness', rather than with issues deriving from specific laws

City of London Corporation

The governing municipal body of the City of London, the medieval heart of London

Clerk of the Parliaments

The head of the administration of the House of Lords, a position still in place today

Committee of the whole House

A committee used to discuss a particularly contentious Bill in Parliament where the whole of the House of Commons or House of Lords is present to debate it clause by clause rather than using a separate committee

Court of Wards

A court in Westminster used between 1540 and 1645 to administer feudal obligations, wardship and guild or livery issues.

E

East India Company

The British East India Company was a trading company given a Royal Charter in 1600, which granted it an effective monopoly of all trade with the East Indies. It evolved into an administrative power, which virtually ruled India on the state's behalf until it was eventually disbanded in 1858.

Engrossed

A term describing the process by which the text of a Bill was written onto parchment. This took place at the Report stage.

Executive

The Government.

G

Glorious Revolution

The events of 1688-89, which included the replacement of King James II with William and Mary and the passing of the Bill of Rights.

K

King's Bench

A court established in the thirteenth century to hear cases of special interest to the King and which from approximately 1400 was located at the south end of Westminster Hall.

L

Legislature

Parliament.

Lord Great Chamberlain

The monarch's representative in the Palace of Westminster. In the period after the restoration in 1660 the post was responsible for general supervision of the use and preservation of the Palace. These responsibilities have since been reduced, but the postholder continues to have custody of certain parts of the building and remains responsible for the ceremonial on occasions when the sovereign is present in Parliament.

M

Mace, the

Ceremonial mace used to symbolise Royal authority in the House of Commons and which must be present for the House to proceed.

P

Planter

The owner or manager of a plantation on which slaves worked.

Privy Council

A body of advisors to the monarch, which still exists today but whose main administrative and executive powers were gradually transferred to the emerging institution of Cabinet.

Protestation Returns

In 1641 every member of the House of Commons, and subsequently every male parishioner over the age of 18 in England, had to sign a Protestation Return, swearing an oath of allegiance to the King, their support for the rights and privileges of Parliament and support of the Protestant religion.

Q

Quakers

A nonconformist religious movement, originating in the 1650s, properly known as the Religious Society of Friends. They have a long history of campaigning on issues of social justice.

R

Reformation, the

The Protestant Reformation was a movement in 16th century western Europe to reform the Catholic church, greatly influenced by the teachings of Martin Luther and John Calvin.

Restoration, the

In 1660 Charles II , the son of Charles I who had been executed in 1649, returned from exile and the Monarchy was re-established in England, Scotland and Ireland.

S

Select Committee

A committee of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords tasked with dealing with a particular issue.

Somerset case

A case heard in the court of King's Bench in 1771 concerning the right of James Somerset, an enslaved African, to remain in England.

Speaker, the

Chosen by the members of the House of Commons, the Speaker presides over the business of the House.

W

Woolsack, the

A reminder that England's prosperity once depended on the wool trade, the woolsack for centuries served as the seat of the Lord Chancellor whilst the latter presided over the business of the House of Lords. It is now used by the Lord Speaker.

Z

Zong case

Originally an insurance dispute concerning the drowning of 133 Africans by the captain of the slave ship Zong, it was the subject of a request for an appeal which was heard by Lord Mansfield in the court of King's Bench in 1783. Although the request was granted the case was never heard.

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