Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The carriage passes what looks like Westminster Palace (minus Big Ben) and eventually turns into a narrow street

I used this quote before when I did my post on London Bridge. Today we will look at Westminster Palace. Or as you know it – The Houses of Parliament.

The Palace of Westminster began as a church, and was built in the eighth century - dedicated to St Peter. The name West Minster came from the phrase meaning west monastery. In the tenth century, after being converted into an abbey, it was adopted as a royal church. It was then that the idea of having a Palace of Westminster was born.

The Palace of Westminster was inherited by William the Conqueror after the great battles of 1066. In 1097, his son William II began to use Westminster Hall to hold grand banquets and it was becoming known as the “ceremonial centre of the Kingdom”. At this time the capital of England was actually Winchester, as this was where the Royals spent most of their time.

Over the next century, Westminster was gradually becoming the centre of the country. This was especially so under the rule of Henry II’s son, King John, when the Exchequer moved to Westminster.

It took 400 years, but finally, in 1512, the Palace of Westminster to become the permanent home of Parliament.

The Clock Tower
that we call Big Ben, on the other hand, wasn’t completed until 1859, but this wasn’t the first of its kind. In fact, during Amelia’s time England was up to its second clock, which was built in 1367 but by 1707 it had fallen into disrepair and was replaced with a sundial. After a fire in 1834, which burnt down most of the Palace of Westminster, building work began on a new palace.

Like all political centres, there have been some great historic moments in the Palace of Westminster. Let’s look at our favourite period – the 1600s:

In 1605 Guy Fawkes and 12 others tried to blow up the House of Lords in the infamous Gunpowder Plot. They were prosecuted in 1606.

In 1649, King Charles I was sentenced to death after the Civil Wars between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. In 1653, Oliver Cromwell was instated as the Lord Protector, and England became a Republic. After his death in 1658, he was succeeded by his son, Richard. However the people of England called for Charles II to come back and England had a monarchy again in 1660. In autumn of that year, it was ordered that Cromwell and two others be exhumed (i.e. have their bodies dug up after death), and executed for regicide (or murder of royalty). On the 30th January 1661 (twelve years after the death of Charles I), they were hanged and then decapitated. Their heads were put on display on poles above Westminster Hall.

In 1688, seven bishops were tried because they objected to the Declaration of Indulgence, which stated that people did not have to declare their oath to the church in public and were free to worship as they wished in the privacy of their own homes. It was the first step towards religious freedom, but the objection from the bishops resulted in a trial for seditious libel. They were found not guilty.

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