Last week I attended the Politic Society’s quiz night in Falmer Bar, which led to me being coerced by a friend to buy a ticket for the tour of parliament occurring at the end of the week. Having had such a fun time at the quiz, despite not remotely winning, I did so and looked forward to the event with much excitement. It was only when I walked past the dent in the door to House of Commons, due to the Black Rod and subsequent reenactments, that I was hit with my own knowledge of the history of parliament. Specifically, my A-level knowledge of Charles I and his run in with parliament, that ended with his head being chopped off.
Charles I has gone down in history as a range of things; however, his love for theatre and the arts is one of them. A lover of masked balls, his adoration of theatrics of all kinds established him as a flamboyant king, with a large bill to prove it. Coupled with his extravagance as a host, his life also provided enough drama off stage.
The aforementioned ‘Black Rod’ incident occurred in 1629 when Charles I sent the Black Rod to the Palace of Westminster to prorogue parliament. The Black Rod went to enter the House of Commons but the door was shut in his face, something that had never happened before. Holles finished reading Elliot’s three resolutions as other MPs held the speaker down to prevent the speaker at the time following out the evident orders of the King. This is reenacted in the modern day to symbolize the Commons’ independence of the Sovereign.
It could be argued that the King remained a lover of theatrics to the very end. The man who was never meant to be king, the man who stuttered, the man who failed to unite England, Charles I ended up embodying his idea of what a king should be. His strict adherence to divine right and refusal to be pragmatic in regard to religion in Parliament, favouring Henrietta Maria’s devotion to catholicism, was all done in an attempt to remain in control of his country. On the walk to his execution he even asked if he could wear two shirts because he did not want the public to see him shiver. He remained this character, delivering a prepared monologue before his beheading, until his death.
It was then under Oliver Cromwell that theatre was banned, advocating a Puritan way of life. The end of Charles’ extravagance was evident and despite Cromwell only being Head of the Commonwealth for five years until 1658, that was more than enough time to convince the public to reinstate the new king *cue Charles II horrible history song*.
Throughout the tour I had the Horrible history song about the Kings and Queens of England running through my head, providing a nice backing track to the day. The Politics Society is putting on even more tours later on in the term. Like their Facebook page ‘University of Sussex Politics Society’ and follow them @sussexpolsoc for the latest news!