Politics.co.uk Blog

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The grisly fate of Bercow's predecessors

John Bercow may find himself suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune later today, but he should be thankful. They are at least figurative rather than literal.

Looking back at parliament's history we find the role has been littered with men who have consistently faced rejection, sometimes in distressingly violent form.

Notes on the parliament website's briefing paper provide some intriguingly sketchy details about the fates of some of these poor, poor individuals.

An early trendsetter was Sir John Bussy, the MP for Lincolnshire, whose four-year Speakership was swiftly followed by his beheading in 1399. Perhaps his fate was linked to that of his successor, Sir John Cheyne, who resigned after only two days in office.

Sir John Popham was too poorly to actually take on the job, being excused on the day of his election because of ill health on November 8th 1449. That may have been a sensible move; Thomas Thorpe of Essex was beheaded after serving as Speaker in 1453 and 1454.
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Matters had not really improved 50 years later, when two ex-Speakers - Sir Richard Empson and Edward Dudley - were beheaded together.

The traumas of the 17th century provide us with a raft of rather grisly fates. Sir John Finch of Canterbury was impeached by the long parliament in October 1640 and fled to Holland. This was a period when, with the Commons confronting the monarch in a constitutional showdown, being Speaker really was rife with peril.

The note next to William Say's entry - he was Speaker in January of 1660 - simply reads "regicide".

After the monarchy had been restored matters appeared to have calmed down. But there was still room for Sir John Trevor, the MP for both Yarmouth and the Isle of Wight, to be expelled from the Commons in 1695 for taking a bribe.

There then followed 314 years of relative calm. It took the 2009 expenses scandal before we come to the next Speaker to face an unpleasant fate: Michael Martin's exit was truly historic.

Let's wait and see what note is to be written against the name of one John Bercow, who represented the constituency of Buckingham. Whatever happens later today, he won't have met the worst fate on this list of victims.

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