Records of the Lord Great Chamberlain
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- Held At: Parliamentary Archives: GB-061
- Catalogue Reference: LGC
- Date: 1558-1980
- Level: Fonds
- Extent: 210 volumes, 10 boxes and 9 files
- Creator Name: Lord Great Chamberlain, 1133-
- Administrative or Biographical History: The office of Lord Great Chamberlain is one of the great offices of State. Until 1965 he was the nominal chief authority in the Palace of Westminster, but in March of that year, upon the Prime Minster's authority, the Speakers assumed control over their respective parts of the Palace, with responsibility for Westminster Hall and the Crypt Chapel being held jointly by the two Speakers and the Lord Great Chamberlain. In connection with his role in the opening of Parliament, the Lord Great Chamberlain continues to have responsibility for the Royal Gallery and Robing Room. He also has duties at the introduction of new peers and bishops into the House. He should not be confused with the Lord Chamberlain who is appointed by the Government as Chief Officer in the Royal Household and whose best known function is the licencing of plays for public performance.
A "Master" Chamberlain officiated as a member of the Royal Household from temp. William I, and in 1133 Henry I granted the office to Aubrey de Vere II, a grant which became the foundation of all subsequent claims to the office. Within a century it seems likely that the Master (or Great) Chamberlain officiated in person only at Coronations, his original Household duties passing to other officers. The first trace of a Lord Great Chamberlain exercising any role within the Palace of Westminster (other than at Coronations) is in 1641 when the then holder of the office was required to see that the Orders of the House were correctly exhibited. After the Restoration the Lord Great Chamberlain came to exercise general supervision over the use and preservation of the Palace, acting increasingly as an intermediary between the Sovereign and the House of Lords, and issuing warrants for building or decorating and for the occupation of accommodation within the Palace. In addition, in 1876 the House of Lords transferrred to the Lord Great Chamberlain the responsibility for housekeeping within the House, previously exercised by the Black Rod. In 1965, however, the Lord Great Chamberlain's custody of the Palace was vested in the two Houses acting separately and the Lord Great Chamberlain's housekeeping functions were transferred to the Offices Committee of the House of Lords. The Lord Great Chamberlain since 1965 has continued to have custody of the Robing Room, Royal Gallery and other certain parts of the Palace, with control of Westminster Hall and the Crypt Chapel being jointly invested in the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker. The Lord Great Chamberlain remains responsible for the ceremonial occasions when the Sovereign is present in Parliament.
The office of Lord Great Chamberlain ceased to be held on a unitary basis on the death of the 3rd Duke of Ancaster in 1779. In 1781 it was decided that the office should be vested in the two sisters of the late duke and their representatives; further subdivisions occurred in 1870 and 1928. The mode of appointment since 1781 has been for the heads of the families in which the office is vested, taking into consideration existing arrangements for rotation, to execute a deed nominating a person to exercise the office. The crown then approves the nomination, during pleasure, by Royal Warrant. The principal families concerned in the nomination are those of the Marquess of Cholmondeley and the Earl of Ancaster.
- Acquisition: These records have been deposited at various points between 1970 and 2000.
- Description: The records of the Lord Great Chamberlain date from temp. Elizabeth I in original form, although there are copies of documents dating back to William I. These mainly refer to claims to the office of Lord Great Chamberlain. There two principal series of bound documents which comprise the meat of the collection: LGC/2, a series of 28 register books into which warrants, minutes, outgoing letters and accounts have been written or copied by clerks in the office and LGC/5 a very splendid series of 26 volumes, into which original documents received by the Office have been pasted, together with office copies and memoranda.
The records are of particular significance in relation not only to the development and work of the Lord Great Chamberlain's Office, but also in relation to the history of:
1. all English coronations from that of Queen Elizabeth I onwards;
2. the fabric and contents of the Palace of Westminster from the 17th to the 20th centuries, including the re-building by Sir Charles Barry following the fire in 1834;
3. the clerical organisation of both Houses of Parliament;
4. the ceremonial of Parliament, notably at State Openings and whenever the Sovereign comes to Parliament.
It seems very likely that experts in each of these four principal subjects would find amongst the records of the Lord Great Chamberlain much original material that would make a distinctive contribution to the History of Parliament in this country. The records form a significant archive of material concerning the administration of the Palace of Westminster, particularly in relation to ceremonial occasions, and they span a period of over 400 years. The collection also contains records generated by Black Rod's department. In addition there are uniforms and a ceremonial sword and many books, most of which are relevant to the office of the Lord Great Chamberlain or concern great ceremonial occasions.
- Language: English, French and Latin
- System of Arrangement: The collection was rearranged in 2002 by Monica Halpin with the intention of recreating original series where possible and creating order in the remainder of the records. Generally the original item level descriptions have been retained unless they were misleading or too general to be useful. Files are arranged chronologically within series.
- Related Material: Records of Black Rod are in HL/BR.
- Related Record:
- Access Status: Open
- Publication Notes: M F Bond, "Guide to the Records of Parliament" (London, 1971), pp251-255. See GEC, "The Complete Peerage", vol x (1945) App F, "The Office of Lord Great Chamberlain of England" for the descent of office and extracts from the Journals relating to the Lord Great Chamberlain.