Margaret Thatcher Becomes a Baroness

I stumbled upon a fascinating video the other day that shows Margaret Thatcher’s introduction into the House of Lords:

The cool thing about this video is that is shows the traditional version of the Ceremony of Introduction. In 1998, it was abridged after a Select Committee recommended several changes to the ceremony, so I’ve never had a chance to see the full version.

The biggest difference is that peers are no longer ‘placed’ by Garter King of Arms. Placing was widely regarded as the low point of the ceremony. The new peer and his supporters had to stand, doff their hats[1] to the Lord Chancellor, then sit back down three times in a row (you can see Baroness Thatcher do this starting at 7:50). It’s not particularly dignified; in fact, it looks downright silly. It was also arguably pointless. In the old days, the location of a peer’s seat was determined by his rank in the peerage, but those restrictions were abolished long before 1998.[2]

The other major change is that the Reading Clerk no longer reads the new peer’s Writ of Summons, only his Letters Patent. The Letters Patent were deemed more significant because they actually create the peerage, and they are only issued once (Writs of Summons, on the other hand, are issued each time Parliament is called). On a side note, I think it’s quaint that Baroness Thatcher’s Letters Patent refer to her as the “wife of Sir Denis Thatcher, Baronet.” This practice seems to have been discontinued at some point (I haven’t noticed it in contemporary Letters Patent). If I had to guess, I’d say the change occurred after New Labour took office in 1997, but I can’t say for sure.

NOTES

[1] Male peers wore bicorn hats, while women peers wore tricorn hats.

[2] There is, however, one exception: the bench closest to the Throne on the left side of the House is reserved for bishops.

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