The print (1730) shows the ‘Great Speaker’ Onslow in the chair (centre), calling prime minister Walpole at his elbow (left) to speak, before a packed House of Commons.  [National Trust number = 1441463]

This post was kindly written for us by P. J. Corfield (Royal Holloway, London University) on behalf of the IHR’s Long Eighteenth-Century Seminar.  

Mary Clayton, who has just published A Portrait of Influence: Life and Letters of Arthur Onslow, the Great Speaker (Parliamentary History Trust, 2017), once declared that the only possible place to launch such a volume would be the Speaker’s House at the Palace of Westminster. But, she said, that was obviously out of the question. On the contrary, replied the organisers of London University’s seminar in British History in the Long Eighteenth-Century. Contact the Speaker; and tell him that we have to celebrate the most hegemonic of all Speakers in appropriate style. And, all credit to John Bercow, he not only lent us the Speaker’s House free of charge  but came himself to give a witty speech.

The seminar-cum-launch-party took place on Wednesday 1 November. It was a glittering ‘outreach’ evening. Over 70 people attended, including seminar regulars, MPs, members of the House of Lords, curators, librarians, local history researchers, and the current Earl Onslow. (Arthur Onslow (1691-1768) wanted no other title than that of Speaker – a post he held for over thirty years – but his son was ennobled as a family tribute). The Long Eighteenth-Century seminar warmly thanks all its sponsors, including the Parliamentary History Trust which co-hosted. And the moral: academics can but ask for the use of famous outreach venues at special discounts. Often that tactic doesn’t work. Yet sometimes it does, as it did for Mary Clayton – and the ‘Great Speaker’ Arthur Onslow, whose behind-the-scenes influence obviously lingers ….