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Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Exhibitions, History
manuscript document with a wax seal
Royal Commission for Prorogation of Parliament, 12th Oct 1573, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/3/295/3

Anniversaries come thick and fast in the world of Archives. Way in advance the dates are pencilled in the calendar for future reference. Some will be marked on our social media platforms; others have a blog uploaded while a select few are considered for a special commemorative display in the opulent surroundings of the House of Lords’ Royal Gallery.

The decision to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with such a showcase was a no brainer. That was the easy part now we had to delve into the records and deliver the remit. This blog, by Richard Ward, Assistant Archives Officer, shall reveal how we made The Two Elizabeths Royal Gallery Display.


Printed document in a red frame with Elizabeth II signature below the printed text.
Accession Declaration of Elizabeth II, November 1952, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/JO/10/11/247A


Box Office

Sometimes an idea floats around waiting for the right moment to crystallise. I’d first heard murmurings three years ago about putting together a dual display on Elizabeth I and the Queen with an already established working title The Two Elizabeths. It was never a question of if only when it would happen. In this instance timing was everything and coming out of the pandemic a consensus formed amongst the team to go box office with the Platinum Jubilee looming on the horizon.

As public tours returned to the Palace of Westminster it seemed fitting to present a retrospective on historical and cultural figures of this magnitude. Our collections certainly weren’t going to let us down in producing a range of documentation to cover both royal dynasties. Once decided we had to map out a narrative arc between the reigns settling on the steady terrain of their respective relationships with Parliament.

Left hand page of a manuscript volume. The page has a solid block of writing on most of it apart from small margins from each edge.
Original Commons Journal, April 1571, Parliamentary Archives, HC/CL/JO/1/2

A Perfect Centrepiece

If you’ve attended a Behind the Scenes tour of the Parliamentary Archives you may have been shown the 1573 Royal Commission for the Prorogation of Parliament. This unforgettable original parchment has a distinctive seal and is embellished with the iconic Elizabeth R signature. Undoubtedly a perfect centrepiece for the display section dedicated to the Tudor Queen. Thankfully it fitted within the case measurements though they’d be a wait to see if there were any conservation concerns.

Underlying discord was a theme of the infrequently summoned Elizabethan Parliaments fuelling Parliamentarian antagonism. A Commons Journal from April 1571 that detailed the infamous ‘Queen’s Rebuke’ was chosen to be the chief supporting document. Hopes were high for the inclusion of the 1601 Poor Law Act in the final cut but with space at a premium, this leading favourite was replaced by a 19th Century print of a procession of nobles at her funeral.

Narrow strip of paper showing drawings of processing.
Procession at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth I (Plate), Parliamentary Archives, CAT/7/16


Square metal object with a royal insignia stamped on the top
Inkwell used by Elizabeth II to sign the Accession Declaration, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/LB/1/73a



Ode to a Silver Inkwell

 For those of you who follow us on Twitter cast your mind back to June 2019 and a tweet we published on a century-old silver blotter and inkwell previously donated to the House of Lords Library. At that juncture we filled the 280-character limit by rhapsodising about its heirloom charm without knowing the full back-story. In the interim one of our senior archivists uncovered that Queen Elizabeth II used these ornate writing tools when signing the fabled 1952 Accession Declaration.

It went without saying that the less cumbersome inkwell had to accompany the specially framed declaration at the forefront of the second part of the display. The State Opening of Parliament was also to be addressed in the scheme of things. A particular poignancy resonated from a photograph from the Queen’s address in 1970 where she was supported by Prince Phillip and her two eldest children Charles and Anne.


black and white photograph showing members of the Royal Family in the House of Lords.
State Opening, 1970, Parliamentary Archives, PIC/P/249


Olympics or Succession – That is the Question?

When developing any project, it can’t always be smooth sailing with everyone involved in harmonious agreement every step of the way. Given the procedural importance of a bill receiving Royal Assent it was imperative that we made ample allocation for displaying an Act of Parliament. However, opinions soon divided on the legislative statute that best illustrated what the Queen represents.

In the blue corner we had our main contender in the 2013 Succession to the Crown Act that ended male gender preference regarding the line of succession alongside other ground-breaking clauses. The red corner was occupied by the more leftfield example that being the 2006 London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act. A knowing nod to the Queen’s surprise cameo at the tournament’s opening ceremony that become a worldwide sensation. By a tight points decision the Succession Act succeeded as progressive modernity ultimately triumphed over an inspired ‘James Bond’ spoof.

Front cover of modern act with red ribbon
Succession to the Crown Act 2013 c. 20, Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/PU/1/2013/c20


Final Selection Day Nerves

Going into the final selection day nerves lingered as you couldn’t be certain that the applecart wouldn’t get disturbed by a sudden last-minute derailment. The principal pressure-point centred on our Collection Care colleagues deeming the largesse 1573 Royal Commission for the Prorogation of Parliament too big for the case. The delegated expert in an apron meticulously studied the various angles and earnestly discussed light projections with the digitization representative before giving their collective seal of approval.

Interestingly a discussion on including a decorative silver pen connected to the treasured inkwell for the latter Queen’s display proved the real headscratcher. After deliberation it remained on the subs bench. Once all items were finally agreed upon, we could move on to creating the all-important Image Board. Hitting this stage in the knowledge that you’re on the last lap and all the months of planning are about to come to fruition.

Photograph of an exhibition case in a grand ornate room
The finished display


Two’s & Swans


Onwards we marched as thoughts turned to creating a pair of sub-titles for the information panels to match the immediacy of The Two Elizabeth’s banner. The Elizabeth I synopsis that focused on the fear and loathing of her Court bleeding into the political realm led us to the signage of Queen of Intrigue. The dark and light contrast of the regal twosome was further highlighted by the Broadway influenced choice of Thoroughly Modern Monarch to reflect the second Elizabethan age.

I’m a fan of the old-school DVD outtake and over the project’s duration one standout moment fell easily into this comedic bloomer category. At a meeting to brainstorm design concepts for the panels and promotional material someone round the table spent an excruciatingly excessive amount of time ruminating on how the number two looks the same as a swan to everyone’s silent bemusement.

That was me – I’ll get my coat!


All our Royal Gallery Displays can be seen on Parliament’s line of route tour. The Two Elizabeths is on view throughout Autumn 2023.

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