Parliament in Oxford

Not only can the Bodleian Libraries provide archives and collections related to the work of Parliament, but it also played host to Parliament on four occasions in the 17th century. Simon Bailey, Keeper of the Archives, University of Oxford provides a brief factual summary .   

In 1625 this was to avoid the plague then prevalent in London, and the Commons sat in the Divinity School.

Nearly twenty years later, Charles I moved his court to Oxford during the Civil War. The Royalist Parliament, comprising a majority of the House of Lords and about one third of the House of Commons, sat in Oxford in 1644. The Commons sat in the Divinity School and the Lords in Convocation House.

In 1665, again to avoid the plague, the Lords met in the Geometry School – now part of the Lower Reading Room of the Bodleian – and the Commons in the Convocation House. Other spaces in the Lower Reading Room were partitioned for use as retiring rooms by the King and the Duke of York, the bishops and the lords. Commons committees met in the Divinity School, adjacent to Convocation House.

In 1681, King Charles summoned the third 'exclusion' parliament to Oxford. The Commons wished to exclude Charles's brother, the Duke of York (later James II), from the succession because he was a Roman Catholic, but Charles was strongly opposed to this and bills had been rejected in the Lords on two previous occasions. Charles chose Oxford on this occasion because London was dominated by the exclusion party, and he felt he could rely on the loyalty of the University. The Lords again met in the Geometry School and the Commons in Convocation House. Charles took the Commons by surprise by dissolving the Parliament before the Commons could pass another exclusion bill.

The Bodleian Library offers various guided tours that take visitors through the Divinity School and into Convocation House, as well as through Duke Humfrey’s Library and other parts of the buildings. For more information on ticketing options and opening hours, please see our visitor information pages.

All images © Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford 

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