Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Medieval King, Tally Sticks & The Houses Of Parliament

One of the pleasures in studying medieval history is to learn how events can sometimes connect quite unexpectedly across the centuries.

When medieval king Richard 1st was captured, the money needed to pay his ransom, 150,000 silver marks, was so large that a special ransom office was created to administer the raising and collection of the silver. These transactions were recorded on wooden tally sticks. There must have been a great many of these and over the centuries they lay unused and forgotten around the Palace of Westminster with many of them in the room which had been the Court of the Star Chamber under King James II.

In 1824 it was decided to restore the room for other uses and the tally sticks had to be destroyed. It was decided that they should be burnt and on 16 October they were put into the stove at the House of Lords which then overheated and set fire to the panelling and from there to the building itself.

The landscape painter J M W Turner was a witness to the fire and painted it (see below). The replacement building was designed by Augustus Pugin

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