13 July, 2007

Houses of Parliament

Today we walked through the Sovereign's Entrance into the Houses of Parliament. We were able to follow the exact route that the Queen uses when she makes her annual visit to speak in the House of Lords. The grounds themselves are historically significant because they once housed all the kings of England up until Henry VIII. A fire ravaged the property, and the current building was built in 1845. One of the most impressive things that I saw on display was the actual death warrant for King Charles I. He was the only king of England to be executed after being tried for treason. He was beheaded in 1641. I was shocked to learn that no sovereign can EVER enter the House of Commons, which is why the Queen speaks only in the House of Lords each year.

The artwork and architectural details in the Royal Gallery were absolutely breathtaking to see. There were statues and portraits of royals covering every inch of the wall. The tour guide gave very interesting factual tidbits that I hadn't hear before. I didn't know that Queen Victoria's reign lasted a world record of 64 years. I also did not know that up until Prime Minister Tony Blair made some changes in 1996, seats in the House of Lords were hereditary only. That meant that no women could hold a seat there. Now Lords are peers that are appointed in, primarily for being very skilled and successful in their professions. Because of this system there are currently approximately 760 peers in the House of Lords. Apparently this is not working out too well and will be revised again in the future with the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

The rotunda area that we visited reminded me of the rotunda in The Capitol Building in Washington D.C., but slightly smaller. I liked that each of the four walls had a statue depicting the patron Saint of each of the United Kingdom's four countries: St. David for Wales, St. Andrew for Scotland, St. George for England, and St. Patrick for Ireland. It was incredible to walk through the House of Commons archway off of this room and actually see the marks left from Hitler's bombings during World War II. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to actually walk through all of these galleries and rooms on the tour. The first time I came to London I was able to sit in on a session of parliament, but I felt that I had missed out on seeing the rest of the building as we did today.

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