This year, 2015, marks the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta and 750 years since the De Montfort Parliament which was the forerunner of the modern day House of Commons. It’s being marked by a programme of events in Parliament throughout the year, Parliament in the Making.
20 January was the De Montfort anniversary, and this was marked on the BBC as Democracy Day. I was very pleased to feature on Woman’s Hour on Democracy Day, talking about protests by women in Parliament through history, including the 1739 ‘rush’ by a group of women on the House of Lords, the suffragette Ladies’ Gallery Grille protest in 1908, and Emily Wilding Davison’s overnight stay on census night in 1911. You can hear the piece on Woman’s Hour on iPlayer: my bit starts around 15:00 and is about 5 minutes long. The whole programme is well worth a listen though – it also features Helen Pankhurst, Emmeline’s great granddaughter, and Baroness D’Souza, the Lord Speaker, among others.
Another 2015 project is ‘The Beginnings of that Freedome’, a magnificent exhibition of banners by artists in Westminster Hall. Each banner marks a date in the journey to rights and representation over the centuries. One of the banners marks the foundation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1897, by artist Alinah Azadeh. You can read her artist’s statement, find out about the sources she used, and see some lovely images from her work on the Parliament website.
And, if you wonder what relevance such ancient anniversaries as Magna Carta and De Montfort really had for women, you can read a bit about the Women of Magna Carta here, and listen to historian Louise Wilkinson talk about ‘Mother of Parliament’ Eleanor De Montfort on Woman’s Hour on 19 Jan (starts at 19.23).