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In British parliamentary history, the first person to hold the position now recognizable as Speaker was Peter de Montfort, who presided over Parliament in 1258. He was appointed as the parlour, mouth, or proluctor of the King. He acted as the spokesperson or speaker for the House to the King. At first, speakers were appointed for only one year. Indeed, many speakers didn’t last that long.
A dangerous role
Early on, parliaments had no real power other than to provide funds for the Crown. As such, the Parliament and the Speaker were treated with contempt by the monarchy. Seven Speakers were beheaded by the King between 1394 and 1535 for not doing as he wished. As a result, the role of the Speaker was not sought after by Members of Parliament as it is today and that history explains why elected Speakers feign resistance when they are escorted to the chair.
Challenges to the King
Below are a few early instances that helped solidify the status of Parliament and of the Speaker:
1523 Sir Thomas More “stood up against both Henry VIII and … Cardinal Wolsey, insisting on the Commons’ right to a voice in State affairs” (Marsden, p. 95). While in the Tower of London for his offences, he stated that he “preferred to die rather that to agree that ‘Parliament could make the King supreme head of the Church’” (Marsden, p. 95).
1626 Sir Henrich Finch, in his address to King Charles I, on the occasion of his election to the Speakership, stated, “I shall neither disable nor undervalue myself, but with a faithful and cheerful heart apply myself with the best of my strength and abilities to the performance of this weighty and public charge” (Marsden, p. 96).
1642 Sir Finch’s successor, William Lenthall, remarked to King Charles I when he stormed Parliament looking to arrest five members for treason, “Sir, I have ears to hear and lips to speak that the people shall command me!” (Marsden, p. 97).
167? Sir Edward Seymour refused to attend King Charles II who wished to prorogue parliament, because the supply bill had not been returned from the House of Lords. Seymour famously stated, “he would sooner be torn by wild horses than quit the Chair”. When he was re-elected to the Speakership, the King refused to approve his appointment (Marsden, p. 99).
1708 Sir Richard Onslow was elected Speaker of Parliament. He was an expert in the precedents and proceedings of the House of Commons. His “unyielding insistence on the observation of proper protocol … increased the prestige of his office, both within the House and outside ... The whole House referred to him as ‘Stiff Dick’” (Marsden, p. 101).
The Speakership in Nova Scotia
In Nova Scotia, the fight for parliamentary authority, including the speakership, was less dramatic, but no less important. In 1758, the first bill the House of Assembly attempted to pass was one establishing its authority. The Governor and Council, however, refused to approve this bill and many others. They, just like Great Britain, saw the House as a bit of a nuisance. The first bill that was finally passed established duties on the import of rum. The House was used for funds just as it had been in Britain. Gradually the Council recognized the status of the House and the Speaker.
Below are a few events in the history of the Speaker in Nova Scotia:
1806 Governor Wentworth refuses to accept William Cotnam Tonge as Speaker of the House of Assembly. The House elects a new Speaker, but in the Address in Reply to the Throne they show their dissatisfaction by stating, “we lament that Your Excellency has been pleased to exercise a branch of His Majesty's prerogative, long unused in Great-Britain, and without precedent in this Province” (Journal and Proceedings of the House of Assembly, 1806, p. 11).
1825 Samuel George William Archibald, Speaker, and James Boutineau Francklin, Clerk, are the first presiding officers to wear wigs and gowns in the House of Assembly chamber.
1841-43 Joseph Howe is Speaker of the House while he is a member of the Executive Council (Cabinet).
Speakers of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly (1758 – present)
|Henry Denny Denson||1773 (pro tem)|
|Sampson Salter Blowers||1785-1788|
|Richard John Uniacke||1789-1793|
|Richard John Uniacke||1799-1805|
|William Cottnam Tonge||1805-1806|
|Lewis Morris Wilkins||1806-1817|
|Simon Bradstreet Robie||1817-1824|
|Samuel George William Archibald||1825-1840|
|Alexander C McDonald||Liberal||1861-1863|
|John Chipman Wade||Confederate||1864-1867|
|John Joseph Marshall||Anti-Confederate||1868-1870|
|Jared Ingersoll Chipman Troop||Liberal||1871-1874|
|John Barnhill Dickie||Liberal||1875|
|Mather Byles DesBrisay||Liberal||1875-1876|
|Isaac Newton Mack||Liberal||1877-1878|
|Ebenezer Tilton Moseley||Liberal Conservative||1879-1882|
|Michael Joseph Power||Liberal||1887-1894|
|Frederick Andrew Laurence||Liberal||1895-1901|
|Frederick Andrew Laurence||Liberal||1903-1904|
|Edward Matthew Farrell||Liberal||1905-1910|
|George Everett Faulkner||Liberal||1910-1911|
|James Fraser Ellis||Liberal||1912-1916|
|Robert George Irwin||Liberal||1917-1925|
|Albert E Parsons||Liberal Conservative||1926-1928|
|Daniel George McKenzie||Conservative||1929-1933|
|Lindsay Cann Gardner||Liberal||1934-1938|
|Moses Elijah McGarry||Liberal||1939|
|Gordon Emerson Romkey||Liberal||1940-1953|
|John Smith McIvor||Liberal||1954-1956|
|Walter Selby Kennedy Jones||Progressive Conservative||1957-1960|
|Harvey Alfred Veniot||Progressive Conservative||1961-1968|
|Gordon Howard Fitzgerald||Progressive Conservative||1969-1970|
|George MacGregor Mitchell||Liberal||1970-1973|
|James Lawrence Connolly||Liberal||1973-1974|
|Vincent James MacLean||Liberal||1974-1976|
|George Raymond Doucet||Liberal||1977-1978|
|Ronald S Russell||Progressive Conservative||1978-1980|
|Arthur Richard Donahoe||Progressive Conservative||1981-1991|
|Ronald S Russell||Progressive Conservative||1991-1993|
|Paul W MacEwan||Liberal||1993-1996|
|Wayne J Gaudet||Liberal||1996-1997|
|Ronald S Russell||Progressive Conservative||1998-1999|
|Cecil P. Clarke||PC||2006-2007|