Robert Harley, Christmas and the House of Lords’ Protest on the Attainder of Sir John Fenwick, 23 December 1696: The Mechanism of a Procedure Partly Exposed*
Clyve Jones (notes)
On 23 December 1696 the House of Lords passed the bill of attainder for treason on the jacobite Sir John Fenwick. Many of the lords on the minority side of the division entered a written protest against the vote into the journals of the House. Because the vote had been taken on the day the House recessed for the Christmas holidays, the rule whereby all protests had to be signed by the end of the day of the next sitting of the House was dispensed with and lords were allowed to sign at their next appearance in the House, even if it was not the next sitting (which turned out to be 7 January 1697). One peer signed as late as 26 February 1697. Robert Harley noted down a list of the protestors which is incomplete (very probably only those that signed the protest on 23 December). The timing of this protest immediately before Christmas, together with the help of Harley's list, enables a detailed study of this protest to reveal some of the mechanisms by which protests were organized. Also the list is probably the first piece of written evidence the historian has of the interest Harley (a figure of importance in the House of Commons) took in the workings of the House of Lords, which he was to enter himself as earl of Oxford in 1711.