Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Can You See Anything? Not in the Women’s Gallery in the House of Commons

I suppose I take for granted the ability to watch our democracy in action. The internet and cable television bring our legislators up front and personal, and the news media provides summaries of actions taken in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Before the pandemic, I might have gone to sit in the gallery of my state legislature and watch proposed laws being debated. So, I was surprised to learn just how hard it was for a young lady to view activities in the House of Commons during the early part of the nineteenth century.

Until 1834, when the House of Commons was destroyed by fire, the building was a rambling, four-story structure along the Thames. The Members of the House met in a lofty chamber with galleries around three sides, but these spaces were for men only. Two galleries flanking each other were for Members who did not intend to take part in the debate. Overflow was necessary, because the main floor could only accommodate a little over half of the Members at a time. The third gallery was for “Strangers,” or visitors. Of the 120 seats, 40 were reserved for reporters.

If a lady wanted to observe the goings on, she must watch from the Women’s Gallery. It was located in the attic, directly above the debate chamber. There was room for only fourteen occupants, and their view consisted of a grating in the floor that gave onto the chamber below. As near as I can tell, you can see the grating in the ceiling at the upper left of the picture above. 

According to one attendee, all that could be seen were the feet of the Speaker of the House sitting in his chair, part of the table at which the clerks recorded the proceedings, and one or two of the dignitaries seated nearby. The Women’s Gallery was dark, with only a single candle in a tin lantern, and hot, with the chamber below ventilating into it. (I will restrain myself from making a joke about all that hot air rising from the pontificators.)

Such was the scene when Lady Calantha, heroine of February’s Never Court a Count, attempted to identify a Member of the House by the sound of his voice. She promised Fritz, Count Montalban and brother to the Crown Prince of Batavaria, that she can find the man she overheard threatening his family. But she never expected identifying him would be so difficult, or Fritz so hard to forget. Here’s a little about the story.

Lady Calantha, middle daughter of the Duke of Wey, has the unique ability to turn invisible in company. Well, not entirely invisible, or the eligible Frederick, Count Montalban, wouldn’t have noticed her at all. But Callie’s shy nature and plain features tend to make people overlook her. And they say the most outrageous things around her as a result, which is why she accidentally overhears strangers plotting to harm the count and his royal brother and father. What can a lady do but warn him?

Fritz, Count Montalban, is determined to keep his family safe. But he can’t drag Callie all over London to identify those plotting against them unless she has a reason to be alone with him. Pretending an engagement sounds like the perfect plan. After all, his dashing demeanor hides a wounded soul that demands he hold a true fiancée at a distance. But there’s something about Callie that pulls him closer.

As the danger grows along with their attraction, Fritz and Callie must work together to protect both their families, and Fritz finds his heart cracking open. Can he prove to the sweet Callie that she will never be invisible, to him? 

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QNPoohBear said...

Have you seen Professor Amanda Vickery's documentary Suffragettes Forever: The Story of Women and Power (2015)? I found it on Amazon Prime. She talks and shows the lengths women went through to get into the hallowed halls of Parliament in the Georgian period. Some ladies who had titles in their own right stormed the doors and demanded entrance to take their seats in the House of Lords. They were, of course, denied. The House of LORDS was for Lords, not Ladies. Professor Vickery also discusses how women tried to view the proceedings from the House of Commons as well.

I am eager to read Callie's story and it's on my computer. The weather will be bad again this weekend so I'm saving it for a nice winter's read with a cup of tea or chocolate. I love Callie the most of the four young ladies!

Regina Scott said...

I haven't seen that documentary, QNPoohBear. Thanks for the tip! A book and a cup of hot chocolate on a wintery day? Heaven!

QNPoohBear said...

Apparently now you need IMDb TV add on to Amazon Prime to watch the documentary. I also found it on YouTube. It's worth a watch. Episode 1 covers up through the Georgian-Regency periods. Amanda Vickery and Lucy Worsley are my favorite British women's historians.

Regina Scott said...

Good to know! I have Prime, but not the add on. Will check YouTube. Thanks!