Nick Page

The last speaker to be sacked

The current hot political topic is the sacking resignation of the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin. Apart from obscuring the slightly unfortunate fact that it was not, after all, the Speaker who submitted all those expense claims, it would also be the first time in over 300 years that a speaker has been removed from office.

And the last one – Sir John Trevor – was sacked for taking a bribe. Sir John was speaker of the House from 1689 to 1695. In fact, he was removed twice.

He was an MP from 1673. (After his successful election in 1682, he had to fight a duel with his beaten opponent). He was originally appointed by James II, the successor to Charles II, and when James was removed and replaced by William III, Speaker Trevor went as well. However, he returned to Parliament in 1690 and once again, was appointed Speaker of the House of Commons.

Rather wonderfully, as the picture shows, Sir Trevor was renowned for being severely cross-eyed. Indeed, so severe was this problem that often members of parliament weren’t sure if he was really looking at them or not. So catching the speaker’s eye proved tricky and often MPs, thinking he had looked at them would speak out of turn.

His downfall came when, on 7 March 1695, he was found guilty of accepting a bribe of 1000 guineas from the City of London.  (They were trying to secure the passage of an Orphans’ Bill through the house which sounds good, except for the fact it was all about the City getting money from the government for the care of the orphans and a few other debts).

As the House of Commons Journal puts it:

And, at Sir Robert [Clayton]’s Desire, they went together to the Speaker, to give him Thanks for his Pains about the Orphans Bill; and, as soon as Sir Robert and he had passed a Compliment on the Speaker, the Chamberlain pulled out a Note or Bill, which he delivered the Speaker; which the Speaker took; and presently they all took their Leave of him, and came away. (Source)

One wonders if the bill was in a brown paper bag. Initially, like someone else we could mention, he played for time, arguing that he had been ‘taken suddenly ill, with a violent Colick’. But it was too late and, on 15 March, ‘The Commons of England in Parliament assembled, having, by a very extraordinary Occasion, lost the Service of their late Speaker, proceeded to a new Election…’

If you want you can stay in his house, which now offers bed and breakfast.

Oh, and he never did give the money back.