The truth about Acts

A number of misconceptions frequently arise about the Acts stored in the Victoria Tower. It is said, for example, that they are signed by the Sovereign.

The modern Acts are in fact signed by the Clerk of the Parliaments only, and rolls of two and half centuries, from 1603 to 1849, lack any signature at all.

Before 1603, the Acts were sometimes signed by the Sovereign at the head; Henry VII was particularly diligent in signing 'H.R' on each separate skin annexure, and Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth I signed occasionally with their full names, but after that no signatures ever appear.

None of the Stuarts or the Hanoverians authenticated Acts in this way, although they were frequently present when the Acts were passed.

Seals on Acts

It is also thought that a seal is appended to Acts. This is not the case. Where Commissions have been preserved with the Acts to which they referred, the Commission itself has the Great Seal on it (in modern days, a smaller wafer seal). But Parliament possesses no seal, perhaps a mark of its ad hoc character in the Middle Ages.

Statute Book

Other misunderstandings arise concerning the time-honoured phrase: the Statute Book. The Statute Book was originally the Statute Roll - at the end of a medieval Parliament, a collection of Acts of a public character was made and given the title of the King's regnal year, which each particular Act forming a section of the complete Statute.

There are today as many Statute Books as there are Parliamentary years. Throughout the centuries, many Acts of a private, personal or local character have never formed chapters in the roll or book. These Private Acts were often not printed, surviving only in a single manuscript copy in the Victoria Tower.

Did you know?

Some parchments in the Tower take up a surprising amount of space. For instance, an Act dealing with taxation passed in the reign of George III, extends to something like 403m (1,320ft)

Also within Living Heritage