The position of Clerk first emerged in the late 13th century, and for the next one hundred years, the appointment would expire with each parliament itself.
The plural term ‘Clerk of the Parliaments’ came into existence in Henry VIII's reign and signifies that the Clerk of the Parliaments serves from one Parliament to the next.
From the emergence of the office up to the present day, the Clerk’s duties have included reading out the titles of bills in the House of Lords. Medieval Clerks had to be able to read and write in three languages: Latin, French and English.
Norman French is still used in some House of Lords procedures. For example, at Prorogation, in the Queen’s absence, the Clerk of the Parliaments signifies her Royal Assent to Bills which have been passed by both Houses by uttering the words, ‘La Reyne le vault,’ or ‘the Queen wishes it.’
According to historian A.F. Pollard, John Gunthorpe, Clerk of the Parliaments from 1471 to 1483, was the first Clerk officially to appoint a deputy, although some of his predecessors likely had unofficial deputies.
Today, the Clerk of Parliaments is closely assisted by two other senior clerks, the Clerk Assistant and the Reading Clerk. On important occasions, these three senior officers will all be seated together at the Table in the Lords’ chamber, identifiable by their traditional court dress and wigs.
The Clerk of the Parliaments Act 1824 – an Act for ‘better regulating the Office of Clerk of the Parliaments’ – still applies today, and sets out, for example, that the Sovereign appoints the Clerk and that the incumbent should execute his duties in person.
In the late 19th century, the Clerk of the Parliaments’ Office developed into a more professional office, serving and supporting the needs of Members of the House.