The Houses of Parliament
Welcome to the Palace of Westminster. It consists of three parts: the Royal Apartments where the colour is gold, the House of Lords where the seats are red and the House of Commons where the seats are green.
We are now in the Chamber of the House of Lords. Please be quiet and don't sit on these red benches.
The Chamber of the House of Lords is also called the Parliament Chamber, because every year when the Queen comes to open Parliament, all three parts of Parliament come together here for the Queen's Speech. In fact, it's not really the Queen's Speech, because she doesn't write it. The Government writes it for her. In the speech the Queen tells Parliament about the Government's plans for the next year. When she gives her speech, she sits on the throne over there. Can you all see it? Yes, it's that big chair behind the big red cushion.
Oh, and that cushion is, actually, the famous Woolsack. And yes, there is wool inside it. It's a part of a very old tradition which started in the 14th century. It was put in Parliament to symbolise the importance of wool to the British economy at that time.
The person who usually sits on the Woolsack is the Lord Chancellor. He presides over the House of Lords.
Now we are going through into the House of Commons, where MPs make decisions on new laws. Let's walk through this beautiful arch. There are two statues, one on each side of the arch. Both of these two men were Prime Ministers. One is David Lloyd George, and the other - Sir Winston Churchill. They represent the two main British political parties - the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. We have a tradition: if you're a Conservative, touch Churchill's shoe, and if you're Labour, touch Lloyd George's shoe. Have you touched a shoe? Now let's turn right.
Do you see two long narrow corridors on your left and on your right? These are very important for the whole country because MPs come here to vote on bills for new laws. On the left there is the "aye", or yes, lobby. MPs who agree with a bill go there. On the right there is the "no" lobby for MPs who want to vote against the bill. Then the officials count the "ayes" and the "noes" to get the results. So in the British Parliament MPs don't vote by pushing a button; they vote with their feet.
Let's go through the "no" lobby and into the House of Commons, where you'll see that the benches are green. The chamber here isn't very big. In fact, there are only places for 437 people on the benches, but there are 650 MPs, so sometimes they have to sit on the steps when the House is full. Now we're standing behind the Speaker's chair. The Speaker is the person who presides over the House of Commons.
Now look at the floor. Can you see two red lines in front of the benches on each side of the chamber? That's part of a tradition too. The distance between these two lines is two swords' lengths. In the old days when MPs used to carry swords, it was dangerous if they got angry with each other. So these two lines are here to remind MPs that they shouldn't start a fight, and they can't go over this line when they are speaking in a debate.
Today there's nobody here, so you won't see the Mace, which is put on this table when the House of Commons is sitting. The Mace is the symbol of the power which Parliament won from the King a long time ago, and MPs have a lot of respect for it. It even has its own guard, who has a very big sword.
Now let's leave the House of Commons and go to Westminster Hall. This is the oldest part of the Palace of Westminster, and it's more than a thousand years old. The son of William the Conqueror... Do you remember the Norman leader who won the Battle of Hastings? Well, it was his son who started the building of the hall. This building has seen a lot of famous events. In 1605 Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament, and in World War II bombs fell on it.
The diary of Marian Fitzwalter
25 February, in the year of our Lord 1190
I'm starting this diary because my life is going to change. Finally. I want to remember every detail of it. It all started yesterday at breakfast when Father looked at me and said: "The girl is sixteen. She needs to learn some good manners and the duties of a real lady. I think we should send her to Lady Isabel, who will teach her." Since then Mother has been sighing and crying all the time, but my heart has been singing with joy. I'm going to live in a big, rich Norman castle! I'm going to eat good food and learn beautiful songs and fashionable French dances! The minstrels are going to sing for me! What a life!
Father sent a letter to Lady Isabel. We'll get an answer in a couple of days. So today was the usual boring day. I got up early and helped the maids sweep the floor in the great hall. After breakfast I had to spin with my mother and her women all day. It was only before dinner that I had some time, so I'm writing my diary.
Oh, I forgot. There was a hanging in Nottingham today, but we didn't go. What a pity! Our family never goes to interesting events like that. Maybe that's because Mother doesn't like them. She gets very upset.
Still no answer from Lady Isabel. Maybe, she won't take me? I'm getting worried.
Today is the day when our villagers pay my father for the land which they hold from him. Those who have more land pay first. And at the end come the sheep boy, and the widow Megan who has no land but has to pay for her little cottage. This year the faces of the villagers were angry. They swore at my father when they paid. I don't understand why. Did they have to pay more than usual?
In fact, we are not rich at all. My father is a Norman knight. Ten servants, fifty villagers and 100 acres of land is all he got from the King for his loyal services.
Today I asked Father about the angry villagers. He said that it was none of my business (не мое дело). Then I asked mother. She shook her head first, but then talked to me. "Our villagers are getting very poor," she said. "Greedy Prince John wants more and more gold and silver and invents more and more taxes which everybody has to pay. He says that our king, Richard, needs the money, but I don't believe it." I like my mother. She is different from all the other women, I know. She is brave and always says what she thinks. Mother comes from a noble Celtic-Saxon family. She says that there were kings and Druids in it. Unfortunately, it didn't help Mother's family when the Normans came. Her grandfather kept his land, but lost his power.
We finally got an answer from Lady Isabel! I'm going in ten days. I have to pack my things quickly. Mother is sadder than usual. I have been thinking about King Richard. I've never seen him, but my father did. Together they went to the Holy Land and fought for Christ against heretics. It's called the Crusades. Father says that King Richard is fair and brave. For his courage everybody calls him the Lionheart. Unfortunately, on his way back King Richard got into a trap, and now the Austrian emperor keeps him in prison. He wants a large ransom. Richard's younger brother, John, is ruling England for him. John raises taxes higher and higher but he hasn't paid the ransom for his brother yet. So maybe Mother is right. He simply doesn't want to do it. Nobody likes John and his stupid, greedy French friends. I hope King Richard will be back soon, and life will be easier for everybody.
Today is the last day at home. I hope I'll impress Lady Isabel with my good manners, clothes and appearance. I even washed my hair... Before I went to bed, Mother came into the room. She was very pale, but smiled at me. On her finger there was a golden Celtic ring, which I had never seen before. She took it off and gave it to me. "Take it," she said, "It's magic. It's been in our family since 1066. It has saved the lives of a lot of people. Never take it off, but don't show it to anybody." With these words she put a thin chain through the ring and put it around my neck.
I didn't understand anything about magic, but I liked the ring. It's nice and heavy with two big snakes on.
The way to Lady Isabel's castle was not long, and the road was bumpy. Father sent five servants with us. He says that the roads aren't safe nowadays. Finally, we entered Sherwood Forest. It was quiet there. The big trees have started to blossom and looked magic. But my servants didn't agree with me. They were obviously scared of something or somebody. Suddenly the shadows around us started to move. A moment later we saw three men in green clothes. My servants shook with horror.
One of the forest men stepped forward: "What's your name, fair (прекрасный) lady?" he asked with a smile. His voice was nice, and he had the most handsome smile in the world. "I'm Lady Marian Fitzwalter," I answered and smiled back (улыбнулась в ответ) at him.
Then he asked me about my father and said some kind words about him. After that his friends showed us a short way through the forest, but he didn't go with us. What a pity! And I don't even know his name!
I've been very busy and couldn't write. Life in Lady Isabel's castle is awful. The castle is, of course, big and beautiful, and their great hall is bigger than ours. Their food is better too, but all these things don't matter (не имеют значения) anymore. Lady Isabel has two daughters and three sons. They all hate me. They call me "Saxon cow" or "Stupid Mary" and never talk to me. I'm so sorry that I have come here, but what can I do now?
Today some villagers came to the castle for help. One of them, Robert, had a big wound in his leg. Lady Isabel showed me and her daughters how to make medicine. She mixed some sheep fat with some goose blood and dried frog. It was her best ointment. The next villager had a toothache. My idea was that we should pull the tooth out, but Lady Isabel didn't agree. "If we pull his tooth out, the evil spirits will go into his body," she said. She put some garlic paste into his mouth. The smell was awful. I just hope it helps.
I'm praying to God for Robert. I saw him today in the great Hall. He looks very pale and he's running a fever. Why doesn't Lady Isabel let me help him. I know how to do it. Two years ago some pilgrims from the Holy Land stayed in our castle. They were good people and taught me a lot of things. Every summer I go to the fields and forests and gather flowers and herbs. Later we dry them, mix medicines and put them into bottles. When I use the medicines, I always think about the pilgrims and thank them.
Poor Robert died, but nobody cries for him. Today there is a big feast in the castle. Lady Isabel's favourite cousin is going to come for a visit. His name is Guy of Gisbourne. He isn't very rich, but he's a friend of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Lady Isabel is proud of him. The feast was horrible. Lady Isabel put (посадила) Guy of Gisbourne next to me. He blew (сморкался) his red nose on the tablecloth, cleaned his teeth with a knife and took all the best pieces from the plate.
He was talking about one of his serfs. Whom he was going to hang tomorrow.
I'm never going to a hanging again. This is how it all happened. In the morning Lady Isabel, her daughters and I put on our best clothes and went to Nottingham. There was a large crowd of people in the market square. Everybody was waiting for the hanging. We bought some pies and ale, but I couldn't eat or drink when I saw the criminal. He was a thin, tired man. He didn't ask for help, didn't look around. I think he wanted to die. And then I heard people in the crowd, "...killed a deer in the King's forest," "...had nothing to eat," "was sick and couldn't work," "his wife and daughter froze to death this winter," "was looking for food for his little son," "the Norman pigs will soon hang all Saxons!" "Where is our good King Richard?" "Robin Hood will get (доберется до) Guy of Gisbourne."
I couldn't listen or look any more. I ran away.
In the evening I was thinking about the new name that I had heard. Who is this Robin Hood?
I asked Lady Isabel about Robin Hood. She shouted at me and left me without food for the whole day. That's interesting. Is she scared?
Something is happening. Everybody's busy. They don't notice me and leave me in peace.
I heard the news at dinner. The Sheriff of Nottingham is organizing a shooting contest and the best archer will get the Silver Arrow. That's all very exciting. I even forgot about the hanging.
It's bad news. I have finally found out all about Robin Hood. He's a dangerous outlaw who lives in Sherwood Forest and robs everybody who wants to go through the forest. He has a big gang of men who are all criminals. Recently they stole all the taxes that Sheriff of Nottingham had collected for Prince John. So the shooting contest is a trap for Robin Hood. Everybody knows that he is a good archer, and the Sheriff of Nottingham wants to catch Robin if he comes to the contest.