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The UK is known as a constitutional monarchy.  Unlike the US, its constitution is unwritten.  The balance of power between the monarch and Parliament has evolved over time and is governed by various agreements, laws, and rulings rather than one all encompassing document.  We learned this on an informative tour of the Houses of Parliament last Saturday.

This place is dripping with history, in every nook and cranny.  Officially, it is known as the Palace of Westminster, and the first palace goes back to the days of King Edward the Confessor in the mid-11th century.  Although much of the palace was rebuilt following a devastating fire in 1834, visitors begin their tour in one of the oldest parts of the building – Westminster Hall – which was originally built in 1097.  The hammer-beam roof was constructed in the late 1300′s under Richard II.  This enormous hall served as the law courts until the 19th century, as well as holding government offices and early meetings of Parliament.

Westminster Hall

This hall is where King Charles I and St. Thomas More were tried and convicted, leading to their executions.  It was used for coronation banquets until the 19th century, but since the early 20th century, the hall has been used for official lying in-state of a deceased monarch or important member of the royal family.  Lots and lots of history here.

Our tour guide also provided a general history of how Parliament developed over time, from the king’s advisory council to today’s House of Commons and House of Lords.  She described the rituals and symbolism associated with the annual State Opening of Parliament.  This video shows a bit of the pomp and ceremony that surrounds the Queen’s speech outlining each year’s governmental agenda.

I’m planning to return to Parliament in the near future to observe some debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Michael and I also visited the Tate Britain on Saturday, which is located close to the Houses of Parliament.  This art museum’s focus is British art since 1500.

Entrance to Tate Britain art museum

My favorite piece of the day:

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse 1888

In other news, I’ve started another knitting project – a pair of socks.  I’ve never knitted socks before, so we’ll see…  But I love the color of the yarn – a rainbow of blues!  And our amaryllis is getting ready to bloom in a burst of red!  How appropriately political.

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