"they began to wear a ceremonial dress of a black silk gown laced with gold, like the modern Speaker or Lord Chancellor"


Statesman No. 129. Caricature of the Rt Hon HGW Brand MP. Caption reads
Public DomainStatesman No. 129. Caricature of the Rt Hon HGW Brand MP. Caption reads "Mr Speaker". Vanity Fair 16 November 1872 - Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The Speaker of the House of Commons is the presiding officer of the House of Commons of the British Parliament and the holder of the post is elected by his or her fellow MPs.  The history of the office dates back to the 14th century during the reign of Edward III.  Although the office, historically, was associated with serving the crown, as parliament evolved into its modern form it became more associated with the government.  The Speaker, while retaining his office as an elected Member of Parliament with the associated constituency duties, also acts as an impartial and non-party political officer.


The Speaker also performs other duties, such as at the State Opening of Parliament when he or she addresses the Crown on behalf of the House of Commons.  On this occasion the Speaker traditionally wears the ceremonial gown of black silk damask trimmed with gold, although on normal sitting days of the House, he or she wears a black gown similar to that of a barrister.  Nowadays, the Speaker does not wear the full ceremonial dress.  When Speaker, Betty Boothroyd decided not to wear the wig and Michael Martin chose not to don the buckled shoes, knee breeches and silk stockings.  John Bercow, the present Speaker, has chosen not to wear traditional ceremonial dress at all, instead choosing to wear a lounge suit.


The Lord High Chancellor is also an ancient position within the British government.  Dating as far back as the 11th century and the Norman Conquest, the post is an extremely senior one and is second only to the Lord High Steward.  The holder is appointed by the reigning sovereign, acting upon advice from the Prime Minister.  The Chancellor is also responsible for the running of the courts.  The present Lord Chancellor is Kenneth Clarke.