The First Parliamentary War

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The First Parliamentary War – 1763

John WilkesParliament met on Tuesday, the 15th of November.  For many weeks the whole nation had been looking forward to this day, as though a decisive battle in foreign warfare was to be lost or won.  All were aware that there had been few contests in the history of England upon which graver issues had depended, since the fight between the Opposition and the Ministry over the body of John Wilkes would decide whether the king or Parliament was henceforth to control the destinies of the people.  Dense crowds were gathered in the courtyards outside the old Palace of Westminster.  Members of both Houses thronged the long corridors within, each party having mobilised its forces for the great fight. There was an atmosphere of unaccustomed excitement everywhere.  Each face was aglow with expectation; all hurried to and fro with quick eager footsteps.  

Long before the Speaker took his seat every bench was filled in the chapel of St. Stephen’s, where the Commons assembled, and members were standing along its panelled walls.  Although not as notable an assembly as some of the Parliaments that had gone before and came soon after, it still contained the most noble figure that ever entered those doors.  He sat amidst his colleagues of the Opposition this great William Pitt, grim and aloof, unconscious of the incessant glances that were cast upon him, a tall gaunt man in ill-fitting clothes, and though the shadow of pain and sickness rested upon his cheeks and he leant forward in his seat with the stoop of the valetudinarian, the gleam of his blue eyes revealed the unquenchable fire that glowed within his breast, and the fierce curved nose and stern mobile lips gave an impression of power and virility to his pale face.  Across the House his brother-in-law, the Premier, bent over a sheaf of notes, a silent, bloodless man with a hacking cough, his firm mouth and tilted nostrils indicating the proud Grenville obstinacy, and while he had none of Pitt’s fiery eloquence, his clear logical speeches made him one of the most formidable of debaters.

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