As a history scholar, our new lord chancellor, Christopher Grayling MP, is no doubt looking forward to trying out his costume of wig, robes and tights. However, thanks to the flexibilities of the English constitution, the office of lord chancellor, established in 1066, has been more susceptible to change than the formal rig suggests.
Obiter reckons that Grayling is the first non-lawyer to hold the post since Queen Mary I’s archbishop of York, Nicholas Heath, in 1558. His tenure did not end entirely happily. On the Catholic Mary’s death and the accession of her sister Elizabeth, Heath was canny enough to switch allegiance, keeping his seat on the privy council (not to mention his head). However, his refusal to crown Elizabeth cost him his commission as lord chancellor and his archbishopric. He died in 1578.
Tony Blair, of course, tried to go one better in 2003 by abolishing the role altogether under his appointee, Lord Falconer of Thoroton. However the plan was abandoned after the necessary legislative hurdles were pointed out.
Obiter trusts Grayling will make a better fist of his duties.