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The posts of housekeeper and deputy housekeeper in the House of Commons and the House of Lords were frequently held by women from the end of the seventeenth century. While most of the holders were married to senior male officers who stood to benefit financially, these roles generally passed down through the female line. Bringing with them major responsibilities and substantial fees and other rewards, these appointments were often hotly contested between rival claimants and their male relatives. Similarly hotly contested was the little-known office of necessary woman to the House of Lords. Although undoubtedly workaday in origin, this lucrative perquisite became a contradiction in terms by the 1720s, when it was held by a man as a sinecure for many years. Things came to a head after his death, when two rival women petitioned to claim the post in 1748, and the House of Lords had to set up a committee to investigate and adjudicate. Successive necessary women outlived all attempts to suppress their valuable source of income until as late as 1870, when the last post-holder died. Drawing on examples from the years between c. 1690 and 1877, our paper will explore the lives of these senior female office-holders and consider to what extent they were able to exercise agency in the jobs to which they had been appointed. 

Dr Mari Takayanagi FRHistS is Senior Archivist in the UK Parliamentary Archives and a historian of women and Parliament. 

Dr Elizabeth Hallam Smith FSA FRHistS is Historical Research Consultant, Architecture and Heritage at the UK Houses of Parliament and Honorary Research Professor at the University of York. Their book, Necessary Women: the Untold Story of Parliament's Working Women, was published by History Press in June 2023.

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend, but advance booking is required.