If you are fortunate enough to be elected as a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, you will probably want to add to your wardrobe so you look good when you are on camera. When you go shopping, be sure you stick with something that is made out of cloth. If your ideal attire is made out of metal, you will find yourself bitterly disappointed to learn that it is illegal to wear a suit of armor into Parliament.
Parliament’s dress code has forbidden the wearing of armor since 1313. The law, entitled “Statute Forbidding Bearing of Armour or Coming Armed to Parliament Act” (originally titled “Statuto sup’ Arportam’to Armor or Statutum de Defensione portandi Arma”) was enacted during the reign of Edward II. It provides that “in all Parliaments, Treatises and other Assemblies, which should be made in the Realm of England for ever, that every Man shall come without all Force and Armour.”
The circumstances that motivated the law arose out of some jealousy, tension, and resentment by members of the nobility toward Piers Gaveston. Gaveston was a close associate of the king, but his low-born station made him an object of contempt among the nobles.
Gaveston didn’t help matters by peppering the senior nobles with such charming nicknames as “Burstbelly” and “Whoreson.” As a result, the offended nobility refused to attend any session of Parliament in which Gaveston would be in attendance.
Parliaments in 1309 and 1310 were convened, and the offended members of the nobility were notable for their absence. Edward II attempted to coax them into attending by sending Gaveston on a mission that would take him out of London and ordered the earls to come unarmed to parliament.
Rather than placated, the nobles camped with armed retinues just outside London. They presented themselves before the king in full armor, daring him to do anything about it. With this spirit of defiance, Parliament passed the Ordinances of 1311. These statutes were designed to place limits on the king’s authority — particularly as it related to the members of the nobility and the clergy.
All of this was too much for Edward II, who saw the 1313 statute regarding the wearing of armor as a way to restore balance in the struggle between the crown and the nobles. The statute does not seem to have resolved the problem at the time, however. The Earl of Lancaster defied the statute by attending the parliaments of February 1316, October 1318, and May 1319 under arms, and in June 1318 was accused by the king’s council of attending parliaments “a force e armes.”
Despite its shaky start, the law is still on the books. The Crown Prosecution Service has acknowledged, however, that it is unaware of anyone being prosecuted under this or other archaic statutes in recent times. A spokeswoman for the Service said, “If anyone was caught in the Houses of Parliament wearing armour it would first be a matter for the police.”