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House of Lords, Westminster, c.1870-1885. The Woolsack (with back-rest) can be seen facing the throne in the upper foreground, in front of the judges' woolsack
The woolsack in the former Irish House of Lords.
Wool bales in Australia, 1900

The Woolsack is the seat of the Lord Speaker in the House of Lords, the Upper House of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. In the 14th century King Edward III (1327–1377) commanded that his Lord Chancellor whilst in council should sit on a wool bale, now known as "The Woolsack", in order to symbolise the central nature and huge importance of the wool trade to the economy of England in the Middle Ages.[1][2] Indeed, it was largely to protect the vital English wool trade routes with continental Europe that the Battle of Crécy was fought with the French in 1346,[3] from the Middle Ages until 2006, the presiding officer in the House of Lords was the Lord Chancellor and the Woolsack was usually mentioned in association with the office of Lord Chancellor. In July 2006, the function of Lord Speaker was split from that of Lord Chancellor pursuant to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.[4]

The Woolsack is a large, wool-stuffed cushion or seat covered with red cloth; it has neither a back nor arms, though in the centre of the Woolsack there is a back-rest. The Lords' Mace is placed on the rear part of the Woolsack.[1]

In 1938, it was discovered that the Woolsack was, in fact, stuffed with horsehair. When the Woolsack was remade it was re-stuffed with wool from all over the Commonwealth as a symbol of unity.[5]

The Lord Speaker may speak from the Woolsack when speaking in his or her capacity as Speaker of the House, but must, if he or she seeks to debate, deliver his or her remarks either from the left side of the Woolsack, or from the normal seats of the Lords.[6]

If a Deputy Speaker presides in the absence of the Lord Speaker, then that individual uses the Woolsack. However, when the House meets in the "Committee of the Whole", the Woolsack remains unoccupied, and the presiding officer, the Chairman or Deputy Chairman, occupies a Chair at the front of the table of the House.[6]

In front of the Woolsack is an even larger cushion known as the Judges' Woolsack,[7] during the State Opening of Parliament, the Judges' Woolsack was historically occupied by the Law Lords. Now the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Family Division, the Vice-Chancellor, Justices of the Supreme Court, the Lords Justices of Appeal and the Justices of the High Court only attend Parliament for the State Opening.[8]

In June 2016 Norman, Lord Fowler, was elected Speaker and he took his seat in September, the Lord Speaker's duties as listed on the Parliamentary website include[9]

The Woolsack in 2016, showing the Ceremonial mace. The mace was originated in France by Phillip II circa 1180, and taken up by the English Parliament some time after the coronation of Richard I in 1189, the original mace was a military weapon introduced for the purpose of protecting "the King's person" when he attended parliament, and wielded by the Sergeant-at-Arms, an Office that still exists today, though only in a ceremonial context..
  • residing over business in the Lords chamber from the Woolsack
  • chairing the House of Lords Commission, which provides high-level strategic and political direction for the House of Lords Administration on behalf of the House
  • taking formal responsibility for security in the Lords area of the parliamentary estate
  • coordinating an outreach programme to engage the public in the work and role of the Lords, central to which is the Peers in Schools programme
  • attending and speaking at state and ceremonial occasions on behalf of the Lords
  • representing the Lords to overseas parliaments, attending conferences with speakers of other parliaments, sharing best practice and developing links between parliaments


  1. ^ a b "Glossary: Woolsack". UK Parliament. Retrieved 2014-10-25. 
  2. ^ Friar 2004, pp. 480–481
  3. ^ Sumption 1991, pp. 188–189
  4. ^ Gay 2003, p. 16
  5. ^ "The Lords Chamber". UK Parliament. Retrieved 3 February 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Great Britain Parliament House of Lords 2010, pp. 38–41
  7. ^ Great Britain Parliament House of Lords 2013, pp. 30–31 - Plan of the chamber including location of Judges Woolsack
  8. ^ Great Britain Parliament House of Lords 2013, pp. 17–18
  9. ^ "The Lord Speaker's role". UK Parliament. Retrieved Dec 7, 2016. 


Coordinates: 51°29′55.7″N 0°07′29.5″W / 51.498806°N 0.124861°W / 51.498806; -0.124861