Known around the world as
the iconic symbol of Great Britain.
The birthplace of modern democracy.
These walls have seen intrigue...
The plan they hatched upon was to blow up the chamber of the House of Lords.
- (Agonized cries) - ..and persecution.
Westminster has borne witness to 1,000 years of power struggle
between Crown and People.
With unprecedented access, we delve deep into the corridors of power...
the Secrets of Westminster.
This program is made possible by contributions Westminster is the heart of London,
the seat of true power
in Great Britain.
But it's more than just a building - it's a rich group of architectural treasures
on the north bank of the River Thames -
Parliament, Westminster Abbey
and the clock tower known as "Big Ben."
Westminster's workings are frequently secret...
..and rarely seen.
Chambers witnessing power struggles over generations
have hidden stories, rarely told.
But we have unique access...
..to the riches of this sumptuous palace...
and to hidden places holding the secrets of one of the world's oldest democracies.
Their story stretches back through a millennium
and starts at the Abbey,
a site of religious worship since the year 800,
and since 1066, the place where every British monarch has been crowned.
This is a royal place -
most recently, celebrating the marriage of Queen Elizabeth's grandson,
Prince William, to former 'commoner,' Catherine Middleton.
The building as it stands now begins in 1245.
It's a gothic architectural masterpiece.
Over the centu
become a treasure house of priceless medieval artifacts.
One of its most important treasures dates back to the time
when Westminster is establishing itself as the power base
at the heart of Great Britain.
Locating this precious pearl of British history
takes us deep into the Abbey...
..to the medieval tomb of an Anglo-Saxon King -
who reigns from 1042 through to 1066.
Edward isn't just a king, he's also a saint.
they are the superheroes of the Middle Ages - the celebrities.
They can do all sorts of amazing things.
They don't need capes to fly, they levitate of their own accord.
They can cure you.
During his lifetime, King Edward for curing illness
by simply touching his subjects.
He earns an almost God-like reputation.
And in this time of constant territorial warfare,
being close to God is a huge advantage.
If you've got God on your side,
there's more chance people aren't going to question your kingly authority.
The kings who succeed Edward want to be as powerful as him.
But saintliness su
hard act to follow.
You're not meant
interested in bling, in fine clothes, in lovely food,
in sex -
all of these things
that tie you to the earth,
they make it much harder for you to be close to heaven.
Now, obviously, a king -
what is he meant to do if not fight, have sex and look kingly?
And obviously it's Edward's successors come up with a solution.
They create a cult around him and build the grandest of abbeys,
where their own coro
earn God's blessing.
Short of being able to perform miracles yourself,
which obviously not everybody is able to do,
if you can demonstrate that you are the obvious and logical successor
to somebody who did perform miracles and was a king, you're sorted.
Over the following 1,000 years,
39 monarchs are crowned here,
in this spiritual and mystical heart of Westminster.
Professor Warwick Rodwell devotes his life to studying the Abbey
and its priceless contents.
This is the Coronation Chair an absolute
It was originally all gold,
a wooden chair that was smothered in gold.
But not just gold because there we
for example, up there in the gable where you see those white patches,
those are patches of putty to which g
The effect of all of this
would have been a glittering and magnificent piece of furniture -
gold, glass, sparkling, color, paint everywhere.
The throne, made by Edward I,
remains to this day the centerpiece of every royal coronation.
And hidden among the sumptuous decoration built below the seat,
is this secret compartment.
It exists for one astonishing purpose.
There was a stone that King Edward I bro
in 1296, 1297.
And he brought it here and decided to m
to hold it.
The whole purpose of this chair actually was to hou
a piece of stone.
The Stone of Destiny, as it's known,
had been the throne of the Scottish kings for over 1,000 years.
It's said to
and Edward's action gives birth to centuries of hatred between Scotland and England.
space under the seat today.
We're lacking a stone.
NEWSREEL: 'A Christmas Day sensation at Westminster Abbey!
The Stone of Destiny, which had been there for some 600 years,
was stolen from the Coronation Chair.'
The great stone is stolen from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve 1950.
Scottish nationalists want to take
they feel it belongs.
50 years later, now living deep in the Highlands of Scotland,
the leader of the thieves, Ian Hamilton,
of how they did it.
News that the Stone has been stolen from Westminster is met with delight in Scotland.
For the first time in 600 years,
the border between Scotland and England is closed -
cars are stopped and searched.
But undeterred, Hamilton and his gang wait for a week
and then risk driving the stone north.
The thieves are hailed as heroes and Parliament is stumped.
Parliament finally announces that the thieves will not be prosecuted...
if the stone is returned.
After three months, Hamilton finally decides the Stone isn't his to keep.
He leaves it, wrapped
in a Scottish flag, for the police to find.
And the stone is taken back to Westminster Abbey
just in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth.
But inspired by Hamilton's actions, the Scottish people demand its return.
And in 1996, Westminster finally gives in.
The Stone of Destiny has been a constant presence at many coronations over the years.
But there are other even more extraordinary stones in the Abbey,
designed to bestow the incoming king or queen with mystical powers.
And some have been hidden for centuries.
Uncovered as recently as 2010 in the floor at the High Altar -
the most sacred spot in the Abbey -
is an ancient mosaic.
This is one of the great trea
It's a highly complicated and wonderful design,
the like of which had never been seen in this country before.
marble, pieces of colored glass and gemstones,
including some recycled from monuments 1,000 years older.
Its purpose - a glorious stage for coronations.
The Coronation Chair
on that central roundel there,
facing the altar.
And that is the point at which the king or queen is crowned
and anointed with the holy oil.
Historians like Lindy Grant have been struggling to decode the symbolism
of this medieval puzzle.
There are some very odd things about this pavement.
One of t
that central roundel.
It looks just like 13th-century images in manuscripts
of the world as God creates it.
And it's clearly supposed to be
of the world,
the beginning of the universe, the beginning of history.
The pavement's design puts the monarch at
of the universe,
both supremely powerful and tiny compared with the infinite stretch of time.
on it at his coronation,
that he is merely perspective of history.
He owes his worl
power to God.
It must've been a very humbling,
very terrifying thing to stand on this pavement
at the moment of the coronation and think of that.
Close by there's another work of art warning new monarchs of the perils of evil.
Look carefully...monsters lurk here among the kings.
And hidden elsewhere in the Abbey are yet more unnerving images,
designed to inspire the imagination of medieval minds.
We're going into another world.
A hidden staircase built into the walls of the Abbey
leads into a maze of lost chambers.
Nearly there, just a few more steps.
Even people who know this place can get lost up here.
This gallery hangs unseen high above the floor of the Abbey.
It's designed as a hidin
for church officials so they could meet in secret.
The best thing about this plac
is the fact nobody knows it exists, really.
This is the great joy of it.
It is a wonderful huge space,
in fact, a quarter of the floor area of the Abbey
is upstairs here where no one except people like me ever come.
Up here are intricate stone carvings, keeping an eye on the proceedings below.
and look up here above these arches
and see the heads of figures...
There's two th
and in the middle is a lion.
And that lion has still got pink paint on his tongue.
These, we must remember, were not just stone sculptures.
They were painted and highly-decorated
and meant to be alive and looking down upon you.
For medieval man, carvings can
assume the powers of the animals they portray.
Each beast can terrify all who view it.
And this gallery high in the Abbey has one further revelation.
The best kept
Abbey must be the views -
and in particular, this view from the east end.
It is something which you cannot see anywhere else.
Just look at that.
Isn't it the best view in Europe?
Westminster Abbey plays a critical role
in underpinning the absolute power of a monarch.
But less well known is that this is also th
This is called the Chapter House and it is a very remarkable building -
eight-sided as you can see.
This is the origin of
the English Parliament.
Until 1257, kings rule from wherever they live,
but in that year, Henry III adopts the Chapter House as his
Henry used it as a council chamber.
And all his
would sit around
and wait outside in the vestibules sitting on the benches out there
waiting to be called.
first "House of Commons"
elevates Henry's status even further.
so the King was in a sense receiving
the blessing of the Church on his transactions.
He would feel that, by having his meetings here
and transacting his business in the heart of a great royal abbey,
that it was somehow above the plain of the ordinary common world.
But in 1547, King Edward VI relocates the Commons
across the road from the Abbey to Westminster Hall.
In the 11th century, this arched oak roof
was an astonishing feat of engineering.
When it was finished, it was the biggest single span arch in Europe.
as hammer beams are fixed to the walls.
They take the weight of the roof held up by arches 60 feet wide,
allowing a vast, clear space,
unobstructed by a single column.
The Hall serves as the first British law courts.
And these angelic carvings bear witness to the prosecution
of some of Britain's most famous traitors.
In 1606, Guy Fawkes was tried here,
Westminster itself -
with 36 barrels of gunpowder.
Every 5th November since that trial,
people in Britain
marked the failure of the Gunpowder Plot.
Bonfires are lit and fireworks are let off
on the anniversary of the conspiracy
which came close to destroying Westminster and everyone in it.
The plan they hatched upon was to b
House of Lords
during the state opening ceremony.
In 1603, protestant King
throws the country into religious turmoil.
He instructs his spymaster, Sir Robert Cecil, to banish all Catholic priests.
An incensed group of young Catholics decides to take action.
fanatics, they were terrorists.
to a good deal of trouble to plan this.
They hire Guy Fawkes, a 33-y
expert in explosives
to do the deed.
But first they have to get the explosives into position.
They tried initially tunneling under the building
and not surprisingly, that wasn't successful,
so they adopted another strategy,
which was to put barrels of gunpowder directly underneath the House of Lords chamber,
in what was essentially a basement.
Fawkes' instructions are to wait in the cellar until the appointed hour
and then light the fuse.
But things don't go as planned.
A few days before the state opening, about the end of October,
Lord Monteagle, who would have been attending the state opening,
received a tip-off in the form of an anonymous letter.
The origin of this letter is shrouded in mystery.
But it warns Monteagle to stay away from Westminster.
Guy Fawkes hears about the letter but ignores it.
He's determined to blow up and all his ministers.
Meanwhile, the King is shown the letter and he orders a search of the cellars.
(Tramp of marching feet, knock at door)
In the early hours of the morning, Fawkes is found and arrested.
"Assembled in the Upper House of Parliament upon the fifth day of November,
in the year of our Lord 1605,
suddenly to have blown up the said whole House with gunpowder -
an invention so inhumane, barbarous and cruel
as the like was never before heard of."
Reading this, I think one can sense the paranoia,
the horror and rel
that was prevalent
in British political society in January 1606,
only months after the failure of the Gunpowder Plot.
It's extraordinarily vivid and really brings it to life when one reads it.
Fawkes is taken to the Tower of London and tortured on the rack.
48 hours later, he confesses his guilt.
As a result, Catholics in Britain are persecuted for centuries after.
The Palace of Westminster survives
and serves the country for another two centuries.
not the building Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up.
The original Palace of Westminster was a collection of much older buildings
built from the medieval era onwards.
These expanded as democracy grew...
..until 1834 when a great fire raged through the building
and destroyed almost all of it.
The new Palace of Westminster is built on the same spot in 1858
and opened by Queen Victoria.
It contains two completely separate institutions -
the elected House of Commons
and at the other, the House of Lords.
Together they form the British Parliament.
Here, in the House of Lo
and women selected for notable achievements
share power with land-owning aristocrats.
One of those aristocrats is Lord Palmer.
The House of Commons is completely and utterly elected,
whereas the House of Lords contains aristocrats,
some of whose title goes back literally 600-700 yrs.
The House of Lords can delay, but never veto, legislation.
Every bill has to go through both Houses
to get approval.
We then often get into the situation which is called ping-pong.
Literally, if we say no, it gets pinged to the House of Commons
and if the House of Commons say yes, it then gets ponged back to us.
The key to understanding the power of Westminster
lies in the layout of the building which is designed to represent British democracy.
We're standing in Central Lobby which is the core of the building
and in some ways the core of the United Kingdom as well.
We have the House of Commons that way, behind us,
the House of Lords, that way.
It was designed as a meeting place for the peers,
for the Lords and for members of the Commons
and also for the public
if they wanted to lobby their MP.
MPs are the British equivalent of Members of Congress.
They can be seen by any citizen here in West
This chamber gave birth to the word "lobbying" -
the free access to elected representatives -
which remains central to the concept of an open and free democracy.
But access to the Houses at each end of the building is strictly limited.
Only a privileged few get to see the richly decorated interiors.
These are the brass gates, the very heavy brass gates,
which lead inside the House of Lords chamber.
And you can see straightaway the
incredible, sumptuous decoration.
The ornamentation of carved wood and gold leaf
is rich with ancient symbols, full of hidden meaning.
And in the center sits the royal throne,
used just once a year when the Queen visits Parliament.
It's designed to look like an altar, with the canopy above
indicating that only heaven is above the Queen.
Right in the opposite direction and facing the Queen's throne,
you can look right through the axis of the building to the far end,
the House of Commons chamber and the Speaker's Chair directly opposite.
This simple layout - a direct line of sight from the Queen's throne
into her elected chamber and back again -
links royal power to people power.
But it also keeps them quite separate...
..because the reig
is never allowed into the House of Commons.
The Queen neve
House of Commons
because of an incident in 1642, when Charles I swept into the Commons chamber
and demanded to
and arrest them.
King Charles is furious that Parliament has attempted to resist his wishes.
simply obey him.
But the politicians refuse, saying they serve only the people.
in our history
because it meant for the first time, the will of the people
was placed above the will of the king.
By marching into the House of Commons,
the King sets himself against his own people.
There's complete uproar - outrage at what he's done.
From that moment, the tension ha
to such a crisis point
that really it's a road to civil war after that.
The war is fought between Royalists, led by the King,
and the puritans, led
general - Oliver Cromwell.
Over the next ten years, 190,000 people are killed -
a tenth of the English population.
In 1651, Cromwell finally claims victory.
But he has a problem - Cromwell believes the King is a man of blood.
He's responsible for the Civil War.
It's not clear when he decides that the King has to be killed
but he does decide that.
unthinkable - the King will be tried for treason.
He's sacred, he's sacred majesty, you can't do this.
News of it goes right round Europe.
Nobody has e
tried a king before.
in Westminster Hall.
The King is found guilty and sentenced to death by execution.
On January 30th, 1649,
King Charles is permitted to take a last walk wi
his dog in the park,
before being led to a scaffo
Today tourists are completely unaware of the grisly drama
that unfolded on this very spot.
The King awaits his end watched by huge crowds.
He kneels to receive the blow.
But there is a problem
the executioner is too afraid to kill a king.
Nobody can quite believe it's really going to happen.
This is such an extraordinary event.
Kings have been killed before by assassination
but nobody has ever tried this judicial,
semi-judicial execution of a king before,
in public with everybody watching.
Cromwell's soldiers fear a riot.
But a second executioner is persuaded to do the deed... under one condition -
that he wear
will ever know who he is.
And he does it.
The accounts we have of it tell us that a huge groan
comes up from the people watching.
The person who writes this says,
"A groan such as I never wish ever to hear again."
The King has fought his people and lost.
Parliament declares England a republic.
The problem with that system is that a
don't believe it has any legitimacy at all.
They've lost the thing they really believe
ie, the king.
he is simply no match for a king.
Parliament won't act upon his wishes.
And when he dies in 1658, Pa
So in May, 1660,
Charles II is invited to return from exile.
Britain has been a monarchy ever since, but the story echoes down the ages.
Even today, the Queen's visits to Parliament are restricted.
the Queen is allowed into the House of Lords
but she's not allowed into the House of Commons.
This limit is carefully adhered to
when the Queen visits Westminster officially to open Parliament.
When she arrives, she has her own ceremonial entrance.
If you imagine the sovereign arriving downstairs
outside the Victoria Tower, outside Sovereign's Entrance.
She then processes up the staircase behind me
and then into the Robing Room on this side.
These sumptuous inner rooms
are rarely seen by the public.
We're in the Royal Gallery, the largest of the State Apartments.
The Queen passes
on her way into Parliament.
And it's tremendous pomp and circumstance
and she walks up and she goes into the Royal Robing Room
where physically she puts on her crown,
having worn a tiara to come up the stairs.
And then on the dot of two minutes to eleven,
there's a huge trumpet fanfare...
are then thrown open
and the Royal Party then process through the Royal Gallery,
down the center with banks of people on the left and right.
And then into the House of Lords
and sits on the throne in the House of Lords.
And then Black Rod, who is our sort of head of security et cetera,
is then told by the Queen to go and get the rabble from the House of Commons
and he goes down the main corridor
and as he gets to the House of Commons,
the House of Commons slam the door in his face.
And he hits the door
three times with his rod.
It's opened and he walks into the Commons chamber
and commands that they attend the House of Lords
to listen to the Queen's Speech.
It is only then that the House of Commons comes to see the Queen speak.
And then Parliament ca
running the country
and instituting new legislation.
While the Lords and Commoners of Parliament have many names and high titles,
one name at Westminster stands tall above the rest - Big Ben.
This is the most photographed building in London.
Millions of foreign tourists make a special trip to see it,
but none are allowed inside.
High up in the tower there is a hidden world
that has kept London running on time for the last 150 years.
Ian Westworth holds the key.
He climbs these st
three times a week
to tend a device that few people have ever seen.
Over 200 feet from the ground,
a huge mechanism built in 1854
powers the four-sided clock.
The hour hands are nine feet long.
The tip of each
travels 118 miles a year.
clock poses several problems.
The problem is we've got four minute hands.
They're 14 feet long.
So if they get a good gust of wind,
they act like a sail
and the hands try driving the clock
instead of the clock driving the hands.
The huge machine has been wound by hand three times a week,
every week, for 150 years.
We wind the clock up, wh
an hour and a half.
The clock is still mechanical.
We have to keep on doing this.
And we check the time.
'At the third stroke, the time will be...
five twenty-eight and twenty seconds.'
One of the stipulations was the clock had to be within two seconds
If you had a Victorian turret clock,
you were lucky if you got it within two minutes of time.
It took five years of experimentation
finally to crack the problem of accuracy.
is an enormous pendulum.
The pendulum we've got here is 14
It goes from just above my head,
through the floor, into a room beneath us.
It's an absolutely massive pendulum.
The reason they used a big pendulum
is that it's very, very stable.
But the huge pendulum brings its own problems.
Its swing varies according to the temperature and air pressure.
The clockmakers of the time come up with a solution.
The secret of the clock's accuracy...are old pennies.
So I have one penny here
and if I put it onto the little stack,
that will speed the clock up by two-fifths of a second in 24 hours.
Again, if I take it off,
just by removing that penny,
it's slowed the clock down by two-fifths of second.
This technique is used from the moment the clock is built.
You'll probably find the clockmaker's had an old coin or two in his pocket
and the clock was running fast or slow and they've just put it on, to adjust it.
We do have little proper timing weights here as well.
But for fine adjustments, we still use traditional pennies.
This is a litt
secret for clockmakers.
(Clicking and whirring)
This happens all the time.
Above the mechanism room hang five bells...
Four quarter bells that chime every quarter hour...
and the biggest and most famous - the hour bell.
Most people think the tower itself is called Big Ben,
but in fact Big Ben is this big bell.
Big Ben's chime rings out at an impressive 117 decibels.
That's like the roar from a full football stadiu
packed into one small room.
This is Big Ben, the world-famous bell
that everybody comes to London to hear
and is heard all over the world,
'cause we broadcast it live twice a day.
Big Ben is named after Benjamin Caunt,
who was a bare fist fighter in London at the time when the bell was being made.
When he was fighting, his ring name was Big Ben.
Apparently he was about six-foot four,
which for Victorian time he was enormous.
And so they named the bell after him.
The foundry which made Big Ben still uses the same techniques.
Today's casting will produce a replica Liberty Bell for Boston Library.
It's tiny in comparison to Big Ben.
The Liberty Bell weighs less than a ton,
while Big Ben is almost 14 tons.
When the foundry was given the job to recast Big Ben,
it would have been terrifying, I guess.
It was the biggest bell ever cast in the country.
Another foundry had made a mess of it,
and at short notice, and for the government of the day,
we suddenly got the job to make a replacement.
Big Ben was designed to weigh
which was twice the weight of any other bell in the country at the time.
So it was a real monster in 1858.
And the foundry has kept the original invoice
for the making of the world's biggest bell.
Ten hundredweights, three
That's Big Ben.
Value of that bell...£2,401.
But we also ga
the metal on the old bell,
at 15 tons,
and the credit was £1,829.
So the bill at the bot
at the end of the day,
is about £572, to recast Big Ben.
Today that would be ne
half a million dollars.
From the foundry, the bell is pulled across London to the tower by 16 horses.
A festival atmosphere fills the streets.
But when it finally arrives,
the problem is how to get the huge bell up the 300-foot tower.
The bell was brought to the bottom
where there's a big set of doors.
The bell wouldn't go through the doors,
so they had to turn it on its side
because it's actually wider than it is tall.
So they had to put it in sideways.
They built a frame around it.
then winched it non-stop from the bottom of the clock tower to where we are now.
It took them 34 hours of hand manual winching.
And what people don't
that the world famous sound of Big Ben has a secret.
The bell has a very distinct tone - it's flat -
and that's caused by a great big crack on the skirt of the bell.
This is the crack here.
And that's what causes it not to have a pure note,
as it was designed to have this off, but very...
Big Ben's tower was originally called St Stephen's
and renamed the Elizabeth Tower for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
the purpose of the tower at the other end of the palace.
This is Victoria Tower.
At its base is the Sovereign's Gate -
where the Queen enters when she visits Parliament.
But high inside the tower is a rarely-seen world.
The priceless archives of government are kept here under high security.
This is the original Act Room.
Every one of the rolls on the shelves
is an original Act of Parliament...a law.
it's about a locality.
It's about a township and a manor.
As you can see, it's not made out of paper.
It's much stiffer and more durable.
It's made out of parchment, which is animal skin.
in this room.
They hold the details of right up to the present day.
The acts vary a lot in size and shape.
There are some very, very large ones like this one here.
If you unrolled it, it would be about a quarter of a mile long.
There's quite a few of those acts which are big.
Also there are some very tiny, teeny little ones, like this one here.
These are about personal things, like divorces, naturalizations,
changes of name.
The acts record almost every aspect of British
from small events to moments of seismic change in international history.
One of the most significant
is the Stamp Act of 1765.
It imposes a tax on paper used in the colonies
when America still is ruled by Britain.
But demanding a tax from people who hav
in the UK is controversial.
There was outrage in the colonies
because they didn't have any representation in the UK parliament.
And so the cry that went up was,
"Taxation without representation is tyranny."
In British America, Samuel Adams forms the Sons Of Liberty.
The patriots reject the authority of Westminster to govern them
and expel all British officials from America.
Although the government backed d
the Stamp Act was repealed,
the damage was done and it led to the Boston Tea Party a few years later
and then American independence.
Elsewhere in the tower are precious archives
that document Parliament's history.
One of t
tells the story of the women
who fought for the right to vote in the early 1900s - the suffragettes.
This is my favorite document in the archives.
It's really special.
This is a suffragette banner.
There was a lot of campaigning by women in this country.
Some of it was peaceful and some of it was violent and militant.
For those fighting for the right to vote,
Parliament is an obvious target.
At times it was like the place was under siege.
There were attempts by large groups of women
to rush the building, to break their way in en masse.
There were women who chained themselves to statues to make a protest.
The protests reach a climax in 1912 when t
But one protestor is prepared to go further than most.
Hidden deep under Parliament is a secret place that tells her story.
On the night of the 1911 Census -
the official count of the British population -
suffragettes protest that since they have no vote, they won't take part.
But one of them - Emily Davison -
decides to take her dissent right into the heart of the Palace of Westminster.
This is the broom cupboard where Emily Wilding Davison hid on census night in 1911
so that she could write on her census form
that she was resident in the Houses of Parliament.
The next mor
is discovered, arrested and held in prison.
Here, the conditions for suffragettes are especially harsh.
Many go on hunger strike to protest at their treatment.
Women were in a police cell.
They were held down by maybe five or six doctors
who put thick rubber tubes down their mouths - often down their nose -
all the way into their stomach.
And they would pour down a mixture of bread and milk.
Some women had this two or three times a day hundreds of times.
There's no denying that this is torture.
but such brutal treatment doesn't break her spirit.
There was one occasion where, in prison, Emily could hear screams and shouts
from all over prison where many women were being forcibly fed.
She tried to protest and threw herself over the banister, down a staircase.
She wrote later that she hoped the sacrifice of one person might save the many.
Soon after, at Epsom Derby races,
Emily pursues th
to the limit.
She steps onto the track...
and is killed -
trampled by the King's own racehorse.
Her funeral is attended by tens of thousands of the public -
testimony to the importance of her sacrifice.
"In loving memory of Emily Wilding Davison.
She was a brave suffragette
campaigning for votes for women
at a time when Parliament denied them that right."
Finally, in 1918,
the tireless campaign of Emily and her fellow suffragettes bears fruit.
Women over 30 are given the vote
and a year later, Nancy Astor, the first female elected representative,
takes her seat in parliament.
is that Astor is American...
and very self-assured.
She was a very good-looking woman.
She was always very beautifully turned out.
But then alongside that you had this very...forceful,
almost sort of Puckish personality.
She was very willing to push people,
to perhaps be a bit daring in the things that she would say.
She shocked them to the core, but they very quickly -
particularly young men - saw this...
She was a beautifully turned out and very attractive, vital sort of woman.
They came round that although she was an American - not on in the hunting field -
here was this spark lighting them all up.
Despite being American,
Nancy Astor can enter British politics because she marries a British citizen.
And her electric personality serves her well at Westminster.
She was very goo
with male politicians.
She very famously said to Winston Churchill,
"Winston, if I was your wife, I would put poison in your coffee."
And he said back, "Nancy, if I was married to you, I'd probably drink it."
but they disguise the opposition Astor faces
in the previously all-male Westminster club.
Churchill is characteristically frank.
He said, "Well, we thought we could freeze you out.
We felt as though a man would feel as
when he was having a bath and a woman came into the room
and he had nothing to defend his dignity but a sponge."
She said, "Winston you're not nearly handsome enough
to worry about things like that."
Undaunted, Astor realizes lies not at Westminster
but in the privacy of her country house, Cliveden.
She holds parties where the luxurious setting
makes even her enemies relax and come to terms.
They become the high point in the social life of the English elite.
If you got an invitation to a party at the Astors',
you didn't turn it down.
It was a very exciting... exclusive gathering.
And what was striking about it
was that she liked to bring together big personalities,
often people with quite disparate political beliefs,
and really just see what kind of debate and argument would ensue.
Astor begins to invite diplomats and politicians
from both sides of the Atlantic.
They would mingle together, meet at meals,
chat in quiet corners, really get to know each other
in circumstances which would be impossible in the public realm.
The Astor hospitality plants the seed
of the British-American "special relationship".
Americans for the first time began to get to know English people well, and vice versa.
And they laid friendships which were later to become of vital importance
when the threat of Hitler arose.
By the time Astor withdraws from Parliament in 1945,
she's used her un
to introduce issues that had never been debated in Westminster before -
divorce, labor conditions, nursery schools -
and she raises the drinking age from 14 to 18.
Astor changes Westminster and British politics for ever.
she didn't have the English inhibitions which were strong at the time.
"You can't do that sort of thing here, old boy."
She paid no attention to any of that
and was quite brash enough, if you like, and strong willed enough,
to force open a door.
She did that by her personality,
as a result of which, all sorts of dominoes fell.
While Astor is busy exerting her influence on Parliament,
there is a shocking constitutional crisis
between monarchy and government
that rocks Westminster to its core.
In 1936, King George V dies
and his son Edward automatically succeeds to the throne.
quickly become concerned.
regard for the established constitutional conventions.
And only months into his reign
he proposes marriage to the American socialite, Wallis Simpson.
with Mrs. Simpson as such.
She came from a decent family
and was well-educated, wise-cracking, good-looking.
for winning over the British people.
has an awkward secret
that the Westminster establishment simply cannot accept.
She was not merely divorced - she was twice divorced,
with two living husbands.
And this, in the eyes of the British at that time, absolutely ruled her out.
Top-secret papers recently discovered in a Westminster archive
reveal a covert plot hatched against the King,
led by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
the Archbishop of Canterbury
who soured the King's relationship with the establishment.
When Edward insists that he will marry Wallis and make her his queen,
the Archbishop acts.
He arranges a secret meeting with the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin,
to persuade him to do something traitorous -
to force out the King.
The Archbishop and the Prime Minister
formed a united front.
They made it clear that in their view
if the King went ahead and married Mrs. Simpson,
he could not remain on the throne.
calls upon the help
of another member of the Westminster establishment -
the editor of The Times newspaper, Geoffrey Dawson.
Together they privately put pressure on the King.
The establishment closed ranks.
They, in effect, made it absolutely clear to the King
if he insisted on this marriage, then he could not be king.
As the pressure mounts, Edward gives in.
On December 11th, 1936, he chooses Wallis
and has to do something that no British king had done for hundreds of years -
he announces his abdication.
KING EDWARD VIII: 'I have found it impossible
to carry the heavy bur
..and to discharge my duties as King...
..as I would wish to do...
..without the help and support
of the woman I love.'
Ultimately the King He was a puppet.
Once the King had irrevocably committed himself to marrying Mrs. Simpson,
then he was finished.
Edward Windsor marries Wallis Simpson
in Paris on June 3rd, 1937.
They live together
for the rest of their lives.
After the abdication,
Edward's brother - and the current Queen's father, Albert -
reluctantly inherits the crown.
He takes the title George VI to give a sense of continuity
and restore confidence in a country rocked by the scandal.
Monarchy and Parliament
settle back into their comfortable, traditional relationship.
And in 1953, after the death of King George,
his 26-year-old daughter Elizabeth is crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey.
Her reign brings a thousand years of history full circle.
From the saintly exploits of the king
whose people believe he has the power to cure all illness,
to the present day,
he story of Westminster is the story of the struggle for power.
From battles for
possession of the crown...
..to the battle for
as monarchs have got less powerful...
..the people have become more powerful...
..and democracy has prevailed.
All the while, Westminster has remained at the heart of Britain,
continuity trump everything.
To learn more about Secrets of Westminster,
please visit PBS.org
Secrets of Westminster is available on DVD.
or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS
This program is also available
to download on iTunes.