By Keith Waterhouse
Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar used to be released in 1959, and captures brilliantly the claustrophobic surroundings of a small city. It tells the tale of Billy Fisher, a Yorkshire youngster not able to forestall mendacity - in particular to his 3 girlfriends. Trapped by way of his uninteresting activity and working-class mom and dad, Billy reveals that his merely happiness lies in grand plans for his destiny and fantastical day-dreams of the fictitious kingdom Ambrosia.
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Bishop Goldwell of St Asaph querulously defended his right to a writ when he wrote to Sir William Cecil in December 1558. He sought a licence to absent himself. 104 Another and more discreet way of removing undesirables from the parliamentary scene was to issue writs, thereby observing the right of members to be summoned, and then to incapacitate them by imprisonment or exile. This too, however, was becoming less and less acceptable to members of the Lords, spiritual no less than temporal. Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, was summoned to Edward VI's first parliament on 2 August 1547, but before it met he had been imprisoned in the Fleet.
With them went the earl of Worcester, in an unofficial capacity though with the queen's approval. All three of them received writs. By 1558 FitzWalter (now third earl of Sussex) was chief governor of Ireland. Not only did he receive a summons but he actually returned to England to attend the Lords, only returning to Ireland after parliament had been prorogued. Mary's military commanders at Guisnes, Calais and Hammes64 were accorded similar treatment. 65 Worcester apart, however, they were all engaged in the queen's business, and it would have been churlish for Mary to have denied them writs, simply because their duties took them to foreign parts.
Absentee peers were enrolled on the parliament pawn as a kind of registration or confirmation of that most important criterion of peerage, the right to receive an official summons; beyond this, however, the decision whether or not to send out writs in questionable cases was a matter for the Crown's discretion. That discretionary power in the issue of writs was at its greatest with peers who had been placed under restraint - and it mattered little what form the restraint took, whether it was close imprisonment, house arrest or just enforced exile in the country.