Star Chamber

We call them Stars today: those who achieve fame and wealth, who live on the A-list and the B-list, who entertain the masses and keep them focused on all the minutiae of someone else’s life.

In doing so, how often to we actually make that association with the stars? For we customarily liken footballers and film stars to those breathtaking supernovas whose light can take years to reach us.

When I was a little girl, someone – I can’t remember who – pointed at a star and said: “Did you know the light you are seeing right now started out on its journey more than four years ago?”

I marvelled. And it’s true, you know: Proxima Centauri is our nearest star, outside our own solar system. Given that light travels at 670,616,629.384 miles per hour through a vacuum, the light will take about 4.2 light years to reach us.

The business of being a supernova is a complex one which requires infinite patience. Any message our neighbourhood stars may want to communicate to us will take painstaking travel through the inhospitable vacuum of space. The sending of light happens on a different scale all together from the one to which we humans, scurrying about on the surface of this earth like ants, are accustomed.

Are they one and the same thing, those great heavenly bodies and those humans who rise to the top of the ant heap? Is this metaphor just a dreary result of the fact that humanity has been looking for too long at all that glitters?

A long, long time ago, when King Edward II was on the throne, they built a very special room at the Palace of Westminster.

It was dubbed ‘Camera Stellata’ or Star Chamber, no one knows why: but men in the 16th century, centuries after its beginnings, theorised that it was because all over its deep blue ceiling – blue was  a rare and prized colour back then – there were lavish gold stars painted.

The King’s Council would meet in there, it seems. It was made up of Privy Counsellors – experienced advisors to the monarch – and common-law judges. Its job was to oversee the judicial system: and to bring to justice prominent people – the stars of the day – who were thought to be so powerful that an ordinary jury could never convict them.

It was concerned with what was equitable: what was fair. Even if common law did not rule against something, if it was thought to be inequitable, you could put a case before the Star Chamber. And so many crimes which had no name found one under those stars: contempt, libel, and perjury all found their sense of identity in that room long ago.

It could inflict any punishment short of death: including fines, pillory, whipping and cutting off ears.

And it all went on away from the prying eyes of the public.

Because anything was possible under the stars, a monarch could use this singular forum to his or her own advantage. And they did. Because a star in the ascendant has only one way to fall, and from up there it is possible to fall a very long way indeed.

Misuse was built into its walls. It first fell to Bluff King Hal to use it to despatch those gentlemen with fine lands and a powerful voice who had been such a thorn in the side of his father during the Wars of The Roses.

In Charles I’s time the chamber eventually became a substitute for Parliament. Among the victims of the chamber were Puritans, who upped sticks and fled to New England; and the Press. In 1632 came an order that all ‘news books’ be banned because Spanish and Austrian diplomats had complained that they had presented unbalanced coverage of the Thirty Years’ War.

It could not last. By 1640 The Long Parliament passed an act of parliament, abolishing the accursed Star Chamber. It lost its powers and became just another room until, in 1804, it was abolished.

Its door went to hang in Westminster School, where it still resides today. That deep blue ceiling made a longer journey, to a castle on the Wirral. Its name has remained in constant use: a Star Chamber still lives on the Oxford Dictionary as a figure of speech which indicates an ‘arbitrary, oppressive tribunal’.

Oh, yes, the Stars got special treatment back then.

These days our Stars get the same equitable treatment as everyone else: the News Books of today have comparatively free rein and injunctions against their opinion is a matter of common public knowledge.

And while the namesakes communicate within seconds to their adoring public via Twitter and other social media, the supernovas who have lent their name to both celebrity and chamber continue, unchanging, to send light across vast expanses of space. They change, sure: but on another scale entirely. And at night, we watch their messages.

Star: it’s just a name. A brilliant, effervescing name.

Written for Side View’s weekend challenge: ‘Star’

If you fancy joining in next week you can find her at


27 thoughts on “Star Chamber

  1. Unfortunately, Western Civilization attributes stardom to the most vapid but popular culture icons that present no real contribution to civilization beyond some fleeting moments of notoriety or cheap entertainment and nothing that advances humankind. A star would be a man like Albert Schweitzer or a woman like Mother Teresa. These are the super novas of humanity whose light is lasting and ever glowing. lighting the path for the rest of us to follow to emerge from the darkness of frivolity.

    1. They are, Carl, you are so right. I do think, though, that the arts have given us supernovas; as has rhetoric. They may not change thc ourse of humanity but boy, do they enrich it. A bit of Mozart, a snatch of Woody Allen: these things contribute in a more ethereal but equally necessary way. They pave the way for us to change the world.

  2. ‘That deep blue ceiling made a longer journey, to a castle on the Wirral.’ –
    I googled this and came up with ‘Leasowe Castle Hotel’: but found no photos of the ceiling in situ, sadly

    “…The Star Chamber is used for civil ceremonies and is a beautiful wood panelled cosy room, which can accommodate wedding parties for up to 50 people so ideal for the smaller intimate wedding. The Star chamber, so called as its ceiling is studded with golden stars was originally a dining-room and library. It was fitted out by Sir Edward Cust in 1836 with the original panelling from the Star Chamber in the Old Exchequer Buildings at Westminster. Four old tapestries depicting the four seasons complement the room. The ivy-covered arch is optional.”

    I want to go and have a look next time I’m visiting Milly!

    1. I LOVE this comment, Pseu, and you are so good at this. Thank you. It never occurred to me we might be able to see it. I’m going to pose as a conference organiser post-haste: that starred ceiling is just waiting for its public, dahling….

      1. I should post the link for you then:
        “The Star Chamber is situated on the ground floor and is suitable for up to 50 guests. The ceiling with it bright gold stars were brought from the Courts of Westminster, it has beautiful wooden paneling and four tapestries depicting the four seasons. This room is full of character for intimate numbers. ”

  3. Thanks, Kate. You’re a shining star in your own write!

    The closest star ~ 4.22 light years away. Voyager 1 will travel the distance to the nearest star in about 33,000 years!

    It’s a long way to Tipperary! 🙂

    1. Certainly is, Nancy. I do think light is jolly clever. I shall look at the stars and think of that long arduous journey astronauts may attempt one day.
      I do think Sidey is clever at choosing these themes. They always lead one down side alleys and byways…

  4. I have a new philosophy – well rather an adopted philosophy (origins in american indians I’m told) where each star is the soul of a departed loved one watching over their families, fills me with warmth to be honest 🙂 Thank you for “Canis Disgusticus” – it brought me a pink and frothy waterfall of giggles this morning!

  5. A nice ramble among the heavenly bodies – a lot of cool information based on a one-word prompt. Thanks for the reference to the weekend challenge – I will have to check it out.

  6. Now here’s a coincidence, Kate!
    I’ve been doing some research, looking for some facts and figures regarding the Star Chamber, that was abolished back in 1641, ready to put together a quick post for Sideview’s Starry Nights Weekend Challenge… and I find this post. Great stuff, by the way!
    During my quest to find information about 1642, the Star Chamber popped up every now and then… and now I find this. Could it be that you, too, have a part to play in my quest? Another link perhaps? I wonder…
    I do like to be dramatic at times, so couldn’t resist to comment here!
    Anyhoo, it’s back to the drawing board for me as you’ve covered the Star Chamber very well here!

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