Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
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1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1542(not known)

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Preston’s central location in Lancashire made it an important borough in county administration; the palatine courts were often held there. Leland had little to say about it except that ‘the market place of the town is fair’ and that the river Ribble ‘goeth round about ... yet it toucheth not the town [it]self by space of almost half a mile’. Since the Ribble could take only small vessels, Preston was not a significant port at this time; its trade was virtually confined to the surrounding district and it was included in a Henrician statute (35 Hen. VIII, c.4) among towns with many ‘decayed’ houses.1

The political scene was complicated by the amount of property held in the borough and the outlying townships by the Church (until the Dissolution) and by a number of leading families. Clerical landlords included the monasteries of Cockersand, Sawley and Whalley, the Friars Minor and the Knights Hospitallers, while among the lay ones were the houses of Stanley, Holcroft, Houghton, Farrington, Langton and Osbaldeston. Many members of these families were made outburgesses, but only the Houghtons appear to have interfered with the day-to-day administration of the borough which throughout the 16th century was carried on largely by the resident families of Banester, Blundell, Haydock, Preston, Singleton and Walton.2

As a crown borough in the duchy of Lancaster, Preston paid an annual fee-farm, earlier fixed at £15 and apparently remaining unchanged. It had received a number of charters in the middle ages which were confirmed by Mary in 1557. The charter of incorporation of 1566 probably followed earlier practice in constituting a common council of ‘24 ... of the more discreet and worthy men’, the capital burgesses, who met in the tolbooth or moot hall; the first eight or 12 of them were often called aldermen or benchers, the remainder common councilmen. The Elizabethan charter also confirmed the ancient method of electing officials: at the ‘great court of election’ held early in October two ‘elisors’ were chosen, one by the mayor, the other by the capital burgesses, and these two named 24 other resident burgesses, who elected the mayor and the town’s bailiff, the other bailiff being the nominee of the new mayor. Preston was much more liberal than many other boroughs in creating burgesses; the main or sole qualifications were the payment of 12d. and attendance at the annual ‘great court’ and at a certain number of other court meetings. All burgesses were entitled to vote in parliamentary elections.3

Five election indentures remain from the period, those for the Parliaments of 1547, March and Oct. 1553, Nov. 1554 and 1555, and in addition the names of the Members in 1545 are included in the sheriff’s county return. The wording of the indenture of 1547 is almost identical with that of its counterparts for the other three Lancashire boroughs; all four documents may even be in the same hand. They are in English, the contracting parties being the sheriff of the county palatine and each of the boroughs; at Preston the second party is ‘the mayor and inhabitants’. Thereafter, the Preston indentures take a distinct but consistent form, with no mention of the sheriff, but with an unusual provision regarding payment. They begin:

This indenture made [date]. Witnesseth that where [the sovereign] hath directed his [her, their] most gracious and honourable writ to the sheriff of Lancashire for the summons of a Parliament [date], and that all cities and borough towns within the said county should elect, choose, nominate and appoint two burgesses ... to do and consent to such things as shall be thought expedient for the wealth of the realm and the Church of England ...

After declaring that the mayor and bailiffs have carried out the election ‘with the full and whole consent and assent of the aldermen, burgesses and commonalty’, the indenture gives the Members full power to act for the borough

and whatsoever they shall do in the said Parliament we grant to be our acts and deeds so that it be not prejudicial or hurtful to the liberties and franchises of our said town of Preston, and that our above named burgesses shall discharge and save harmless our said town for all costs and charges concerning and during their attendance in the said Parliament.4

After returning Members between 1295 and 1331 Preston is not known to have done so again until 1529. Unmentioned in the list of constituencies drawn up in connexion with the issue of writs de expensis in 1512, the borough stands with two other duchy boroughs, Thetford and Lancaster, at the end of the Crown Office list of the Parliament of 1529. It could have returned, as did Lancaster, to the Parliament of 1523, or even to that of 1515, but the probability is that it began to do so in 1529. Of its two Members on that occasion, Christopher Haydock and James Walton, the second was a former mayor whose dispute with Sir Richard Houghton over the election of his successor had led to the duchy’s appointment of Haydock to the office. The restoration of the franchise could well have been mooted when articles for the borough’s better government were agreed upon by Walton and Henry Clifton on its behalf and by Chancellor More and the attorney-general Audley on the duchy’s. Haydock was probably still mayor when elected to Parliament, and he and Walton were doubtless acceptable to More, then still chancellor of the duchy, if they were not More’s nominees. There is no evidence that their choice was disputed by the rival faction, but a suit brought by Walton in the duchy court some years later shows that Houghton had made another bid for power in the town, unlawfully retaining various burgesses and outsiders and causing them

to elect and nominate a new burgess to await upon the Parliament which have made out a common seal and send (sic) up the same by one Alexander Clayton being now bailiff of the said town and servant to the said Sir Richard ... And left out the names of such burgaces as they do intend to have, to the intent to extend and put out your said orator for such malice as the said Sir Richard and his servants by his maintenance do bear ...

If Houghton had indeed attempted to have the Members replaced there is no reason to think that he succeeded, but the episode may be connected with an otherwise unexplained error in the list of Members of the Parliament, revised about 1532, on which Walton is marked ‘mortuus’ although he had several years yet to live; Preston accordingly appears on the list of vacancies compiled shortly afterwards. During this last lawsuit, Walton stated that the borough had agreed to pay him ‘16d. a day during the Parliament’ and that he had procured a writ de expensis for the sum owed to him.5

Haydock and Walton may have been re-elected in 1536 in accordance with the King’s general request to that effect, and either or both may have sat again in the two following Parliaments. The next Members whose names are known were strangers: the Privy Councillor (Sir) Ralph Sadler was returned with John Bourne, servant to Sir William Fitzwilliam I, Earl of Southampton and chancellor of the duchy until his death in 1542. Most of the remaining Members were also outsiders, elected either in virtue of their own standing as crown officials, if not duchy ones, or because of some personal connexion with the incumbent chancellor; thus William Barne could have looked to George Freville, who had become a legal counsellor to the duchy since his own election. Although none of these Members lived in Preston, three or four of them had local affiliations. Thomas Fleetwood, who made his career in the south, was sprung from a local family connected with the earls of Derby and himself acquired land in or near Preston; William Gerard, taken to be the servant of (Sir) Edward North who settled in Middlesex, was of Lancashire birth and a kinsman of the sheriff who returned him as well as of Sir Thomas Holcroft, duchy receiver for Lancashire and Cheshire; and Sir Richard Sherborn lived about ten miles from Preston and was probably indebted to the 3rd Earl of Derby for all four of his returns to Marian Parliaments, once for the shire and for Liverpool, twice for Preston. Thomas Ruthall, an obscure Buckinghamshire man, leased chantry property in Lancashire and was connected by marriage with the Charnock family, seated about ten miles from Preston. Anthony Browne, a distinguished lawyer from Essex, had various connexions with the duchy and acquired land in Lancashire both by purchase and through his marriage to the granddaughter of (Sir) Henry Farrington. Browne was twice returned for both Maldon and Preston: in the spring of 1553 he chose to sit for Preston, being replaced at Maldon by Henry Fortescue, but in the autumn his preference is unknown.

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Anon. Preston (1822), 137-8; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, iv. 8-9; VCH Lancs. vii. 80.
  • 2. VCH Lancs. vii. 97; J. B. Watson, ‘Lancs. gentry 1529-58’ (London Univ. M.A. thesis, 1959), 106-7; Preston Burgess Rolls (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. ix), 15-19.
  • 3. J. Lingard, Chs. Preston, app. 3-31 passim; VCH Lancs. vii. 76 n, 93-95; C. Hardwick, Preston, 270, 328-9; A. Hewitson, Preston Ct. Leet Recs. pp. vii-xvi; P. Whittle, Preston, 255; CJ, viii. 69.
  • 4. C219/18C/54, 19/49, 20/72, 21/85, 23/71, 24/87.
  • 5. DL1/6/W9, 11; 19/B1: information from Prof. Margaret Hastings; LP Hen. VIII, vii. 56 citing SP1/82, ff. 59-62.