Wigan

Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Elections

DateCandidate
12 Jan. 1559WILLIAM GERARD II
 THOMAS BROMLEY
1562/3WILLIAM GERARD II
 JOHN RATCLIFFE
1571WILLIAM GERARD II
 OWEN RATCLIFFE
1572EDWARD FITTON
 EDWARD ELRINGTON 1
1581RICHARD MOLYNEUX II vice Fitton, 'being in the Queen's Majesty's service'2
6 Nov. 1584THOMAS GRIMSDITCH
 WILLIAM GERARD III
1586WILLIAM GERARD III
 PETER LEGH
1 Dec. 1588PETER LEGH
 WILLIAM LEYCESTER
1593WILLIAM GERARD III
 MICHAEL HENEAGE
15 Oct. 1597EDWARD LEGH
 NICHOLAS SMYTH
16 Oct. 1601ROGER DOWNES
 JOHN PULTENEY

Main Article

Wigan is said to have received charters in 1560 and 1585, but details of these have been lost. Other evidence shows that a mayor, two bailiffs and a number of burgesses were elected annually for the town and borough, which also had five aldermen. During this period Wigan showed no independence in its choice of MPs. Elections were dominated by the Gerard family, the most important local landowners, the 3rd Earl of Derby and the duchy of Lancaster.

The 3rd Earl of Derby, like his successor, may well have been an alderman of the borough. In 1563 he frustrated duchy nominations in a number of Lancashire constituencies and Wigan was no exception. John Ratcliffe, a follower of the Earl, was elected to the junior seat, although Sir Ambrose Cave, chancellor of the duchy, put forward his own candidate. Edward Fitton, a close associate of the Derby entourage, obtained the senior seat in 1572. While absent in the Queen’s service for the last session of that Parliament he was replaced by Richard Molyneux II, but on the last day of the session the substitution was disallowed.

The remaining Elizabethan MPs were either members and relatives of the Gerard family or nominees of the duchy of Lancaster. It would seem that the Gerards played the dominant role: on three occasions, relatives of chancellors of the duchy had to be content with the second seat. To draw any sharper distinction would, however, be misleading, since the Gerards were in many ways closely connected with the duchy. Sir Gilbert Gerard, MP for Wigan in two Marian Parliaments, held the vice-chancellorship at Lancaster from 1571 until his death in 1594. As Elizabeth’s first attorney-general he must have been closely associated with Cave and it is perhaps significant that the names of William Gerard II, his brother, and Thomas Bromley, a rising lawyer, were inserted by the same hand on the 1559 return. William Gerard II again took the senior seat in the next two Parliaments, and his son and namesake, a duchy official, sat on three occasions (1584, 1586, 1593). It is conceivable that Owen Ratcliffe, junior Member in 1571, was supported by the 4th Earl of Derby, but he probably came from that branch of the family which was related to Sir Gilbert Gerard and he certainly lived in Rochdale, where the attorney-general was steward. Sir Gilbert Gerard’s son-in-law, Peter Legh, twice represented the borough and was joined, in 1589, by a relative, William Leycester. Legh’s younger brother, Edward (1597), was a duchy official but can also be included in the Gerard family circle, and in 1601 Wigan returned Roger Downes, son-in-law of Miles Gerard of Ince.

The remaining MPs all apparently owed their election to the duchy. Thomas Grimsditch, a duchy official and lessee of duchy lands, was elected in 1584. Edward Elrington, son-in-law of Sir Ralph Sadler, the chancellor, was elected in 1572 but died before the third session; there is no evidence of a by-election to replace him. (Sir) Thomas Heneage obtained a seat for his brother Michael in 1593, and in the following Parliament (Sir) Robert Cecil, during his brief chancellorship, must have been responsible for the return of Nicholas Smyth, an Exchequer official. (Sir) John Fortescue I, while temporarily chancellor in 1601, put in his son-in-law John Pulteney.

As at Preston, evidence of non-payment of MPs is to be found in the returns: those for 1589 and 1597 specifically exempted the town from paying wages.3

Author: W.J.J.

Notes

  • 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 2. D'Ewes, 308.