ATHERTON, Sir John (c.1513-73), of Atherton Hall, Leigh, Lancs.

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



Family and Education

b. c.1513, 1st s. of George Atherton by his 1st w. Anne, da. of Richard Assheton of Middleton, Lancs. m. (1) Elizabeth (div. 1535), da. of Sir Alexander Ratcliffe of Ordsall, s.p.; (2) bef. 1553, Margaret, da. and coh. of Thomas Catterall of Catterall, Lancs., 3s. inc. John 3da. suc. fa. 1518. Kntd. May 1544.1

Offices Held

J.p. Lancs. by 1544, sheriff 1550-1, 1554-5, 1560-1, commr. musters 1544, 1553, to collect relief Dec. 1550, church goods 1552, subsidy 1553, crown lands into keeping Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity 1562, piracy 1565.2


Settled in Lancashire since the thirteenth century, by Elizabeth’s reign the Atherton family owned extensive estates in the southern part of the county. Atherton himself, however, sold a number of his Lancashire manors, and between 1562 and 1570 bought property at Fryton, Slingsby and Hovingham, Yorkshire. He first comes to notice in 1536, when he was employed in the 3rd Earl of Derby’s expedition against the rebels in the north. Between October 1542 and May 1544 he was in charge of troops in northern England and in Scotland, where the Earl of Hertford knighted him at Leith. During the last few years of Henry VIII’s reign, and under Edward VI, he was active in raising and training men for the Lancashire musters, and he kept up this work until after Elizabeth’s accession. In September 1557 he led a number of his tenants to join the Earl of Derby’s forces against the Scots.3

Though he was a commissioner to enforce the Acts of Uniformity and Supremacy in 1562, and two years later his name was placed by his bishop in the column ‘favourable’ to the Elizabethan settlement, by 1567 the ecclesiastical commissioners recommended that Atherton should be put off the commission of the peace. He was not removed and in all probability he conformed in religion, though his second wife did not, and after Atherton’s death she was repeatedly presented for recusancy. But what, other than the clash of personalities, lies behind some gossip in 1570 it is impossible to say. In October of that year the Earl of Sussex wrote to the secretary, Cecil, telling him that Atherton had ‘conceived some jealousy of the lord lieutenant, the Earl of Derby’, and he enclosed a letter the bishop of Carlisle had written to Sussex. In this the bishop said that Atherton had written to the bishop’s father, stating that the county ‘savoured of open rebellion ... assemblies of 500 or 600 at a time and collecting of arms ... [the people] utterly refused to attend divine service in the English tongue ... openly entertained Louvainist massers with their bulls’.4

On 18 Apr. 1573 Atherton made his will, settling his property on his eldest son John. He died between 30 June and 4 July in that year and was buried at Leigh on 8 July.5

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Baines, Lancs. iv. 337-9; DL7/5/12; Dugdale, Vis. Lancs. (Chetham Soc. lxxxiv), 20-21; C142/176/47; LP Hen. VIII, xix(1), p. 328.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xix(2), p. 482; APC, vii. 284; CPR, 1553 and App. Edw. VI, p. 360; Chetham Soc. xlix 2; lxxv. 91; VCH Lancs. ii. 97, from DL Recs. commission bk. 96; Somerville, Duchy, i. 463; CPR, 1560-3, pp. 280-1.
  • 3. Dugdale; DL7/13/37; VCH Lancs. iii. 329, 448; iv. 146 n; v. 296; LP Hen. VIII, xi. 511; xvii. 517; xix(1), p. 328 et passim; xix(2), p. 482; Chetham Soc. xlix. 2, 17; HMC Kenyon, 4.
  • 4. CPR, 1555-7, p. 341; 1560-3, pp. 280-1; VCH Lancs. ii. 97; iii. 442; Ct. Rolls of Clitheroe ed. Farrar, iii. 236; Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 78; CSP Dom. Add. 1566-79, pp. 47, 321.
  • 5. C142/163/47, 176/47; DL7/13/37; VCH Lancs. iii. 437.