GERARD, William I (d.1581), of Chester Ireland.
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Family and Education
s. of Gilbert Gerard of Ince, Lancs. by Eleanor, da. of William Davison, alderman of Chester. educ. G. Inn 1543, called 1546, ancient 1552. m. Dorothy, da. of Andrew Barton† of Smithhills, Lancs., sis. of Ralph Barton, 2s. inc. Gilbert 4da. Kntd. in Ireland 1579.
Queen’s attorney in Wales and the marches 1554-9; recorder, Chester from c.1555-74/5; j.p. Cheshire by 1555, Glos. and Herefs. 1559; justice in Wales, Brec. circuit, 1559; member, council in the marches of Wales c.1560; vice-justice of Chester 1561; vice-president of council in the marches 1562; ld. chancellor of Ireland and dean of St. Patrick’s 1576; master of requests 1579.1
Soon after the accession of Elizabeth, Gerard became a justice in Wales, and was an active member of the council in the marches until 1576, when he left for Ireland. His salary seems to have been constantly in arrears. In 1574 a special minute was signed for 100 marks a year to be paid to him ‘in consideration of his long service on the council of Wales and as he is to continue to give attendance as desired’, and on his appointment as lord chancellor of Ireland the Privy Council ordered that he should be given arrears of salary, but his will records a debt of at least £200 still owing to him from the president of the council in the marches of Wales. In addition to going regularly on circuit in the Welsh counties he was one of the visitors who administered the oath of supremacy to the clergy in Wales and the diocese of Chester. Greatly concerned about some of the activities of the council in the marches, he sent to Sir Francis Walsingham early in 1576 a ‘Discourse on the Estate of the Country and People of Wales’, with suggestions for removing abuses.2
He showed the same energy and intelligence in Ireland, where he endeavoured to raise the standards of justice and administration, and attacked the system of taxation which kept the Irish peasantry poor, encouraged lawlessness, and angered the settlers within the Pale. Sir Henry Sidney, the lord deputy, was delighted with his appointment. ‘I have had long experience of him’, he wrote, ‘having had his assistance in Wales now 16 years, and know him to be very honest and diligent and of great dexterity and readiness in a court of that nature’. Gerard left Walsingham, to whom he wrote regularly, in no doubt of the serious state of Ireland. There was a ‘multitude of idle thieves’ waiting to be hanged, but this would necessitate circuiting the Pale twice a year. The Irish courts he described as ‘shadows’, with the justices ‘rather overleapt as scarecrows than reverenced as magistrates’. Among the ‘whole crew’ of officials he had called together he could not find one whom he considered satisfactory. By March 1577 he was complaining that he would soon die if he could not have lawyers from England to help him.3
During his time in Wales Gerard had missed two circuits, in 1570 through a fall which injured his leg, and in 1572 because of an unspecified illness. In Ireland he suffered from dysentery and ‘panting pain’, and in January 1580 he had such a ‘cruel pain in his thigh’ that the Queen sent her own physician to treat him, and gave him in respect of his service licence to export yarn. He made at least two journeys to London, in 1577 and 1579, to rebut accusations against Sidney, his successor, and the Irish council, and to try to get a new arrangement about the cess, the chief tax in Ireland, which he described as ‘a burden laid on the poor which breaketh all their backs’. In this he was unsuccessful, though he seems partially to have won over Walsingham. An unfortunate result of his mission was a violent quarrel with Sidney, his former patron, who felt that Gerard had betrayed his interests in the negotiations. The Queen finally granted him permission to retire to Chester if he became too ill for active service in Ireland, but though the letter was signed in August 1580 Gerard did not take advantage of it for over six months. On 3 Mar. 1581 he told Walsingham that he would soon set out for London, as he was so lame that he despaired of health.4
He was never an important parliament man. Before his appointment as master of requests in 1579, he had been appointed to two committees only, concerning the 12 shires of Wales (25 May 1572) and Mary Queen of Scots (12 May 1572). He was granted leave of absence from the House on 24 May 1572 ‘for his great business’. In 1581, by virtue of his new position, he was appointed to committees concerning the subsidy (25 Jan.), the excessive number of attorneys in the court of common pleas (17 Feb.), the preservation of pheasants and partridges (18 Feb.), and fines and recoveries (10 Mar.). He died on 1 May 1581, and was buried in Chester cathedral. The preamble to his will, made in February 1581 and proved in the following June, and the will itself, show him to have been a puritan. The will describes him as ‘prostrate in tears ... with inward remorse and bleeding repentance at my former wicked life’, but he trusted to be placed ‘in that heavenly Jerusalem provided before the beginning in His divine providence for all His elect (amongst which number I faithfully believe I am one)’. A large section of the will is concerned with suggestions for getting back the money owed him by the Crown in Ireland as well as in Wales, and for renewing the yarn licence to support his family, especially his wife, who was ‘from time to time visited with such sickness as bereaveth her from all sense and understanding’. Gerard asked Leicester and Walsingham especially to use their kind offices for him. Among legacies were 500 marks to a daughter Judith, and smaller sums to other children and relatives, together with detailed bequests (mostly small) to charities—for instance, 1s. to old Roger Radford ‘every Sunday in the year that he sitteth in the choir in the minster and heareth their service throughout’. ‘This city’, presumably Chester, w