Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

414 in 1689


  Election declared void, 20 June 1660 
11 Apr. 1661EDWARD RIGBY 
  Double return of Rishton and Fyfe. RISHTON seated, 31 May 1661 
27 May 1667JOHN OTWAY vice Rishton, deceased 
20 Feb. 1679SIR ROBERT CARR, Bt. 
21 Apr. 1679(SIR) JOHN OTWAY vice Carr, chose to sit for Lincolnshire 
19 Sept. 1679EDWARD RIGBY 
 Sir Robert Carr, Bt. 
28 Feb. 1681SIR ROBERT CARR, Bt. 
 Edward Rigby 
11 June 1685HON. ANDREW NEWPORT vice Chicheley, chose to sit for Cambridge 
 Edward Rigby206

Main Article

‘Proud Preston’, seat of the duchy administration, swarmed with lawyers and other professional men, as the heralds’ visitation of 1664-5 shows. Perhaps in consequence the corporation was unusually independent; though they allowed the duchy and the Earl of Derby to claim one seat each, they demanded and exercised the right of veto over their nominees. The great local family, the Presbyterian Hoghtons, who owned the rectory and presented low-church clergymen to the living, exercised little weight in the borough, except perhaps in the choice of Sir John Otway in September 1679, nor does its geographical situation, amid the greatest concentration of recusancy in England, seem to have affected its elections.1

At the general election of 1660, the corporation returned two Presbyterians, Richard Standish and Alexander Rigby, but the freemen, who claimed the vote, petitioned successfully on the grounds that the mayor had refused a poll. The election was quashed, and at the by-election Rigby’s brother Edward was returned with another adherent of Lord Derby, Edward Fleetwood. In 1661 there was a double return, involving two local medical practitioners, Geoffrey Rishton and William Fyfe. Edward Rigby, who appeared on both indentures presumably took his seat at once, and on 31 May the committee of elections allowed Rishton to join him on the merits of his return, which was signed by the mayor, the two bailiffs and 20 ‘burgesses’. Fyfe’s return, which was delivered to the clerk of the crown on 27 May by a person describing himself as ‘the sheriff’s deputy’, bore the signatures of the obliging mayor and of 14 ‘burgesses’, but not those of the bailiffs, though in compensation it claimed ‘the assent and consent of the burgesses of the court leet’. The House confirmed Rishton’s election on 18 Dec., resolving that ‘all the inhabitants of Preston had voices in the election’. This defeat for the corporation coincided with its remodelling in Lord Derby’s interest, and may have been inspired by his numerous political enemies in the House, such as Richard Kirkby.2

Remodelled the corporation might be, but subservient it never became. On Rishton’s death five years later, they would have nothing of ‘the great earl’s endeavour to pin some pitiful burgess’ on them, even when the ‘pitiful burgess’ turned out to be Joseph Williamson and to enjoy the backing of Secretary Arlington. ‘Like stubborn people’ they made choice of John Otway, vice-chancellor of the duchy, to whom Geoffrey Shakerley and Sir Roger Bradshaigh I appealed in vain to be ‘wise and kind to Williamson and the town’. Williamson withdrew a month before the election, which was probably uncontested.3

At the general election of February 1679, Rigby was returned with Sir Robert Carr, the chancellor of the duchy, who chose to sit for Lincolnshire and was replaced by Otway. Rigby, an exclusionist, and Otway retained their seats in September, apparently at Carr’s expense. Lord Derby complained that the election ‘was very strangely carried on’, and urged Carr to petition. But he had been safely elected for Lincolnshire again, and had no mind to pursue a hopeless petition whose only purpose would have been to strengthen the Derby interest. Otway, though an official and a court supporter, successfully steered Sir Charles Hoghton’s estate bill through Parliament. In 1681 the mayor urged the corporation to nominate Derby’s candidates, Fleetwood and Carr. But Fleetwood seems to have stood down in favour of another duchy official, Sir Gervase Elwes. If the aim was to keep Rigby out, the Court derived little benefit from it, for Elwes was also an exclusionist. It was at this election that the corporation interpreted the 1661 resolution on the franchise as meaning ‘the in-burgesses of the guild’, or resident freemen, a limitation of the word ‘inhabitants’ that remained in force till 1768. It was the ‘burgesses’ who produced a loyal address abhorring the Rye House Plot in Sept. 1683.4

Preston received a new charter on 14 Jan. 1685, with the usual clause providing for removal of officials by order-in-council. The franchise, however, was not restricted. For the general election of 1685, Lord Derby first proposed Lord Colchester (Richard Savage), who was rejected by the gentry. Next it was suggested that Derby’s brother Hon. James Stanley should stand here, as well as at Clitheroe: Richard Legh guaranteed that it should be without trouble or charge. In the end the durable Fleetwood carried the Stanley colours, along with Sir Thomas Chicheley, the chancellor of the duchy, and probably defeated Rigby at the poll. When Chicheley decided to serve for Cambridge, he suggested Thomas Preston II as his successor. Although his nomination was approved by the gentry, it was rejected by the corporation. Sir Roger Bradshaigh II wrote to Legh:

They are not morally certain that they can make an interest for any person to oppose Serjeant Rigby effectually, and likewise I perceive their pulse beats after such a person at Court as may be qualified to do services for their corporation.

The local Tories bowed to the corporation’s wishes and sent them Andrew Newport, an elderly courtier who had no known connexion with the borough. Lord Derby facilitated his election by gaoling Rigby three days before on a charge of sedition, and there was probably no contest.5

In August 1687, the mayor of Preston was presented to James II at Chester, and commanded to secure the re-election of Fleetwood and Newport. But when the corporation were asked to approve the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, they returned a unanimous negative. Though twice served with orders for the removal of the mayor, three aldermen and six councilmen, Preston refused the mandamus, and survived the reign unpurged. On 17 Sept. 1688 they agreed to nominate Fleetwood and Sir Richard Standish, son of the Presbyterian Member of 1660, who was later to be elected for Wigan as a Whig. This may have been meant as a sop to the dissenters, but the new mayor put the Anglican complexion of the corporation beyond doubt; when he took office on 5 Oct., he not only insisted on taking the oaths of supremacy and allegiance but also subscribed against the Solemn League and Covenant. With the flight of James, the local political situation was transformed. Fleetwood stood down in favour of James Stanley, whose election was uncontested. The duchy interest was in abeyance, and for the second seat there was a close struggle between Rigby’s grandson and Thomas Patten, who enjoyed the support of Lord Brandon (Charles Gerard). Patten scraped home by two votes in a poll of 414. Only the mayor, bailiffs and aldermen are mentioned on the return, the customary allusion to the ‘assent and consent of all the burgesses’ being dropped.6

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. H. Fishwick, Preston, 37; VCH Lancs. vii. 74, 76-77; Wahlstrand thesis, 166.
  • 2. CJ, viii. 69; CSP Dom. 1661-2, pp. 93, 199-200, 229; PC 2/55/416, 461.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1666-7, pp. 446, 454; 1667, pp. 25, 48-49, 63.
  • 4. HMC Kenyon, 113, 125; Luttrell, i. 280.
  • 5. Fishwick, 60; HMC Kenyon, 179; Rylands Lib. Legh mss, Bradshaigh to Legh, 8 May 1685.
  • 6. Diary of Bp. Cartwright (Cam. Soc. xx), 74; Wahlstrand thesis, 100; PC2/72/622, 693; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 174; Bellingham Diary ed. Hewitson, 15, 19, 39, 41, 42.