RATCLIFFE, John (c.1611-73), of Chester and the Middle Temple.
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Family and Education
b. c.1611, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of John Ratcliffe†, brewer, of Chester by 2nd w. Jane, da. of John Brerewood of Chester. educ. Queen’s, Oxf. 1628; M. Temple 1629, called 1637. m. Dorothy, at least 2s. suc. fa. 1633.2
Freeman, Chester 1628, counsel 1639-45, 1652-7, 1662-?7, alderman 1646-62, recorder 1646-51, 1657-62, commr. for assessment 1649-50, Aug. 1660-3, 1664-9, scandalous ministers 1654; j.p. Cheshire 1656-9, Mont. 1659; attorney and serjeant of the duchy, Lancs. 1658-July 1660; dep. c.j. Chester 1659; c.j. Anglesey, Caern. and Merion. June-Sept. 1659; second justice, Brec., Glam. and Rad. Mar.-July 1660; commr. for militia, Chester Mar. 1660; bencher, I. Temple 1660-3.3
Ratcliffe came of a Lancashire gentry family of 15th century origin. His grandfather moved to Chester and was active in the government of the city, and his father represented it in 1628. Ratcliffe himself, a lawyer and a rock-ribbed Presbyterian, doubtless supported Parliament in the Civil War. He became recorder of Chester in 1646 and sat for the city as a recruiter until Pride’s Purge. He served briefly as a Welsh judge, acting as deputy to John Bradshaw in 1659; but his attitude to the rising led by Sir George Booth aroused the gravest suspicions, and he was swiftly removed.4
Re-elected in 1660, Ratcliffe was an inactive Member of the Convention. He was named to only five committees and made three recorded speeches. On 7 July he supported an unsuccessful proviso to the indemnity bill concerning Nicholas Love. He was not named to the committee for the bill to enable Booth to sell land, but served on it as one of the Cheshire Members, and reported it to the House. He also took the chair for the bill to permit discharged soldiers to exercise trades in corporate towns without serving the usual apprenticeship. In the debate of 4 Dec. on the bill to attaint the four principal regicides, including Bradshaw, he ‘moved for an allowance to be made of just debts, legacies and funeral expenses out of the forfeitures’, and was ordered to draft a proviso accordingly which he brought in four days later.5
Ratcliffe was re-elected in 1661 and listed as a friend by Lord Wharton, to be managed by Edward Stephens. A moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament he was named to 42 committees. As one of the Members reported to the House on 3 July for failing to receive the sacrament, he was ordered to bring in a certificate on the following Monday. Instead he appears to have absented himself until after Christmas, his next committee being for a private bill on 14 Feb. 1662, and he took no part in the Clarendon Code. He was removed from his recordership by the commissioners for corporations, and disbenched in 1663 for refusing to read. With a practice dwindling to vanishing point he absented himself from commons and sub-let his chambers. He was appointed to the committee on the bill to abolish the legal charges known as ‘damage clere’ in Lancashire and Cheshire in 1664, but he remained a very inconspicuous Member of the House until the following year. On 13 Jan. 1665 he was added to the committee on the bill to restrict prerogative rights over salt marshes, and he reported it to the House on 6 Feb. with six additional provisos, five of which were accepted. He acted as chairman again for the plague bill in 1666, and was among those ordered to draft a clause making provision for the municipal authorities in cathedral cities to act in the absence of the dean and chapter. He was not among those to whom the bill to enable Thomas Legh to sell land was entrusted by name, but again, as a Cheshire Member, he served on the committee and reported it to the House, though so maladroitly that it was rejected as an ill precedent. (Sir) Geoffrey Shakerley feared that Ratcliffe, ‘a Presbyterian and a great favourer of nonconformity’ would regain the recordership of Chester in April 1667, but the corporation preferred to appoint William Williams.6
In November 1667, after the fall of Clarendon, Ratcliffe was added to the committees to investigate the charges against Lord Mordaunt and to prevent abuses in the Post Office. He brought in a bill for this purpose on 29 Feb. 1668, and was added to the committees to reform the collection of hearth-tax and to consider the claims of the Upper House to exercise jurisdiction over commoners. But his principal interest in this session was in the proposals for religious comprehension. On 11 Mar., in his only fully recorded speech, he
moved that the Act of Uniformity might be reviewed and to be taken into consideration where it is too severe against non-subscription or in the point of subscription, and the Covenant and assent or consent; and that a conference of divines be admitted of both persuasions.
He concluded with an appeal on behalf of ‘real tender consciences’ and a demand for purging the scandals of both civil and ecclesiastical courts. When the Anglicans riposted with a bill to extend the Conventicles Act, Ratcliffe acted as teller for an unsuccessful proviso to waive the execution of the Act in places where there were no ministers or churches. He was sufficiently emboldened to appear on the elections committee in the next two sessions. On 19 Nov. 1669, in response to a petition from Chester corporation, he was ordered, together with Sir Thomas Hanmer and John Birch, to bring in a bill for scouring the Dee; but they never did so. His last committee was for the revived Legh estate bill on 14 Mar. 1670.7
Ratcliffe died on 13 Jan. 1673 and was buried at St. Olave’s, Chester. He appears to have left his family in financial difficulty. His executors petitioned the mayor and corporation on behalf of his children. They stated that
in the service of the city, Ratcliffe had spent a great part of his time and estate and had been forced to contract several considerable debts. After these had been met, his estate would not be a competent provision for his children.
The corporation ordered that £50 should be paid to the executors for the use of the children, and in 1694, on the petition of his son Benjamin, they made a further grant of £10. No later member of the family sat in Parliament.8