Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

No names known for 1510-23


1536(not known)
1539(not known)
1542(not known)
13 Mar. 1553SIR ROBERT WORSLEY vice Houghton
 (aft. 1 Aug. 1558 not known)

Main Article

A county palatine with three courts of its own, and with an appellate jurisdiction in the duchy of Lancaster court sitting at Westminster, Lancashire was thinly populated, remote from London and unreceptive to the new forces affecting life in the south. Coal-mining had begun there before Leland’s visit but was not to increase markedly until the early 1550s; cloth was manufactured in a number of towns, but agriculture remained the chief occupation. Much of the county was covered by forests and ‘mosses’, and town life was concentrated in the south and centre; Leland described the county town of Lancaster as in eclipse. There were a few large monasteries, Cartmel, Cockersand, Furness and Whalley, but the economic and social effects of the Dissolution were limited by the transfer of much of the property to local gentlemen rather than to absentee landlords. Although the majority of landed families held to Catholicism, there was little religious unrest in the shire before Elizabeth’s reign.1

Six election writs survive for the period. Of these, four were directed from Chancery to the chancellor of the duchy and two, those of December 1544 and January 1553, from the chancellor of the duchy to the sheriff of the county palatine, with instructions to carry out the election of knights and burgesses and to certify the results to him; these two are signed ‘Heydon’, the clerk of the duchy who drew them up. In December 1544 there was a fortnight’s delay between these two stages of procedure, but in January 1553, when the original writ was issued on the 5th, the instruction to the sheriff was drawn up on the following day. This particular specimen is torn and the addressee’s office missing, but as the only endorsement is the sheriff’s it must have been meant for him. The confusion over the names of knights of the shire for the Parliament may have had something to do with this hasty action, which could have allowed little time for the dispatch of nominations to the chancellor of the duchy (Sir) John Gates. The four writs sent to the chancellor bear endorsements that he has directed the sheriff to arrange for the election of Members and that the sheriff has returned the sealed indentures to him. The three stages in the procedure—Chancery to duchy, duchy to sheriff, and sheriff back to duchy—are reflected in the addition to three of the four writs (August 1553, October 1554 and September 1555) of both the duchy’s endorsement, certifying its action on them, and a copy of the sheriff’s endorsement certifying his.2

Election indentures survive for the Parliaments of 1545 (when the sheriff added to his county return the names for Lancashire boroughs), 1547 and March 1553, and for those of Mary except April 1554 and 1558. All but the first two are in English. They give the place of election as Lancaster castle—an inconvenient location for all but the few freeholders living in the north of the shire—and the contracting parties as the sheriff and a number of named electors (varying from eight to over 50) with ‘other freeholders’ or, at the election of September 1553, ‘many other gentlemen and freeholders’ who made the election ‘by their mutual assent and consent for and in the name of that whole shire’. The indenture of 29 Oct. 1554 testifies

that upon open proclamation and publication made in the full county holden at Lancaster ... of the King’s and Queen’s majesties’ writ of summons for a Parliament ... according to the tenor, form and effect of the said writ, we ... (then being present in the said county and with good circumspection pondering and considering not only the contents of the said writ but also the Queen’s most gracious letters unto the said sheriff in that behalf addressed and unto us by him showed and declared accordingly) have willingly and freely (without contradiction of any man of [?or] person or persons then being there present) elected, nominated and appointed ...

In the spring of 1539 the 3rd Duke of Norfolk assured Cromwell that ‘in all the shires of my commission [as commander in the north], save Lancashire’ he had nominated suitable men for election to Parliament: in Lancashire the task was doubtless left to the chancellor of the duchy. No evidence of payment survives for the period, but it seems to have been expected, at least on occasion: Henry Farrington’s son wrote to Cromwell in June 1534 that his father had been at great cost at the Parliament and had as yet had nothing allowed him by the county.3

All 15 of the knights whose names are known held land in Lancashire, although Sir Thomas Holcroft’s principal residence was at Vale Royal, Cheshire, and several others had interests elsewhere. Only Holcroft found seats outside the county and only Sir Richard Sherborn filled borough seats within it, unless Nicholas Hare, who was to be returned for Lancaster in 1545, was one of the knights in 1539 when he served as Speaker. Eight of the 15 served one or more terms as sheriff, Farrington, Sir Richard Houghton, Sir Robert Worsley, Sir Thomas Langton, Sir John Holcroft and Sir Thomas Talbot doing so originally before their first or only election, Sir Thomas Holcroft a year after it and Butler not until the reign of Elizabeth. The evidence for the Lancashire bench is defective, but only Sir Thomas Stanley, Sir William Stanley and Talbot are not known to have been named to it at some time during their careers. Farrington, Sir Thomas Holcroft, John Kitchen and perhaps Butler held office in the central government or at court, but military experience was more general. The Members were a closely-knit group, nearly all of them being connected by kinship, service or both with the 3rd Earl of Derby, whose ascendancy is illustrated by his second son’s three consecutive elections, on the last occasion with his cousin Sir William Stanley, heir to the barony of Monteagle, both of them being well under the customary age. The two Holcrofts were brothers and Tyldesley was Worsley’s father-in-law, although Worsley’s repudiation of his wife is likely to have cost him Tyldesley’s support. Worsley replaced Houghton during the Parliament of March 1553 because Houghton was ‘not thought able to take the travell to execute’ his Membership.

In 1540 Manchester was one of eight places throughout the kingdom given the right of sanctuary under the Sanctuary Act (32 Hen. VIII, c.12), but the harm done to its prosperity led two years later to an Act (33 Hen. VIII, c.15) transferring the right from the town to Chester, some 35 miles away. Other measures concerning Manchester were introduced without success in 1549. The county palatine was brought more firmly within the national administration of justice by the Act (37 Hen. VIII, c.19) enforcing fines in Lancashire and by a further one (5 and 6 Edw. VI, c.26) extending writs of proclamation upon exigents there. Lancashire was one of the counties covered in the Act (5 and 6 Edw. VI, c.6) regulating the manufacture of cloth. A bill for respite of homage there did not survive after a single reading in December 1547.4

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. J. B. Watson, ‘Lancs. gentry 1529-58’ (London Univ. M.A. thesis, 1959), 12-15, 17, 18, 22, 25, 27; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, v. 40-46; VCH Lancs. ii. 295-7; HMC 13th Rep. IV, 319.
  • 2. C219/18C/55, 19/46, 20/65, 21/82, 23/68, 24/85; J. S. Roskell, Knights of the Shire for Co. Palatine of Lancaster, 13, 27; Somerville, Duchy, i. 326 n. 3, 413. William Heydon or Haydon was clerk of the duchy council from 1523 to 1545 when he was succeeded by George Haydon.
  • 3. C219/18C/54, 19/47, 20/66, 67, 21/83, 23/69, 24/86; LP Hen. VIII, vii. 852; x. 816 citing Cott. Calig. B6, f. 319.
  • 4. CJ, i. 3, 12, 14, 16; LJ, i. 363.