Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the burgage-holders

Number of voters:

25 in 16281


1 Mar. 1604SIR JOHN DORMER  
26 Jan. 1626RALPH ASSHETON  
c. Apr. 1626(SIR) CHRISTOPHER HATTON vice Kirke, an alien Scot  
7 Mar. 1628THOMAS JERMYN12-
 Richard Shuttleworth91
 Richard Aske12
 William Fanshawe-8
 Ralph Assheton-2
 Thomas Carew-1

Main Article

Clitheroe, a small and unimposing borough, was considered poor and remote even within Lancashire. Its population has been estimated at not much above 600 at the turn of the seventeenth century.2 The castle and honour of Clitheroe, which date back to Domesday, passed into the control of the earls of Lancaster in the late thirteenth century, and so became part of the duchy of Lancaster.3 The town’s earliest extant charter, issued by Henry de Lacy in 1283, allowed the inhabitants the same liberties as Chester; this, and privileges subsequently granted by Edward III in 1346, were confirmed by James I on 11 May 1604.4 The borough was governed by two annually elected bailiffs, one a resident, or ‘in-bailiff’, and the other an ‘out-bailiff’ selected from among the local gentry who owned freehold burgages in the town. An informal town council, made up of 12 former in-bailiffs, known as the ‘brethren’ or aldermen, held court leets twice a year and an annual court of inquiry, at which new bailiffs were appointed.5

Clitheroe first sent representatives to Parliament in 1559.6 There is no evidence that the town paid election expenses during this period. The franchise was restricted to burgage-holders, whose tenants, the freemen of the town, were entitled to vote only if their landlords declined to do so.7 Throughout the early Stuart period Clitheroe accepted the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster’s nominees for at least one seat, and occasionally for both. However, in 1621 the election became an arena of competition between local factions motivated by a bitter feud over the town’s grammar school. The same dispute was also a significant factor in the borough’s first contested election in 1628.

In 1604 the first seat went to Sir John Dormer of Dorton. Dormer was an outsider who presumably owed his election to the Duchy, either via his Buckinghamshire neighbour Sir John Fortescue*, chancellor of the duchy, or through his distant kinship with Sir Richard Molyneux I* of Sefton, the duchy’s steward of Blackburn and Clitheroe since 1581. The second Member, Martin Lister, the younger son of a local family, was born within ten miles of Clitheroe, at Gisburne in the West Riding. It seems likely that he was returned through the influence of his elder brother, Lawrence Lister†, whose son-in-law, Giles Parker, then residing with him at Thornton in Craven, was Clitheroe’s current in-bailiff. Neither Dormer nor Lister played any part in the progress of a duchy bill concerning the copyholders of Clitheroe in 1610, which was instead handled by Thomas Fanshawe I*, the duchy’s auditor in the north.8

The electoral pattern in 1614 is less clear. The first seat went to Sir Gilbert Houghton, son and heir of Sir Richard Houghton* of Hoghton Tower, a powerful member of the local gentry. The allocation of the second seat to Clement Coke, the 19 year-old younger son of Sir Edward Coke*, may be attributed to the local connections of his fiancĂ©e, Sarah, daughter and heiress of Alexander Reddish (d.1613) of Reddish in Lancashire, near the Cheshire border; he perhaps also enjoyed Duchy backing as a result of his father’s legal connections.9 Coke was one of seven complete strangers to represent Clitheroe between 1604-29 and was also one of four under-age Members to sit. Ironically, his father opposed the election of minors in later parliaments.10

In 1620 the duchy chancellor (Sir) Humphrey May*, seeking to muster parliamentary support for a bill concerning duchy lands that would be tabled in 1621, wrote to the bailiffs of Clitheroe ‘challenging a right in the election for every corporation in his county’. His original nominee for the junior seat was reportedly ’one Mr. Shelton’, perhaps Richard Shilton*, but at a late stage William Fanshawe, the duchy’s auditor, also put himself forward. Fanshawe had previously sat for Lancaster in 1614, and together with other senior duchy officials had attended a meeting of Clitheroe copyholders hosted by (Sir) Ralph Assheton at Whalley in 1617.11 Having forged useful contacts there, he invested £1,200 in property in the West Riding, and it was perhaps with Assheton’s support that he finally prevailed upon May to back him ahead of Shilton. The senior seat was reserved for a wealthy local landowner, Sir Thomas Walmesley. The eldest grandson of Justice Sir Thomas Walmesley† of Dunkenhalgh, Walmesley was only 19 at the time of the election, but his family had a long history of involvement in Clitheroe politics, and upon coming of age he would inherit five burgages in the town. When Saville Radcliffe solicited a place for his West Riding neighbour Sir Richard Beaumont* of Whitley in early December 1620, he found that the first seat had been ‘long ago disposed of to Sir Thomas Walmesley’, and that the second was also unavailable, because ‘the corporation dares not deny Mr. Chancellor’. However, he did not give up immediately. Writing to Beaumont a second time on 30 Dec. to report that Fanshawe had entered the running, Radcliffe implied that he had come close to obtaining the seat, but admitted that ‘whilst I did labour to keep it in suspense Mr. Chancellor and Mr. Auditor’s potency prevailed’.12

A week after the 1621 election, Clitheroe’s court of inquiry required all resident burgage-holders to present themselves, upon pain of a £20 fine, so that their names might be listed.13 This order suggests that Radcliffe’s intervention on behalf of Beaumont had triggered disagreements about the extent of the franchise; an undated list, now torn and partly illegible, was probably the result of this exercise and originally contained about 30 names.14 The underlying cause of the dispute was probably the continuing quarrel over the grammar school, which dated back to the 1580s and involved several local families, including the Walmesleys and Radcliffes, who were on opposing sides. A Chancery commission had been instigated by Sir Ralph Assheton of Whalley in around 1619 to investigate allegations of misappropriation of school funds by some of the governors; this was followed by a series of private suits in the duchy court and Star Chamber, and consequently the issue remained a source of local tension until the mid-1630s.15 The influence of the school dispute on the 1621 election is implicit in Radcliffe’s letter of apology to Beaumont. Radcliffe explained that his overtures on behalf of Beaumont had not succeeded because ‘the burgesses of Clitheroe fail with me in the performance of that which divers of them both proffered and promised, which they are constrained by faction to fail in’.16 John Greenacres, Radcliffe’s former associate in the school dispute, was out-bailiff at the time of the election, but he was evidently not powerful enough to prevail over Walmesley, an ally of the dominant faction led by senior alderman Christopher Nowell, his kinsman.

In 1624 both places were filled by duchy candidates. The first went to Auditor Fanshawe, while the second was bestowed upon Ralph Whitfield, a Kentish lawyer. Whitfield had no formal links with either May, the duchy, or the borough, but he spoke twice in the duchy’s interest in the Commons, and it seems likely that he gained his place through professional contacts in the duchy’s Westminster court.17 May nominated (Sir) Thomas Trevor*, a duchy official, as his first choice in 1625, but before the election Trevor became an Exchequer baron and was therefore disqualified from standing.18 Auditor Fanshawe was again elected, while the second seat was taken by Ralph Assheton, the 19 year-old son and heir of Sir Ralph Assheton of Whalley, now a baronet. In 1626 Assheton was returned once more, as the first Member. His colleague was George Kirke, a groom of the Bedchamber, who had perhaps been nominated by May as a result of his Court connections. However, on 17 Feb. Fanshawe’s brother, Thomas Fanshawe I, objected that Kirke, as an unnaturalized Scot, was ineligible. A new writ was issued, and at an election in April Kirke was replaced by Christopher Hatton, the Fanshawes’ nephew, who although he did not come of age until June 1626, had previously sat for Peterborough. It is impossible to say why he was preferred above William Fanshawe, who had failed to find a seat. Perhaps May disliked Fanshawe, who was known to be indiscreet, for he again declined to support Fanshawe’s bid for a seat at Clitheroe in 1628, advancing instead his wife’s kinsman Thomas Jermyn, another member of the king’s Bedchamber, as his first choice in what turned out to be a fiercely fought contest.

In 1628 the tensions that had remained beneath the surface in the 1621 election were brought into the open. May nominated Jermyn, an outsider, but Auditor Fanshawe independently wrote to the bailiffs on 6 Feb. that he would rather ‘serve for the town of Clitheroe than any other borough whatsoever’, and beseeched them to continue to show him their ‘accustomed respect’.19 Five other candidates also stood. William Nowell, whose father Christopher had died only a few weeks before the parliamentary writ arrived, was motivated primarily by a private suit against the duchy’s attorney, Sir Edward Mosley*. He and his father had been in conflict with Mosley for the past decade over their title to certain lands, and he wanted a seat so that he could mount a petition in the Commons accusing Mosley of corruption and malpractice.20 Richard Shuttleworth, Nowell’s cousin, stood against Jermyn for the first seat, and from the voting pattern that emerged it seems clear that he was considered to be in league with Nowell, for most of those that voted for one also voted for the other. On the other side, Ralph Assheton entered the running to oppose Nowell, who had entered a number of as yet undecided lawsuits against the baronet in relation to the maladministration of lands belonging to the grammar school.21 The remaining candidates, Richard Aske and Thomas Carew, have not been identified, but were probably local men; Aske may have been related to the Yorkshire Askes of Aughton, in the East Riding, and would appear to have allied himself to Nowell.

The election occurred on 7 Mar. 1628 and involved 25 voters. Separate polls were taken for each seat, and the names of the voters were recorded under the names of the candidates they supported.22 The voters were clearly divided along factional lines. One group of eight voters picked both Jermyn and Fanshawe, while a further handful of ‘compromisers’ paired Jermyn with Nowell or one of the other local candidates. Nowell was the only candidate who voted (for Shuttleworth and Aske in that order). The remaining 12 voters, including the in-bailiff William Herd, supported Nowell, Shuttleworth and Aske, in various combinations, the most popular being Shuttleworth and Nowell in first and second places respectively; one man even voted for Nowell in both polls. It is impossible to accept Hirst’s account of ‘idiosyncratic’ or ‘apparently random voting’ in this election.23 The support amassed by Nowell and Shuttleworth, who were both governors of the grammar school, reflects on one hand hostility towards Assheton, who received only two votes, because of his father’s interference in the management of the school lands; and possibly indicates, on the other hand, local approval of Nowell’s personal stand against the duchy.24 The outcome was that Jermyn won the senior seat with 12 votes, while William Nowell took the second seat with 11, having netted 14 votes in all.

Author: Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Lancs. RO, MBC/78.
  • 2. W.S. Weeks, Clitheroe in Seventeenth Cent. 5-6.
  • 3. VCH Lancs. vi. 361-4; W.A. Abram, Hist. Blackburn, 48-53; R. Somerville, Hist. of Duchy of Lancaster, i. 19.
  • 4. Lancs. RO PR/5013; J. Harland, Ancient Charters and other Muniments of Bor. of Clitheroe. unpag.
  • 5. Lancs. RO, MBC/116-174, 351-4; Weeks, 13, 19-20.
  • 6. VCH Lancs. vi. 367-9.
  • 7. Weeks, 9-10.
  • 8. CJ, i. 406b-407a.
  • 9. Weeks, 224.
  • 10. CJ, i. 649b-650a.
  • 11. Lancs. RO, DDX/19/113; HMC Hatfield, xix. 86; Jnl. of Nicholas Assheton of Downham ed. F.R. Raines (Chetham Soc. xiv), 55.
  • 12. Add. 24475, f. 97; Weeks, 225.
  • 13. Weeks, 11.
  • 14. Lancs. RO, DDX/19/152; D. Hirst, Representative of the People?, 97-8.
  • 15. C.W. Stokes, Queen Mary’s G.S., Clitheroe (Chetham Soc. n.s. xcii), 7-85; C91/5/9; C93/3/31; C93/8/2; C90/38; Weeks, 135-40; T.D. Whitaker, Hist. Whalley (4th edn.), ii. 93-4.
  • 16. Add. 24475, f. 97.
  • 17. Lancs. RO, DDX/19/167.
  • 18. HMC Kenyon, 31; C218/1/19.
  • 19. Lancs. RO, MBC/79.
  • 20. DL1/278, 280; C2/Chas.I/N25/35.
  • 21. DL1/280, 281; STAC8/43/6; 8/222/22.
  • 22. Lancs. RO, MBC/78.
  • 23. Hirst, 127-9; Weeks, 226-30.
  • 24. R.C.L. Sgroi, ‘The Electoral Patronage of the Duchy of Lancaster, 1604-28’, PH, xxvi. 323.