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 freemen

Number of voters:

398 in 16641


13 Feb. 1604SIR THOMAS HESKETH , recorder
4 Nov. 1605SIR THOMAS HOWARD vice Hesketh, deceased
c. Dec. 1620(SIR) HUMPHREY MAY
19 Jan. 1624(SIR) HUMPHREY MAY
2 Mar. 1624JOHN SELDEN vice May, chose to sit for Leicester
19 Jan. 1626(SIR) HUMPHREY MAY
10 Mar. 1626THOMAS JERMYN vice May, chose to sit for Leicester

Main Article

Lancaster claimed to be the most ancient borough in Lancashire. Founded on a Roman settlement, the medieval town grew up around a Norman castle erected in around 1102. It received its first known charter from John, earl of Mortain (later King John) in 1193, which granted the inhabitants the same liberties as Bristol. Between 1295 and 1331 it was represented in Parliament. In 1362 it became the official administrative capital of the county when Edward III, at the request of John of Gaunt, decreed that the assizes must be held there, establishing a monopoly of judicial process that was henceforth jealously guarded.2 Nevertheless, the town suffered severe economic depression during the later middle ages: it lost the franchise and was gradually overtaken as a regional centre by Preston, and in the development of industry and commerce by Manchester and Liverpool.3 Observing this sad decline, Camden remarked that Lancaster was ‘not very well peopled nor much frequented, and all the inhabitants thereof are given to husbandry’.4

In the early sixteenth century Lancaster recovered its right to send representatives to Parliament.5 Moreover, the castle, after major rebuilding under Elizabeth, served as the provincial headquarters of the duchy of Lancaster. A series of attempts to revive Lancaster’s ailing economy, in the form of royal grants reinforcing the town’s privileges, culminated in 1604 with the issue of a new charter incorporating the ‘mayor, [two] bailiffs and commonalty’ as a free borough.6 This confirmed the method of appointing mayors and other officers, as laid down in a code of the borough’s customs drawn up in 1572.7 It also appointed Sir Thomas Hesketh as the town’s recorder. Hesketh, a lawyer, was vice chancellor of the palatinate and a member of the Council in the North. Having already sat in four Elizabethan parliaments, he was elected on the Duchy interest at Lancaster in 1604, but died after the first session.8 He was replaced on 4 Nov. 1605, when Sir Thomas Howard, the 18 year-old son of the lord chamberlain, Thomas, 1st earl of Suffolk, was returned, presumably through his father’s influence.

The chancellor of the Duchy traditionally controlled parliamentary nominations at Lancaster, and managed throughout the period to place high-ranking Duchy officials as borough representatives, apparently without encountering opposition. The second seat in 1604 went to Thomas Fanshawe I, the Duchy’s auditor in the north. Although an outsider, he evidently formed a good relationship with the corporation, particularly during an extended visit in the summer of 1611, and presented it with an engraved, silver-topped ebony mayor’s staff in 1613 and a ‘fine old mace’ weighing 37 ounces.9 By the time of the next general election Fanshawe was no longer an officer of the Duchy, but he was nevertheless re-elected for Lancaster in every Parliament of the period. In 1614 he was joined by his younger brother, William, who had succeeded him as Duchy auditor. In 1620 the chancellor of the Duchy, (Sir) Humphrey May, chose to sit for Lancaster himself, a sign that he considered it to be one of the safest seats within his reach.10 The borough elected May and Thomas Fanshawe again in 1624, but this time May plumped for Leicester, another traditional Duchy seat. He was presumably responsible for putting forward a rising lawyer, John Selden, to serve at Lancaster in his stead. Together with Fanshawe, who had been knighted in 1624, May served once more for Lancaster in 1625. Both men were re-elected in 1626, but May again plumped for Leicester, whereupon he nominated his wife’s distant relation, Thomas Jermyn, as his replacement.

In the final session of the period, Fanshawe was paired with Sir Francis Bindloss of Borwick Hall, the son and heir of a local magnate. Bindloss had no discernable connection with the Duchy, and it is possible that his return was indicative of worsening relations between the chancellor and the corporation. These came to a head in the 1630s, when the townsmen were sued in the Duchy court over grazing rights in Quernmore forest and nearby moorland.11 In the absence of any borough records before 1664 it is impossible to determine whether Bindloss’s return represented a challenge to Duchy control of elections.

No records of the admission of freemen survive for the period, making it difficult to estimate the number of voters in early Stuart elections. Except for Thomas Fanshawe, who was described as such in 1613, it is not known whether any of the borough’s Members were enrolled as freemen, nor whether their expenses were paid by the town.

Author: Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. J. Brownbill, Cal. of Charters and Recs. belonging to Corp. of Lancaster, 18.
  • 2. T. Pape, Charters of City of Lancaster, 6, 33; W.O. Roper, Materials for Hist. of Lancaster; E. Baines, Hist. of Palatinate and Duchy of Lancaster ed. J. Croston, v. 461.
  • 3. Hist. Lancaster ed. A. White, 54-5.
  • 4. W. Camden, Britannia (1610), p. 754; T.D. Whitaker, Hist. Richmondshire, ii. 216-22.
  • 5. W.D. Pink and A.B. Beavan, Parl. Rep. of Lancs. 103-18.
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 172; Pape, 36.
  • 7. VCH Lancs. viii. 44.
  • 8. Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 94; P.R. Long, ‘Wealth of the Magisterial Class in Lancs. 1590-1640’ (Manchester Univ. M.A. thesis, 1968), p. 134.
  • 9. DL28/33/14A; Pape, 41.
  • 10. R.C.L. Sgroi, ‘The Electoral Patronage of the Duchy of Lancaster, 1604-28’, PH, xxvi. 316, 322-3.
  • 11. White, 56.