HOUGHTON, Sir Richard (1569-1630), of Hoghton Tower, Lancs.

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



Family and Education

b. 22 Sept. 1569,1 1st s. of Thomas Houghton of Hoghton Tower and Anne, da. of Henry Keighley of Keighley, Yorks.2 educ. G. Inn 1586. m. (1) c.1590, Catherine (d. 17 Nov. 1617), da. of Sir Gilbert Gerard† of Ince, Lancs., master of the rolls, 5s. 8da.; (2) Jane, da. of Thomas Spencer of Rufford, wid. of Robert Hesketh†, 2s. suc. fa. 21 Nov. 1589. kntd. June 1599.3 cr. bt. 22 May 1611.4 d. 12 Nov. 1630. sig. Rich[ard] Hoghton.

Offices Held

Freeman, Preston by 1582,5 Liverpool by 1629;6 j.p. Lancs. c.1593-d., Yorks. (W. Riding) 1597-8;7 sheriff, Lancs. 1598-9; commr. musters, Lancs. 1600;8 steward, master forester, master of the game, Bowland and Quernmore, Lancs., master forester, Myerscough, Amounderness and Bleasdale, kpr. of Myerscough Park 1603-suspended 22 June 1621;9 commr. sewers, Lancs. 1607,10 subsidy 1608, 1621-2, 1624,11 aid 1609,12 Duchy copyholders, Lancs. and Cheshire 1611;13 dep. lt. Lancs. 1613-d.14

Vol. [I] c.1596-c.1598.15


The Houghtons of Lancashire, an avowedly Catholic family, could trace their ancestry back to the early twelfth century and achieved notoriety under Elizabeth for scandals of both religion and homicide.16 Hoghton Tower, lying between Blackburn and Preston, was built in the 1560s by Thomas Houghton, who entertained Edmund Campion there in 1580 before fleeing to LiĆ©ge, where he died. It may have been at Houghton that Shakespeare spent the ‘lost years’ of his youth as a Jesuit recruit.17 In 1581 Hoghton Tower was inherited by this Member’s father, Thomas Houghton of Lea Hall, near Preston, who was murdered in 1589. Houghton’s wardship was sold to Sir Gilbert Gerard, master of the rolls,18 and soon after achieving his majority, in about 1590, Houghton married Gerard’s daughter, Catherine.

Like Gerard, who was reputedly a ‘Protestant in London and a papist in Lancashire’, Houghton temporized in religion, though the taint of Catholicism remained.19 His mother was arrested and summoned to Court in 1593 following her remarriage to Richard Shireburne, a convicted recusant.20 Anxious to demonstrate his loyalty, Houghton worked hard as a magistrate, served as a volunteer in Ireland in 1596 and was knighted at Court in June 1599. As sheriff of Lancashire in 1598-9, he diligently exerted himself in the prosecution of recusants and preparation of supplies and troops for Ireland, and in 1600 received high praise from both the bishop of Chester and the Privy Council for his handling of a dangerous seminary, Robert Middleton.21 Nevertheless, when Middleton escaped from custody his rescuers alleged, as had previously been rumoured, that Houghton had secretly supported Essex’s rebellion.22 More seriously, Houghton was accused of having exploited his office as sheriff to embezzle lands adjoining his estates, destroying papers relating to the property of another man to strengthen his own claim.23

Despite these slurs, Houghton’s position near the top of Lancashire society was assured, and he frequently exchanged hospitality with the county’s elite, including the Stanleys, Gerards, and Sir Richard Molyneux* of Sefton, another former ward of Sir Gilbert Gerard, who had also married one of the latter’s daughters.24 After serving as a knight for Lancashire in 1601, Houghton was again returned in 1604, taking the second seat while Molyneux, his senior, claimed the first. In the first session Houghton was appointed to committees for bills concerning the restitution of the earls of Southampton, Essex and Arundel (2 Apr.), Henry Butler’s estates (1 May), assart lands (3 May), pluralities (4 June) and annexations (4 July).25 He was also named to attend conferences with the Lords on religion (19 Apr.) and the Union (20 April).26 Though he received no appointments in the second session, he was named in the third to committees to consider English merchants’ complaints against the Spanish (28 Feb. 1607), the Marshalsea Court (3 Mar.) and the outlawries bill (6 June).27 In the fourth sitting he was appointed to bill committees for piracy (3 Mar. 1610) and the preservation of woods (22 March).28 The latter may have reflected his experience as a master forester, though the bill itself was in fact a privately promoted measure against iron mills and probably pertained only to south-eastern England.29

From James’s accession Houghton sought to establish a career for himself at Court. He appeared in 1605 ‘fighting at foils’,30 and participated in a masque the following year as a combatant on the side of ‘opinion’ in Ben Jonson’s Hymen with the Barriers.31 However, Houghton’s reputation was severely tested by an episode concerning the spoils of a shipwreck at Warton in December 1605.32 Having taken and consumed the goods, which included expensive wine and figs, Houghton was appalled to learn that William, 6th earl of Derby, had a superior claim to the bounty as the local vice-admiral. Although he promised reparation, Derby insisted on an official inquiry, whereupon Houghton protested deep regret for ‘having brought myself into a labyrinth where I never intended’.33 It was probably this cause that led him to apply to the Commons for leave, a request that was granted on 5 Mar. 1606.34 The matter was eventually resolved by the intervention of Robert Cecil†, earl of Salisbury, after an appeal from Houghton’s brother-in-law, Lord Gerard (Thomas Gerard I†).35

Life at Court initially brought rewards to Houghton, for in 1607 he was granted the rectory and tithes of Preston on the marriage of his son and heir, Sir Gilbert*, to a daughter of Sir Roger Aston*, master of the wardrobe, after the latter conveyed a Cambridgeshire manor to the Crown.36 Despite early signs of impending financial difficulties, Houghton was among the first to be persuaded to purchase a baronetcy in 1611, taking eighth place on the list alongside his kinsman Sir Roger Haughton, steward to the earl of Salisbury, and other Lancashire crypto-papists, including Molyneux and Sir Thomas Gerrard* of Bryn.37 Houghton attempted to supplement his landed income by investing in industrial projects, obtaining a licence in 1608 to dig for lead, coal, copper and slate in Bowland forest.38 He also experimented with alum production, mortgaging one of the most valuable of his estates, Walton manor, to raise the required capital. This venture was initially successful, producing several tons in the first year, which were sold to Bolton dyers at 28s. per cwt. However, he was sued by Guisborough alum farmers for poaching their German artisans, and in response sought a monopoly patent, granted in 1614, to make and export up to 500 tons of alum a year.39

The profits of his mining and alum privileges ultimately fell short of Houghton’s expectations. As early as 1605 he had sold the manors of Charnock for £1,600 and Ashton under Line for £5,500,40 but by around 1615 he began to lease, mortgage and sell off his estates in earnest, starting with outlying lands in Lawton, Lightshaw and Goldborn, which were bought by his lawyer, Thomas Ireland*.41 Loans he had earlier raised on various properties but could not repay, now resulted in the initiation of several lawsuits against him; even his own younger brother Henry sued him for taking possession of Alston manor contrary to the intentions of their father.42 Houghton also encountered problems with his tenants, one of whom accused him of bullying and intimidation, ‘resolving by his great power and means to oppress and overbear’ them during a quarrel over the rent.43 In 1616 Houghton was ordered by Lords Lennox and Stanhope ‘to appear before them with his books so that means may be devised for satisfying his creditors’.44 The most persistent of these was Sir Robert Bannister, of Passenham in Northamptonshire, who attempted to repossess Walton after Houghton failed to redeem a mortgage of £7,000 secured on the manor as part of the alum project; suits in the Duchy Court, Chancery and Star Chamber ensued.45

Notwithstanding these troubles, Houghton spent extravagantly in preparation for a visit from King James, building a new stable block and, according to legend, carpeting the driveway to Hoghton Tower with red velvet for half a mile.46 He certainly provided lavish hospitality and entertainments for the royal party while it stayed at Hoghton Tower between 12-18 Aug. 1617, and put all his friends into livery for the occasion, so that, as Nicholas Assheton recorded, they could ‘attend him at the king’s coming, rather for his grace and reputation showing his neighbours’ love, than any exacting of mean service’.47 Amusements provided for over 100 guests included hunting, dancing, rush-bearing, pageants and banquets, at which numerous rich dishes of all kinds of meat and game, and ‘humble pie’ (venison offal) were served.48 It was at Houghton that James delivered a speech about ‘honest recreation’, which formed the basis of the controversial Book of Sports.49 He also visited Houghton’s alum works, and ‘viewed them precisely’; his interest in the scheme led Houghton to hope that he might to be able to pay off Bannister by selling the plant to the king.50 Serious negotiations were begun, but quickly foundered under the prudent caution of lord keeper Sir Francis Bacon*, who instructed a commission to investigate the viability of the works.51 As Buckingham pointed out, the purchase would have been mainly for charity to Houghton and his son, Sir Gilbert, rather than for profit, but in any case it fell through when Bannister refused to accept James’s offer of £5,400.52

The failure of the alum works and the cost of the royal visit practically bankrupted Houghton, even though he enjoyed an annual income of around £2,000 in the late 1620s. He managed to raise a portion of £4,200 for one of his daughters, but only by mortgaging the manor of Lea and other lands already allocated to the jointure of his heir’s bride, and selling the manor of Chipping.53 Amid a flurry of debt-related lawsuits, Houghton was sent to the Fleet in around 1619, and spent the last decade of his life appealing for reprieves, while Sir Gilbert shouldered the task of paying off his creditors.54 Several spells of bail were granted, during which time Houghton sought the comfort of mistresses, his wife having died in 1617 only weeks after the departure of the royal entourage. Reprimanded by the king in 1622 for living in sin with Penelope Hillyard, he also had two children with Jane Hesketh, the widow of his neighbour, Robert Hesketh. Although there is no record that he married Jane, she was described as his ‘widow’ in the 1640s when Hoghton Tower, where she still resided, was sequestered.55

Houghton’s pleas for habeas corpus were refused in 1628 by lord keeper Sir Thomas Coventry*, who had lost patience with ‘Sir Richard’s abuse of previous favours’,56 though he was released shortly before his death, at Houghton, on 12 Nov. 1630. An inventory, which valued his personal possessions at £390 2s. 8d., contained no luxury items except for a pair of virginals and five pictures.57 His inquisition post mortem likewise depicts an encumbered and dispersed estate.58 He was succeeded by his son Sir Gilbert, who sat for Clitheroe in 1614 and Lancashire in 1621 and 1626.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Lancs. RO, DDHo/ KK1120; W.A. Abram, Hist. Blackburn, 717.
  • 2. Vis. Lancs. (Chetham Soc. lxxxii), 51.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 222.
  • 4. C66/1942.
  • 5. Preston Guild Rolls ed. W.A. Abram (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. ix), 39.
  • 6. G. Chandler, Liverpool Under Chas. I, 150.
  • 7. Lancs. RO, QSC 1-11; C231/1 ff. 31, 45.
  • 8. APC, 1599-1600, p. 598.
  • 9. Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 143.
  • 10. C181/2, f. 59.
  • 11. SP14/31/1; C212/22/20, 21, 23.
  • 12. SP14/43/107.
  • 13. SP14/61/64.
  • 14. APC, 1613-14, p. 116; Add. 39624.
  • 15. HMC Hatfield, vi. 558; G.C. Miller, Hoghton Tower, 79.
  • 16. Vis Lancs. (Chetham Soc. xcviii), 48.
  • 17. ‘Ld. Burghley’s Map of Lancs.’, Misc. iv ed. J. Gillow (Cath. Rec. Soc. iv), 175; VCH Lancs. vi. 40-3; Abram, 723-5; P. Croft, ‘The Catholic Gentry, the Earl of Salisbury and the Bts. of 1611’, Conformity and Orthodoxy in Eng. Church ed. P. Lake and M. Questier, 272, n. 44.
  • 18. APC, 1591, p. 385; Miller, 162.
  • 19. Croft, 272.
  • 20. APC, 1592-3, pp. 281, 334; Recusant Roll 1 comp. M.M.C. Calthrop (Cath. Rec. Soc. xviii), 210; Lancs. Eliz. Recusants ed. J.S. Leatherbarrow (Chetham Soc. cx), 107, 109.
  • 21. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 8, 466, 474; HMC Hatfield, ix. 68-9, x. 30, 335, 344; APC, 1599-1600, p. 720; Lancs. Eliz. Recusants, 142-3.
  • 22. CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 399-400; HMC Hatfield, xi.167.
  • 23. APC, 1598-9, p. 586-8; P.R. Long, ‘Wealth of the Magisterial Class in Lancs. 1590-1640’ (Univ. Manchester MA thesis, 1968), pp. 230-2.
  • 24. Miller, 169; Stanley Pprs. ed. F.R. Raines (Chetham Soc. xxxi), 70, 202-3.
  • 25. CJ, i. 162a, 193b, 197b, 232a, 252a.
  • 26. Ibid. 178a, 180a.
  • 27. Ibid. 344b, 346a, 379b.
  • 28. Ibid. 404b, 413b.
  • 29. Ibid. 408, 412.
  • 30. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 594.
  • 31. Jnl. of Nicholas Assheton of Downham ed. F.R. Raines (Chetham Soc. xiv), 7.
  • 32. HMC Hatfield, xvii. 548.
  • 33. Ibid. 552, 602.
  • 34. CJ, i. 277b.
  • 35. HMC Hatfield, xviii.44, 48, 59; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 290.
  • 36. C66/1733; Cal. Hoghton Deeds and Pprs. ed. J.H. Lumby (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. lxxxviii), 71; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 381.
  • 37. 47th DKR, App. 125; Croft, 272.
  • 38. Lancs. RO, DDHo/AA988; Long, 106.
  • 39. C66/2040; Lansd. 152/61; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 238; R.B. Turton, Alum Farm, 80-4.
  • 40. Lancs RO, DDAl/1, DDH/710; Long, 230-2.
  • 41. Add. 32106, f. 142v.
  • 42. STAC 8/170/8, 178/21.
  • 43. STAC 8/265/4; Add. 32106, f. 211v; VCH Lancs. iv. 40, n.9.
  • 44. Cal. Hoghton Deeds and Pprs. 249.
  • 45. Ibid. 189; C2/Jas.I/H34/43; 2/Jas.I/H20/32; STAC 8/165/15; DL1/264.
  • 46. Miller, 82; Abram, 95-100.
  • 47. Jnl. of Nicholas Assheton, 32.
  • 48. Jnl. of Nicholas Assheton, 34-46.
  • 49. Miller, 85-7.
  • 50. Lancs. RO DDHo/HH 1094, 1095.
  • 51. Fortescue Pprs. ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. n.s. i), 34; Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vi. 261, 274, 278-9.
  • 52. Lansd. 93/33.
  • 53. Lancs. RO, DDIn/47/1-2; C2/Chas.I/98/8; Historical Collections ed. J. Rushworth, iii. app 55; Long, 203, 229.
  • 54. C2/Jas.I/H27/71; DL1/280; CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 177, 445; 1623-5, p. 361; 1625-6, p. 298; 1627-8, p. 287.
  • 55. SP14/133/1; Royalist Composition Pprs. ed. J.H. Stanning (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. xxix), pt. 3, 292.
  • 56. SP16/111/27.
  • 57. Lancs. RO, WCW, Sir Richard Hoghton, Inv. 1630.
  • 58. DL7/27/13.