Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

resident in-burgesses

Number of Qualified Electors:

more than 900 in 17151

Number of voters:

387 in 1690; at least 427 in 1713


13 Mar. 1690ROBERT BERTIE, Ld. Willoughby de Eresby226
 Thomas Patten223
 Edward Rigby45
5 Dec. 1690SIR EDWARD CHISENHALL vice Ld. Willoughby, called to the Upper House222
 Thomas Patten165
4 Nov. 1695SIR THOMAS STANLEY, Bt.316
 Sir Christopher Greenfield215
4 Aug. 1698HENRY ASHURST225
 Sir Christopher Greenfield202
14 Jan. 1701EDWARD RIGBY292
 Thomas Molyneux171
 Edward Rigby168
 Hon. Charles Zedenno Stanley170
 Thomas Molyneux196
27 Dec. 1706ARTHUR MAYNWARING vice Rigby, deceased193
 Henry Fleetwood186
20 Oct. 1710HENRY FLEETWOOD344
 Francis Annesley2312
 Sir Henry Hoghton, Bt.2633

Main Article

By 1690 Preston was well on its way to realizing its eventual status as a ‘stylish Georgian provincial capital’, having replaced the county town of Lancaster as the ‘focal point of county social life’. Preston owed its rise to the concentration of duchy of Lancaster administration, and the presence of duchy courts, in the borough, so that, as Defoe noted, ‘the town is full of attorneys, proctors and notaries’. These clerks and lawyers were joined by an ‘abundance of gentry’ attracted by the town’s county-wide prominence and by the stirrings of the ‘urban renaissance’ in the borough. Preston also encapsulated the religious diversity of Lancashire. The parish of Preston was home to a large Catholic population, and by 1710 there were four separate Dissenting meetings in the immediately surrounding area, though even when combined these congregations contained only a handful of borough voters. The borough was governed by the charter of 1685 which had reaffirmed the ascendancy of a common council of 24, consisting of seven aldermen and 17 capital burgesses, who were appointed for life with vacancies being filled by co-option. Preston’s medieval guild merchant had retained a peculiar significance in the government of the borough. Held every 20 years, Preston freemen were required to renew their status at each guild, and guild orders were treated as borough bye-laws. The freemen fell into two categories, in-burgesses who enjoyed economic rights in the borough and out-burgesses whose status was largely ceremonial. The importance of this distinction for elections was a consequence of the 1661 Commons’ resolution declaring that ‘all the inhabitants had voices’ in parliamentary elections. Thereafter, the corporation, by dint of successive guild orders of 1662 and 1682, defined ‘inhabitant’, for the purposes of parliamentary elections, to mean resident in-burgess, thereby excluding out-burgesses and inhabitants who had no corporate status, a definition of the franchise which was to remain unchallenged until 1768. The most prominent interest in the borough was that of the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, who expected to be allowed to return one Member on the basis of his status, and due to the supposed benefits the duchy administration in Preston could provide in terms of ready-made electoral agents. Contrary to the opinion both of contemporaries and modern historians, the duchy interest in this period fell short of the power of nomination. A well-established chancellor willing to exert his influence was usually able to obtain the return of one candidate, though at no little effort and financial cost, but on several occasions in this period a change in the leadership of the duchy interest in the run-up to an election or lax electoral management by the chancellor severely undermined the duchy candidate and allowed other local interests to mount serious challenges. The earls of Derby, by right of their local prominence, and the Duke of Hamilton, who had inherited land near the borough in 1698 via his second wife, were the other important electoral interests of the period.4

The 1690 election saw a fierce contest in which it was made clear that the duchy interest did not confer upon the chancellor an automatic right of nomination. The chancellor, Lord Willoughby de Eresby, stood but found himself involved in a hotly contested battle with the Tory lawyer Christopher Greenfield, the borough recorder John Warren, Thomas Patten, the Whig member from the Convention and a local notable, Edward Rigby, all canvassing in the borough. Edward Fleetwood† was asked to stand by the corporation, but declined as ‘his lady is grown very weak’. Warren withdrew before the poll, but one local non-juror wrote in February 1690 that while Greenfield’s election was safe that of Willoughby was doubtful, ominously pointing out that ‘his clerk has not been over sedulous for him’. After polling had commenced, ‘Rigby soon quitted his interest to the chancellor’, and as the day wore on one observer noted that ‘there were great heats’ and that at one point ‘the mobile struck the mayor’. These disturbances caused the mayor to adjourn the court of election to the following day, though before he was able to do this the mob had ‘twice confined him in the town hall’. When polling resumed there was ‘still heat among the rabble, which occasioned the court to be adjourned to the afternoon’, and after a fierce contest, in which it was reported that ‘bed-rid men are brought to the court’, Willoughby defeated Patten for the second seat by three votes.5

Patten petitioned on 25 Mar., alleging partiality on behalf of the mayor and members of the corporation. Before any action could be taken, however, the matter was complicated by the elevation of Willoughby to the Lords, leaving open the question of whether a by-election could be ordered while Patten’s petition against Willoughby’s return was pending. No time was lost in making interest for what Willoughby’s supporters were sure would be a by-election, and by the end of April Willoughby, the 9th Earl of Derby, and the corporation had all indicated their support for local Tory Sir Edward Chisenhall, recently defeated at Wigan, though Derby had only backed Chisenhall after the Earl of Rochester (Laurence Hyde†) had rebuffed his attempts to get Hon. Henry Boyle* to stand. Edward Rigby was persuaded by Derby to quit his interest to Chisenhall and by early May Chisenhall was treating in the borough. Much speculation ensued as to whether Patten would renew his petition in the second session of the 1690 Parliament. Although Chisenhall urged the issuing of a writ as soon as possible, his supporters decided not to press the matter. When Patten renewed his petition on 16 Oct., Preston corporation responded swiftly by petitioning the next day for a speedy hearing, and the case was heard on 20 Nov. Willoughby responded to allegations of polling unqualified voters and refusing duly qualified supporters of Patten with an attack upon his opponent’s conduct at the March election. Allegations were made of bolting the door of the town hall where the polling was taking place and of the intimidation of Willoughby’s supporters, and Patten was criticized for his failure to exercise his authority as a justice of the peace to control his supporters. Willoughby also claimed that over 30 of Patten’s voters were unqualified due to their dependence upon poor relief, and the allegations led the House to dismiss Patten’s petition and order a writ be issued for a by-election. Although supported by the lord lieutenant, Lord Brandon (Charles Gerard*), Patten was unable to mount an effective challenge to the combined might of the Derby, corporation and duchy interests at this election. The election passed with ‘some rude disturbances by Mr Patten’s creatures’, but Patten himself was ‘civil and willing to suppress any disorders’, though such reasonableness did not save him from a comprehensive defeat at Chisenhall’s hands, a victory that prompted the ‘ringing of bells’ in the town.6

By the 1695 election Greenfield’s interest had been significantly eroded. His legal advice to several of Preston’s inhabitants had proved counter-productive as a number of suits he had endorsed had incurred large losses, and this was thought to endanger his chances of re-election. Greenfield had also alienated Brandon (now 2nd Earl of Macclesfield) through supporting prosecutions of Nonconformists for registering Anglican chapels as Dissenting meeting houses, and by acting for the accused in the trials arising from the Lancashire Plot of 1693–4. Consequently the lord lieutenant made strenuous efforts to prevent his return. Chisenhall was thought to have a strong chance of retaining his seat, especially as the corporation was eager to see him stand, but he preferred to concentrate his energies on Wigan. Sir Thomas Stanley, 4th Bt., kinsman of the Earl of Derby, decided to utilize his extensive property in and around Preston to make an interest, and was so successful that by September two separate observers thought his success guaranteed. Greenfield was therefore engaged in a battle for the second seat with the Mediterranean merchant Thomas Molyneux, who despite spending much of his time in London owned a house in Preston. A Preston non-juror wrote that he would refuse Molyneux his vote because of the Whiggish voting of Molyneux’s brother Sir Francis, 4th Bt., in the 1690 Parliament, but Molyneux was said to ‘manage the mob very dextrously’ and the apparent failure of Preston’s ‘churchmen to stir an inch’ in Greenfield’s interest allowed Molyneux to take the second seat. Greenfield petitioned against Molyneux’s return on 7 Dec. on the grounds of ‘corrupt practices’, but the petition was never heard.7

Little evidence survives for the remaining three elections of William’s reign. Greenfield was again defeated in 1698, with Molyneux being joined as Preston’s representative by Henry Ashurst, a Whig whose lack of local interest and close association with the recently appointed chancellor of the duchy, the Earl of Stamford, indicates that he was the duchy candidate in this and the first election of 1701, when Edward Rigby decided to revive his interest in the borough and topped the poll. The second election of that year, however, saw Ashurst and Molyneux emerge triumphant in a contest with Rigby and the Whig Hon. Charles Stanley, who stood despite the opposition of his elder brother, the Earl of Derby. Anne’s accession had at least one important consequence for the conduct of Preston elections, with the replacement of the Whig Stamford by the Tory Sir John Leveson-Gower, 5th Bt.*, thereby ending Ashurst’s tenure as one of Preston’s Members.8

Gower (Lord Gower from 1703) was quickly made aware that the chancellor’s interest did not command the respect of all his dependants. In 1702 he supported the candidacy of his uncle Sir Cyril Wych, but Molyneux and Stanley both pursued the election to a poll and Gower was forced to write to Wych that he ‘found greater difficulty in it than I expected’. Wych was eventually returned, though beaten into second place. Gower’s inability to command votes at this election is indicated by the refusal of the postmaster of nearby Garstang, an office not in the direct gift of the chancellor but thought to be within his sphere of influence, to vote for Wych. The postmaster instead opted to vote for the Whig candidates Molyneux and Stanley, an action that led to calls for his dismissal. The 1705 election was less troublesome for the duchy interest, Gower having had time to establish himself and wisely choosing to ally with one of the major patronal influences in the borough. The Tory Francis Annesley was Gower’s candidate in this election, and, together with Annesley’s cousin the Earl of Anglesey, they prevailed upon the Duke of Hamilton to support Annesley’s candidature. Given such support, Annesley’s return was assured, and a conflict that arose between Edward Rigby and Thomas Molyneux was resolved when the latter decided against standing a poll. Reporting events at Preston to Gower, Hamilton was nevertheless unhappy with the choice of Annesley’s partner:

we must all be ashamed that he [Annesley] is so ill matched in a brother burgess, but the gentry in these parts are not very fond of London journeys, for if anybody of tolerable character had stood they would have infallibly have claimed it from the two candidates, Mr Molyneux and Rigby . . . I did what I could to persuade some of my neighbours about this place to stand for it would have been I am sure very agreeable to your Lordship to have seen two of the same sentiments.

For the first time in this period the duchy interest had proved victorious without the need for a poll.9

A by-election after Edward Rigby’s death in May 1706 proved that the duchy interest had not achieved the power of nomination, as a new chancellor found himself faced with the same difficulties Gower had experienced in 1702. Having recently inherited property in the Preston area, the Tory Henry Fleetwood claimed he had been pressed to stand by the corporation and the local gentry who both feared ‘the dangerous consequence of letting in a known enemy’, though Fleetwood himself thought that even if he should prove successful he would ‘be but striving against the tide’. Fleetwood was associated with Gower, but in the same month that Rigby died it became apparent that Gower was to be replaced as chancellor by the Junto Whig the 10th Earl of Derby (Hon. James Stanley*), an alteration which, Fleetwood feared would jeopardize his chances, despite his having already conducted a favourable canvass. Such thoughts were shared by outside observers, one of whom wrote to Robert Harley* pressing him to ask Derby to nominate a Court supporter at Preston because Derby’s position as chancellor meant that ‘my Lord may recommend whom he pleases to serve for that place’, but the duchy interest proved far more difficult to realize in practice. Derby chose as his candidate his fellow Junto Whig Arthur Maynwaring, but by September was complaining of the ‘unaccountable’ opposition Maynwaring was facing, and was desperately attempting to counteract the rumours that he would back down from supporting him in the face of opposition. By November it was thought that Fleetwood had the lead among the in-burgesses, though one observer held out the prospect of significant desertions from Fleetwood to Maynwaring in the weeks leading up to the poll, enabling the latter to steal the election. One of the primary problems Derby was facing in his efforts to manage the duchy interest was the unwillingness of duchy office holders to follow his political lead. Derby’s late appointment had allowed several officials, most notably the attorney general and the clerks of the Lancashire chancery court, to express their allegiance to Fleetwood. Having aligned themselves with Fleetwood, they were unwilling to respond to Derby’s demands that they support Maynwaring, and several of them became ‘violent opposer[s] of Mr Maynwaring and influence several others so to be’. Derby was so enraged at his treatment by his dependants that he wrote to his vice-chancellor, George Kenyon*, to order the dismissal of the town crier, who had been persuaded by the chancery clerks to support Fleetwood. The clerks were warned to expect to ‘feel the weight of his lordship’s hand’, although just prior to the election Derby himself expressed the hope that ‘the chancery clerks have repented, for their sake as well as my own’. Despite a personal visit by Maynwaring, the election did not go smoothly for the duchy interest. Fleetwood’s supporters imprisoned a large number of Maynwaring’s advocates in Preston’s town hall during the course of the election, including Sir Roger Bradshaigh, 3rd Bt.*, and Charles Stanley, and when the poll closed Fleetwood had 256 votes to Maynwaring’s 221. Upon a scrutiny, however, only 28 of Maynwaring’s voters were rejected as unqualified, compared with 70 of Fleetwood’s, giving Maynwaring a majority of seven. The return was made and Fleetwood petitioned on the grounds of ‘the partiality of the mayor’. However, he withdrew his petition on 15 Feb. 1707, and it seems that Derby decided not to purge duchy officials who had supported Fleetwood when they pledged that ‘their votes will be at his lordship’s service at the next election’. The return of Maynwaring (the duchy candidate) and Fleetwood was unopposed in 1708, but the potential weakness of the duchy interest was again hinted at in a letter to Kenyon that Maynwaring’s supporters were ‘at a great want of some gentlemen’ to canvass for him in the borough as most of the local gentry were ‘zealously concerned for Mr Fleetwood’.10

In 1710 Fleetwood stood again having taken care to obtain the support of the Duke and Duchess of Hamilton; and Sir Henry Hoghton, 5th Bt., entered the political fray for the first time, ‘set up by the Whig interest entirely’. The question of who was to be the duchy candidate was, however, complicated by the consequences of Harley’s ministerial revolution. The removal of the Junto from the ministry led to the replacement of Derby as chancellor by the moderate Tory Lord Berkeley of Stratton, but his appointment was not confirmed until September 1710, a few weeks before the poll. This delay had important consequences for the duchy interest. First, it led to speculation as to who would be chosen to succeed Derby, with Hamilton at one point thinking himself the likely man and promising to support Orlando Bridgeman* as his candidate. More importantly, Hoghton and Fleetwood were allowed to establish their interests upon a sound footing before the choice of a duchy candidate could even be contemplated. Fleetwood expressed the hope that Hoghton did not ‘get too much ground before a new chancellor’ was appointed, obviously aware that the appointment of a Tory chancellor was in the offing and concerned that Hoghton would have time to establish so strong an interest in the borough as to prevent the return of a duchy-supported Tory. When Berkeley was finally sworn as chancellor on 26 Sept. he quickly settled upon Francis Annesley as the duchy candidate, no doubt reasoning that, given the short period of time available, his previous parliamentary service for Preston would stand him in good stead. Even with such an astute choice of candidate, however, Bradshaigh repeatedly informed Berkeley of his opinion that Annesley had entered the field too late, that defeat was almost inevitable, and that this would cause such damage to the prestige of the chancellor’s interest that it would have been better if Berkeley had foregone attempting to exercise the duchy interest at this election. Hamilton gave Annesley all the support he could, pressing for his appointment as Lancashire’s lord lieutenant to be made public as soon as possible to increase the sway he could exercise over Preston voters, but it appears that such efforts were fighting against the tide. Several duchy officials took advantage of the interregnum to pledge their votes and support to Fleetwood and Hoghton, and Annesley lost the second seat by only seven votes, a result he put down to ‘Fleetwood’s management [at] which he’s not a little vexed’. Annesley lodged a petition on 5 Dec. 1710, but after renewing it on 8 Dec. 1711, it was withdrawn on 21 Jan. 1712, and Berkeley thought better of his threatened purge of duchy officials.11

The continuing Tory ascendancy meant, however, that the 1713 election went rather more smoothly. Fleetwood and Hoghton moved early to secure their re-election, and Berkeley wrote on 23 Oct. 1712 that

I have been very much pressed from Preston to send the name of the gentleman I intend to recommend at the next election, because Sir Harry Hoghton and Mr Fleetwood have declared they would stand, but besides that, the gentleman I have a mind to is out of town and the distance to the election, I have some other reasons that make me unwilling to recommend so long beforehand.

The death of Hamilton in a duel in November weakened Fleetwood, who by early 1713 found himself engaged in a three-way contest with Hoghton and the Tory Edward Southwell, who was standing on the duchy interest, apparently following the intervention of Annesley in his favour. Southwell treated extensively, a necessary if unwelcome measure as the Preston electorate were said to be ‘mercenary and easily drawn aside’. His campaign was not without its problems, most notably when he won the Tregony by-election in May 1713, whereupon his opponents spread the rumour that this election ‘discharged’ the voters from promises previously made to support him. Despite this set-back, however, the deep purse provided either by Southwell or Berkeley proved effective, the former comfortably topping the poll and being joined at Westminster by Fleetwood, who narrowly defeated Hoghton for the second seat. The duchy interest had been reasserted but at no little effort on the part of Berkeley and Southwell, and the duchy’s position remained precarious in the long term. Hoghton treated continually from the end of the 1713 contest, and this, combined with the strong interest of Fleetwood and yet another change of chancellor shortly before a dissolution, led to the defeat of the duchy candidate in 1715. When a similar change of chancellor was effected shortly before the 1727 election the duchy interest was killed off as an independent force in the constituency.12

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison


  • 1. Leics. RO, Finch mss box 4969, John Chetwynd† to Ld. Finch (Daniel*), 13 Jan. 1714[–15].
  • 2. Manchester Central Lib. Farrer mss L1/42/1/4, Preston election results 1689–1710.
  • 3. Post Boy, 10–12 Sept. 1713.
  • 4. Trans. Hist. Soc. Lancs. and Cheshire, cxxv. 62; P. Borsay, English Urban Renaissance, 188, 204; Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 548; Royal Charters of Preston, 45–67; CJ, viii. 336; Lancs. RO, Misc. mss DDX/123/10, guild orders on Preston franchise.
  • 5. HMC Kenyon, 236–7; Cumbria RO (Kendal), Le Fleming mss WD/Ry 3740, R. Fleming to Sir Daniel Fleming†, 16 Feb. 1689[–90]; Bellingham Diary ed. Hewitson, 107–8.
  • 6. Lancs RO, Kenyon mss DDKe 9/72/19, Derby to Roger Kenyon*, c.1690; DDKe 9/131/36, Thomas Winckley to Derby, 27 Apr. 1690; DDKe 9/63/15, same to same, 25 July 1690; DDKe/HMC/733, same to Kenyon, 9 May 1690; 749, Chisenhall to same, 10 Oct. 1690; 753, William Hayhurst to same, 5 Dec. 1690; Bellingham Diary, 119; DDX/123/2, draft of Willoughby’s case, c.1690; HMC Kenyon, 250.
  • 7. Kenyon mss DDKe/66, information, c.1695; DDKe/HMC/967, Charles Rigby to Kenyon, 17 Sept. 1695; DDKe/9/68/74, Hodgkinson to same, 19 Sept. 1695; DDKe/54, petition, c.1695.
  • 8. Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 4.
  • 9. Nat. Archs. Ire. Wych mss 1/256, 258, [Gower] to Wych, 19, 20 July 1702; Hamilton mss at Lennoxlove bdle. 4200, John Hamilton to Hamilton, 17 Nov. 1702; Kenyon mss DDKe/66, ‘list of persons to write to’, c.1705; Bagot mss at Levens Hall, Hamilton to James Grahme*, 4, 8 Apr. 1705; Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss D.868/7/3a, Hamilton to Gower, 22 Apr. 1705.
  • 10. Sutherland mss D.593/P/13/10, Fleetwood to Gower, 18 May 1706; HMC Portland, iv. 325–6; HMC Kenyon, 438–40; Lancs. RO, Stanley mss DDK/1693/1, Richard Edge to Mr Worthington, 15 Nov. 1706; Kenyon mss DDKe/HMC/1099, Derby to Kenyon, 10 Nov. 1706; 1101, 1104, Nicholas Starkie to same, 30 Nov., 10 Dec. 1706; DDKe 9/116/133, William Brocklehurst to same, c.1706; DDKe/9/101/78, Charles Rigby to same, 17 Jan. 1706[–7]; DDKe 9/102/3a, 15, Starkie to same, 29 Feb. 1707[–8], 15 May 1708; DDKe 9/102/14, Thomas Winckley et al. to same, 10 May 1708; Lancs. RO, Preston bor. recs. CNP 3/1/3, f. 73.
  • 11. NLS, ms 8262, ff. 40–43; Add. 70223, ff. 197–202; 70315, Erasmus Lewis* to [?], 15 Aug. 1710; HMC Portland, iv. 578–9, 608, 615–16; HMC Kenyon, 445; PC 2/81, f. 102; NLS, Crawford mss 47/2/247–9, Berkeley to Bradshaigh, 30 Sept., 10, 31 Oct. 1710; Kenyon mss DDKe 9/116/94, Starkie to Kenyon, [20 Oct. 1710]; DDKe 9/102/84, same to same, 2 Nov. 1710; DDKe 9/102/84, Hayhurst to same, 2 Nov. 1710.
  • 12. HMC Kenyon, 448–50; Kenyon mss DDKe/HMC/1143, Richard Langton to Kenyon, 15 May 1713; Add. 47027, ff. 35, 59; Farrer mss L1/42/1/11, treating bill, c.1713.