ALDERSEY, William (by 1513-77), of Chester, Cheshire.
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Family and Education
b. by 1513, 1st s. of Philip Aldersey of Chester. m. Margaret, da. of John Barnes of Crawshaw, Lancs., 3s. 4da.2
Sheriff, Chester 1536-7, alderman by 1555, auditor in 1560-1, 1568, 1575, mayor 1560-1; commr. fee-farm 1550, relief 1550; master of the merchant adventurers 30 May 1554.3
The Aldersey family, in its various branches, was a leading one at and near Chester. William Aldersey, son of a younger brother in the line established at Middle Aldersey, some seven miles south-east of Chester, was a merchant who traded in a variety of products: in 1534 and 1540 he is found importing general goods, in 1542-3 iron, and afterwards wine. As one of the two sheriffs of the city in 1536-7 he was involved in a dispute over the city’s recordership. In 1536 Ellen Wrine, mother of Ralph Wrine, to whom the office had been granted in the previous year, complained to Cromwell of her husband’s maltreatment by the mayor and sheriffs, who were seeking to deprive her son of the recordership, which he owed to Cromwell; in her view they were doing so because her husband had informed Cromwell about William Aldersey the sheriff, who had robbed a ship at sea the year before, but what the truth of the matter was, and how it ended, does not appear. Three years later Aldersey and other Chester men were pardoned for having exported leather without paying the customs duties imposed in 1536; their plea of ignorance of the Act concerned (27 Hen. VIII, c.14) may have implied a protest at the non-representation of the city. In 1546 the Privy Council was ordered to pay £30 to William Aldersey, who was in turn to pay William Goodman, alderman of Chester, for the money he had had to lay out in expenses for the bishop of Caithness. In 1553 Aldersey appears as a tenant of the former Carmelite friary in Chester.4
Aldersey and his fellow-Member in the Parliament of 1547, Richard Sneyd, are the first two representatives of Chester whose names have been preserved. Following its enfranchisement in 1543 the city had doubtless returned Members to the Parliament of 1545—or even perhaps to the third session (1544) of the previous one—and from the outset it probably adopted the practice, which was to become de rigueur, of electing its recorder and a leading citizen. Thus each time he was returned Aldersey had the recorder as his senior colleague: in 1547 and April 1554 it was Sneyd, in 1555 William Gerard II. The Parliament of 1547 must have taught him that a seat in the Commons was no sinecure: its first three sessions saw five bills introduced relating to Chester, and although their mainly legal character suggests that the brunt of the work fell on the recorder, he must have looked to Aldersey for support when, for instance, it was ‘the great bill of Chester for divers liberties’ which was at stake.5
The veil which shrouds Aldersey’s part in this activity is momentarily lifted when it comes to his remuneration. Whether the city had previously considered the matter of payment is not known but Aldersey proceeded to raise it. As he explained in the petition which he afterwards put into Chancery, having served throughout the ‘several and sundry sessions’ of the Parliament—there were four—until its dissolution he sued out his writ de expensis and presented it to the sheriffs. Although these officials replied by levying ‘a great huge mon[ey]’ with the aid of fiscal methods used in the city ‘long afore the conquest ... by William duke of Normandy’, they then kept it for ‘themselves for their own proper use’ and ignored Aldersey’s repeated demands for payment. When he failed to get satisfaction in the mayor’s court, the mayor being ‘uncle in law’ to one of the sheriffs, Aldersey took his grievance to Chancery. The fact that he addressed his bill to Thomas Goodrich, bishop of Ely, shows that he did so before August 1553, but with what result is unknown. The tone of the petition notwithstanding, the suit may have been a collusive one to secure a ruling on what was for Chester a novel demand: unfortunately there appears to be no evidence as to whether Aldersey himself, or any other Member for the city, was paid.6
It was during Aldersey’s Membership of Mary’s second Parliament that he procured the grant of a charter incorporating the merchant adventurers of Chester. This followed the presentation of a memorial by Aldersey, Richard Poole and Robert Massey complaining of the numbers of artificers and manual workers in the city who engaged in foreign trade, often in secret and without payment of customs. The charter of May 1554 therefore made a seven-year apprenticeship obligatory on all who intended to trade as overseas merchants; Aldersey’s leadership of the campaign was acknowledged by his being named the company’s first master. Similar movements were taking place at the time in London and other ports, and the Chester company encountered the same kind of opposition as did its counterparts from those whom they excluded. Its claim to promote the yield of customs must have rung hollow when in October 1554 Aldersey and other members were fined £100 for having paid no customs on consignments of leather, calfskins and wheat, and within a month its critics were writing to the city’s Members in the Parliament then in session about the pernicious consequences of the charter. Whatever their damage to his reputation, these developments did not prevent Aldersey’s election to the next Parliament: of his part in it there is only the negative evidence that he was not among the Members who followed the lead of Sir Anthony Kingston in opposing one of the government’s bills, an attitude which may accord with his later view of the Anglican settlement.7
At the accession of Elizabeth, Aldersey purchased a general pardon, being described on it as a merchant, alderman and ironmonger. He was mayor during 1560-1, when one of his achievements was, apparently, his compilation of a complete list of former mayors of the city. His mayoralty also made him a justice of the peace there for life, and it was in this capacity that he was reported upon in 1564 by the archbishop of York, who adjudged him not favourable to the established religion. On 28 Jan. 1568 the new mayor, Richard Dutton, whose precursor and forbear Fulk Dutton had been one of Aldersey’s opponents over the merchant adventurers company, disfranchised Aldersey, depriving him of his rank as alderman and his position as a justice: one of the city’s serjeants-at-mace was even sent to close his shop. Because he had no legal remedy within the city Aldersey decided to appeal to the Earl of Leicester as its chamberlain: whether this move secured his speedy readmission is unknown, but he was eventually reinstated. Five years later, when Richard Dutton was mayor again, Aldersey suffered a second disfranchisement, with William Glasier†, vice-chamberlain of the Chester exchequer; the mayor and his confederates took the view, which Glasier and Aldersey opposed, that the city was exempt from the exchequer court. This time the Privy Council intervened, ordering the restoration to office of both men.8
No will or inquisition appears to survive, but Fuller says that Aldersey died on 12 Oct. 1577 and was buried in the chancel of St. Oswald’s church, Chester. If this is correct he cannot have been the William Aldersey, linen draper of Chester, who was a recusant, as were his wife Margaret and daughter Jane, and who was still alive in 1588; but a reference in a list of recusants of 1577 to a man of the same name and trade who ‘lieth [a]bed rotten, as it is said’ could be to the dying alderman.9
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: P. S. Edwards
- 1. Hatfield 207.
- 2. Date of birth estimated from first reference. Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. lix), 6, 8-9.
- 3. Chester RO, sheriff’s bk. 7B, ff. 73v, 96, 96v, 103, 119, 164; OR, i. 392; G. L. Fenwick, Chester, 534; CPR, 1549-51, p. 216; 1553, p. 361; 1553-4, p. 322. Fenwick, 452, gives incorrect shrieval date.
- 4. Chester RO, sheriff’s bks. 7B, ff. 38-54, 73-77, 132-48; 8, ff. 5, 42; 9, f. 10v; LP Hen. VIII, vii, xi, xiv; R. H. Morris, Chester, 543; APC, i. 439-40; CPR, 1553, p. 111.
- 5. CJ, i. 2-15 passim.
- 6. C1/1287/5.
- 7. CPR, 1553-4, p. 322; 1554-5, p. 38; Lansd. 3(43), ff. 86-89; Chester RO, Letters ML5 no. 265.
- 8. CPR, 1558-60, p. 218; Fuller, Worthies (1840), i. 295; Cam. Misc. ix(3), 73; Morris, 185; Chester RO, sheriff’s bk. 78, ff. 144-5; ass. bk. 1, ff. 128-32, 141-5; APC, viii. 223, 226.
- 9. K. R. Wark, Eliz. Recusancy in Cheshire (Chetham Soc. ser. 3, xix), 15, 17n, 56, 70, 139.