PILKINGTON, Thomas (1628-91), of Scotch Yard, Great Bush Lane, London and Eltham, Kent.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679

Family and Education

b. 30 Mar. 1628, 1st surv. s. of Thomas Pilkington of Northampton, being 1st s. by 2nd w. Anne, da. of Edward Mercer of Northampton. m. 13 June 1654, Hannah Bromwich of Gracechurch Street, London, 4s. 1da. suc. fa. 1637; kntd. 10 Apr. 1689.1

Offices Held

Asst. Levant Co. 1657-8, 1660-1, 1662-82; member, Skinners’ Co. 1660, master 1677-8, 1681-2; common councilman, London 1667-77, bridgemaster 1675-6, 1680-1, dep. 1677-80; commr. for assessment, London 1677-80, 1689-90, Northants. 1679-80, 1689; alderman of London 1680-2, 1689-d., sheriff 1681-2, dep. lt. 1689-d., ld. mayor Mar. 1689-Nov. 1690, col. white regt. of militia ft. 1689-90; j.p. Kent 1689-d.2

Commr. for preventing export of wool 1689-d.


Pilkington came from a yeoman family in the East Midlands, but his father owned considerable property in Northamptonshire, and registered his arms and pedigree at the heralds’ visitation of 1618. Pilkington’s trustees, who were exhorted not to ‘spare for any reasonable cost’ in his ‘virtuous and religious education’, apprenticed him in 1645 to a London Skinner, a kinsman of Sir Samuel Barnardiston. He became a Turkey merchant, and from 1667 an active member of the common council, serving on the committees to inquire into the causes of the Great Fire and to administer the city markets, prisons and lands, including the Ulster plantation. In 1673 he helped to prepare a petition setting out the grievances of the City, and asking for a reduction in its assessment for tax. On 24 June 1675 he was elected one of the bridgemasters, an office of considerable profit. He was described as ‘a leading Presbyterian’, but must have been one of the occasional conformists in the corporation. As opposition to the Court mounted in London in the seventies, he became closely identified with Shaftesbury, with whom he lived ‘in great intimacy’, and with Sir Thomas Player, the chamberlain, with whom he was said to be ‘like hand and glove together’.3

Returned for London to all three Exclusion Parliaments, Pilkington was classed as ‘honest’ by Shaftesbury. A very active Member of the 1679 Parliament, he was appointed to 24 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges, and made three recorded speeches. On 21 Mar. he attacked Edward Sackville for publicly doubting the veracity of Titus Oates, saying that ‘the King and the kingdom are obliged to Mr Oates for his discovery, but if he be not upheld by encouragement, we may be lost’. His most important committees were to consider the bills for the extension of habeas corpus and security against Popery, to inquire into miscarriages in the navy, and to draw up an address for the removal of Lauderdale. On 11 May he expressed the hope that the Duke of York would be ordered to return to England ‘that we may impeach him of high treason’, and he voted for exclusion. He was also named to the committee for encouraging the export of cloth to Turkey. Despite expectations to the contrary, he was reelected in October, and together with Player promoted a petition from the citizens for the meeting of Parliament. This, however, was rejected by the common council on 20 Jan. 1680, largely through the efforts of Sir George Jeffreys, the recorder, who told them that, if they displeased the King and thereby shortened his life, ‘your charter and all things will be taken from you’. When the second Exclusion Parliament met in October, Pilkington was again very active, with three speeches and 24 committees, including those to bring in the second exclusion bill and to inquire into the conduct of Sir Robert Peyton. He presented a petition from the citizens against Jeffreys, relating his speech to the common council, and adding: ‘Many have been deterred by his manner from pleading in the City court. I take him to be a common enemy to mankind, and I hope you will use him accordingly.’ He was among those ordered to bring an address for his dismissal, and also to examine the proceedings of the judges in Westminster Hall and to prepare the impeachment of Lord Stafford. Matters of less overtly political significance with which he was associated included the cleansing and repair of streets in London and Westminster, the regulation of the Post Office, the monopoly of the Royal Africa Company, the general naturalization of foreign Protestants, and the repeal of the Corporations Act. In the Oxford Parliament he was appointed to the committee of elections and privileges and helped to prepare for a conference on the loss in the previous Parliament of the bill of ease for Protestant dissenters.4

After the dissolution, information was given to the Government that Pilkington had attended frequent meetings at Player’s house at night, and that, like Player and Sir Robert Clayton, he desired ‘a free state and no other government’, whereas Shaftesbury wanted to make Monmouth King. On 13 May he was appointed to the committee of the common council to draw up the London address for the calling and sitting of another Parliament. Next month, he came at the top of the poll in the election for the London sheriffs, who were responsible for the selection of juries. The King showed his displeasure at the choice by denying him the customary knighthood. He was described as ‘fanatic in his principles, popular in his design, and weak in his judgments’. When he received the writ for a grand jury to consider the charges against Shaftesbury, he is said to have remarked to Shute, the other sheriff: ‘There’s work cut out for us!’. To the judges at the Old Bailey, who objected to his inclusion of ‘fanatics’, he retorted that if frequenting conventicles were a disqualification, ‘there could not be a grand jury found in London’. After Shaftesbury’s acquittal on an ignoramus return, Pilkington gave ‘a generous and splendid entertainment’ for him in Skinners Hall in December. Shortly afterwards, a writ of quo warranto against the London charter was delivered to him by Richard Graham, ‘who desired his answer to it, which he gave him in such words as were not very handsome’.5

Pilkington was soon to feel the full wrath of the Court. In March 1682, at the Southwark assizes, he was fined £813 for saying to one Boldsworth, the King’s perfumer: ‘You are a broken fellow, go home and pay your debts’. Jeffreys, who acted as counsel for the plaintiff, was believed to have inspired the prosecution. When it was proposed to send a deputation to the Duke of York on his return from Scotland in April, Pilkington was reported to have told the court of aldermen that the Duke had ‘fired’ the City of London in 1666, and had now ‘come to cut our throats’, whereupon the Duke began an action of scandalum magnatumagainst him. At the sheriffs’ election on 24 June, Pilkington did all in his power to secure the election of the two Whig candidates, John Dubois and Thomas Papillon, encouraging, according to Tory witnesses, a riot and an assault on the lord mayor. He and his fellow-sheriff were brought before the Privy Council and sent to the Tower. Released on £1,000 bail, with ten sureties of £500 each, Pilkington showed considerable courage by declaring Papillon and Dubois elected by a large majority when the poll was resumed on 14 July, and taking yet a third poll to confirm them on 19 Sept. After two Tory sheriffs, Peter Rich and Dudley North, had taken office, he and Shute found that all their sureties asked to be discharged, and they had to bail each other for £2,000 each, whereupon Pilkington ‘could not forbear uttering some passionate expressions of resentment for being, after all his services, deserted by his party’. On 28 Nov. the Duke of York was awarded £100,000 damages against Pilkington by a Hertfordshire jury. Before going to prison in discharge of his bail, he laid down his gown as an alderman. The Duke of York wrote to the Prince of Orange that this verdict ‘has mortified very much that seditious and turbulent party which now lose ground every day’. His ‘very good friend’ Henry Ashhurst tried to salvage as much of his business for him as possible, and visited him frequently in prison for this purpose. In April two of his closest associates, Goodenough, his late under-sheriff, and the clerk to the Skinners’ Company, were involved in the arrest of Sir William Pritchard, the Tory lord mayor, at the suit of Dubois and Papillon. In the next month, Pilkington was fined a further £500 as one of the rioters at the sheriffs’ election of 1682.6

After his accession, James II granted Pilkington a free pardon and full remission of the £100,000 damages. When he was released in June 1686, Lord Clarendon (Henry Hyde) wrote: ‘Such a fellow, a disturber of mankind, ought to be watched’. After the Revolution he was elected for London. An inactive Member of the Convention, he was appointed to only five committees, including the committee of elections and privileges, and made three recorded speeches. On 29 Jan. 1689 he seconded the motion that it was inconsistent with the liberties of the nation to be governed by a Popish prince. He supported a complete embargo on trade with France, and was appointed to the committee to reduce it to an exchange of commodities. He urged an immediate address in response to the speech from the throne of 23 Feb. On 14 Mar. he was appointed to the committee on the bill for the removal of Papists from the metropolitan area. In the same month the court of aldermen declared him elected lord mayor, though a Tory candidate had polled more votes among the freemen. He at once clashed with the common council, where the Tories, led by Rich, predominated, especially in the committee concerned with the threat to the Ulster property. The House of Lords dismissed his appeal against Bolsworth, but reversed his conviction for riot. On 14 Nov. he petitioned the Commons for repayment of his fine out of Rich’s estate, but leave to bring in a bill for this purpose was denied. He supported the disabling clause in the bill to restore corporations and was defeated at the general election. The aldermen, however, re-elected him lord mayor in May 1690 under the new Act to regulate City elections, though he had again been defeated on the poll. After he laid down office the common council petitioned the House of Commons against his ‘many irregularities’, including the infringement of their rights by sale of the town clerkship. After heated debate, a motion for the adjournment was carried, and so far as Parliament was concerned the matter dropped, though Rich recovered £130 damages from him at the common law for a false return in the chamberlain’s election. Pilkington died intestate in reduced circumstances on 16 Nov. 1691, the only member of his family to enter Parliament. His daughter was granted a pension of £50 p.a. by the court of aldermen.7

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Wards 7/92/151; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 420; St. Peter’s Cornhill (Harl. Soc. Reg. i), 259; HMC Downshire, i. 415; Inhabitants of London in 1638 ed. Dale, 177.
  • 2. J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 19; Guildhall Lib., Noble coll. Guildhall RO, 186/2/702; HMC Lords, iii. 47.
  • 3. Vis. Northants. ed. Metcalfe, 129; PCC 51 Goare; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 3), i. 196; Bodl. DD, Ashhurst c. 1, f. 6; London Corp. RO, common council jnl.; PRO 31/3, bdle. 149, ff. 52-53; Luttrell, i. 183.
  • 4. Grey, vii. 10, 238, 372, 464; HMC 7th Rep. 465; CJ, ix. 708.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1680-1, pp. 232, 480, 574, 651; 1682, p. 11; HMC Ormonde, n.s. vi. 198; Poems on Affairs of State, iii. 195; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 175; Luttrell, i. 172.
  • 6. Luttrell, i. 174, 200, 221, 240, 263; CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 637; 1682, p. 11, 141, 194, 410; Burnet, ii. 348; Guildhall Lib. Gregory mss 1104, ff. 51-60; Dalrymple, Mems. i. pt. 2, p. 113; Poems on Affairs of State, iii. 353-4; Bodl. DD, Ashhurst c. 1, ff. 6, 14, 15, 25, 30-31.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1686-7, p. 187; 1689-90, pp. 426-7; Clarendon Corresp. i. 481; Hardwicke SP, ii. 413; Grey, ix. 25, 110; Luttrell, i. 513; ii. 251; HMC Lords, ii. 109-10, 196-8; CJ, x. 339; HMC Downshire, i. 366; DNB; Bramston Autobiog. (Cam. Soc. xxxii), 352; Bagford Ballads ed. Ebsworth, 489; Gregory mss 1104, ff. 51-60.