WALMESLEY, Thomas (c.1537-1612), of Dunkenhalgh, Lancs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1537, 1st s. of Thomas Walmesley of Showley by Margaret, da. of James Livesey of Livesey. educ. L. Inn 1559, called 1567. m. Anne (d. 19 Apr. 1635), da. and h. of Robert Shuttleworth of Hacking, 1s. suc. fa. 16 Apr. 1584. Kntd. 1603.1

Offices Held

Gov. L. Inn 1575, Lent reader 1578, autumn reader 1580, serjeant-at-law 1580; commr. musters, Lancs. 1580; j.p. Lancs. by 1587; master forester of Quernmore, duchy of Lancaster 1587, 2nd justice at Lancaster 1589; j.c.p. 1589; freeman, Southampton 1595; commr. eccles. causes 1598 (Chester), 1603, 1604.2


Walmesley was a lawyer, already middle aged when elected for Lancashire in 1589. As a knight of the shire he could have sat on the subsidy committee, 11 Feb. He reported the bill about proclamations, 19 Feb., and sat on some minor legal committees, 22, 25 Feb. He also served on committees discussing captains and soldiers, 26 Feb., and the Queen’s dislike of the purveyors bill 27 Feb. Made a judge, he served as a receiver of petitions in the Lords in the 1597 and 1601 Parliaments. For all this, Walmesley was the son of a recusant and himself suspect in religion. In 1583 he defended, before the court of common pleas, the validity of papal dispensations issued during Mary’s reign, and 23 years later when Lord Sheffield wrote to Lord Salisbury to the effect that if Walmesley came on that (presumably the northern) circuit again ‘things standing as they do, it could not but overthrow all, for the Papists have ever borne themselves much upon his favour’.3

In 1591 it fell to Walmesley and Mr. Justice Clinch to try Thomas Langton and his associates for the murder of Mr. Houghton. As the sheriff was not thought to be ‘indifferent in that cause’, the Privy Council instructed Walmesley to supervise the composition of the jury, but his conduct in the event earned him a sharp reprimand from the Queen for allowing the accused bail contrary to her express command. She wondered ‘how he dared presume so far, showing both contempt of her commandment, and little regard for the due administration of justice’. She ordered him ‘at his peril’ to have the parties immediately returned to prison, to proceed to a speedy trial without bail.4

In 1593 or 1594 Walmesley was proposed as vice-chancellor at Lancaster, and may have held the post. As a justice of the common pleas, he rode every circuit in England except that of Norfolk and Suffolk. His account book for the years 1596-1600 has survived and contains an interesting record of the customary presents received while on circuit, and of his expenses. He was a member of the commission before which Essex was arraigned in 1600, and assisted the peers at his trial the following year. He was described by Cecil in 1603 as one of the three ‘learnedest judges’. An old man, he suffered at that time from gout and palsy. He was the only dissenter from the judges’ decision, in Calvin’s case in 1607, that natives of Scotland born since the accession of James I were naturalized Englishmen.5

Walmesley acquired property in Lancashire and Yorkshire, rebuilt the mansion on his estate of Dunkenhalgh, and also that of Hacking which came to him in right of his wife. In 1607, by deed of trust, he settled his estates on his only son Thomas, a Catholic. In 1611 he was ‘put to his pension’, and retired to Dunkenhalgh, where he died on 26 Nov. 1612. He was buried at Blackburn, and his monument—a replica of that of Anne, Duchess of Somerset in Westminster abbey—was destroyed during the civil wars.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.


  • 1. Foster, Lancs. Peds. ; Abram, Blackburn, 433.
  • 2. Foss, Judges, 698-9; Lancs. Lieutenancy Pprs. (Chetham Soc. 1), 109; Lansd. 53, f. 37; Somerville, Duchy, i. 474, 509; CSP Dom. 1581-90, p. 599; 1598-1601, p. 15; HMC Hatfield, xv. 223-4; xvi. 290; DNB.
  • 3. DNB; VCH Lancs. vi. 42; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 18-21; D’Ewes, 431, 434, 437, 439, 440, 525, 529, 600, 603; Lansd. 31, f. 12; HMC Hatfield, xviii. 36.
  • 4. APC, xxi. 385; CSP Dom. 1591-4, p. 188.
  • 5. Somerville, i. 481; CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 285; DNB; Cam. Misc. iv. 3, 13, 44, 55.
  • 6. Abram, 433-4; VCH Lancs. vi. 421; Foss, 699.