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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number of voters:



2 Mar. 1624FRANCIS NICHOLS vice Poley, chose to sit for Sudbury
c. Nov. 1624SIR WILLIAM HERVEY II vice Nichols, died 7 Sept. 1624

Main Article

By the early seventeenth century Preston was already regarded as Lancashire’s centre for local government and administration, and a focal point of county society.1 Described by Camden as ‘a great and (for these countries) a fair town, and well inhabited’, the parish had a population of around 3,000 on the eve of the Civil War.2 A new charter granted in 1566 defined Preston as ‘a free corporate borough … of one mayor, two bailiffs and the burgesses’. The mayor and bailiffs were chosen annually from among the common council of 24 principal burgesses, who constituted the borough’s electorate until 1661, when the franchise was extended to all ‘in-burgesses’, or resident freemen.3 Preston was renowned for its guild festival, a fair and celebrations lasting several days held only once every 20 years, at which all freemen were enrolled as guild members. In 1602 there were over 530 resident freemen, as well as many honorary ‘out-burgesses’ among the local gentry, who actually outnumbered the in-burgesses. In 1622 the list of out-burgesses was topped by William Stanley, 6th earl of Derby and his son and heir James Stanley*, Lord Strange, followed by Sir Richard Houghton* of Hoghton and his son Sir Gilbert*, who successively held the fee farm of Preston rectory from 1607.4 The king stayed at Hoghton Tower while visiting Preston in August 1617, when the corporation presented James with a bowl and held a banquet.5 Although the surrounding region was notorious for its adherence to Catholicism, the members of Preston’s corporation were inclined to puritanism. Their resolutions, recorded in a ‘White Book’ from 1608, demonstrate an obsession with behavioural regulations, which included a strict dress code of ‘decent and comely gowns of black cloth or other black stuff’, and the enforcement of decorum on Sundays.6 When John Taylor the ‘water poet’ visited Preston in 1618 he declared that he ‘never saw a town more wisely governed’.7

The borough’s parliamentary patronage had traditionally been shared between the earls of Derby and the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. In the early seventeenth century, however, the lack of interest shown in politics by the 6th earl of Derby allowed the Duchy to dominate the borough, taking the first seat in every election and even securing both places on several occasions. None of Preston’s Members in this period had strong local connections with the town, and the neighbouring gentry, such as the Houghtons of Hoghton, demonstrated very little concern either to represent the borough or promote their own candidates. In 1604 the Duchy returned for the first seat Sir Vincent Skinner, an Exchequer official and minor officeholder in his native Lincolnshire. As an outsider, Skinner was included among the ‘unlawfully’ elected Members in a list circulated after the opening of the session by Arthur Hall†.8 The second seat went to William Holt, a lawyer born at Ashworth, near Rochdale, and a freeman of Preston by 1602. Holt had previously sat for Clitheroe, the borough nearest his family’s estates, but it is not known whether he attempted to obtain a seat there in 1604, ahead of the Preston election.9 An active lawyer in its court at Westminster, he probably enjoyed the backing of the Duchy.

In 1614 the Duchy gave the first seat to its recently appointed attorney-general Edward Mosley, but there is no sign that it played any part in the return of the second Member, Henry Banister. Mosley, like Holt, was the younger son of a Lancashire family, and as a successful lawyer spent most of his time in the capital. He appears in the Preston guild roll of 1622, but was probably made a freeman much earlier. Mosley’s long parliamentary service for Preston – he sat again in 1621 and 1624 – owed more to his position in the Duchy than to any local ties, for despite his inheritance of some property in Manchester he never resided there. Henry Banister, a London Goldsmith, was born in Preston and was an honorary freeman of the guild by 1622. He may have been related to Thomas Banister, a principal burgess of the town who served as a bailiff several times and as mayor in 1610, 1617 and 1625.10

The Duchy nominated both Members in 1621, returning both Mosley and Sir William Poley, father-in-law of the new chancellor, (Sir) Humphrey May*. In this Parliament the Duchy exerted particular efforts to fill as many seats as it could with its own nominees to ensure support for a bill to confirm decrees relating to its customary estates, which was read on 1 Dec. but disappeared after being committed.11 In 1624 the same two men were elected, though Poley, a native of Boxted in Suffolk, chose to sit for his home constituency of Sudbury. He was consequently replaced by Francis Nichols of Ampthill, Bedfordshire, another outsider who presumably owed his return to the Duchy. Nichols died in September 1624, and at a by-election Sir William Hervey of Ickworth, Suffolk, was chosen, again at the nomination of Sir Humphrey May, who was related by marriage to Hervey’s wife’s cousin. In the event Hervey did not take his seat, as the session had been prorogued since May and ended automatically on the death of the king in the following March.

Hervey was re-elected to the first Caroline Parliament, this time for the first seat, along with another former Member, the elderly Henry Banister. Two outsiders were returned in 1626. The first Member, George Garrard, a courtier, had previously represented Wigan in 1621 and was perhaps a Court acquaintance of Sir Humphrey May. The second Member, Thomas Fanshawe II, an Exchequer official, was probably recommended by his uncles (Sir) Thomas and William Fanshawe, who through their ties with the Duchy had built up sufficient influence in Lancashire to represent various boroughs there in virtually every Parliament of the period.12 In 1628 Garrard was re-elected as the first Member, and the earl of Derby’s son-in-law, Sir Robert Kerr (Carr), took the second seat.

So far as is known, Preston paid little attention to either parliaments or politics under the early Stuarts, the corporation being apparently content to return complete strangers as their representatives. Only those with personal ties to the region, namely Holt, Mosley, Banister and Kerr, became honorary freemen, and of these none were closely connected to the constituency. The ‘White Book’ records no payments of parliamentary wages or expenses in this period.13

Author: Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. VCH Lancs. vii. 73-105; A. Crosby, Hist. of Preston Guild, 34-5.
  • 2. W. Camden, Britannia (1610), p. 752; D. Hunt, Hist. Preston, 63.
  • 3. Lancs. RO, DDX/123/11; J. Lingard, Charters of Preston; A. Hewitson, Hist. of Preston, 54-5, 127; P. Whittle, Hist. of Bor. of Preston, i. 253.
  • 4. Preston Guild Rolls ed. W.A. Abram (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. ix), 46-53, 75-88; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 381.
  • 5. H.W. Clemesha, Hist. of Preston, 117; E. Baines, Hist. of Palatinate and Duchy of Lancaster ed. J. Croston, v. 305.
  • 6. Lancs. RO, CNP 3/1/1, pp. 9, 10, 13, 17; W.A. Abram, Memorials of Preston Guilds, 37; Clemesha, 147.
  • 7. Travels Through Stuart Britain: The Adventures of John Taylor, the Water Poet ed. J. Chandler, 21.
  • 8. SP14/7/82.II.
  • 9. W.S. Weeks, Clitheroe in Seventeenth Cent. 222.
  • 10. H. Fishwick, Hist. of Par. of Preston, 78.
  • 11. R. Somerville, Hist. of Duchy of Lancaster, ii. 19-20; R. Hoyle, ‘Vain Projects: The Crown and its Copyholders in the Reign of Jas. I’, Eng. Rural Soc. 1500-1800 ed. J. Chartres and D. Hey, 86-101.
  • 12. Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 66-7.
  • 13. Lancs. RO, CNP 3/1/1, p. 27.