DOWNES, Roger (c.1570-1638), of Gray's Inn, London and Wardley Hall, Lancs.

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




Family and Education

b. c.1570, s. of Roger Downes (d.1590), of Redacre, Cheshire, and Elizabeth, da. of Alexander Worsley of Pemberton, Lancs.1 educ. Staple Inn, G. Inn 1590, called ?1598.2 m. (1) 23 Apr. 1601,3 Elizabeth (bur. 17 Sept. 1602),4 da. of Miles Gerrard of Ince, Lancs., 1s. d.v.p.;5 (2) 11 Sept. 1605,6 Anne, da. of John Calvert of Cockerham, Lancs., 3s. 1da.; (3) c.1620, Mary (d. aft. 1643), da. of Richard Holland† of Heaton, Lancs., wid. of Adam Eccleston, of Eccleston, Lancs., s.p.7 bur. 6 July 1638.8

Offices Held

Feodary, Ct. of Wards, Lancs. 1601-5;9 freeman, Preston, Lancs. by 1602,10 Wigan, Lancs. by 1628;11 j.p. Lancs. by 1604-at least 1633;12 commr. sewers, Lancs. 1608, 1633,13 subsidy, 1621-2, 1624;14 v.-chamberlain of Chester, 1625-d.;15 commr. Forced Loan, Lancs. 1627;16 collector, knighthood fines, Lancs. 1631-2,17 St. Paul’s Cathedral repair, 1635;18 commr. charitable uses, Chester 1637.19

Bencher, G. Inn 1615-d., reader 1615, dean of the chapel 1624, treas. 1628.20


A descendant of a minor branch of the Downes family of Cheshire, this Member acquired his Lancashire estates through his mother’s relatives, the Worsleys of Pemberton. In around 1601 he took possession of Wardley Hall, a moated manor house dating back to the fifteenth century. The hall was a legacy of his mother’s deceased maternal uncle, Francis Sherington, of whose will Downes and his uncle Ralph Worsley were the overseers.21 A Gray’s Inn lawyer, whose legal practice was evidently profitable, Downes added to the Wardley property various lands formerly belonging to Whalley Abbey, which he bought from Sir John Radcliffe* for £1,000 in 1607.22 He also acquired the manors of Monton and Swinton, which were held of the 6th earl of Derby,23 and in 1609 he inherited Ralph Worsley’s estates of Worsley and Pemberton.24

Downes’s marriage in April 1601 to the daughter of his Wigan neighbour, Miles Gerrard of Ince, accounts for his election at Wigan later the same year. The marriage was short-lived, as his wife died in childbirth in September 1602.25 Downes acted for Wigan’s corporation on several occasions when differences arose between the town and the rector John Bridgeman, bishop of Chester, over disputed rights to the market tolls and corn mills.26 He also assisted Wigan’s appeal for exemption from Ship Money on the grounds of poverty in 1637.27 His local influence may have been sufficient to secure his election there in 1621, though he may also have enjoyed the backing of the duchy of Lancaster. Although not one of the Duchy’s permanent officers, as has sometimes been suggested, Downes frequently practised in the Duchy court. His duchy links are confirmed by his appointment in 1628 as a Duchy patentee for the collection of fines.28

In the Commons Downes twice spoke in the Duchy’s interest. On 28 Apr. 1621, in response to a bill concerning forfeited estates, he ‘move[d] to have consideration of the duchy power’, and was appointed to the committee. On 7 May, he proposed that one of the servants of the chancellor of the Duchy who had been arrested might have privilege. Downes’s legal expertise explains why he was named to the bill committee for Prince Charles’s Kendal tenants (10 Mar.), and why he also spoke in the debate on fees in courts of record on 3 May, when he complained of excessive charges in the Palatinate Court at Chester. As a Lancashire burgess, Downes was appointed to the committee for the Duchy’s bill to confirm certain decrees relating to its estates (1 December).29

Downes was named vice chamberlain of Chester upon the death of his Gray’s Inn colleague Sir Thomas Ireland* in 1625, an appointment that occupied much of his remaining years.30 In 1627 he was accused of ‘unlawful proceedings’ in the Chester Court of Exchequer by his fellow lawyer George Vernon*. In response Downes complained to the king, that he ‘hath ever carried himself free of any tax or suspicion of injustice in his place, and now conceiveth himself much traduced’. Upon investigation, Downes was entirely vindicated.31

Downes supplemented his lawyer’s income with the profits of both husbandry and moneylending.32 His accounts show that he traded in fustians as well as corn and livestock, with an average turnover of around £400 a year by the 1620s. As a landlord he maintained traditional long leases, with high entry fines but low rents.33 He also kept fish pools stocked with carp and tench.34 He frequently lent money to neighbours and tenants, and once stood as surety for James Stanley* Lord Strange, the future 7th earl of Derby, in a loan of £500.35 These activities brought losses as well as gains when in 1613 he became embroiled in the disastrous finances of his first wife’s kinsman Sir Thomas Gerrard*, 1st bt., of the Bryn (who coincidentally was also elected for Wigan in 1621), for whom he had regularly acted as counsel.36 His investments included the purchase of several wardships for substantial sums.37

Downes died in July 1638 and was buried at Wigan church, having requested a funeral ‘without any great pomp or charge’. As his eldest son Roger predeceased him, he was succeeded by his second son, Francis*, though he reserved his ‘ancient and new improved’ copyhold lands at Redacre, Cheshire, inherited from his father, for his third son, John.38 An inventory valued Downes’s possessions at £2,228 9s. 3d., including books worth £200.39 Something of his taste in reading may be inferred from his gift in 1634 of a copy of the History of the World by Sir Walter Raleigh† to the library of Gray’s Inn.40 Downes’s will leaves no indication of his religious inclination; although he had presented the puritan Robert Shaw to a living in 1633, his second wife and sons were Catholic, and he himself allegedly converted to the Roman church before his death, as did his brother Francis, who was summoned before High Commission for obstinate recusancy in 1634.41 Downes’s heir Francis sat for Wigan in 1624 and 1625.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Vis. Lancs. (Chetham Soc. lxxxii), 133; Wills at Chester (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. ii), 56.
  • 2. GI Admiss.; W. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 357.
  • 3. Wigan Par. Regs. 1580-1625 (Lancs. Par. Reg. Soc. iv), 264.
  • 4. Ibid. 188.
  • 5. Ibid. 53.
  • 6. Cockerham Par. Regs. (Lancs. Par. Reg. Soc. xxi), 98.
  • 7. DL1/284; PROB 11/213, ff. 227-9v.
  • 8. Wigan Par. Regs. 1626-75 (Lancs. Par. Reg. Soc. clii), 227.
  • 9. WARD 9/275, unfol.; HMC Hatfield, xxii. 116.
  • 10. Preston Guild Rolls ed. W.A. Abram (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. ix), 55, 78.
  • 11. D. Sinclair, Hist. Wigan, i. 197.
  • 12. Lancs. RO, QSC 3-20.
  • 13. C181/2, f. 59v, 181/4, f. 130v.
  • 14. C212/22/20, 21, 23.
  • 15. Ormerod, Cheshire, i. 60.
  • 16. C193/12/2, f. 30.
  • 17. HEHL, EL12021; E178/7154, f. 239.
  • 18. C.W. Sutton, Life of Humphrey Chetham (Chetham Soc. n.s. lxix), 91.
  • 19. C192/1, unfol.
  • 20. PBG Inn i. 218, 265, 283.
  • 21. H.V. Hart-Davis, Wardley Hall, 46-8, 80, 92; VCH Lancs. iv. 384-8.
  • 22. Lancs. RO, QDD/16/m18d; Prest, 357.
  • 23. HEHL, EL12015; Bodl. Top. Lancs.e.1, pp. 120, 202; Hart-Davis, 52-3, 213-18.
  • 24. VCH Lancs. iv. 81n; DL7/20/49; Lancs. IPMs ed. J.P. Rylands (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. iii), 171-3; Hart-Davis, 16.
  • 25. Wigan Par. Regs. 1580-1625, 53, 188, 264.
  • 26. Wigan AS, D/DZ A13/1, p. 131; HEHL, EL12018; G.T.O. Bridgeman, Hist. of Church and Manor of Wigan (Chetham Soc. n.s. xv, xvi), 232, 266.
  • 27. CSP Dom. 1637, p. 290.
  • 28. Lancs. RO, DDKe 5/111; Procs. of Lancs. JPs at Sheriff’s Table ed. B.W. Quintrell (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. cxxi), 89, 185.
  • 29. CJ, i. 548b, 595b, 606a, 612a, 654a.
  • 30. HMC 8th Rep. 383; APC, 1630-1, p. 404; CSP Dom. 1633-4, pp. 445, 491; CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 234; CSP Dom. 1637-8, pp. 471, 481.
  • 31. SP16/84/90; CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 437, 458, 474.
  • 32. HEHL, EL11826; Hart-Davis, 98-99.
  • 33. DL1/295; HEHL, EL11946, 11958-11977; Hart-Davis, 108-10.
  • 34. Hart-Davis, 100-7.
  • 35. Hart-Davis, 56, 70-1, 93-6.
  • 36. C2/Jas.I/D4/30.
  • 37. WARD 9/162, ff. 76, 133, 344; 9/163, f. 42.
  • 38. Lancs. RO, WCW, will of Roger Downes of Wardley, 1638; DL7/27/54.
  • 39. HEHL, EL12026; Hart-Davis, 119-36.
  • 40. PBG Inn, i. p. xlix.
  • 41. CSP Dom. 1634-5, pp. 206, 211; E. Baines, Hist. of Palatinate and Duchy of Lancaster ed. J. Croston, v. 493.