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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:



 Edward Moore
 Edward Moore
9 Dec. 1670SIR WILLIAM BUCKNALL vice Stanley, deceased
 Sir George Lane
27 May 1675WILLIAM BANKS I vice Ireland, deceased
9 Mar. 1677SIR RALPH ASSHETON II, Bt. vice Bucknall, deceased
 RICHARD ATHERTON vice Banks, deceased
 Sir Edward Moore, Bt.
 Thomas Norris
11 Jan. 1689RICHARD SAVAGE, Visct. Colchester

Main Article

By the mid-17th century, Liverpool was an expanding port, and in the years after the Restoration it continued to grow at an increasing rate, especially after experience of the plague and fire caused many London merchants to transfer their interests there. Liverpool had links with Ireland and the Isle of Man as well as a profitable coastal trade, and associations with Africa, the West Indies and India were beginning to assume importance.1

The dominant interest at Liverpool was held by the local magnates, the Stanley earls of Derby. Two major property interests were enjoyed by the Roman Catholic Molyneux family, lords of the manor since 1628, and the Moores of Bank Hall, who owned much of the town. Gilbert Ireland had a strong natural interest in the borough, which his uncle and great-uncle had represented in early Stuart Parliaments. The corporation interest was also worth cultivating, since they controlled the roll of freemen, to which they had begun to admit nonresidents during the Civil War. At the general election of 1660 the royalist Lord Derby seems to have joined forces with the Presbyterian Ireland against Edward Moore, whose father had been a regicide. The freemen defied the Long Parliament ordinance against the candidature of Cavaliers’ sons by returning Derby’s brother, William Stanley, with Ireland. With his estate threatened with forfeiture and his person with a debtors’ gaol, Moore was very anxious for a seat in the Convention, but most of his tenants deserted him when ‘their vote would have done me five thousand pounds’ worth of good’. During the summer his loyal wife, who was a Royalist’s daughter, obtained the grant of his estate, and an assurance of no further proceedings against him. Nevertheless he stood again in 1661, with the same result. Stanley and Ireland were re-elected ‘with the free consent and assent of the burgesses there, or the greater number of them’.2

After the Restoration the corporation showed a curious lack of self-confidence by repeatedly choosing outsiders as mayors. Stanley was in office when the commissioners visited Liverpool in 1662 and removed six aldermen, the town clerk, and seven of the common council. At the same time 38 nonresident freemen were admitted. An active correspondence was maintained with the Members over parliamentary matters, but chiefly with the Lancashire-born John Birch, who, it was said, ‘hath done more for the town than our two Parliament men ten times told since they were chosen’. The corporation, who claimed to control the whole of the Mersey estuary, opposed the Weaver navigation bill in 1663 and a bill to erect a lighthouse in the following year. Several proposals were made for renewing the charter ‘to make this an absolute free port’, but came to nothing. In the next few years both the Moore and Molyneux interests suffered serious setbacks. Moore incurred another defeat in 1669, this time in the mayoral election, while Molyneux and the corporation were involved in a legal tussle over the manorial waste. At this juncture Stanley’s death occasioned a by-election of exceptional interest. No less than 15 possible candidates were mentioned; among them Moore himself, Derby’s son Lord Strange, William Banks I, Alderman Thomas Bickersteth, and Captain William Faryngton were local, while from London it was reported that Henry Ashhurst, a draper of Lancashire origin, a certain Mr Halsall, Edward Dobson of Gray’s Inn, and the Duke of Monmouth’s secretary, a Scotchman named Thomas Ross, would put in for it. The corporation’s nominee was the recorder, John Entwistle, but he made over his interest to Dobson, Lord Gerard’s man of business, who had been born in Liverpool. Ireland naturally received many applications for his interest. His cousin Humphrey Wharton wrote on behalf of his son Robert that ‘what you lay out in treats to the town shall be thankfully repaid’, though he also hoped to engage Lord Derby by a letter from Lord St. John (Charles Powlett I). Meanwhile Dobson had been promised the Molyneux interest, and undertook that he would ‘handsomely entertain all, but especially the out-burgesses’; while Moore, who had been warned by the mayor that the freemen would not vote for him, pledged himself to Ross. Derby assured the corporation that ‘he did not intend to impose on any as to their freedom in election’, but hoped that they would pitch either on Ross or Mr Spencer of Ashton (the father of William Spencer). Lady Southampton (the widow of the 2nd Viscount Molyneux) commended Ross to the sitting Member as ‘a sober, understanding, learned, honest man, and one in great favour at Court, though not of the same temper that you would commonly call courtiers’. But none of these candidatures was to prosper, and there were soon other ‘courtiers’ in the field. Ireland was able to ignore a letter from his fellow-Cromwellian, Sir Richard Temple on behalf of a ‘near relation’, Sir William Temple, although this candidate could offer to help Liverpool merchants, both by virtue of his own position at The Hague embassy and of his father’s and brother’s posts in the Irish administration. A more serious candidate was Sir George Lane, the Irish secretary of state, for whom a regular barrage of letters was laid down at Ormonde’s request. The Duke of York, Robert Werden, (Sir) Geoffrey Shakerley and (Sir) Roger Bradshaigh I, all extolled his virtues, though Bradshaigh feared that his own friendship with Molyneux rendered his advice unacceptable to ‘those infidel Leirpooltonians’. The most persuasive letter that Ireland received came from Lord Ancram (Charles Kerr):

You would have his [Lane’s] character from the throne even down to myself; but his merits and principles, as well as loyalty, are so obvious everywhere that I am sure you cannot pick out a worthier partner. Besides, his interest in Ireland, being equal to what he has in public relation here, may be of so great advantage to the town.

Ireland was convinced, and on the withdrawal of his cousin Wharton urged the corporation in somewhat peremptory language not to make him ridiculous by rejecting his second choice also. Lane represented the Clarendonian Court, but the Cabal too had their nominee. This was Sir William Bucknall, proposed to the corporation by Birch, the auditor of excise, with all the tact that Lane’s backers so conspicuously lacked:

If you have of your own number that you think fit, I by all means advise you to him as most natural; and be it whom you please, he shall always command my service. But if you judge none of your own fit, then, as your business now stands, I have thought of a person who, if any in England, is able to serve you and bear up against opposers. He is farmer of all the customs and excise in Ireland (with his partners, but he is chief); likewise farmer of much in England; one who hath a great interest with the King by lending him above £100,000, and so able to serve you and give checkmate to your opposers; and yet a true lover of sober interests which all sober men wish well to. And if you be disappointed, blame me; and though he cannot come and drink as some others, yet he shall present you for the poor with what I judge convenient.

Over and above all these desirable qualities, Birch was too modest to mention that his daughter was married to Bucknall’s sister. He soon emerged as the front runner, especially after the King sent Robert Phelips to Ross to command him to desist. Moore loyally transferred his interest to Bucknall, and Derby, showered with letters from the Court, formally nominated him to the corporation; whereupon

Sir Gilbert Ireland did in a formal starched harangue fall very foul upon Sir William Bucknall, terming him an exciseman, etc., and what not, and on the other side as much to command and extol Sir George Lane. ... As a commoner and in the name of the commons of England [he] did protest against such kind of practices; that excisemen and such persons as had to do with the management of his Majesty’s revenue were very unfit persons to serve in Parliament, and that the mentioning the King was against the privilege of the Commons of England, and that if these were suffered the King might as well call burgesses into the House of Commons by special writ, and then goodnight to the liberty of the subject.

Dobson in London also protested at ‘this affront intended upon our country’, but the Molyneux interest abandoned him and went over to Lane. The chancellor of the duchy (Sir Thomas Ingram) now sought to clinch matters by writing to the corporation in Bucknall’s favour, ‘affirming his predecessors have done the like, which if not true he may hear of from some Members of the House of Commons’. The aldermen needed little convincing, but the mayor was ‘right enough’ for the Presbyterian Ashhurst, the only country candidate still in the field. ‘It may avail much for the benefit of the town to put off their election for some time’, wrote a correspondent of Ireland’s, expecting that Bucknall and Ashhurst ‘will both of them prove very generous in their treats’. The court candidate, detained by negotiations with the Treasury over the new customs farm, sent one of his Northamptonshire kinsmen, probably Sir James Langham, to the constituency in a coach and six, ‘resolved to spend £500 before his return’; but Ashhurst, who had travelled down rather less ostentatiously, still hoped that enough of the freemen were left ‘un-entangled in those golden nets’ at least to give good grounds for a petition. He wrote to Ireland: ‘I am told several of the Parliament talk loud of the irregular proceedings of Sir B. and are [more] concerned than I could imagine. If you please to enclose in a line or two a couple of Col. Birc’s letters to the town, it might be of use to me.’ John Otway, Ingram’s deputy, had applied for the writ only two or three days after Stanley’s death, but it was not sent to the constituency until Bucknall was free to attend in person. On 3 Dec. he had reached Liverpool ‘with his retinue, very sumptuously and generously feasting and treating all the inhabitants that please to accept it’. Molyneux, ‘concluding Sir George Lane not possibly to be obtained, ... remitted his votes to Mr Ashhurst, if they please’, but Ashhurst, abandoned by his friend the mayor, who had ‘most perfidiously complied with Bucknall’s advantage’ in fixing the date of the election, had no further use for them, and at Derby’s request desisted. Only Ireland fought on; deserted by Bradshaigh and Shakerley, he sought to revive Lane’s candidature. Outright success was beyond his hopes, but so long as there was a poll Lane would be able to petition. However Bucknall’s victory must have been conclusive, for the case never came before the House.3

It is said that neither Ireland’s health nor his fortune recovered from this election, but he did not die until 1675. Banks was his successor, an obscure country gentleman of undistinguished pedigree, but devoted entirely to the house of Stanley. Both he and Bucknall died in 1676. Ashurst declined an invitation to stand at the ensuing double by-election, when the luckless Moore, still at odds with the inhabitants, was again defeated. Of the new Members, Sir Ralph Assheton was probably Derby’s candidate, while Richard Atherton had inherited Lady Ireland’s property, and may have enjoyed the Molyneux interest. Both were court supporters. Four months later Liverpool at last received its new charter. No doubt it was intended to strengthen the court faction on the corporation; but two country candidates were returned to the Exclusion Parliaments without contests. Both were strangers, but Ruisshe Wentworth was connected with Derby by marriage, and John Dubois, a London nonconformist, no doubt picked up Ashhurst’s votes. In 1681 the King received a moderate address from Liverpool (without the corporation seal) in reply to his declaration on the dissolution of Parliament. After the Rye House Plot they were prepared to condemn ‘aspiring Absoloms’ and ‘pestilent Achitophells’, but they could not save the 1677 charter. It was handed over to Judge Jeffreys at Atherton’s home in November 1684, but it had not been replaced before the next election, which was accordingly conducted by the bailiffs. The ‘fanatical party’ put up Thomas Norris, but he was defeated by Atherton and Thomas Legh. The new charter, reserving to the crown the usual powers for displacing officials, was received on 8 Apr. 1685. Two aldermen were removed in 1687, but only four or five customs officials would agree to support the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws. Atherton died before the Revolution, and Liverpool was represented in the Convention by Norris and Lord Colchester, a follower of Derby.4

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. J. A. Picton, Liverpool Mun. Recs. 124, 236, 243, 256, 261.
  • 2. Moore Rental (Chetham Soc. xii), 12; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 110; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 478.
  • 3. Picton, 238-45, 275-6; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 116-20; Trans. Hist. Soc. Lancs. and Cheshire, vi. 1*-26*; xciii. 54-68; Bulstrode Pprs. 160.
  • 4. HMC Kenyon, 102; CSP Dom. 1676-7, p. 417; Picton, 248, 250-8; HMC Var. ii. 392; Rylands Lib. Legh mss, letter to Richard Legh, 9 Mar. 1685; HMC Le Fleming, 206.