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 'sworn burgesses', i.e. superior freemen

Number of voters:

174 in 1640


  Double return. Election declared void, 31 July 1660
10 Apr. 1661CHARLES KERR, Earl of Ancram
22 Feb. 1679CHARLES KERR, Earl of Ancram
 Alexander Rigby
15 Sept. 1679CHARLES KERR, Earl of Ancram
22 Feb. 1681CHARLES KERR, Earl of Ancram
 RICHARD SAVAGE, Visct. Colchester
2 Apr. 1685CHARLES KERR, Earl of Ancram

Main Article

During the Civil War Wigan had been loyal to the King, a loyalty which the corporation never ceased to exploit in after years when in search of privileges, claiming that the town had maintained the royalist garrison at its own expense, and had been seven times plundered and burdened with free quarter. The earls of Derby, usually seconded by the Bradshaighs, enjoyed the principal interest in the borough. The rectory, held in commendam with the bishopric of Chester, carried with it the lordship of the manor, and represented another important interest.1

At the general election of 1660 there was a double return, perhaps reflecting a struggle between the sworn ‘burgesses’, who enjoyed the franchise by right of prescription, and the ‘freemen’, who had vainly claimed it in 1640, when Orlando Bridgeman, son of the then bishop, was returned. Although he had been a Cavalier in the Civil War, his re-election was reported in the London press on 12 Apr. 1660. But there was a double return, and apparently the House seated two London merchants of local origin, William Gardiner and his cousin Hugh Forth. Gardiner, though the son of a Royalist, was outside the scope of the Long Parliament ordinance against Cavalier candidates, while Forth may have been a Presbyterian. In any case the House quashed the election on 31 July ‘in regard of the surprisal of the freemen by the mayor’s signing of his return before the day to which the court was adjourned’. Bridgeman, who had been appointed a judge, was not concerned in the by-election, but on 3 Sept. the House was informed that the writ was being detained by Roger Stoughton, to whom it had been delivered by the clerk of the crown, and it was resolved that a further writ should be issued. Nevertheless Stoughton, another Londoner who was mortgagee in possession of the Gerard properties in and around Wigan, was returned with John Molyneux, whose father-in-law had represented the borough in the Long Parliament, and who probably enjoyed the support of the Presbyterians. The return, like all that survive for the period, mentions only the aldermen, bailiffs and burgesses, but unless the ruling of the House was immediately defied it is difficult to see how the vote could have been denied to the freemen, as it undoubtedly was in later elections. It is perhaps hardly surprising that the mayoral election which followed was highly irregular. Indeed the charter could have been forfeited, but the King declined to take immediate advantage of it.2

At the next general election, the influence of the local landowners had revived. Lord Ancram’s mother was a Stanley, and he owed his seat to the Earl of Derby, while Geoffrey Shakerley was brother-in-law to Sir Roger Bradshaigh I. In 1662 Bradshaigh strengthened his interest in the town by obtaining a confirmation of its charter with an extension of privileges, but requiring royal approval for the appointment of the town clerk. The elections to the three Exclusion Parliaments show the same influences at work. Ancram was re-elected to each of them, but not without opposition. At the first election of 1679 he stood with Bradshaigh’s son against Alexander Rigby, the Presbyterian son of the Long Parliament Member. By September Ancram had acquired a large interest among the freemen for himself, so that the withdrawal of the Earl of Derby’s support could not prevent his election. In this election Derby favoured William Banks of the country party, whose family was closely connected with the Stanleys. Bradshaigh had intended to stand again but was persuaded by the Earl to transfer his interest to Banks. Ancram was elected again in 1681 together with Lord Colchester, an exclusionist associated with Derby, as well as having an interest of his own in the neighbourhood through his marriage to the heiress of Wardley.3

In the interim between the Parliaments of 1681 and 1685 Wigan seized several opportunities of expressing its continued loyalty to the King. In May 1681 Ancram and Randolph Egerton presented an address from the corporation, approving the dissolution of the last two Parliaments, and in February 1682, during the mayoralty of the Tory Sir Roger Bradshaigh II, another was presented by the Duke of Albemarle (Christopher Monck) condemning the ‘Association’. These sentiments did not develop without opposition, however, and in November 1682, the mayor, an ex-Cromwellian colonel, with Banks’s support, denied the King’s right to appoint the new town clerk. Ancram urged the forfeiture of the charter ‘which all loyal hearts heartily wish’, though it was in fact opposed by the high churchman Sir Edward Chisenhall. Forfeiture may have been staved off by a strong condemnation of the dissenters’ role in the Rye House Plot, but on 3 Dec. 1684 a new charter was drawn up, with the usual provision for the displacement of all officials by order-in-council.4

Ancram had played a leading role in the dispute and had otherwise shown his interest in the town, by which Bradshaigh declared that the burgesses of Wigan were ‘daily more obliged in many particulars than any town that I have known hath been to any burgess that ever served them, not only in time of Parliament, but every day in the interval of every Parliament to this very day’. Bradshaigh promised that Ancram and another cousin of the Stanleys, Lord Charles Murray, would be elected unanimously in 1685, and, as mayor under the new charter, he could personally do much to ensure it. Even Colchester gave his support to Ancram, Chisenhall was persuaded to withdraw, and the two Tories were returned unopposed.5

This mood of extravagant loyalty was maintained by the corporation until the closing months of 1687. In May of that year, Ancram and Bishop Cartwright of Chester obtained another loyal address, and in August, while James was at Chester, the mayor was presented and recommended to secure the re-election of Ancram and Murray. But when the corporation were asked in November to support the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws ‘in loyal Wigan [there was] but one consenting’. The mayor, recorder, 4 aldermen, 7 common councilmen and town clerk were removed under the new charter on 8 Mar. 1688, and replaced by Papists who ‘had no estate within the said borough nor paid any scot or lot therein ... contrary to the ancient customs and contrary to the express words in the same charter’. The new corporation took it upon itself to draw up an address in the terms desired by the Government, but the inhabitants refused to endorse it. A strong Whig was elected mayor in September, apparently with the approval of both Banks and Chisenhall, and ‘with the greatest joy that ever was at the election of a mayor in Wigan’, and four months later they, in turn, were elected to the Convention. On the death of Banks, a new writ was issued on 14 Jan. 1690, and Derby recommended Shakerley’s son to fill the vacancy; but Parliament was dissolved before the by-election could be held.6

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. D. Sinclair, Hist. Wigan, i. 214; ii. 3, 11, 15, 27; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 119; Wahlstrand thesis, 160; VCH Lancs. iv. 60.
  • 2. Merc. Pol. 12 Apr. 1660; CJ, viii. 106; Sinclair, ii. 72; Wahlstrand thesis, 22; PC2/55/18, 44, 83.
  • 3. Sinclair, ii. 86-92; CSP Dom. 1661-2, pp. 330, 333; CJ, ix. 570; Croston, Lancs. iv. 257-8; Rylands Lib., Legh mss, letter of Richard Legh, 11 Sept. 1679.
  • 4. HMC Kenyon, 127, 136; CSP Dom. 1682, pp. 523, 525-6, 527; SP44/335, p. 253; London Gazette, 6 May 1681, 6 Mar. 1682, 16 Aug. 1683.
  • 5. HMC Kenyon, 169-70, 178; CSP Dom. 1684-5, p. 232; 1685, pp. 119-20; Sinclair, ii. 125-43.
  • 6. Diary of Bishop Cartwright (Cam. Soc. xxii), 61-62, 74; HMC Kenyon, 189, 196, 236; PC2/72/616; Wahlstrand thesis, 99-100; London Gazette, 20 June 1687.