BROTHERTON, Thomas (c.1656-1702), of Chancery Lane, Mdx. and the Hey, Newton, Lancs.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



4 Dec. 1694 - 11 Jan. 1695
1695 - Nov. 1701

Family and Education

b. c.1656, 2nd s. of John Brotherton (Bretherton) of the Hey and the Inner Temple by Margaret, da. of Thomas Blackburn of Orford, Lancs.  educ. G. Inn 1676, called 1683; Jesus, Camb. 1677.  m. lic. 5 June 1693, Margaret, da. and coh. of Thomas Gunter of Aldbourne, Wilts., 3s. 3da.  suc. bro. John 1679.1

Offices Held


Brotherton’s family had been settled at the Hey, in the barony of Newton, Lancashire, since at least 1573, and as a younger son Brotherton was put to the law and became a practising barrister. In 1685 he stood at Newton against Peter Legh† of Lyme, then 15 years old, whose family had the chief interest in the borough, but was comprehensively defeated, and his petition was one of the many not heard by the Parliament. When the sitting Member for Newton, Francis Cholmondeley†, refused to take the oaths to William and Mary in 1690 rumours spread in Newton that Brotherton would contest the seat again, and, though the Convention was dissolved before a writ could be issued, Brotherton made a strong bid for the seat at the general election of 1690. Supported by prominent Whigs such as Lord Brandon (Charles Gerard*), Roger Kirkby* and Thomas Norris*, Brotherton fought a vigorous but ultimately unsuccessful campaign, and followed this with an equally fruitless petition.2

When Brotherton finally entered Parliament his success was due to the support of a very different interest. Since the beginning of 1694 Brotherton had been gathering support at Liverpool, and in March the basis of this interest became apparent when a Lancashire cleric wrote to Clitheroe’s Tory MP Roger Kenyon that ‘Mr Brotherton is my friend and an honest churchman, to whom I entreat you to forwardly reconcile yourself’. Brotherton had transferred his allegiance to the Lancashire Tories, a switch emphasized in October 1694 when he acted as defence counsel at the trial of those accused in the Lancashire Plot. Wholeheartedly supported by the Lancashire Tory hierarchy at the Liverpool by-election of December 1694, Brotherton was returned when the mayor claimed that his opponent Jasper Maudit* was ineligible to stand due to his position as borough coroner. Brotherton was consequently elected, but Maudit was in no mood to accept this result and pressed his petition hard, a local Tory commenting, ‘God grant Mr Brotherton may continue the sitting Member, for if it be judged a void election, we Churchmen shall have but a melancholy prospect at Liverpool’. Brotherton was unseated on 11 Jan. 1695, but he had established his Tory credentials following his flirtation with Lancashire’s Whig interest, and he remained true to this creed for the remainder of his life.3

In October 1695 Brotherton wrote to Peter Legh asking him to ‘pass by all our former misunderstandings’ and to return him for Newton. Grateful for Brotherton’s role in the acquittal of the accused Jacobites a year earlier as well as fearful of any renewed challenge from Brotherton, Legh agreed to this request. Brotherton assured Legh that he would ‘with zeal preserve the established Church of England, with sincerity serve my borough and country, and with integrity promote your interest’, and he fulfilled these promises throughout his active parliamentary career. Brotherton was a frequent nominee to significant committees, and teller upon a wide range of subjects. The first sign of his extensive legislative involvement came on 4 Dec. when his experience of the prolonged process of selecting the jury at the Jacobite trials the previous year seems to have led to his being the only Member appointed to draft a bill to supply the defects of an act of Edward I concerning the challenging of juries, a measure he subsequently presented on 5 Feb. 1696. His legal experience seems likely to account for his appointment, on 5 Dec. 1695, to draft a bill to regulate proceedings in the court of Equity. On 7 Jan. 1696 he told in favour of excusing Henry Priestman for being absent at the call of the House, and this month also saw him report from the committee which investigated the petition of the shipwrights of the naval dockyards. His opposition to the ministry was made clear in early 1696. He was forecast as likely to oppose the government in the divisions of 31 Jan. on the proposed council of trade, and Peter Shakerley* reported that on this date Brotherton voted against the imposition of an abjuration oath on members of the proposed council. On 4 Feb. he spoke in favour of Ambrose Pudsay* in the debate on the Clitheroe election petition. On 19 Mar. he was nominated to the committee on expiring laws. He subsequently reported from this committee, and on 13 Apr. carried the resulting bill to the Lords. On 23 Mar. he told for engrossing a bill to prevent the escape of debtors, and to ensure the better security and relief of creditors. The same month saw him dismissed from the Lancashire bench for his initial refusal to take the Association, and his opposition to the ministry was confirmed in March when he voted against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. His final significant acts of the session were to report from the committee considering the bill confirming the grant of Bedford Level to the Earl of Torrington (Arthur Herbert†), and to tell in favour of this measure.4

Given his defence of accused Jacobites in Lancashire in 1694 it comes as no surprise that in the early weeks of the 1696–7 session Brotherton was active in the debates on the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. At the opening of the proceedings on 13 Nov. he claimed that ‘the Mace ought to be upon the table, because the bill is to be read’, and then went on:

I take the question to be now, whether the King’s counsel should give evidence of any other matter than what is alleged in the bill. As to that I must observe to you that this bill does not set forth any particular charge against him; it is only the recital of an indictment, and it does not say the particular time and place where the fact was done . . . I am of opinion they ought to give evidence of nothing but what is in the bill.

Three days later Brotherton again protested the irregularity of the whole procedure:

it has been objected there ought to be two witnesses by the late statute [Treasons Act] . . . But I must put you in mind, that it was so by the Statute of Edward VI and so was the common law before and my Lord Coke says there must be two witnesses and they brought face to face.

Later the same day he told against a motion that the prosecution counsel be allowed to examine witnesses upon the evidence of Cooke’s trial. He returned to his point on witnesses on 17 Nov., arguing that ‘if there be but one witness in case of treason, he shall be tried before the constable and marshal’, at which point Brotherton was ‘interrupted by the great noise the House made upon the novelty of the argument’, and was unable to finish. He told on 24 Nov. for an amendment to the bill for bringing in plate to be coined at the Mint, and the following day voted against Fenwick’s attainder. His concern for due process in cases of alleged treason was again evident when he chaired a committee of inquiry into the complaint made by the wife of a Conrad Griebe. Griebe had been arrested under a warrant from Sir William Trumbull* for treasonable practices, and, even though a habeas corpus had been granted, deported to the Netherlands. Trumbull’s unwillingness to produce the original warrant led Brotherton, when reporting to the House on 8 Dec., to claim that the committee had been unable to examine the matter fully. Though the Commons ordered Trumbull to release the document to the committee, the issue was killed by a written statement from the King read to the Commons, informing the House that King William had ordered Griebe’s removal from the country as he posed a danger to national security. During December Brotherton also managed through the House the bill for the relief of creditors. Brotherton told on six further occasions during this session: in favour of adding a clause to the land tax bill to make receivers responsible for paying for the billeting of soldiers in their locality (21 Jan.); for adjourning all committees (22 Jan.); on the Tory side in a division on the Tavistock election case (4 Feb.); against a motion to proceed immediately to elect a commissioner of accounts to replace Lord William Powlett* (13 Feb.); for an amendment to the cider duty bill (3 Mar.); and against passing a bill to void the annulment of the marriage of an infant female (7 Apr.). He also took an interest in a number of bills. In January, for example, he was consulted, at the behest of Liverpool corporation, on proposals for the navigation of the Irwell, and later in the month, on the 28th, opposed the second reading of Sir Ralph Assheton, 2nd Bt.’s* estate bill. During March he guided through the House a bill to continue the act for preventing delays at quarter sessions, taking steps to inform the Lancashire clerk of the peace, Roger Kenyon, of this measure. Brotherton’s appetite for parliamentary business is emphasized by the fact that in addition he managed three estate bills through the Commons during this session.5

This appetite did not diminish in the 1697–8 session, even though he was granted ten days’ leave of absence on 23 Dec. ‘to bury a relation’. When, on 6 Jan. 1698, a clause was proposed to the bill to perpetuate the imprisonment of persons accused in the Assassination Plot, allowing the detention of individuals upon the evidence of one witness, it was reported that ‘some opposition was made’, and Brotherton predictably joined the protests. One newsletter claimed that

when the question was put, whether the bill should pass, there were some noes and Mr Brotherton demanded a division, but the number was so small that everybody went out with the yeas, except Mr Brotherton, Sir George Hungerford and Sir Edward Williams, who were left alone in the House, for which they were not a little laughed at.

The Journals record that Brotherton merely told against the clause, an opposition gaining only two votes. On 3 Feb. he was appointed to draft a bill to repeal the Elizabethan statute preventing the over-production of malt, subsequently guiding the bill through the Commons, and on 9 Mar. told for the engrossing of a bill to preserve salmon in English rivers. In April he told on five occasions: against imposing further duties on coal (7th); in favour of adjourning the hearing of the report on counterfeiting the coin (15th); for instructing the committee of supply to take off all duties on inland coal transported overland (21st); against passing the bill to prevent counterfeiting the coin (27th); and against forcing bachelors and widowers to give their names and addresses in order to facilitate the collection of taxes imposed on them (28th). During the same month he also guided a naturalization bill through the Commons. Brotherton told a further five times in June: for freeing the looms of lustring weavers from being distrained for unpaid rent (1st); for an amendment to the tonnage and poundage (civil list) bill, to preserve the rights of the bankers to their debt (9th); to reject a motion to vest in Greenwich Hospital estates given to ‘superstitious’ uses (17th); against a clause specifying the interest rate at which the East India Company could undertake further borrowing (22nd); and against engrossing the bill to set up a new East India Company (23rd). The extent of his parliamentary activity in this session is indicated by the fact that he had also guided three estates bills through the House and chaired the committee upon another such measure.6

Returned for Newton again in 1698, Brotherton was, around September, classed as a member of the Country party in a comparison of the old and new Commons, and also forecast as a likely opponent of the standing army. On 18 Feb. 1699 he told in favour of amending the report of the supply committee in order to reduce the naval establishment from 15,000 to 12,000. He told on five occasions in March: in favour of the right of election at Ludlow being in ‘sons and son-in-laws of freemen’ (1st); against a call of the House (6th); in favour of giving a second reading to the East India Company bill (9th); against issuing more Exchequer bills (23rd); and for passing the Westminster corn market bill (24th). In March and April Brotherton had guided through the House a bill for the better apprehension of burglars, and on 4 May he told for a motion to bring in a bill to prevent abuses in the King’s bench and the Fleet prisons. Brotherton was again active in respect of estate bills in this session, chairing the committees of two and guiding another two through the Commons.7

In the 1699–1700 session Brotherton’s parliamentary activity continued apace. He told on the Tory side when the Ludlow election petition was heard on 18 Dec., before telling in favour of a call of the House on 22 Dec. On 8 Jan. 1700 he again acted as teller, in favour of excusing Ralph Freman II for being absent from a call of the House, and on 23 Jan. told in favour of leave being granted for a bill to prolong the act prohibiting the export of grain. He told on 2 Feb. in favour of the second reading of this bill. He was appointed on 13 Feb. to the committee upon the bill to improve the passage between Chancery Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields, subsequently managing this measure through the Commons in March, and the same day spoke against the legality of grants made by the monarch to ministers of the crown during the war. On 26 Feb. he told against a motion that the Dolphin should trade as a free ship, and on 4 Mar. in favour of a motion that a committee of the whole examine the bill for the public resumption of all grants made since William’s accession. March saw Brotherton guide through the House an estate bill and a bill to enable j.p.s to repair their county gaols. He was active in the debates over the forfeited land grants in March and April, telling in three divisions relating to this matter. Brotherton also told in favour of bringing up the petition of Richard Burdett (4 Apr.); for postponing reports from the committee of privileges and elections (5 Apr.); and against adjourning the House (10 Apr.).

In August 1700 Brotherton was restored to the Lancashire bench, and his Toryism and pretensions were satirized at the end of the year in a libel headed ‘the titles of several Acts agreed in the Cabal’, which included ‘an Act to make Lord Romney and Lord Jersey two able ministers of state to be moved by Mr Brotherton’. After he had been returned for Newton in January 1701, Brotherton’s attachment to the reconstructed ministry is suggested by his inclusion in February upon a list of likely supporters of the Court in agreeing with the supply committee’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. Reports then began to circulate of Brotherton’s death, or that at the very least he was dying of a ‘violent fever’. Applications to Peter Legh for Brotherton’s seat proved, however, to be premature, and after his recovery Brotherton told, on 15 Apr., against adjourning the report of the East Retford election. His hostility to the recently removed Whig ministers was evident the same day when he was appointed to draw up the impeachment of Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*). During May he managed through the Commons bills on the regulation of new mints, and for supplying the deficiency of funds for the path between Chancery Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields. He told on four occasions in June: for applying to public uses money accruing from defalcations by the paymasters of the Navy (3rd); against making an appointment to the land tax commission for Suffolk (5th); for an amendment to a supply bill (16th); and in favour of taking the report of the committee on insolvent debtors (17th). In the same month he also managed through the Commons the estate bill of Sir Thomas Stanley, 4th Bt.* Included on the ‘black list’ of those who had opposed preparations for the war with France in the previous session, Brotherton was dropped from Newton in December 1701 to make way for Peter Legh’s brother Thomas II*, with the prospect of being returned for the borough at a later election. Before he could press his claims for his return at Newton, however, he died on 11 Jan. 1702, aged 45.8

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison


  • 1. VCH Lancs. iv. 134–5; Vis. Lancs. (Chetham Soc. ser. 1, lxxxiv), 56; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxxi), 259; Moore Rental (Chetham Soc. ser. 1, xii), 145.
  • 2. John Rylands Univ. Lib. Manchester, Legh of Lyme mss corresp. Francis Cholmondeley to Peter Legh, 11 Jan. 1690[–90], Thomas Legh† to same, 6 Sept. 1690, George Cholmondeley* to Visct. Cholmondeley, c.1690; Lancs. RO, Kenyon mss DDKe 9/63/7, Thomas Legh† to Roger Kenyon, 2 Mar. 1689–90.
  • 3. HMC Kenyon, 284, 320–1; Kenyon mss DDKe 9/67/37, Thomas Marsden to Kenyon, 27 Mar. 1693[–4]; DDKe 9/68/9, Richard Richmond to same, 4 Jan. 1694[–5]; CSP Dom. 1694–5, p. 325; Egerton 920, ff. 79–80; Portledge Pprs. 192.
  • 4. Legh of Lyme mss corresp. Brotherton to Peter Legh, 10 Oct. [1695], 31 Oct. 1695, same to Edward Allanson, 10 Oct. 1695; HMC Kenyon, 398–401; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 282.
  • 5. Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 1013, 1039, 1101–2; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/32, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 3 Dec. 1696; Norris Pprs. (Chetham Soc. ser. 1, ix), 37–39; Kenyon mss, DDKe/HMC/1031A, Richard Wroe to Kenyon, 28 Jan. 1696–7; 1039, Peter Shakerley* to same, 6 Mar. 1696[-7].
  • 6. CSP Dom. 1698, p. 19; Cam. Misc. xx. 50.
  • 7. Cam. Misc. 74, 78.
  • 8. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 2714, ‘Titles of several public acts agreed to in the cabal’, 7 Dec. [1700]; BL, Lothian mss, bdle. 95, Ld. Stanhope to Thomas Coke*, 24 Feb. 1700[-1], Coke to Stanhope, 26, 27 Feb. 1700[-1]; HMC Cowper, ii. 420–1; Add. 70020, f. 120.