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Preston in the 16th century, family feuds and Government spies

Posted on - 23rd January, 2022 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News, South Ribble News
16th century map of Lancashire Pic: Preston Digital Archive
16th century map of Lancashire Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Preston in the 16th century was a rural backwater, far from the centre of Government. Consequently, Preston remained a Catholic bastion long after the Protestant reformation. Its isolated location and poor roads meant that southern visitors were few and far between.

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Family feuds and early descriptions of Preston

Few descriptions of Preston exist from the 16th century, however, some brave souls ventured north on the appalling roads. The Earl of Sussex wrote: “There was not a scarcer county both for horse meat and man’s meat in England.”

Frontispiece and title page from a 1675 edition of William Camden's biography of Queen Elizabeth Pic: William Camden Private Collection of S Whitehead
Frontispiece and title page from a 1675 edition of William Camden’s biography of Queen Elizabeth Pic: William Camden Private Collection of S Whitehead

Antiquarian William Camden described Preston as:

A large and for these parts, Handsome and populous towne. The goodly and fresh complexion of the natives does sufficiently evince the goodness of this county… this soil bears oats pretty well but is not so good for barley..

Hoghton Tower the family seat of the De Hoghton's Pic: Hoghton Tower Estate
Hoghton Tower the family seat of the De Hoghton’s Pic: Hoghton Tower Estate

Disputes in Preston were frequent, notably during Mayoral elections where opposing gentry used strong arm tactics to ‘influence’ the burgesses’ votes.

At one point, Richard Hoghton, a man of ‘high voice and angry countenance’ gathered all the burgesses in an ale house and told them who to elect! They dutifully obliged, however the ex-Mayor James Walton told Hoghton not to interfere. This resulted in an altercation where Walton and 50 burgesses made a hasty retreat as Hoghton, ‘went ballistic’, in modern language.

Happily Preston was not completely lawless, and Sir Henry Farrington and several burgesses pursued a legal action against Hoghton. He was bound over to keep the peace, fined £200 and suffered the ejection of his candidate.

Preston misses the reformation

Henry VIII
Henry VIII

The Church in England was formed in 1534 under Henry VIII, who was Catholic. Later the Church had a more Protestant leaning under Edward VI. Catholics were persecuted under Elizabeth I. During the reformation Lancashire was split between a Protestant south and east and a Catholic north and west. Preston was at the centre of the Catholic district.

The Spanish Armada, Government spies report on the Hoghtons

Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth's Spymaster Pic: Wikimedia
Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s Spymaster Pic: Wikimedia

In the 1580s, tension mounted as fears of invasion led to a clamp down. Government spies reported on the Catholic leanings of the local gentry. Francis Walsingham was spymaster for the Elizabethan state and kept a close eye on the Troublesome North. Walsingham was key in foiling several Catholic plots to depose Elizabeth I.

Catholic missionaries visited the Southworths and Hoghtons in Preston. The town was described as ‘the very sink of popery, where more unlawful acts have been committed and more unlawful persons holden secret than in any other part of the realm’.

However few paid their fines for recusancy and Catholic practices remained unmolested for some years.



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