HESKETH, Sir Thomas (1547/8-1605), of Heslington, Yorks., Preston, Lancs. and Gray's Inn, London

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



1604 - 15 Oct. 1605

Family and Education

b. 1547/8, 2nd s. of Gabriel Hesketh (d.1573) of Aughton, Lancs. and Jane, da. of Sir Thomas Halsall of Halsall, Lancs.1 educ. Hart Hall, Oxf. to 1568; ?Camb. Univ.; G. Inn 1572, called 1580.2 m. by 29 Sept. 1599, Juliana (d. 10 Aug. 1629), da. of Edward Fusey of London, s.p.3 kntd. c.7 June 1603.4 d. 15 Oct. 1605.5 sig. Tho[mas] Hesketh.

Offices Held

Reader, Barnard’s Inn 1586, G. Inn 1596, bencher G. Inn 1596-d.;6 recorder, Lancaster by 1597-d.;7 fee’d counsel, Camb. Univ. 1601.8

Escheator, Lancs. 1588-97;9 j.p. Lancs. by 1592/3-d., Yorks. (E., W. and N. Ridings) 1599-d., Cawood and Ripon liberties, Yorks. by 1601, co. Dur. by 1602;10 commr. recusants, Lancs. and Staffs. 1591,11 ?member, High Commission, York prov. 1599;12 commr. oyer and terminer, Northern circ. 1599-d.;13 freeman, Preston, Lancs. by 1602;14 commr. piracy, Northumbs. 1604, sewers, Mdx. 1604, W. Riding 1605.15

Att.-gen. palatinate of Lancaster (jt.) 1591-2, (sole) 1592-1603, v.-chan. palatinate of Lancaster by 1603-d.;16 att. in the Ct. of Wards 1597-d.;17 justice, Council in the North, 1598-d.;18 master in Chancery (extraordinary), 1602-?d.19

Commr. Union 1604-d.20


The Heskeths held land in the Lancashire parish of the same name by the end of the thirteenth century. The MP should not be confused with a recusant namesake of Thurstaston, Cheshire,21 nor with an earlier head of the family, his third cousin Sir Thomas Hesketh of Rufford, sheriff of Lancashire in 1562-3 and mayor of Liverpool in 1577-8. This man was later detained under suspicion of recusancy, but his eldest son Robert conformed and was returned as knight of the shire in 1597.22 Hesketh’s own family, established at Aughton in the fifteenth century, was less prominent than their Rufford cousins: his father owned only 800 acres at his death.23 Hesketh’s paternal grandfather served the 3rd earl of Derby, whose seat at Lathom House lay only a few miles from Aughton, and one of his brothers was raised in the household of the 5th earl, but Hesketh himself had few direct links with the Stanleys.24 His eldest brother Bartholomew acquired the neighbouring Halsall estate from his mother’s family, but was disqualified from office by his Catholicism: described as a ‘busy recusant’ in 1577, he was included in 1592 among those ‘not seeming to be recusants, but discovered to be dangerous persons’, who were ordered to be committed to the custody of more reliable gentry pending indictment.25

The first of his family to sit in Parliament, Hesketh’s return for Preston in 1586 and 1589 may have been on the interest of the duchy of Lancaster, but he owned property in the town at his death and may have been involved in a lawsuit over a house there in 1588. In 1589 Hesketh was commended to Sir Francis Walsingham† over the compilation of a report on the estates of Leonard Dacre†.26 Appointed attorney-general of the Lancaster Palatine Court in 1591, his career almost ended two years later, when Richard Hesketh, a Catholic exile who was probably his younger brother, was executed for attempting to persuade the 5th earl of Derby to usurp the throne after the death of Queen Elizabeth.27 Although Hesketh was not directly implicated, Derby complained later the same year that ‘Hesketh the lawyer’ had been unhelpful in the collection of the subsidy ‘to cross me, and win himself some credit’, which he ascribed to Hesketh’s resentment ‘that I used myself so honestly touching his brother’. The matter was referred to Sir Thomas Heneage†, chancellor of the duchy, who exonerated Hesketh: ‘if my judgment be worth anything, I know not a more honest man nor more sufficient’.28 Derby’s sudden death in the following year ended the dispute, and Hesketh maintained better relations with the Stanleys thereafter: in 1601 he joined with the dowager countess to recommend his cousin Geoffrey Osbaldeston† for the post of queen’s solicitor in Ireland.29

While many of his relatives were Catholics, Hesketh’s own Protestantism was not in doubt. The dedicatee of editions of two tracts by the godly divine William Perkins, he was a consistent advocate of harsh measures against Catholic priests. In 1600 he advised Sir Robert Cecil† that local recusants had been shocked to hear two priests support the papal deposing power on the scaffold at Lancaster, explaining that ‘there was never any seminary priest executed in that country before, which toleration has made them overbold; and if the relievers and maintainers were sharply dealt with, there is no doubt but the country would be reformed’. After he moved to York, Hesketh became an ally of John Ferne*, Sir Thomas Hoby* and Sir Stephen Procter, the clique who masterminded the persecution of Yorkshire Catholics.30

In 1595 Hesketh was commended to Cecil by (Sir) Hugh Beeston* and Heneage: ‘none hath furthered Her Majesty’s service so much in that county [Lancashire]’. He advised Cecil’s secretary Richard Percival* over a wardship case in 1595, and it was presumably Cecil who recommended that Hesketh be appointed attorney of the court in 1597.31 Cecil depended heavily on Hesketh’s legal advice, and in 1600 Hesketh was an outside contender for the mastership of the Rolls; he did not get the job, but was used to interrogate ‘the inferior sort’ among the 2nd earl of Essex’s rebellious supporters in February 1601.32 Hesketh undoubtedly profited from his position; he was granted at least one wardship, and almost certainly received considerable sums in bribes. Lord Sheffield accused him of partiality, but the charge was itself partisan, as the lawsuit concerned involved Sheffield’s prospective son-in-law. Hesketh was certainly considered reliable enough to make discreet enquiries into the alleged misconduct of Sir William Fleetwood I*, receiver-general of the Wards, in 1598.33 He continued his administrative role in Lancashire, supervising the interrogation and execution of seminary priests at Lancaster in 1600 and 1601, and visiting the county regularly.34 However, his appointment as one of the justices of the Council in the North in 1598 shifted his interests to Yorkshire, where he purchased the manor of Heslington in 1601. An outsider at York, he was frequently used for adjudicating disputes between the local men who dominated the Council.35

Hesketh succeeded his Rufford cousin as knight of the shire for Lancashire in 1601, but in 1604 he transferred to Lancaster, where he was recorder. His impact on the first session of the new reign was relatively modest. One of four lawyers who addressed the Lords on 28 Apr. about the Commons’ fears that James’s assumption of the title ‘king of Great Britain’ would invalidate laws made in the name of the king of England, he was ordered to attend a conference on the Union (4 May), and was one of the parliamentary commissioners appointed to work out the details of the Union with a Scottish delegation (12 May). He was also named to a committee appointed to investigate a tract by John Thornborough, dean of York, which attacked the Commons’ misgivings about the Union (1 June).36 Although attorney of the Wards, he played little part in the debate over Sir Robert Wroth I’s* proposal to replace wardship by some form of annual charge upon lands held by knight service. When a report was made to the House on 26 Mar. 1604, Hesketh demanded to know what was to become of the more unusual military tenures, to which it was replied ‘that provision might be made as well for the [commutation of] one [tenure] as the other’. He was not included among the delegation which approached the Lords about a joint petition to the king to explore the proposal more fully (26 Mar.), though he was later named to attend the conference which attempted to revive the issue (22 May). His professional expertise undoubtedly explains his nomination to the committee for the bill to end payments for respite of homage by reviving the requirement for heirs to swear fealty in person before the lord great chamberlain (26 April).37

Hesketh also participated in two key privilege disputes. The first concerned the arrest of Sir Thomas Shirley I* for debt, in which it was argued that if Shirley were released it would prejudice the case his creditors had brought against him. After some debate, Hesketh suggested that the matter should be referred to a committee, to which he was subsequently named (27 March). The second was the Buckinghamshire election dispute: he was one of the committee selected to draw up a list of the Commons’ differences with the judges’ ruling on the issue (30 Mar.); and was later appointed to attend the conference at which these arguments were debated with the judges (5 April).38 He was also named to committees for the bill to prohibit the return of outlaws to Parliament (31 Mar.), this being the issue common to both the Shirley case and the Buckinghamshire election dispute.39

After the session was prorogued, Hesketh went to Yorkshire to arbitrate a violent dispute between Sir Stephen Procter, steward of the 6th earl of Derby’s Yorkshire manors of Kirkby Malzeard and Thirsk, and the earl’s tenant, Sir William Ingleby, a Catholic sympathizer. He was probably instrumental in securing a new charter for Lancaster in the following December.40 He died on 15 Oct. 1605 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, where his wife erected a monument.41 In his will of 1599 he had hoped for an heir, but an indenture of 5 Nov. 1603 reserved to his wife a life interest in his lands, then passed the estate to his brother Cuthbert, whose descendants lived at Heslington until the failure of the male line in 1693. Hesketh’s widow married Sir Ranulphe Crewe* in 1607 and founded a hospital in Hesketh’s memory at Heslington.42 None of the family was subsequently returned to Parliament.

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Simon Healy


  • 1. Lancs. and Cheshire Wills (Chetham Soc. n.s. xxviii), 165; Vis. Lancs. (Chetham Soc. lxxxi), 94; Vis. Lancs. (Chetham Soc. lxxxii), 22; DL7/12/32.
  • 2. Al. Ox.; Al. Cant.; GI Admiss.; PBG Inn, i. 111, n. 2.
  • 3. Lancs. and Cheshire Wills, 165; Westminster Abbey (Harl. Soc. reg. x), 128-9; Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. lix), 69; C142/292/167.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 110.
  • 5. C142/292/167.
  • 6. PBG Inn, i. 72, 109, 111, 120, 171.
  • 7. C219/33/110; Hist. Lancaster (Chetham Soc. lxi), 190.
  • 8. CSP Dom. 1601-3, p. 116.
  • 9. R. Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster, 484.
  • 10. Hatfield House, ms 278; HMC Kenyon, 583; Lancs. RO, QSC 1-3; C231/1, ff. 66-7; C181/1, ff. 7-8, 24v.
  • 11. Recusant Roll ed. H. Bowler (Catholic Rec. Soc. xviii), 161-4, 299.
  • 12. Entry struck out in HMC Hatfield, ix. 396.
  • 13. CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 272; C66/1509.
  • 14. Preston Guild Rolls (Lancs. and Cheshire Rec. Soc. ix), 54.
  • 15. C181/1, ff. 88, 100v, 109v.
  • 16. Somerville, 481, 484; Duchy of Lancaster Office-Holders ed. R. Somerville, 94, 100.
  • 17. C66/1462.
  • 18. R. Reid, Council in the North, 496; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 112.
  • 19. C216/1/23.
  • 20. CJ, i. 208a.
  • 21. K.R. Wark, Elizabethan Recusancy in Cheshire (Chetham Soc. ser. 3. xix), 151.
  • 22. E. Baines, Lancs. iv. 155-7; List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 73; Liverpool Town Bks. ed. J.A. Twemlow, ii. 1056-9; CSP Dom. 1580-90, p. 220.
  • 23. Vis. Lancs. (Chetham Soc. lxxxii), 22; Baines, iv. 155-7; DL7/12/32.
  • 24. B. Coward, Earls of Derby (Chetham Soc. ser. 3. xxx), 95; HMC Hatfield, 411-12.
  • 25. VCH Lancs. iii. 211; J.S. Leatherbarrow, Lancs. Eliz. Recusants (Chetham Soc. n.s. cx), 116; HMC Hatfield, iv. 241.
  • 26. C142/292/167; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 266.
  • 27. HMC Hatfield, iv. 408; Coward, 145-6.
  • 28. HMC Hatfield, iv. 411-12, 425.
  • 29. Ibid. xi. 247, 354, 584.
  • 30. W.R. Prest, Rise of the Barristers, 369; HMC Hatfield, ix. 258; x. 283-5, 303; xvi. 200, 301-3; M.C. Questier, ‘Practical Anti-Papistry during the reign of Elizabeth I.’, JBS, xxxvi. 371-96.
  • 31. HMC Hatfield, v. 277, 360, 369, 390-1; J. Hurstfield, Queen’s Wards, 283.
  • 32. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 117; HMC Hatfield, xi. 37; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 546.
  • 33. HMC Hatfield, viii. 173, 222; xi. 241-2; C66/1495; VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), iii. 69.
  • 34. HMC Hatfield, x. 283-5, 335-6; xi. 165-7; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, pp. 474-5, 485-6; APC, 1599-1600, pp. 720-1.
  • 35. VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), iii. 69; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 112; 1601-3, p. 156; HMC Hatfield, ix. 363; x. 303, 325.
  • 36. CJ, i. 188, 199a, 208a, 230a; R.C. Munden, ‘King, Commons and Reform, 1603-4’, in Faction and Parl. ed. K. Sharpe, 64-5.
  • 37. CD 1604-7, p. 26; CJ, i. 153b; 186a, 222b; Munden, 61-2.
  • 38. CJ, i. 155, 160a, 166b; CD 1604-7, pp. 29, 46-7; Munden, 53-7.
  • 39. CJ, i. 157a, 160b.
  • 40. HMC Hatfield, xvi. 200, 283-4, 301-3, 466; SIR JOHN MALLORY; Hist. Lancaster, 190.
  • 41. C.H. Cooper and T. Cooper, Athenae Cant. ii. 413.
  • 42. Lancs. and Cheshire Wills, 165-6; C142/292/167; VCH Yorks. (E. Riding), iii. 69, 74.