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The Protestation Returns, Lancashire and Recusants

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Image of a collection of handwritten papers

Content warning: This article contains historic language some may find offensive. The language has been included in the blog to accurately reflect the content of the records.

Today, the county of Lancashire is associated with hotpot, Blackpool Tower Ballroom, and the home constituency of the House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. This blog will look back to the county nearly 400 years ago, using the Parliamentary Archives’ Protestation Return records to explore the parishes and people who made up Lancashire in the 1640s. Counties in 17th century England and Wales were split into regions known and Hundreds, and into church parishes. Over 130 parishes are included in Lancashire’s Protestation Return. The Protestation was an oath of loyalty to, “the true Reformed Protestant religion, expressed in the Doctrine of the Church of England”. This meant allegiance to Protestantism, Parliament, and the Protestant King, Charles I.

The blog article was written by Miriam Gibson, Archives Assistant (Graduate Trainee).

The Protestation Return also included vows “against all Popery and Popish Innovations”. This refers to the Catholic church and Catholics, who were held in suspicion due to fear of a Catholic plot to overthrow the King. The Protestation Return was first taken by members of Parliament in Spring 1641, and by the following year, every adult man in England and Wales was instructed to take the Protestation. These records are the closest documents to a formal census from the 1600s. Not all the Protestation Returns survive, some are available in local authority archives, while many, including Lancashire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cumberland, reside in the Parliamentary Archives. This blog will focus on the Protestation Returns for Lancashire. These records contain detailed information of the people who lived and worked in this area, and more women’s names are recorded than in any other county. The Lancashire Protestation Return also contains insights into people who did not sign the Protestation Returns: the recusants.

Oil painting of a white man with dark long hair and a beard. The man is resting his hand on a table with red table cloth.
King Charles I after Sir Anthony van Dyck
Oil on canvas, based on a work of 1635-1637,
NPG 1906
Licence: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs National Portrait Gallery 

Religion was the main reason for refusing to sign the Protestation Return. One of the purposes of the oath was to hold records of Catholics to ensure that they would not be allowed to hold legal or religious office. Of the 199 people whose names appear on the Protestant Return for the parish of Mawdesley, 48 of them were recorded as “papists” who refused to take the oath. “Papists” is a word used to describe Catholics and has been used as a pejorative term.  Around five miles outside of central Blackburn lay the parish of Church Kirk. Richard Bannestar, from Church Kirk, was a recusant, described on the Protestation Return record as a “non-Communicant”- literally meaning that he did not receive Communion at church services. While this does not prove that Bannestar was a Catholic, the fact that it is specified on the Protestation Return records suggests that his refusal to make the Protestation oath was due to religious grounds. The below image shows a list of the recusants in the parish of Church Kirk. The middle line reads “Richard Bannestar, gen [gentleman], non communicant.

crop from a handwritten document
Protestation Return - Lancaster - Church Kirk, including Huncoat and Oswaldwistle,
Parliamentary Archives,

Some recusants refused to take the Protestation yet later changed their minds. In the parish of Hurstwood and Worsthorne, Robert Leigh’s name was struck off the list of recusants, with a comment added to explain that: "this blotted out hath made the Protestation since the writing of the book". It is unknown why Leigh, and others changed their decision to not sign. They may have felt pressure from others in their parish or have been concerned about the legal or financial repercussions of not taking the Protestation Return. The below image shows Leigh's name struck through and the explanation.

Image shows a list of handwritten names, one of the names has been crossed out
Protestation Return - Lancaster – Recusants Returns for Burnley, Habergham Eaves, Cliverger, Briercliffe and Extwistle,
Parliamentary Archives,

Acts to punish Catholics had been introduced and repealed under the Parliaments of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I. When Elizabeth I acceded the throne in 1558, one of her early actions as monarch was to summon Parliament. This first Parliament of Elizabeth’s reign passed the Act of Supremacy and Act of Uniformity, which solidified Elizabeth’s position of head of the Church of England, and re-introduced punishments for Catholics. By the time of the Protestation Returns, these Acts had been in place for almost a century, though the level to which they were enforced was inconsistent. When the Protestation Returns were introduced, the fact that names of Catholics were now being formally collected on a document to return to Parliament may have alarmed Catholics enough to take the Protestation oath, regardless of how much they agreed or believed in it. Protestation Returns were still being collected and returned to Parliament by the time the English Civil War broke out in August 1642. The impact of this conflict on Parliament and the wider country meant that no official consequences for recusants came into practise.

Handwritten document on parchment paper.
Act of Uniformity
Parliamentary Archives

The comment on Leigh’s record, like most of the names on Protestation Returns, would not have been written by the person taking the oath themself. While increasing numbers of men in the 1640s learnt to read, few were taught writing. The records of the Protestation Returns were therefore written by a parson or parish clerk, such as George Syxmith, parish clerk for Ratcliffe. Most parishes conducted their Protestation Returns on one day. Given the number of people to organise, register details from and witness taking the oath in a single day, it is unsurprising that the recorders of the Protestation Returns made errors. In the Wigan Return, it appears that there was some confusion about who they had registered. James Banckes and Gilbert Baldwin are listed as having not taken the Protestation, though this comment is struck through and corrected with the note that both were actually under eighteen, so not required to take the protestation.


cropped image showing a line of handwritten text
Gilbert Baldwin’s name is crossed out and corrected “'under eighteen years of age” Parliamentary Archives

Two clerks and a recorder registered the names of those taking the oath in this parish, so it is possible that the error was made by one of these men, and spotted by one of the other two. There are other Banckeses and Baldwins listed on the Protestation Return for Standishgate St so, while it is impossible to know for certain, these could have been the fathers of brothers of James and Gilbert. They may have realised the error which had been made with James and Gilbert’s Protestation Return and raised the issue with the clerks and recorder. In the case of James Banckes, this would have been rather embarrassing for the clerks and recorder, given that Christopher Banckes held the respectable position of alderman.

Due to the different people recording each parish’s Protestation Returns, and the lack of an official registering system, not all Protestation Returns were recorded in the same way. In some areas, the record includes names of people unable to take the Protestation Return due to age or infirmity. The parish of Aighton, Bailey and Chaigley is especially thorough: Edward Bradhill was “lame and not able to come”, Richard Marsden is “bedridden”, and Richard Walker Snr was “deaf and blind”. Richard Nevell was recorded simply as “old man,” while Robert Houlden was “poor and impotent”. In total, 0.5% of inhabitants of this parish were unable to take the Protestation Return due to these health reasons. Below is an image names of those in Aighton, Bailey and Chaigley who were absent when the Protestation Return was taken, and the reasons for their absence, including age and illness.

Protestation Return - Lancaster: Aighton, Bailey and Chadgley [Chaigley],
Parliamentary Archives,
As well as providing statistical data about these demographics, the Protestation Returns illuminate attitudes towards age, disability and illness. While some of the language used sounds callous to modern readers, its use here demonstrates an understanding of these conditions and the adjustments needed to be made for them. In Mawsdsley, Jane Sharples “by reason of her weakness could not be at her parish church”. The recorder of the Protestation Return explains that Jane, “has [previously] taken the Protestation before me,” on 1st March. These adjustments demonstrate the flexibility afforded to those unable to take the Protestation Return in person. They are also likely the reason for inaccuracies in the Protestation Return records.

As well as names, the Protestation Returns frequently include job titles. Chorley was a fairly large parish, with 205 people (all men) registered on the Protestation Return. Some worked manual rural jobs, such as labourer and husbandman (farmer). Others provided services, such as tanners, slaters, blacksmiths and wheelwrights. Chorley appears to have produced many fabric items, as evidenced by the feltmakers, matmakers, tailors and silkweavers working there. A few men are listed as shopkeepers while others provide more information about the shop they work in, such as butcher and alehousekerper. Some of the more unusual jobs, by today’s standards, include vintner (wine-trader), gunsmith and bonesetter (practitioner in treating dislocations). While the majority of Chorley’s male population made the Protestation Return, a few, such as labourer Alexander Heaton and gunsmith Richard Greyson, were recusants. In another demonstration of the varied ways the Protestation Returns were registered, Chorley’s record gives no specific reason for these refusals.


Crop of a handwritten document
Chorley Protestation Return 1642, Parliamentary Archives

The above image shows the following  names and jobs:

John Heald Jnr, webster
Richard Heald, labourer
James Kindesley, butcher
William Tootell, feltmaker
Giles Marsh, hopkeeper
William Hawkshead, husbandman
John Tealer, saddler
Richard Rigby, webster
George Maucke, shoemaker

Many of Chorley’s inhabitants worked as servants- some to the husbandmen and craftsmen, and others to the members of the gentry class, who are listed in the Protestation Return as Esquire (such as eldest sons of knights or peers) or Gentleman (more distant male relations of knights or peers or, in some definitions, any man whose family had a coat of arms). The Protestation Returns of many other parishes provide information about class. A number of people are referred to as “sir,” “lady,” or “knight” refused to take the Protestation, such as Sir and Lady Barlow in Birch Chapel and Cecil Trafford, Knight, of Stretford. The Protestation Returns show that, often, the servants and tenants of the recusant gentry would also refuse to take the Protestation oath. In Clayton le Dale, Robert Osbaldeston is listed as “gentleman” on the Protestation Return. Men listed as tenants of Mr Osbaldeston are also recorded as having refused to take the Protestation. Margaret Draper was a widow living in Eccleston with her daughter Margery: both they and their servant Margery Charnock refused to sign. There are several potential explanations for this consistency between employers and servants. Possibly, people with the money, land and resources to afford servants would employ staff with similar religious or political convictions to them. It could also suggest that servants and tenants were encouraged or persuaded against taking the Protestation oath by their employers.

In some parishes a member of the gentry, and their household, were unable to sign the Protestation Return due to absence. Richard Shuttleworth Esquire and his staff were away from their home parish of Gawthrop when the Protestation Return was taken. The servants are recorded as “made the Protestation at Padiham” to which the recorder of the Protestation Return adds “as we have heard,” to certify this absence. For unknown reasons, Thomas Charnock of Chorley took the Protestation Return in Manchester. He was able to produce a certificate from Edmund Hopwood, a Manchester Official of Christ’s College. On the below image is the note explaining that the names are servants to Richard Shuttleworth of Gawthorp, and certify that they made the Protestation at Padiham.

crop of handwritten document
Protestation Return - Lancaster - Habergham Eaves, 1642, Parliamentary Archives, Parliamentary Archives

John Braddill Esquire and his assistant William Robson were not present in their home parish, Whalley, at the time the Protestation Returns were made. Instead, they were “in London on His Majesty’s service and [had] formerly taken” the Protestation Return. About a mile away from Whalley lies the parish of Billington. Here, seven men listed as “tenant of Mr John Braddill, Esquire,” refused to take the Protestation Return. Given the close location of the two parishes, it can be assumed (though not known for certain) that it is the same John Braddill, and that while he was away on the King’s service, his tenants refused to sign the Protestation Return. As the Protestation Returns do not detail further information about this, we can only conjecture on the reasons Braddill’s staff refused to sign, and what the repercussions of this may have been.

The Protestation Return records contain many more outlines of stories which we can only speculate the details and impacts of: the reaction of students in Haslingden if they found out that their school master, George Curwen, had refused to sign the Protestation Return; the conversations between the eleven women from Chipping, variously listed as widows, wives or spinsters, and some related to each other, who refused to sign the Protestation Return; the decision made by the Langtree family to leave their home in inner-city Manchester for the coastal town of Fylde, without taking the Protestation Return. And while the concept of a Protestation Return, and the lives of many of the people recorded in them, may seem far removed from the world in 2022, many of us will be able to relate to William Townley of Burnley, whose Protestation Return record simply reads: “working from home”.

This blog is part of an ongoing project to make all Protestation Return records available on the Parliamentary Archives’ online records. Those that are currently available online can be found at: under the references HL/PO/JO/10/1/77 to HL/PO/JO/10/1/109

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