In order to secure and consolidate his new kingdom,
William had immediately set about building or strengthening forts around
Lancashire. In particular at the northern extremities of the county.
Territories to the north of the county of Lancashire, (then known as
"The King's Lands in Yorkshire") were always vulnerable and
northwards of Carlisle were effectively in Scottish hands, and it was
here that William placed his main line of fortified defences. There
was, of course, another point to the building of castles. They were
intended to billet his own troops to maintain the peace, to keep the
ever rebellious Saxon peasantry in place and to serve as a powerful
reminder that the Normans had come to stay and that Saxon rule had ended
once and for all.
Norman forts in Lancashire. © 2003 John
By the mid-12th century these lands had become known
as "the County of Lancashire". In 1267, one Edmund Crouchback
was made First Earl of Lancaster and in 1351 the Earldom of Lancaster
was raised to the status of a Dukedom with royal powers (known as palatine
powers - that is, powers belonging to the palace). The Duchy of Lancaster
appointed its own sheriffs and judges, which were not directly answerable
to the king. Henceforth Lancashire was to be known as a County Palatine,
an honour that it retains today. Norman rule was thus visibly consolidated
and all trace of a ruling Saxon class was systematically removed or
replaced by men of Norman descent. From this time, French was to be
the language of the ruling class, and Saxon, such as it survived at
all, became the dialect of a feudal peasant underclass.
It took a very long time for native
Saxons to come to terms with their Norman overlords, and for the best
part of two centuries the land was divided - not until the 12th century
did a clear sense of being "English" emerge. Even then, lands
tended to be retained by a landed aristocracy of Norman descent with
Saxon peasantry working the land under feudal conditions.
The granting of markets by Royal Charter during the 12th and 13th centuries
gives some indication that divisions had healed and that the county
had begun to increase in prosperity through its trade and commerce.
The 13th century also saw the beginnings of land enclosure when hedges
were laid down to mark the borders of land ownership. These hedgerows
and the rights of way footpaths between them formed the basis of the
old system of roads and went some way towards setting the character
of the English countryside.
Medieval Market Towns in Lancashire. ©
John Moss 2003
Markets usually grew up in the squares around churches
in townships like Manchester, Wigan, Burnley, Preston, Bolton, Kirkham
and Lancaster. Even today, most towns have places known as "Market
Place" or "Market Street". It is not coincidental therefore
that these market towns became the first real towns of any major importance
within the county and as such formed the basis of modern England - most
would emerge into great towns or cities. While goods were produced in
the countryside, the wealth was actually created through trade at market.
One by one, Market Charters were granted - Lancaster in 1200, Bolton
in 1251, Manchester in 1282, Preston in 1292, Burnley in 1294, and so
Many other smaller townships held markets without an official charter
- these included Chorley, Colne, Blackburn and Whalley, where markets
grew up unofficially and remained by tradition and custom rather than
legislation. At least 40 markets can be identified as having existed
in Lancashire before 1550, though the actual figure might have been
twice that number through such 'unofficial' or casual markets.
But, more than half of the known markets had failed and disappeared
by 1550, probably through fierce competition in neighbouring townships.
By this time Lancashire had developed 28 towns with borough status,
and by the end of medieval times a clear urban infrastructure was in
place. Despite this increase in trade and resultant prosperity, much
of the county was very sparsely populated and was counted as one of
the poorest counties in the land and recorded some of the lowest tax
returns in medieval England.
In many ways Lancashire was somewhat isolated from
the rest of England. First, it lay near the geographical northern limit
of the realm. Also, it had very scant parliamentary representation,
with only 10 seats: 2 for the county and two each for the townships
of Preston, Liverpool, Wigan
and, by the early 16th century had not actually sent representatives
to Parliament in over 200 years. Lancashire was also the most fervently
Catholic county in the land during times of religious dissent, enforced
Protestantism and eventual Civil Wars.
When the Tudors forced the break with Rome and began the English Reformation,
Lancashire's gentry closed ranks and offered stiff resistance. Many
Catholic families simply continued practicing the old faith and went
on celebrating the Mass in secret, while nominally embracing Protestantism,
as new laws demanded. Lancashire Catholics tended to send their children
to be educated on the Continent, so that only in the Parish of Manchester
itself did the Protestant faith really flourish, surrounded as it was
by a veritable sea of overt Catholicism. Official response to Catholicism
was somewhat laissez-faire, and initially at least, little was done,
other than a few fines here and there. At the very worst of times only
16 Lancastrians were executed for their beliefs during the reign of
Elizabeth I, sometime around 1537. The county was a virtual hotbed of
priests, and apart from Manchester itself, Anglican Protestant ministers
of religion were few and far between.
The establishment of Grammar Schools in the 16th century was a decisive
act in the promotion of an Anglican-based education system. Philanthropists
established many grammar schools for boys (girls not being considered
worth educating at that time) - men like Bishop
Hugh Oldham of Exeter had founded the Manchester Grammar School
in 1515; William Haigh had left monies to establish a local school in
Wigan; a little later, in the 17th century, Sir
Humphrey Chetham had bequeathed substantial funds to establish a
grammar school, as well as a library, in Manchester - the famous Chetham's
Hospital School. In the half century before the Civil Wars, 77 grammar
schools were established in Lancashire - at Liverpool in 1515, Leyland
in 1524, at Blackrod in 1568, Ashton-in-Makerfield in 1558, Rivington
in 1566, Halsall in 1593 and Heskin in 1597.
Other Nonconformist sects also grew within the county. In the early
17th century Bolton became an important centre for Calvanism, and by
the 1620s Bury had developed a considerable Presbyterian following.
In the 1640s George Fox had founded the Quaker movement in Pendle which
quickly spread to St Helens, Marsden and Nelson. Subsequently, in 1690,
the Act of Toleration was passed and religious antagonisms effectively
ceased in the county thereafter.
The English Civil Wars of 1642-1659 saw the religious
divides of England come to a head. By this time the county had divided
almost in half with the north and west remaining staunchly Royalist
and the remainder being predominantly Protestant. Bolton was a particularly
fervent seat of Parliamentarianism and anti-Royalist and many great
battles were fought on the surrounding Lancashire countryside, at Strandish
and at Wigan. By 1643, battles at Warrington, Wigan, Preston and Lancaster
had secured these towns in Parliamentary hands, though subsequently
some changed hands serveral times. In 1664 Royalists under Prince Rupert
besieged and sacked Bolton
before going on to recapture Wigan and Liverpool. Oliver Cromwell himself
led his "roundheads" onto the field at Ribbleton Moor in 1648
to fight the Battle of Preston.
Townships often changed hands, and sides, several times during the conflict,
with vicious and brutal reprisals often taken against the unfortunate
inhabitants. The Royalists were frequently led by James
Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, local hero and scourge of the Parliamentary
forces - in the end he was captured and beheaded in Bolton Market Place
for his pains. Bolton became known for the brutal savagery its townsfolk
meted out against captured Royalists. Other Lancashire Royalist leaders
were tried in Manchester in 1694. These so-called "Lancashire Plot"
trials served to emphasise the deep mistrust that the average English
Protestant still felt towards Catholics and supporters of the House
By the end of the conflict in 1650, many Catholic and Royalist estates
had been confiscated and their former owners severely punished for their
part is supporting the losing side. Their lands were handed over to
Protestants on a 'temporary' basis. Nevertheless, hatred and mistrust
still existed between Protestants and Catholics, and the eventual downfall
of King James II embittered the latter even further so that many were
persuaded to join the Jacobite cause. The effects and divisions of the
Civil Wars were still felt many years after the peace was declared.