Gerard, William (DNB00)

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GERARD, Sir WILLIAM (d. 1581), lord chancellor of Ireland, son of Gilbert Gerard of Ince, Lancashire, by Eleanor, daughter of William Davison, alderman, of Chester, and cousin of Sir Gilbert Gerard [q. v.], master of the rolls, was admitted in 1543 a member of Gray's Inn, where he was called to the bar in 1546. He became an ‘ancient’ of that inn in 1555, and was elected reader there in the autumn of 1560, but owing to illness did not read. He entered parliament as member for Preston in 1553, and sat for Chester, of which place he was recorder, from 1555 to 1572. He was also from an early date a member of the council of Wales, of which he became vice-president in 1562, retaining, however, the recordership of Chester as late as 1567. He is probably identical with the ‘Mr. Gerrard’ mentioned by Strype (Ann. fol. i. pt. ii. 547) as active in urging Bishop Downham of Chester to put down the papists in the neighbourhood of Wigan in 1568. He was also for some years a justice of assize for the counties of Brecknock, Glamorgan, and Radnor (Harl. MS. 2094, f. 62; Wotton, Baronetage, i. 53; Gregson, Portfolio of Fragments, Lancashire (Harland), 237; Ormerod, Cheshire (Helsby), i. 195; Douthwaite, Gray's Inn, 55; Dugdale, Orig. 294; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80 p. 152, 1581–90 p. 326). On 23 April 1576 he was appointed lord chancellor of Ireland, with a grant of the deanery of St. Patrick's in reversion, expectant on the death of the then incumbent, Dr. Weston. The appointment was extremely satisfactory to the viceroy, Sir Henry Sidney, who, as president of the council of Wales, had had ample opportunity of judging of Gerard's capacity. ‘I have had long experience of him,’ he wrote to the council, ‘having had his assistance in Wales now sixteen years, and know him to be very honest and diligent, and of great dexterity and readiness in a court of that nature’ (Sydney Papers, pp. 95–6). The despatches which Gerard sent to Walsingham soon after his arrival in Ireland give a very lively picture of the state of affairs there. A great part of the country, he reports, ‘is depopulated, and the most of the inhabitants in the other parts so wretched, poor creatures, in person and substance as not to be able to defend themselves.’ The ‘poor churls’ are wasted and impoverished by a ‘multitude of idle thieves.’ His ‘plot’ is to get these hanged, which can only ‘be put in execution by circuiting the Pale’ twice a year. ‘English justices must be the executioners.’ Subsequently he describes the Irish courts as ‘shadows,’ and the justices as ‘rather overleapt as scarecrows than reverenced as magistrates’ (Lib. Hibern. i. pt. ii. 15; Cal. State Papers, Ireland, 1574–85, pp. 91, 101; ib. Carew, 1575–1588, p. 55). On 8 Feb. 1577 he writes to Walsingham, that ‘the whole Irishry must be subjected to the sword;’ remarks strongly on the cruelty of the landlords, whose tenants are ‘only starved beggarly misers,’ and describes the cess as ‘a burden laid on the poor which breaketh all their backs.’ On 22 March he writes that ‘he will soon die if he have not the help of two English lawyers.’ The cess, which constituted the chief grievance in the Pale at this time, was a prerogative in the nature of a purveyance exercised by the deputy, by levying contributions in kind for the use of the garrison at a fixed price, known as the ‘queen's price.’ In December 1575 a petition had been presented to Sir Henry Sidney, in which a money composition was offered in lieu of the cess, and Sidney had referred the question to the privy council. The matter advancing no further, a memorial was presented and sent to the privy council in January 1577. Elizabeth treated the petitioners as ‘presumptuous and undutiful’ subjects, had them rigorously examined, and, on their maintaining the illegality of the impost, gave orders for their punishment, at the same time sharply censuring Sidney for having been too lenient with them in the first instance. This led Sidney and Gerard to investigate with much care the history of the cess, a work involving considerable research among the public records. Their labours resulted in establishing that the cess had existed from the time of Edward III. This proof of its antiquity did not, however, blind Gerard to the fact that some modification of the impost was required by justice and humanity, and in the autumn of 1577 he was deputed by the council of the viceroy to represent the state of the country to the privy council, and urge upon them, among other reforms, the adoption of some more equitable method of raising money. In the letter of the Irish council which formed his credentials, he is described as one who in the course of ‘long journeys’ ‘has seen the exactions, extortions, and Irish impositions which decay the poor and hinder justice,’ and who, ‘by his search into the parliament rolls and rolls of account,’ ‘has seen the government of this estate in times past.’ He arrived at court on 6 Oct. 1577, and remained until the end of the following May, when he returned to Ireland with despatches from Walsingham. So far as concerned the cess, his mission was a complete failure. The honour of knighthood was conferred on him, on 11 Oct. 1579, by Sir William Pelham, then lord justice. He returned to England the same month. On 23 Nov. he was appointed a master of requests. He returned to Ireland in the summer of 1580, but was compelled by illness to come home in the following January. He never went back again, but seems to have resided at Chester until his death on 1 May 1581. He was a zealous protestant, and one of the most active members of the Irish ecclesiastical commission. Towards the close of his life his tenure of the deanery of St. Patrick's is said to have weighed on his conscience. He was buried in the church of St. Oswald, Chester (Cal. State Papers, Carew, 1575–88, pp. 55, 78, 111, 157, 193, 354, Ireland, 1574–85, pp. 101, 104, 111, 113–15, 169, 191, 241, 277, 280, 291, 302, Dom. 1547–80, pp. 635, 637, Dom. Add. 1580–1625, p. 171; Walsingham, Journal, Camd. Soc. vi. 33, 37; Holinshed, Chron. ed. 1808, vi. 421; Ormerod, Cheshire (Helsby), i. 194, 297). Gerard married Dorothy, daughter of Andrew Barton of Smythils, Lancashire, by whom he had two sons and four daughters. His eldest son married Jane, daughter of William Almer of Pentyokin, Denbighshire (Harl. MSS. 1441 f. 15 b, 2094 f. 62). A certain bent towards historical research is indicated by his labours in connection with the cess, and also by a ‘Discourse on the Estate of the Country and People of Wales in the Time of King Edward I, and from that Time until the Establishment of the Council in the Marches of Wales, with orders devised to avoid and remove evil Practices and Abuses at this day used,’ which he forwarded to Walsingham as the fruit of his experience in the Principality in 1576 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1547–80, p. 515). A ‘Short Treatise on Ireland,’ preserved among Lord Calthorpe's MSS., is also attributed to him (Hist. MSS. Comm. 2nd Rep. App. 40 a).

[O'Flanagan's Lives of the Lord Chancellors of Ireland; Mason's Hist. of the Collegiate and Cathedral Church of St. Patrick, p. 172.]

J. M. R.