Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pilkington, Thomas

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PILKINGTON, Sir THOMAS (d. 1691), lord mayor of London, son of Thomas Pilkington of Northampton, by his second wife, Anne Mercer, and grandson of John Pilkington of Oakham in Rutland, came up to London at an early age, and was soon a successful merchant. He was a leading member of the Skinners' Company, and served the office of master in 1677, 1681, and 1682. He attracted public notice somewhat late in life. Being a staunch whig, he was returned as one of the four city members to the short parliament which met on 6 March 1679. In the course of the debate Pilkington expressed a wish that the Duke of York might return from abroad, so that he might be impeached for high treason. He was again returned to the parliament of 1680. On 14 Dec. in the same year he was elected alderman of the ward of Farringdon Without (City Records, Repertory 86, fol. 37).

In June 1681 the citizens obtained a victory over the court party, on the election of Pilkington and Shute as sheriffs, after a hotly contested poll, by a large majority over the court candidates, Box and Nicholson. The election gave great offence to the king (cf. Kennet, History of England, 1706, iii. 401); but Pilkington braved the royal frowns, and entertained at his house the Duke of Monmouth, Shaftesbury, Essex, and other leaders of the whig party. Meanwhile the lord mayor, Sir John Moore (1620–1702) [q. v.], who led the court party in the city, gave similar entertainments to its chiefs at his house in Fleet Street (Luttrell, Relation of State Affairs, i. 172, 176). North stated that, on the trial of the Earl of Shaftesbury for high treason (24 Nov. 1681), Pilkington, as a whig, showed great partiality in returning the grand jury, and was reprimanded by the judges (Examen, 1740, pt. i. chap. i. p. 3). In March 1682 he was tried at the Southwark assizes on a trivial charge of libel, but the jury brought in a verdict of 800l. damages for the plaintiff (ib. p. 174). Pilkington appealed on the ground of excessive damages, and eventually the case came before the House of Lords, by whom the judgment was confirmed 3 June 1689.

At the election of new sheriffs on midsummer day 1682, Pilkington and his fellow-sheriff Shute, who presided, defeated, by an exceptional exercise of their authority, the lord mayor's efforts to secure the election of the court candidates, Dudley North and Ralph Box [see under {{sc|Moore, Sir John 1620–1702]. The lord mayor on the following day attended with a deputation to inform the king that the sheriffs had behaved riotously. A privy council was hastily summoned, the sheriffs were ordered to appear, and were accused of riotous conduct. Their trial, together with that of Lord Grey of Wark, Alderman Cornish, Sir Thomas Player, Slingsby Bethell, and others, took place on 16 Feb. in the following year. They were found guilty on 8 May, and were fined on 26 June in various sums amounting to 4,100l., Pilkington's fine being 500l. This judgment was reversed by the House of Lords on a writ of error on 17 July 1689. Pilkington's shrievalty closed on 28 Sept. 1682, when the outgoing sheriffs declined to entertain, according to custom, the lord mayor at dinner (Luttrell, Relation of State Affairs, i. 225). The alleged riots fomented by Pilkington and Shute were made in part the ground for suspending the city's charter by the quo warranto of 1683.

On laying down his office, more serious difficulties confronted Pilkington. The Duke of York had already brought against him an action of scandalum magnatum. He was charged with refusing to accompany a deputation of the corporation on 10 April 1682 to pay respect to the duke on his return from Scotland, and with saying, in the presence of Aldermen Sir Henry Tulse and Sir William Hooker, that the duke had burned the city, and was then coming to cut the citizens' throats. Damages were laid by the duke at 100,000l. The cause was tried on 24 Nov. 1682 in Hertfordshire, and the jury decided against Pilkington for the damages claimed. Pilkington thereupon surrendered to his bail, was committed to prison, and resigned the office of alderman, to which Sheriff North succeeded (City Records, Repertory 88, fol. 38 b). After an imprisonment of nearly four years he was released by the king's order towards the end of June 1686. Burnet describes him as ‘an honest but indiscreet man that gave himself great liberties in discourse’ (History of his own Time, 1724, i. 535).

On the flight of his old enemy, King James, and the arrival of the Prince of Orange in 1688, Pilkington soon enjoyed the royal favour. He was elected alderman of Vintry ward on 26 Feb. 1688–9, and was restored to his former place and precedence in the court of aldermen (City Records, Repertory 94, fol. 111). He was also returned as one of the city representatives in parliament. On the sudden death of Sir John Chapman, lord mayor, on 20 March 1689, Pilkington was elected for the remainder of the year. On 10 April 1689 he was knighted by the king; on Michaelmas day he was elected lord mayor for the next year; and at his installation banquet entertained the king and queen, with the prince and princess of Denmark (Maitland, History of London, 1760, p. 491). The pageant was written by Matthew Taubman, the city poet, and was prepared at the cost of the Skinners' Company. A copy of this scarce little book is in the Guildhall library.

The act which reversed the judgment in quo warranto (14 May 1690) directed that a lord mayor and the principal city officers should be elected on 26 May, and should continue in office until the date at which the tenure of the office customarily determined in the following year (Hughson, i.e. Pugh, London, i. 293, 297). Accordingly, Pilkington and Sir Jonathan Raymond, a tory, were returned by the livery to the court of aldermen, who for the third time elected Pilkington lord mayor. At the beginning of December 1690 the common council complained in a petition to the House of Commons that the lord mayor and court of aldermen had encroached upon their privileges. The matter excited keen feeling in parliament, and after several heated discussions a motion for the adjournment of the debate was, to the satisfaction of all parties, carried on 11 Dec. by a majority of 197 against 184. Pilkington did not long survive his third mayoralty, dying on 1 Dec. 1691, and letters of administration of his effects were granted in January 1692.

Pilkington married Hannah Bromwich of London, by whom he had two sons. His town residence was in Bush Lane, Scott's Yard, Cannon Street (London Directory, 1677).

A portrait of Pilkington is preserved at Skinners' Hall, and is reproduced in Wadmore's ‘History of the Skinners' Company.’ There is a contemporary engraving (1691) by R. White, from a painting by Linton, and another by Dunkarton, representing him in puritan costume, from a miniature belonging, in 1812, to S. Woodburn the publisher.

[Authorities above cited; Herbert's Hist. of the Livery Companies, ii. 325–7; Wadmore's Hist. of the Skinners' Company, 1876, pp. 68–73; Luttrell's Historical Relation of State Affairs, vol. i. passim; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. vol. iv. p. 431; Le Neve's Pedigrees of Knights (Harl. Soc. p. 420); Gent. Mag. 1843, pt. ii. p. 226; Memoirs of Thomas Papillon, 1887, pp. 206 et seq.; Maitland's Hist. of London, 1760, pp. 476 et seq.; The Trial of Thomas Pilkington, esq. and others on Midsummer-day 1682; the Case of Sir Thomas Pilkington, Knight, now Lord Mayor, 1689; Petition of Pilkington, Lord Mayor, and others, that they may be excepted in the act of grace touching the riot on the election of sheriffs; the three tracts last mentioned are in the Guildhall Library. Two official accounts of the sheriffs' election of 1682, with many conflicting particulars, exist, one, inspired by Lord-mayor Moore and the tory party, in the City Records (Repertory 87, fol. 209 b; Sharpe's London and the Kingdom, ii. 482–4), the other, with a strong whig bias, being the report of the parliamentary committee of inquiry in 1689 (House of Commons' Journal, x. 156–60).]

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