Differing stories have turned up for Ralph, or "Rauf", but regardless of which is true, Ralph was a child bride, which is what these stories tell us about.
Ralph Rishton was the eldest son of Roger Rishton, of Ponthalgh, Church Kirk. His mother was Anne Livesey, of Livesey, near Blackburn. Her marriage deed is dated March 5th, 1518, and Ralph, her son must have been born soon afterwards. In 1526, when Ralph is stated to have been only eight years of age, a marriage was arranged by Roger Rishton, his father, and Richard Towneley, gentleman, of Royle, near Burnley, between the boy and Towneley's daughter, Helen, a girl of ten years. 2
Such marriages of children were quite common in those days among families possessed of estate. Parents, actuated by mercenary motives, had their children legally bound to each other by the marriage tie before the couple knew what the contract meant, and years before they were of marriageable age. Personal likes and dislikes were not consulted in these engagements. These marriages were frequently repudiated when husband and wife grew up to an age to comprehend their position.
Other sources point to the date of the marriage being 1516, and Ralph being 9 years of age.1 Helen was supposedly 10.
It was in the reign of Henry VIII, and the year 1526 that this child marriage took place in the Chapel of Altham, now Altham Church. Although so long ago, there is an interesting description of the ceremony, contained in dispositions taken in Court more than forty years afterwards. There attended at Altham Church the great personages of the district, among them Sir John Towneley, Knight, the head of the Towneley's, of Towneley Hall; his uncle, Nicolas Towneley, grandfather of the bride; and Richard Towneley, of Royle, her father. 2
A powerful and imposing personage at that time, John Paslew, the last Abbot of Whalley, attested the marriage. He was then at the zenith of his power, and the shadow of the dissolution of the monasteries and his own impending doom had not crossed his path. For it was not until eleven years afterwards that lie swung from the gallows tree, tradition says, at the foot of Whalley Nab.
The father of the boy bridegroom and various members of the Rishton family were also present. Sir John Radcliffe (parsons at that date had the prefix Sir to their name), Curate of Altham, performed the ceremony and rite of marriage. Adam Holden, second son of Gilbert Holden, of Holden Hall, Haslingden, then a boy of twelve, narrated long after that the wedding feast was held on the next day, according to the custom of the period. On that day the kinsfolk and guests assembled at the house of Nicolas Towneley, the bride's grandfather, at Greenfield. Adam Holden's father and mother, Gilbert and Grace Holden (she was a Towneley), and his brother, Thomas Holden, clerk, Mr. Sherburne, Sir John Towneley, and others were present. The newly-married pair, boy and girl, were dressed in rich attire, and sat side by side as husband and wife at the wedding dinner. For many years Mr. Nicolas Towneley took charge of the young couple, and kept them at his house until his demise. How strange and unnatural it all seems, this child marriage of long ago. One can scarcely realise that parents could be so inhuman as to dispose of their children for earthly gain.
It was not uncommon either for children to be joined together at such tender ages, but as was usual, the bride and groom had no voice in the matter.
The couple lived with Nicholas Towneley until his death just two years later, when after they were moved to Royle, the home of Helens father, Richard Towneley.1
When Ralph Rishton attained the age of sixteen, about 1534, his father-in-law sent him to Sir Ralph Assheton, at Middleton, to learn the use of arms and good breeding (a page). Whilst at Middleton (about three years) Ralph Rishton often went to see and temporarily live with his wife, and at that time they seemed to be greatly attached to each other. At the age of nineteen Ralph joined the local force as a Captain, under Sir Thomas Talbot, Knight, of Bashall, and of Audley Hall, Blackburn, and The Holt, in Rishton. He marched under Talbot's banner to Scotland, and fought in all the wars in the years 1537-1545.
It is interesting to notice that a considerable number of men from the Accrington district were present at all the operations then taking place in Scotland; among them William Fish, of Accrington, and Thomas Duckworth, of Altham, are mentioned. During these years Captain Rishton's wife was neglected, and when her father died was left desolate. She became very depressed, and the heavy grief occasioned by the long absence of her husband preyed upon her mind, and finally deranged her intellect. When Captain Rishton returned home he was informed that his wife had become liable to fits of insanity, but he must have ceased to care for her, for although she anxiously desired to see him, he refused her appeal.
One day in the Spring of 1554, while riding from Burnley towards Dunkenhalgh, Ralph Rishton, accompanied by his servant, Giles Dewhurst, passed the cottage of Widow Sutcliffe. In that cottage Helen Rishton, deserted by her husband, had found a last refuge. For a long time heartbroken and half-crazed with grief and ill-usage, she was now upon her deathbed. As master and servant passed along the road they were seen. Ralph was asked to come and see his poor wife, but the callous husband refused the entreaty and hurried forward. The serving man, Giles Dewhurst, was more sympathetic. He returned, dismounted, and went into the cottage. Seeing the dying lady, he tarried with her until she died. She was only in her 38th year, though she had been married 28 years, and of these more than 20 had been passed in her husband's absence. So ended the marriage that had been so strangely begun.
Ralph Rishton contracted a second marriage as ill fated and discreditable as the first. Soon after he returned from Scotland he formed an acquaintance with a young lady of respectable family in the district, Elizabeth Parker, of Horrocksford, near Clitheroe. After Ralph Rishton had had illicit relations with her for some time, his father and her mother united their influence to procure a marriage between them. Ralph's first wife was then living, and a divorce was sought on the ground of her insanity. The application was first made to the Chancellor of Chester, the father of Bishop Bonner, but was refused. Then the parties betook themselves to the Rector of Bury, who for a sum of £4 granted a dispensation for divorce.
This was Mr. Richard Smyth, Pope Clement's official in Lancashire, and it was that decreed Helen insane, and granted the divorce only if her next relative and guardian gave consent. Helens Guardian was Sir Richard Towneley, who had become an intimate friend of Ralph, even though it was Helens relation. His position was an unenviable one, but in the end agreed. Nicholas Whittaker and Geoffrey Rishton were sent post haste to the Popes official, who then granted the dispensation.
Ralph Rishton and his mistress were then married at Clitheroe Church. They lived together from 1546 to 1554 and had six children, all sons.
He still remained a frequent visitor to Towneley Hall. It was 11 eleven years into his 2nd marriage before Helen, his first wife died, as portrayed earlier.
That Ralph Rishton was a heartless and desperate man, besides being grossly immoral, is manifest from everything recorded about him. He was not content with having driven his first wife, Helen, mad, and committing bigamy by marrying Elizabeth during his first wife's lifetime. No sooner was his first wife dead than he took steps to rid himself of his second wife, pretending to be troubled in his mind by scruples as to his cohabitation with her, and he so managed matters that the prior divorce was pronounced void and his marriage to Elizabeth Parker illegal, and therefore his six children illegitimate. He used Henry VIII 2nd marriage in comparison to his own, and was ordered to pay £4 by way of penance at Blackburn Church and bound also in the sum of £4 to abstain from the company of Elizabeth Parker. She subsequently sued Ralph Rishton for restitution of conjugal rights, but, being unable to disprove the legality of Helen Towneley's marriage, she failed in her suit. She was still living in 1573 when she sued one of the tenants of Ralph Rishton for dower, but did not succeed.
All of this turmoil in his mind about his "scruples" had been caused by the meeting of Anne.
Ralph Rishton continued his career as a libertine. He formed a connection with the daughter of Dame Anne Stanley, of The Holt, in Rishton, who was also named Anne, one of 3 daughters. Lady Stanley had previously been married to Sir Edmund Talbot, producing one son, Thomas, who was the lord of the manor. After Thomas's death Lady Anne married Sir James Stanley of Cross Hall, who was a younger brother of Thomas Stanley Lord Strange, of Lathom House. After the death of James, Lady Anne Stanley returned to Holt Hall, which had been left to her as her dower by her first husband, Sir Edmund Talbot.
Dame Anne was a strong willed woman, and upon hearing about Ralph's, and having already heard sufficient about him to make her intensely antagonistic to his bigamous matchmaking, sent a servant, Thomas Duckworth, to bid her kinsmen to the marriage of Anne, which was to take place the following morning. Her mother had her forcibly married to another man. John Rishton was his name, Ralph's cousin, thus putting an end to Ralph's nasty scheme.
Thomas Duckworth had set out in the dead of night, and returned home again in the grey of the twilight, whereupon Dame Anne crept upstairs to break the horrendous news to her daughter. Miss Anne sought out Thomas Duckworth and asked him to take her to Ponthalgh, but Duckworth knew how matters stood between Ralph and Anne and "he was stricken in a dampe". Miss Anne pleaded in vain with him, but Duckworth was in fear of her step brother, Thomas Talbot, who was far more powerful than Ralph, and although he wanted to please Miss Anne, he also knew it would have gone against Dame Annes plans.
In the early hours Miss Anne was escorted over the bridge out of Holt hall, to her armed escort of soldiers from Sir Thomas Talbots army, and Sir Stanley's army, which were awaiting her, and lead through Tottleworth to "Harrod Oratory" where the wedding was to be solemnised,
"Bsore against her will, many salte tears all the tyme gushinge and distilling from her eies, owing to the evill will she had to the saide marriage".
In November 1560, John Rishton divorced Anne.1
John married a 2nd time shortly after, this time to Annes sister, so keeping the same mother in law!
Rauf now married Anne, and amazingly the friendship between Ralph and Sir Thomas Talbot appears to have been unaffected, for we find in 1558, the year in which Sir Thomas died (and two years before John divorced Anne anyway!), Sir Thomas gave his lease of of Dunkenhalgh (possibly just some of the land) to Rauf at peppercorn rent, for good and faithful done and to do to him.
Ralph was the owner of Ponthalgh in 1556, and it seems at this time he bought the whole manor of Dunkenhalgh from his cousin John, who was still married to Anne at the time.
Ralph did not hold this new estate for long, for in 1571 he sold it to Thomas Walmsley. Ralph retained the Ponthalgh manor in Church, and Sidebeet in Rishton, but before 1582 Walmsley, now Serjeant in Law, bought this Rishton estate from Ralph which had belonged to his ancestors since the 12th Century.
Ralph Rishton lived with the daughter of Dame Stanley as his wife, and had nine children. One of his sons was elected Usher of Blackburn Grammar School in 1597 2 (see below). Ralph Rishton had ended his profligate career some years before.
Prior to 1700 the manor of Ponthalgh, and also the small estates at Knuzden and Mickleheys, had also passed into the possession of the Walmsley family, and the decline of this once all powerful, all conquering family had finally run its course, giving Rishton its history for the best part of 300 years.
Anne Rishton (nee Stanley), wife of John and later Ralph, was listed as living in Ormskirk in 1612, being describe there as "a widow of Ralph Rishton".
After the de Rishton quarter of the Rishton manor was sold to Walmsley before 1582, the de Rishtons made the house at Upper Mickleheys their manor, until that to was sold to the Walmsleys. This old house, once known as Rishton Hall, was a low building with mullion windows. The date is given upon an inscribed stone under the drip stone as 1591, and the initials on the same stone are "R H x I R" (James Rishton).
On the lintel to the barn doors are the letters T. W. A. and 1737. These are the initials of Thomas Walmsley, of Mickle-hey, a governor of the Grammar school in Blackburn in 17511.
2A History of the Parish of Saint James, Church Kirk, by The Reverend R. J. W. Bevan and Victor G. Palmer, 2nd Edition 1989.
1Rishton Parish Church Jubilee 1927 by Carlton Noble.