Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

over 1,100 in 1701


12 Apr. 1660SIR JOHN LOWTHER I, Bt.
 Thomas Burton
29 Mar. 1677SIR JOHN LOWTHER III, Bt. vice Strickland, discharged from sitting
25 Apr. 1678ALAN BELLINGHAM vice Musgrave, deceased
 Richard Lowther
 Christopher Philipson
 (Sir) Christopher Philipson
23 Dec. 1689HON. GOODWIN WHARTON, vice Henry Wharton, deceased

Main Article

With the exception of Christopher Philipson, whose pretensions were much resented and repulsed on two occasions out of three, all the Westmorland Members in this period came from magnate families with a long parliamentary tradition. The Civil War record of the 4th Lord Wharton precluded his family from occupying a seat except in the two Conventions, and Roger North found the country interest represented by the more moderate Lowthers, who opposed the courtly Musgraves on every possible occasion. The two principal local issues were the tolls on imported cattle, which were farmed by the Musgraves, and the location of the assizes, usually held at Appleby, in the northern part, or ‘bottom’, of the county. The Lowthers endeavoured unsuccessfully to obtain their transfer to Kendal, in the ‘barony’, where they were dominant. So bad were the communications between ‘bottom’ and ‘barony’ that it was the custom to elect one Member for each. Travel to and from London was still more exhausting, and during the frequent elections of the exclusion period Sir John Lowther III, who resided chiefly in the capital during the season, insisted on declining the ceremony of attending the hustings in person. But less popular candidates, like Philipson and Alan Bellingham, canvassed vigorously. A further electoral peculiarity was the hereditary shrievalty, held until 1676 by the dowager countess of Pembroke, the last of the northern Cliffords. At the elections she was represented by her undersheriff, Gabetis, who continued to ‘assist’, and perhaps to dominate, the succeeding sheriffs of the Tufton family.1

Dr Thomas Wharton of London and Thomas Burton, the diarist, who had represented the county in Richard Cromwell’s Parliament, stood for reelection in 1660. They were opposed by Sir Thomas Wharton, who had been absent in Ireland during the Civil War and held no office until the return of the secluded Members; moreover, with his estate in Yorkshire, he had fewer local enemies than his brother, the 4th lord, and his episcopal and royalist leanings can have been no secret. Jeremy Baynes, who had sat in 1654, withdrew his candidature at an early stage; but the two Whartons, who were very distant cousins, and Thomas Brathwaite of Ambleside, a prominent committeeman, ‘laboured it above six weeks’. Accordingly Sir Thomas pressed the head of the Lowther family, who was more interested in land than politics, ‘to countenance him’ at the election. A cautious Royalist in the Civil War, Lowther was himself strictly ineligible under the last ordinance of the Long Parliament, unless he could be considered to have demonstrated his good affection by his nomination to the commission of the peace in 1644 and again under the Protectorate. However, as he recorded: ‘When I appeared but at Appleby all the whole gentry of both sides the fell and all the whole country in general did all overrule me to stand, which at their entreaty I did’. Brathwaite and Dr Wharton, a noted anatomist but a scarcely credible knight of the shire, desisted and gave their interests to Lowther. But Burton, who despite his Cromwellian background had performed notable service to the royal party, pressed the poll. Lowther wrote:

I carried it above 300 votes from him and 150 from Sir Thomas Wharton, who had lost it if I had not joined to assist him with my second votes, which he most civilly acknowledged that he came under my wings. ... But observe that the bills of charges of that night expenses in the entertainment of the country cost Sir Thomas and me jointly £180, which was £90 apiece, which, at former times cost not £5. So much is time altered; but the number of people was great, being thought to be above 3,000 men, and we paid for all that was spent by Mr Brathwaite and Mr [sic] Wharton, in regard they resigned and would not stand in opposition.2

Two Cavaliers were elected in 1661, Sir Philip Musgrave and Sir Thomas Strickland, on whom his father had settled the Sizergh estate. Soon after the passing of the Test Act it became known that Strickland would not ‘swear negatives in speculative matters of divinity’. His conviction as a recusant followed, but the Speaker was not officially informed until Lowther’s grandson was of age to hold the seat. There were rumours of opposition from Alan Bellingham, the heir of Levens, and at this juncture a court supporter; but his father assured Daniel Fleming that if he had a thousand votes they should all be for Lowther, who was returned without a contest. Bellingham had not long to wait, for Musgrave died in the following February, and he hastened to procure letters of recommendation from Strickland and his own father. To his natural chagrin, he was opposed by another of the Lowther family, Richard, who had an estate in the ‘bottom’. After ‘infinite irresolution’ on Lowther’s side, the issue was taken to a poll. John Tufton, the sheriff, favoured the Lowther interest, but the experienced Gabetis was supposed to be ‘biased the other way’. Bellingham was elected, and on taking his seat in the House hastened to reinsure himself by voting with the country party. Lowther, who had spent £600 of his own money in the contest, considered a petition on the grounds of premature closure of the poll; but he was advised that even if he proved his case he would not be awarded the seat, since the election would be declared void, and Bellingham was not disturbed.3

On the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament Sir John Lowther declared that he was ‘positively resolved not to stand’. After failing to persuade Fleming to take his place, he hoped that his uncle would join interests with Bellingham ‘since there’s no likelihood of opposition’. But Richard Lowther backed out, and his nephew consented to be reelected in his absence. Doubtless he found the atmosphere of the Exclusion Parliaments uncongenial, for Christopher Philipson, a staunch supporter of Church and King, was elected in his place in September 1679, together with Bellingham, who had voted for exclusion. ‘I fear our affairs will not give us leave to go from home this busy time of harvest’, wrote a faithful Lowther supporter. During the year that followed before the second Exclusion Parliament met, Bellingham apparently swung over to the Court, and at the general election of 1681 he nominated as his colleague the crypto-Catholic naval officer, Sir Roger Strickland. The exclusionists replied by canvassing support for Sir Thomas Wharton or his nephew. Appalled by the prospect of political dissension, Sir John Lowther determined to stand again himself, hoping that his authority would be sufficient to induce Philipson to desist. But the personal animosity between the sitting Members had reached such heights that a poll could not be avoided. ‘I find that Mr Bellingham hath as much kindness for me as formerly’, wrote his colleague ironically, ‘and would have any in, so I were out.’ It was agreed that Philipson ‘merited well from the country in his last diligent service, ... but the streams run the other way’, and at the poll he was overwhelmed. From London Lowther’s cousin wrote with the detachment proper to the holder of a safe seat in another county: ‘I cannot likewise understand upon what account Mr Philipson pretended to set up against Mr Bellingham. ... He deserves well, and was very diligent last Parliament as any man, but ’tis other considerations sway in the country.’4

At the 1685 election the court interest was managed by Sir Christopher Musgrave and the 6th Earl of Thanet (Thomas Tufton), who endeavoured to discourage Philipson from standing and encourage Fleming, in both cases without success. Bellingham wanted assistance with his expenses, but Thanet refused a positive answer, though assuring him of all the Tufton interest in the county. Although Lowther and Bellingham soon agreed to combine forces, Philipson insisted on opposing his old rival, and a most expensive poll resulted. The election indenture is dated 19 Mar., but it is clear that it was adjourned to 9 Apr., probably at the instance of the perennial under-sheriff, Gabetis, who was altogether on Bellingham’s side. He was again successful, but both contestants were ruined. Bellingham became an officer in the army, and as such was ordered to stand again as court candidate in 1688. Musgrave offered himself to the electors as a country Tory. Lowther met him at Edenhall on 4 Dec. and gave the following account of the discussion:

I offered him this fair expedient, that if a friend of mine were chosen either at Appleby or Carlisle, then he should have my interest for the county. Otherwise I hoped he would decline it, for I thought the proposals just. I did not desire to outdo others, I only desired to be equal. But this as well as my former offers were rejected. ... Since therefore no better neighbourhood is to be had, I am resolved to join with my Lord Wharton’s son, which family is not only entitled to an interest in this county by their ancient and great estate, but much more for their well deserving upon this great occasion from all good Protestants.

A further canvass showed Musgrave that opposition was useless, and on 11 Jan. 1689 he formally abandoned his candidacy and retreated to Carlisle. Bellingham had also desisted, and Lowther was returned to the Convention with Henry Wharton, unopposed. When Wharton died on active service in Ireland he was replaced by his brother, Goodwin Wharton.5

Author: Leonard Naylor


  • 1. Westmld. RO, D/Ry 2384, Lowther to Fleming, 1 Feb. 1681; 2405, Lowther to Lowther, 8 Mar. 1681; North, Lives, i. 181-2.
  • 2. Lowther Diary (Surtees Soc. cxc), 218-19; Nicolson and Burn, Westmld. and Cumb. i. 191, 363; E. R. Wharton, Whartons of Wharton Hall, 63; DNB.
  • 3. HMC 5th Rep. 331; HMC Le Fleming, 101, 130; Westmld. RO, D/Ry 1842, James Bellingham to Fleming, 14 Mar. 1677; 1961, 1970, Sir John Lowther to Fleming, 18 Feb., 3 Mar. 1678; 2013, Richard Lowther to Fleming, 1 May 1678.
  • 4. Westmld. RO, D/Ry 2124, 2129, 2137, Sir John Lowther to Fleming, 25, 30 Jan., 8 Feb. 1679; 2212, Fleming to Bellingham, 6 Sept. 1679; 2366, Philipson to Fleming, 22 Jan. 1681; 2374, Lowther to Fleming, 28 Jan. 1681; 2405, Sir John Lowther of Whitehaven to Fleming, 8 Mar. 1681.
  • 5. Westmld. RO, D/Ry 2863, Thanet to Fleming, 24 Feb. 1685; 2865a, Thanet to Bellingham, 26 Feb. 1685; 2879, Fletcher to Fleming, 15 Mar. 1685; 2896, Philipson to Fleming, 8 Apr. 1685; 3252, Musgrave to Kendal corp., 4 Sept. 1688; 3371, Lowther to Fleming, 5 Dec. 1688; 3420, Musgrave to Fleming, 11 Jan. 1689.