LOWTHER, Sir John II, 2nd Bt. (1642-1706), of Whitehaven, Cumb. and Southampton Square, Bloomsbury, Mdx.
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Family and Education
bap. 20 Nov. 1642, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Sir Christopher Lowther, 1st Bt., of Whitehaven by Frances, da. and h. of Christopher Lancaster of Sockbridge, Westmld. educ. Balliol, Oxf. 1657-8. m. 6 Mar. 1659, Jane, da. of Woolley Leigh of Addington, Surr., 2s. 3da. suc. fa. Apr. 1644.1
J.p. Cumb. July 1660-May 1688, Oct. 1688-d., Westmld. July 1660-d., Mdx. 1670-87; dep. lt. Cumb. and Westmld. c. Aug. 1660-May 1688, Oct. 1688-d.; commr. for assessment, Cumb. and Westmld. Aug. 1660-80, 1689-90, Mdx. 1673-9; capt. of militia ft. Cumb. and Westmld. by 1661-bef. 1685, member, R. Africa Co. 1672; commr. for recusants, Cumb. 1675; v.-adm. Cumb. and Westmld. 1686-1702, commr. for Greenwich hospital 1694.2
Ld. of Admiralty 1689-96.
The former monastic estate of Whitehaven was acquired by Lowther’s grandfather in 1631 and settled on his father, the younger brother of Sir John Lowther I. Harbour works began before the Civil War, in which Lowther’s father served as a royalist colonel and commissioner of array. At the Restoration Lowther obtained a confirmation of his right to hold a market at Whitehaven. He then set about vigorously developing the collieries and salt-pans on his estates, and, to provide an outlet for them, transformed Whitehaven into a thriving seaport with 2,222 inhabitants by 1693. He also planned a carrier service to connect with London through Kendal. As a member of the Royal Society and a friend of (Sir) Joseph Williamson he was interested in education, and built, at his own expense, a school at Whitehaven to teach grammar, navigation and mathematics.3
Lowther was successful for Cumberland at a contested by-election in 1665. An active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was appointed to at least 141 committees. He was naturally interested in projects for improving harbours, and was named to committees for Bridlington, Great Yarmouth, Boston and Dover. In political matters he initially followed the lead of his uncle, William Lowther; he was nominated to the abortive commission of public accounts in 1666 and helped to draft the address of thanks for the dismissal of Clarendon in 1667. In the same session he was appointed to the committee on freedom of speech in Parliament, and added to that to hear the petition from the merchants trading to France. Sir Thomas Osborne listed him in 1669 among the Members who had usually voted for supply. He was among those ordered to examine the lists of debts brought in by the Treasury and the Navy Office on 31 Oct. 1670. A firm Anglican, he helped to consider the additional conventicles bill later in the year, and to prepare a bill against the growth of Popery in 1671; but he was among those ordered on 27 Feb. 1673 to bring in a bill of ease for Protestant dissenters. He was appointed to the committees to inquire into the condition of Ireland in 1674 and to consider appropriating the customs to the use of the navy in the spring session of 1675. By the autumn he could no longer be relied on by the Government. He was named to committees for the recall of British subjects from French service and preventing the growth of Popery, and acted as teller against adjourning the debate on appropriation. However, Sir Richard Wiseman judged that Lowther and his colleague Sir George Fletcher ‘must be well-known’ to Lord Ogle (Henry Cavendish) and the Earl of Carlisle (Charles Howard), and in 1677 Shaftesbury marked him ‘doubly vile’. In this session he was appointed to the committees for the extension of habeas corpus, and for preventing abuses in the import of Irish cattle and the collection of hearth-tax. His constituents had already complained to him about the inequitable burden of the hearth-tax on Cumberland, while in October he and Fletcher granted a warrant to the constables of Brough to seize and slaughter as illegal imports 18 bullocks recently purchased from Lord Carlisle’s son (Edward Howard). For the remainder of the period it is seldom possible to distinguish Lowther in Parliament from his cousin, Sir John Lowther III. His activity probably decreased, and he was on neither list of the court party in 1678. The prosperity of Whitehaven was threatened by a proposal to build a rival harbour on crown land in the neighbourhood, but though it was stated on 1 Mar. that the King was favourably disposed to Lowther’s petition for a grant of the land to himself, it took over a year to pass the seal.4
Lowther was re-elected to the Exclusion Parliaments, promising in his election address of February 1679 to serve the freeholders, who had ‘sufficiently owned my diligence’, with ‘the same attendance, industry and zeal as before’, and again defeating an ultra-royalist candidate. Nevertheless he was marked ‘vile’ on Shaftesbury’s list. He was probably appointed to the committee of inquiry into the Post Office, and spoke on 14 Apr. in favour of a grant for the militia.
I find that something is still recommended to hinder the consideration of our defence and safety. It is not the interest of gentlemen now to put a difference between the King and his people. We have sat all this while and done nothing but the proceedings against the Earl of Danby. Must we not think of our safety because there are faults? And must we still infer that money is not to be given? To say, because there are not alliances with Holland, shall we lay aside all considerations? Pray let not this motion of the militia be stifled.
On the same day the House granted him unlimited leave, but he returned to justify Shaftesbury’s opinion of him by voting against the exclusion bill. Re-elected after another contest in the autumn, he was appointed to no committees and made no speeches in the second Exclusion Parliament. Faced again with the possibility of a contest in 1681 he wrote to his cousin:
My health is such as I dare not venture upon a journey at this time of year, or not upon a journey wherein I know I must be stirring when I come there, for the country has little regard either to a man absent or inactive.
He even considered transferring to Carlisle on the Howard interest, and Sir George Fletcher, with whom he had joined interests in the county, confided to Sir Daniel Fleming: ‘I have done all I could to serve Sir John, but I find he will be the worst befriended in his own neighbourhood’. Fortunately, however, his opponents desisted, and he enjoyed the hitherto unaccustomed luxury of an unopposed return. But he never took his seat in the Oxford Parliament, writing to Fleming from London on 27 Mar.:
We are here surprised with the dissolution of the Parliament yesterday early in the morning, the Commons not having had above two days for business, the rest form. They all despaired of sitting long from the time they heard the King’s speech, but proceeded in the usual methods, and first entered upon the business of the succession where all expedients were heard but concluded in a bill of exclusion of the Duke of York. They also ordered a bill in behalf of Protestant dissenters and another for banishing all the principal Papists in England. ... What offence the King took at these proceedings or what other reason he had is only known to himself.
Now clearly in good standing at Court, Lowther took a positive interest in naval construction; and when he applied for permission to levy a toll of a penny a ton at Whitehaven, where he had recently spent £500 on enlarging the pier, (Sir) Robert Sawyer, the attorney-general, reported with the utmost alacrity in favour of the grant.