LEVESON GOWER, Sir John, 5th Bt. (1675-1709), of Trentham, Staffs.
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Family and Education
b. 7 Jan. 1675, o. surv. s. of Sir William Leveson Gower, 4th Bt.* educ. private tutor Mr Linfield 1690–1. m. Sept. 1692 (with £15,000), Lady Catherine, da. of John Manners†, 9th Earl of Rutland by 3rd w., and sis. of John Manners, Ld. Roos*, 4s. 2da. suc. fa. as 5th Bt. 22 Dec. 1691; cr. Baron Gower of Stittenham 16 Mar. 1703.1
Steward of Newcastle-under-Lyme 1694–8; freeman, Preston 1702.2
PC 21 Apr. 1702–20 May 1707; chancellor, duchy of Lancaster 1702–6.3
Commr. union with Scotland 1702, 1706.4
From early adulthood, Leveson Gower was launched on a political career. That he began it so young was the result of his father’s death and his return for Newcastle in his place the day after his 17th birthday in 1692. He was possessed of a secure financial base, his estates assessed by contemporaries at £7,000 p.a., although the nominal rents were nearer £4,000 and the actual sums raised more like £2,000. They were soon to be improved under the capable management of George Plaxton. Even more advantageous, politically, was the geographical concentration of his estates which covered 10 per cent of the land in across 400 square miles of Staffordshire and Shropshire. Not surprisingly in these circumstances, he did not remain a bachelor for long, marrying a daughter of the Earl of Rutland in 1692.5
Leveson Gower entered the House with considerable contacts among the Tories, particularly the Granvilles and the Hydes: his grandfather was the 1st Earl of Bath and his uncle was Hon. John Granville*; his sister married Lord Hyde (Henry*), the heir of the Earl of Rochester (Laurence Hyde†), in 1692. Perhaps predictably for one so young, he made little contribution to the High Tory cause in the Commons during his early sessions in the House. Nevertheless, he was keen to promote Tory candidates in the county, signing a circular letter in support of Sir Walter Bagot, 3rd Bt.*, in October 1693 in a successful attempt to avoid a contest with Hon. Henry Paget* for the vacant county seat in Staffordshire. He was not appointed to any significant committees during the 1690 Parliament, but the available evidence shows that he left before the end of a session on only one occasion, when he was granted leave of absence on 2 Apr. 1694.6
Returned unopposed at the 1695 election, Leveson Gower’s name appears on all three lists for the opening session of this Parliament. He was forecast as likely to oppose the Court in the divisions over the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, he refused to sign the Association, and voted against fixing the price of guineas at 22s. in March. He was also involved in one legislative project, being given sole responsibility to prepare a bill to encourage the manufacture of earthenware on 14 Feb. 1696. Although there is no evidence of such a bill being presented to the House, it illustrated his local roots in an area of pottery manufacture and the fact that in both the preceding and following sessions there had been agitation for measures to help the industry. In the 1696–7 session he voted on 25 Nov. 1696 against Sir John Fenwick’s† attainder and was then given leave of absence on 8 Feb. 1697 to recover his health. His social status and political potential is perhaps indicated by his inclusion in the itinerary of Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.*, during a hunting tour of September 1697. He does not seem to have been active in the last session of the 1695 Parliament, receiving leave of absence for ten days on 2 Apr. 1698.7
As the end of the Parliament approached, Leveson Gower sought to exercise some influence on the forthcoming county election, chiefly in an attempt to mediate between Edward Bagot* and the Hon. Robert Shirley in order to avoid a contest for the right to partner Paget at Westminster. In his own constituency Leveson Gower had little trouble in securing re-election unopposed. From the very start of proceedings in the new Parliament he took a more active role. Indeed, before the Commons met he was rallying support for his uncle’s (Hon. John Granville) bid for the Speakership. It was an indication that he would continue to devote his political energies to opposing the Court, a position confirmed subsequently by the appearance of his name as a Country supporter on an analysis of the old and new Parliaments and on a forecast of those likely to oppose the standing army. On 23 Dec. 1698 he rose to propose that the disbanding bill be committed, a motion carried without a division. During February 1699 he was a leading promoter of an attack on Whig placemen, aimed specifically at those who held financial offices which had been decreed incompatible with membership of the House by the Lottery Act of 1694. On 10 Feb. he was sent with three other Members to obtain the commission for managing the stamp duties. His report next day led to Henry Cornish* and Christopher Montagu* being summoned to attend the House, and to the former’s expulsion on 13 Feb. In March he was still deeply immersed in the events of the session, meeting with Hon. James Brydges*, Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.*, and others at the house of Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt., to discuss drawing up an address explaining to the King why the Commons would not agree to his request to retain his Dutch guards. During the debate on the state of the navy on 27 Mar. 1699 he acted as a teller with Granville against a motion that an address to the King should merely ask him to ‘take care’ that the mismanagements complained of did not recur, rather than the stronger option of requesting the removal of the present Admiralty commissioners. On 3 Apr. 1699 he was granted leave of absence, thus ending his involvement in the session.8
In the 1699–1700 session he was again preoccupied with Tory attacks on the ministry. On 13 Jan. 1700 he sparked off ‘a debate of three or four hours’ by moving that the report of the Irish commissioners of forfeited estates be printed. This manoeuvre failed since the ministry felt it criticized previous grants by the King. The issue was still simmering in April 1700 when the Lords amended the bill to resume those Irish forfeitures granted away by William III. Leveson Gower led the attack on Lord Chancellor Somers (Sir John*), a recipient of such grants, by proposing his impeachment, a suggestion which Musgrave turned into an address for his removal from office.9
Leveson Gower again faced no opposition at Newcastle in the election of January 1701, but the corresponding county election in Derbyshire caused him some discomfort. His fellow Tory, Thomas Coke*, faced a strong challenge from the Whig Lord Hartington (William Cavendish*) and Lord Roos, the latter of whom was his own brother-in-law. In November 1700 he was asked to mediate in the dispute, but by 19 Dec. 1700 had given up all hope of success. Soon after the election he showed his keenness to bolster his electoral position by obtaining the post of receiver-general of Staffordshire for William Burslem*, a key agent in Newcastle’s politics. When the Commons met, he seconded Seymour’s motion that Robert Harley* be chosen as Speaker, a nomination supported by the King. This action may have signalled that he was prepared to back the new Tory ministry, and he was noted on a list of February 1701 of those Members likely to support the Court over the ‘Great Mortgage’. In a move more detrimental to the King’s favoured policy he may have proposed a motion on 20 Feb. which sought to respond to a memorial from the Dutch to William, by agreeing with Dutch recognition of the Duke of Anjou as King of Spain. However, this stance proved unpopular, his motion being ‘quashed’ and replaced by one more supportive of a warlike concert with the Dutch. His support for such measures naturally led to his being blacklisted as an opponent of preparations for war against France. On 27 Feb. a matter of more local importance attracted his attention; he was ordered to prepare a bill, along with William Palmes*, to enable Sir John Bowyer, 3rd Bt., a minor, to vest his estates in trustees to allow him to make a settlement on his marriage. In view of Bowyer’s Staffordshire links, Leveson Gower was an obvious choice to represent his interest, which he duly did, presenting the bill to the House on 6 Mar. and reporting it from committee on 7 Apr. He acted as a teller on 13 Mar. on the Tory side in the Banbury election. He was also prominent in the Tory attacks on those former Whig ministers involved in the Partition Treaties. When the Commons took into account the making of the 1700 Treaty of Partition in the committee of the whole on 29 Mar., he denounced it as ‘very prejudicial to our trade and destructive to our commerce, and that the making of it was a great crime and misdemeanour’, and then moved to impeach the Earl of Portland. When the full House concurred with this resolution on 1 Apr. he was sent to the Lords to impeach the Earl and was appointed to draw up the articles against him. Leveson Gower’s next foray into legislation proved to be a highly popular excursion into metropolitan politics: on 2 May he presented a petition from several tradesmen in London and Westminster complaining that Members did not pay debts and avoided the consequences by standing on parliamentary privilege. After reminding the House of their order that during prorogations no Member should have privilege but for his person, he was given leave to prepare a bill for preventing MPs from exploiting their rights of parliamentary privilege. He presented the bill on 3 May and managed it through the House, including the committee of the whole which he chaired on 13 May. When the bill came back from the Lords, he was named to the conference committee on the bill, reporting from the conference on 26 May. According to the Earl of Dartmouth, his interest in this measure had less to do with the public good than private interest; apparently the Earl of Tankerville had stood on his privilege to avoid fulfilling an agreement whereby an annuity of £2,000 was to be paid to the Earl of Rochester (Leveson Gower’s relative), leaving Hon. Ralph Grey* to pay off the arrears. Having been at the forefront of the moves to impeach Portland, Leveson Gower was naturally indignant at the criticism emanating from the Lords over the delay in bringing forward specific charges so that the accused peers could be tried. He favoured a sharp response to one such message from the Upper House on 4 June, arguing that this was necessary to influence political opinion in the country. Not surprisingly, Baschet identified him as a Tory leader in the Commons.10
Further indication of Leveson Gower’s perceived weight as a front-rank Tory politician became apparent in September 1701 when James Vernon I* wrote on behalf of the Earl of Rochester to William III to request the wardenship of the Stannaries for the young Earl of Bath. Vernon pointed out the political benefits of putting John Granville (the new Earl’s uncle) under an obligation to the Court and added:
I suppose Sir John Leveson [Gower] interests himself in this matter on behalf of his uncle the colonel [John Granville]; if the gratifying them this way is like to have so good an effect, I hope the opportunity will not be slipped; they will be of considerable weight in the House of Commons whatever way they incline.
Further evidence of his importance in the last years of William’s reign comes from an undated letter from Henry Guy* to Robert Harley in which his support for an unspecified parliamentary manoeuvre was deemed vital:
78 [Godolphin] hath directed me to let you know that Sir John Leveson [Gower] is so well inclined in this matter that if 104 [Harley] doth discourse it fully with him, he doth believe he will speak in it, which will be of great consequence.
Given this prominence it was decided to put him up for the prestigious constituency of Westminster at the December 1701 election. There was clear logic behind his candidature; his campaign being based upon the privilege bill of the preceding session which had favoured the capital’s tradesmen and their consequent invitation to him to stand. Vernon, another candidate at Westminster, thought that these tactics would have been more persuasive ‘if he had not been liable to exceptions, by his warm behaviour in the House upon other points, which made the Whigs in general great sticklers against him, and engaged them for Sir Harry [Dutton] Colt [1st Bt.*]’. Despite the support of the Tory lord chamberlain, the Earl of Jersey, and a vigorous defence of the Tories’ conduct in the Vine Tavern Queries, he was defeated and was left to find refuge at Newcastle.11
Not surprisingly, Leveson Gower was classed as a Tory on Robert Harley’s analysis of December 1701. The accession of Anne improved his prospects of office, given her predilection for Anglican Tories. Before the end of the session he had been admitted to the Privy Council and appointed chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. His only recorded speech during the session was in a debate on the employment of foreigners in the army on 2 May 1702 when he challenged Sir William Strickland, 3rd Bt., to name the English officers he had accused of favouring James II, living off the fat of the land and being willing to destroy their country.12
Leveson Gower’s new position brought with it an enhanced electoral role, particularly in areas of duchy influence such as Lancashire and Northamptonshire. Moreover, it was a useful adjunct in securing favours: on 19 July 1702 he wrote to request the help of Sir Cyril Wyche* in dealing with a case before the trustees of the Irish forfeitures, of which Wyche was one, wherein a client of his had been left unprovided for by Parliament due to Leveson Gower’s mismanagement; only at the end of the letter did he mention Wyche’s impending election for Preston, the centre of duchy administration. During the summer of 1702 there were rumours that he would be raised to the peerage, but these proved premature. He was much in the company of Seymour, Granville and John Grobham Howe*, who were reported to be ‘a good committee’ by Sir Charles Hedges*, and ‘a great court’ by Henry Guy when at Bath. Some contemporaries perceived a change in his attitude as a consequence of his obtaining office. Hence, when he procured the release from prison of Sir Michael Biddulph, 2nd Bt.*, and so ruined Sir Henry Gough’s* hopes of being elected at Lichfield, Lord Stanhope called him ‘a young courtier’ who must be expected to follow his own ‘self interest’.13
On 26 Dec. 1702 Leveson Gower showed that he had imbibed the underlying principles behind the Queen’s first ministry when he attempted to persuade his father-in-law to accept her nominees for deputy-lieutenancy commissions in Leicestershire on the grounds that ‘she is resolved not to follow the example of her predecessor in making use of a few of her subjects to oppress the rest’, a reference to non-party rule.14
Leveson Gower’s career in the Commons ended with his much mooted elevation to the peerage on 16 Mar. 1703, one of a number of creations designed to bolster Tory support in the Lords. He continued in office until 1706 when he was replaced by the Junto associate, the Earl of Derby (Hon. James Stanley*). He died at Belvoir Castle on 31 Aug. 1709 aged 34, and was buried at Trentham on 10 Sept. According to one contemporary he had often been very ill with gout in the head, but Dr John Radcliffe* had ‘kept him alive many years’. He left four sons, three of whom later sat in the Commons for Staffordshire constituencies.15