LOWTHER, Sir William (1639-1705), of Gt. Preston Hall, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 18 Aug. 1639, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir William Lowther† of Swillington by Jane, da. of William Busfield, merchant, of Leeds, Yorks. educ. G. Inn, 1655; Balliol, Oxf. 1656. m. bond c.30 Apr. 1662, Catherine, da. of Thomas Harrison of Dancer’s Hill, Mdx. (d. 1708), 8s. (5 d.v.p.) 2da. (1 d.v.p.). suc. fa. 1688; kntd. 1688.1
Sheriff, Yorks. 1681–2; commr. Aire and Calder navigation, 1699.2
Lowther’s father had been an ardent Royalist, and following the Restoration was both a Cavalier and an enthusiastic prosecutor of Dissenters. Lowther himself spent much of his early life in Holland, residing there between the ages of four and six, and nine and 13, and this connexion may explain his journey in 1687 to ‘pay my duties’ to William of Orange. His nomination as Yorkshire sheriff in 1681 suggests his loyalism during the Tory reaction, but in August 1688 he joined a number of other West Riding justices in giving preconcerted negative replies to James II’s request for support for the repeal of the Penal Laws and Test Acts. In the early 1690s Lowther demonstrated a tendency to involve himself in public confrontations, most notably with Lord Irwin (Arthur Ingram*) at the quarter sessions in the autumn of 1693, and did not aspire to a seat in the Commons until 1695 when he offered his services to Pontefract, the Yorkshire borough for which his father had sat. One diarist claimed that during Lowther’s visit to Pontefract in September an alderman had refused to vote for ‘such [a] Commonwealth’s man’ as Lowther and, upon being challenged by Lowther, replied that he ‘scorn[ed] to come to the door with any such Presbyterian rascal’. Given Lowther’s staunchly Anglican background, and the lack of any other evidence suggesting Dissenting sympathies on his part, these allegations appear to have been little more than a partisan smear, an interpretation given additional weight by the same diarist’s later account that Pontefract ‘have chosen him [Lowther] for their Parliament man, after he cleared himself from being a Puritan’.3
Though probably not a Dissenter, Lowther did prove himself a Whig in the 1695 Parliament. His sensitivity to the concerns of his fellow Yorkshiremen was evident at the beginning of 1696 when he took pains to assist Sir John Kaye, 2nd Bt.*, in securing the passage of a bill for the ease of jurors. He also wrote to York and Leeds to express sympathy with ‘confusion about our coin’, and to communicate some of the Commons’ proceedings on this issue to his native county. This concern probably explains his telling on 15 Jan. against an attempt to delay consideration of the recoinage bill. This tellership is also indicative of the support for the ministry that Lowther demonstrated throughout this session. He was forecast as likely to support the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. upon the council of trade and, having signed the Association promptly, voted to support the Court in fixing the price of guineas at 22s. He was granted a leave of absence on 15 Apr., but his arrival in London for the start of the following session is indicated by his telling on 4 Nov. against a bill for the repair of highways in Islington and St. Pancras. Later the same month both his Whiggery and support for the ministry were clearly demonstrated. The former was certainly evident in Lowther’s contribution to the debate of 17 Nov. on the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†, when he excused the means used to prosecute Fenwick as being necessary due to the ‘extraordinary nature’ of the case requiring ‘an extraordinary proceeding’, and professed his belief that Fenwick ‘is guilty, and, I think, nothing can be plainer’. Eight days later he duly voted for the attainder bill. His support for the Court is evident from a number of tellerships. On 23 Nov., for example, he told with Lord Coningsby (Thomas) against the bill to regulate elections and impose a property qualification upon Members, and four days later told against retaining the opposition’s phrasing of a motion for a committee of the whole House on ‘the state of the nation’. Court Whig sympathies were also evident in March 1697, when he told in favour of the second reading of the malt bill (15th). The session also saw him tell for a bill annulling a marriage (7 Apr.). Lowther remained active in the final session of the Parliament, though having been nominated on 11 Dec. to draft a bill to prevent abuses in weights and measures he obtained leave of absence nine days later. He had returned to London by February 1698, from which time much of his energy was channelled into an attempt to alleviate what he viewed as the unfairly high proportion of Yorkshire’s land tax levelled upon the West Riding. This perception explains Lowther’s opposition on 11 Mar. to a proposal to fix three-quarters of the land tax according to the old rating upon ward, parish and township as well as county. Such considerations may also explain his telling on 29 Mar. in favour of a proposal that the West Riding land tax commission meet at Pontefract rather than Leeds. His nomination in March to three committees concerned with the punishment of Charles Duncombe* suggests a close interest in this case, and his role as a coal proprietor explains his telling on 30 Apr. in favour of agreeing to exempt coal transported inland from the coal duty. Provision for the poor also appears to have been a particular concern, as he was nominated to draw up reasons for disagreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the Colchester workhouse bill (6 May), and also reported and carried to the Lords the bill concerned with workhouses at Kingston-upon-Hull (10, 11 May). The importance of woollen manufactures to the economy of the West Riding would likewise account for Lowther’s telling in favour of adding to the bill to encourage the Royal Lustring Company a clause freeing lustring weavers from liability to distress for ground rents (1 June), and for his carrying to the Lords a bill to explain the Acts prohibiting the export of wool (7 June).4
Lowther did not stand in 1698, being classed in September that year as a member of the Court party ‘out’ of the new Parliament. He did not retire from public life, serving as a deputy-lieutenant for both the North and West Riding in the early 1700s, and his continued Whiggery was demonstrated in August 1701 when he informed the Tory Sir John Kaye that if he ‘voted as he was informed he did last session that he must expect none of his interest if he stood again’. Between 1699 and 1702 he was involved in a bitter dispute with his eldest son William*, during which in July 1702 Lowther jnr. attempted to have his father indicted for an alleged riot on the Swillington estates. Lowther died at Great Preston Hall on 7 Dec. 1705, and was buried at Kippax three days later. His animosity towards his eldest son was clearly demonstrated in a will that failed to mention William, and left the majority of his unsettled estates to his youngest son, Christopher.5