LOWNDES, William (1652-1724), of Chesham, Bucks.
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Family and Education
b. 1 Nov. 1652, 1st s. of Robert Lowndes of Winslow by Elizabeth, da. of Peter FitzWilliam. educ. free school, Buckingham. m. (1) Elizabeth (d.1680), da. of Sir Robert Harsnett, Treasury serjeant, 1s.; (2) 1683, Jane Hopper (d.1685), 1da.; (3) Elizabeth (d. 1689), da. of Richard Martyn, D.D., 1s. 1da.; (4) 1691, Rebecca, da. of John Shales, 7s. 7da. suc. fa. 1683.
Clerk, Treasury c.1675, senior clerk 1690, sec. 1695-d.
For nearly thirty years secretary to the Treasury, Lowndes is described, in the survey of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments drawn up for George I, as having
toujours été du parti le plus fort et il s’est trouvé toujours si nécessaire dans la Chambre pour dresser tous les actes touchant le revenu at les subsides qu’on ne l’a jamais fait sortir de son employ.
Returned by the Administration for a Cornish borough, he laid before the House, 10 May 1715, a detailed statement of civil list revenue and expenditure during the last two reigns, concluding with the statement that
there have been no payments out of secret service monies at the Treasury since his Majesty’s accession to the throne, as was usual in former reigns.
On 20 Aug. these payments that year were resumed with an issue of £10,000 for secret service to Lowndes.1 He was ex officio a member of the select committees who drafted the finance bills each session.
During the split in the Whig party, 1717-20, Lowndes spoke in support of Walpole’s proposals for consolidating the national debt and establishing a sinking fund, which were introduced by the new head of the Treasury, James Stanhope, 20 May 1717; submitted to the House Sir Isaac Newton’s plan for checking the outflow of silver by devaluing the gold guinea from 21s. 6d. to 20s., 21 Dec. 1717; and defended a vote for half-pay officers, which was attacked by Walpole, now in opposition, 22 Jan. 1718. After Walpole’s return to the Treasury in 1721, Lowndes proposed unsuccessfully that the late directors of the South Sea Company should be allowed to keep one-eighth of their confiscated estates, 23 May 1721, subsequently supporting Walpole in securing comparatively lenient treatment for Aislabie and Sawbridge. On 12 July he seconded Walpole’s proposal to discharge the civil list debt by a deduction of 6d. in the pound from all salaries, wages and pensions paid by the Crown.
In 1722 Lowndes stood unsuccessfully for Westminster, where he owned about 4 acres on a crown lease for 99 years, originally forming part of the Pulteney estate. On his petition the election was declared void by the House of Commons on the ground that there had been great riots and tumults in violation of the right of election, but by this time Lowndes had been brought in by the Administration for another Cornish borough. At the beginning of 1723 he secured authority to purchase the fee simple of his Westminster property and of two fields in Knightsbridge, which now bear his name, and that of his Buckingham estate, by a private Act of Parliament. In the same session, 29 Mar. 1723, he introduced a bill for repairing gaols, which was rejected nem. con., as he had made it a public bill to save the cost of a private one, though it was really concerned with Buckinghamshire only. On 26 Apr. he introduced a bill for laying a special tax on Papists, which passed into law. At the opening of the next session he moved, 16 Jan. 1724, for an account of the produce of the customs duties on tea, coffee, chocolate etc. during the past seven years, with a view to reducing the losses caused by smuggling by converting the duties into an excise.2 Four days later he died, 20 Jan., after signing some accounts asked for by the House of Commons. In laying these accounts before the Commons, 22 Jan., Walpole paid a tribute to Lowndes, in whom ‘this House has lost a very useful Member, and the public as able and honest a servant as ever the Crown had.’3 According to Lord Chesterfield he was the author of ‘take care of the pence, for the pounds will take care of themselves’.4