Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

over 2,400 in 1818


2 June 1806 SIR JOHN PENNINGTON, Bt., Baron Muncaster [I], vice Le Fleming, deceased 
6 Nov. 1806SIR JOHN PENNINGTON, Bt., Baron Muncaster [I] 
5 June 1807SIR JOHN PENNINGTON, Bt., Baron Muncaster [I] 
12 Oct. 1812SIR JOHN PENNINGTON, Bt., Baron Muncaster [I] 
22 Nov. 1813 WILLIAM LOWTHER, Visct. Lowther, vice Muncaster, deceased 
30 June 1818WILLIAM LOWTHER, Visct. Lowther1211
 Henry Peter Brougham890

Main Article

James Lowther, Earl of Lonsdale, had returned both Members for the county unchallenged since 1774 and there was no further contest until 1818. On Lonsdale’s death in 1802, his cousin and successor William, Viscount Lowther (afterwards 1st Earl of Lonsdale) a veteran Pittite, faced no particular problem until the death of Sir Michael Le Fleming in May 1806, when there was an ominous incident. Lowther was approached by Wilberforce on behalf of Henry Peter Brougham*, a young lawyer and pamphleteer whose father had in the past exerted his modest interest in Westmorland against the Lowthers and who wished to offer for the county, claimed the support of government and asked for Lowther’s. The latter, outraged, snubbed Brougham and established from the prime minister Lord Grenville that Brougham was unauthorized by him: as Brougham’s sponsors were Fox and Lord Henry Petty, there were ‘higher words between Lord Grenville and Fox than had ever passed on any other occasion’; and Grenville concurred in Lowther’s choice of Lord Muncaster, whose pretensions in Cumberland were a source of embarrassment to him, to fill the vacancy. Brougham himself had a double game: he might stand for the county, offering Lowther assistance at Carlisle in exchange for his aid and supported by the 9th Earl of Thanet, the leading Whig, the Duke of Norfolk and the Earls of Suffolk and Derby; or he might step into one of Lowther’s borough seats if Lowther emptied it to supply the new county Member. In fact, Thanet had not been consulted and received Lowther’s thanks ‘for not interfering upon the occasion’, though Lowther would not consider Thanet’s proposition of ‘mutual neutrality for the future’.1 Relations between Lord Grenville and Lowther were further strained when the writ for the ensuing general election was delivered to Thanet who, though hereditary sheriff, had not received it before; but there was no contest in sight.2 Nor was there a murmur when James Lowther retired in favour of Lonsdale’s (ci-devant Lowther’s) son Henry in 1812, or when on Muncaster’s death in 1813 he was replaced by Lonsdale’s heir Viscount Lowther. The latter, who was about to accept office, found the moment inconvenient and would have preferred his father to choose another candidate; but he admitted that only Col. Lowther or Sandford Graham occurred to him, ‘and there are objections to both’.3

The county was now represented by two Lowther brothers, a monopoly which rankled. It would appear that ‘a few years’ before 1817 ‘a contest was spoken of’ and Col. Howard of Levens Park, the Earl of Derby and James Wakefield were regarded as its promoters: but Howard had since turned courtier, Lord Derby sold much of his property to a Lowtherite and Wakefield died.4 The initiative came, in fact, from a London committee for the independence of the county which, proceeding ‘with more sail than ballast’, issued on 10 Dec. 1817 a defiant manifesto calling for the emancipation of the county, on political (not on personal) grounds. The committee lacked influential names, but served as a cover for Whig gentry resentment against the Lowthers as well as a focus for a rebellion of small freeholders against Lowther’s sway.

As the Lowthers were said to have £50,000 to spend a subscription was raised of over £6,000, to which the Earl of Thanet subscribed £4,000. As virtual paymaster, he was given his say in the choice of candidate. At first he had been reluctant to be drawn, but once satisfied that the contest was on public grounds, he became more enthusiastic. He disliked the London committee’s suggestion of William Crackanthorpe, the young squire of Newbiggin Hall, who would have appealed to the Quakers and other dissenters but in fact preferred not to stand. Lonsdale’s guess was that John Wharton* would be chosen. Thanet approved the choice of Henry Brougham, who was reluctant, having a quiet seat, but was ‘dragged forward’ in January 1818 by his brother James, realizing that if he refused he could never show his face in the county again. He believed that if he had been named sooner, Lonsdale would have withdrawn one of his ‘cubs’. James Brougham had promoted committees at Kendal and Appleby to further the cause and in January 1818 they published manifestos against the Lowther monopoly, criticized by Thanet for their ‘native’ naiveté, as he had no wish to be accused of aiming to substitute his own aristocratic influence for the Lowthers’.

Brougham, although he harangued the ‘friends to the independence of the county’ at the London tavern under the chairmanship of John Christian Curwen* in February 1818, did not appear in Westmorland until his brother’s canvass was complete. In the course of it the Lowther ‘cubs’, trying to undo the success of James Brougham’s canvass at Kendal, were assaulted by a mob inflamed by liquor paid for by themselves. This led to charges of ‘Jacobinism’; and Brougham had also to prevent his supporters from seeking a second candidate, insisting that one seat was as much as they could expect to gain this time and that only if the Lowthers said ‘We will have both or neither’ would the answer be ‘Then you shall have neither’. Brougham, no favourite of the Whig grandees, found that he could not count on the support of the Cavendish family, who were committed to the Lowthers before his candidature was known, or on that of his current patron Lord Darlington, or Sir Philip Musgrave; and that the Lowthers could muster an array of squires and parsons and attorneys against him, while he, boycotting parsons altogether, had only Sir Frederick Fletcher Vane, a reluctant Crackanthorpe, Thomas Wybergh and James Wakefield junior, the Quaker banker of Kendal, in that rank. His local committees were, moreover, jealous of the London one, which boasted ‘if the business had not originated here it would not have originated at all’. Control of the Kendal Chronicle was almost snatched out of Brougham’s grasp during the campaign, while the Lowthers engaged William Wordsworth to influence its editor and to write for them, and Thomas De Quincey as editor of the new rival Kendal Advertiser in their interest. Even the editor of the Whig Morning Chronicle was muzzled by the Lowthers who monopolized the London press through their brother-in-law John Beckett, so Brougham complained; and they even contrived to engage his own former election agent at Liverpool, Raincock, as well as to frustrate in Parliament a bill brought in at Brougham’s instigation by Charles Williams Wynn to do away with the land tax assessments as a basis for freeholder qualification in county elections. To complete Brougham’s mortification, the Lowthers threatened to publish his application to them for a county seat in 1806, the ignoring of which was said to have provoked the personal resentment that lay behind Brougham’s crusade against them.5

Nevertheless, Brougham’s personal canvass in March 1818 was a great success. He emphasized his record as an opponent of the orders in council, tax burdens and slavery, as compared with the unquestioning support given ministers by the Lowthers. His opponent Viscount Lowther reported: ‘He makes a speech of an hour long at every village and alehouse, where he can assemble a mob, which I am sorry to say curiosity brings together at all appointed places’. Sir James Mackintosh, a Whig idealist, commented: ‘I should not wonder if the absolute novelty of such proceedings should leave a deep and lasting impression in those lonely vales, which may perhaps be too strong for influence’. Brougham himself assured Lady Holland: ‘To see a popular movement, you should be in this county where there is a people without any mob, and the people unanimous’. But there had been no contest for 40 years: only one elector at Kendal was apparently old enough to have voted then; and, despite Whig enthusiasm for the Lake District as a possible stronghold of freedom, Westmorland, to quote a hard-headed local partisan, ‘is not to be won like Westminster’. On 7 Mar. 1818 Viscount Lowther calculated that of 2,400 or more votes, 450 of them non-resident, Brougham would get between 800 and 900.6

The prophecy proved correct. Brougham sought to expose manipulation of the land tax assessments by the Lowther party in the House in May 1818, and complained of the crown sale on easy terms to the Lowthers of the barony of Kendal which had enabled them to create votes ad lib. He believed his chances were further prejudiced by his readiness to discourage the anti-Lowther campaign from producing a contest in Cumberland to the disadvantage of Viscount Morpeth, for whom the Whig grandees were anxious. It was a straight contest between Brougham’s ‘Blues’ and the Lowthers’ ‘Yellows’ and Thanet, for one, thought it disastrous that Brougham was unable to obtain more split votes—he received only 56 of them at the poll. The Lowthers steered clear of their opponent, who boasted of haranguing over 10,000 people at Kendal. After leading on the first day of the poll, Brougham ceded victory after four days. He and his friends, knowing well that many of their supporters were unenfranchised extras, blamed the chaotic state of the land tax assessments for it. Of the challenged votes that were assessed, 83 for him were rejected and 48 on the other side: but just as many challenged voters for Brougham did not get a hearing. His campaign cost £7,500, while the Lowthers were supposed to have spent over five times as much. Nevertheless, Brougham had carried the East ward of the county and almost carried the Kendal ward, leaving the Lowthers in command of the West and Lonsdale wards. His party claimed the majority of the ‘resident’ vote. His supporters looked forward to the withdrawal of one of the Lowthers at the next election if they persevered, but they did not now seek a compromise. Before leaving Appleby, Brougham had opened a subscription to keep the ball rolling for a general onslaught on the Lowther interest. Thanet and other friends added more freeholds, and in March 1819 James Robert George Graham* annoyed the Lowthers by announcing, at a dinner for Brougham at the London tavern, that they had ‘sounded a retreat’. This was wishful thinking: Thanet resumed his gambling activities on the Continent, and, although he again financed the operation, the next two elections found Brougham still at a disadvantage against the same opponents.7

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Lonsdale mss, Lowther’s memo, 21 May; Harewood mss, Canning to his wife, 30 May; Harrowby mss, Bathurst to Harrowby, 2 June; Horner mss 3, ff. 58, 62; Add. 51571, Thanet to Holland, 25 May 1806.
  • 2. Fortescue mss, Carysfort to Grenville, Mon. [20 Oct.], Lowther to same, 7 Nov. 1806; Blair Adam mss, Cotes to Adam, 29 June 1802.
  • 3. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 14 Oct. 1813.
  • 4. Brougham mss A156.
  • 5. Ibid. A43, 157, 158, 162, 454; J22; 10029, 10262, 10876, 18370, 28723-6, 43052-6; H. Brougham to Atkinson [5 Feb.], [24 July], to J. Brougham, Mon., Thurs. [Jan.], to Lambton [2], [16 Feb.], to Grey [11], [20 Feb.]; Lonsdale mss, Lonsdale to Lowther, 11, 18 Jan., 2 Feb., Lowther to Lonsdale, Sat. [Feb.], 11, 19 Feb.; The Times, 23 Feb.; Lambton mss, Sir R. Wilson to Lambton, 18 May; Add. 51561, Brougham to Holland, Sat. [1818]; Sydney Smith Letters ed. N. C. Smith, i. 289; A. Aspinall, Politics and the Press 1780-1850, pp. 354-360.
  • 6. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, Sat., 7 Mar. 1818; Mackintosh Mems. ii. 353; Add. 51565, Brougham to Lady Holland [25 June 1818]; Brougham mss 10266; A162.
  • 7. Parl. Deb. xxxviii. 560, 582, 954, 988, 1053; Add. 51561, Brougham to Holland [28 June]; 51565, Brougham to Lady Holland [3 July]; Lambton mss, J. G. to Lady Louisa Lambton [2 July]; Grey mss, Lambton to Grey [6 July]; Brougham mss 343, 10433; J422, 982; A184, 190, 503; Lonsdale mss, Lonsdale to Lowther, 12, 14 Nov. 1818, 19 Mar., Lowther to Lonsdale, 15, 20 Mar. 1819; J. R. McQuiston, ‘The Lonsdale Connection and its Defender, Wm., Visct. Lowther 1818-1830’, Northern History, xi. 143.