Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Number of voters:



c. Mar. 1614HENRY CLIFFORD , Lord Clifford
11 Jan. 1621HENRY CLIFFORD , Lord Clifford
28 Apr. 1625JOHN LOWTHER I
28 Feb. 1628(SIR) JOHN LOWTHER I

Main Article

Westmorland had long been free from Scottish incursions before the Union of the Crowns in 1603, by which time ‘the old breed of northern magnates who saw their tenants as armed retainers rather than mere entries on a rent roll’ was practically extinct.1 Nevertheless, the early Stuart period was dominated by wrangling over tenant-right, the custom of rendering an uneconomic rent in consideration of the obligation to serve on the now non-existent border. Landlords regarded the change of circumstances as an opportunity to overthrow all customary tenures and increase entry fines, although this met with considerable resistance from their tenants.2 Traditionally Westmorland, a ‘little mountainous county’, was divided into two parts; the barony of Appleby in the north, dominated by the Clifford earls of Cumberland who also held the hereditary shrievalty of Westmorland; and the barony of Kendal in the south, comprised mainly of Crown estates.3 Elections were held at Appleby and seats were shared out between a handful of local gentry families; the Cliffords remained the main patron of elections, but in four out of seven Parliaments one Member was selected from each side of the county. There were no electoral contests in this period, and it is notable that the same Members tended to be re-elected to consecutive Parliaments, perhaps reflecting the ‘relative poverty of the border areas and the proportionately smaller number of noteworthy families’ who were willing to bear the expense of parliamentary service.4

In 1604 Sir Thomas Strickland of Sizergh, three miles south of Kendal, who had served in Elizabeth’s last Parliament, was returned as the senior knight of the shire, with Sir Richard Musgrave of Hartley, on the north Yorkshire border, as his colleague. At the next general election in 1614 the 4th earl of Cumberland (Francis Clifford*), as sheriff, returned his own son, Henry, Lord Clifford, and nephew Sir Thomas Wharton, in first and second places respectively. Both were from the northern half of the shire. Wharton and his father had recently won a significant victory in a Chancery case concerning agreements with 279 tenants on six manors that set a precedent against tenant-right.5 Customary tenures were further shaken up by two events that occurred in 1616. First, the heirs of the countess dowager of Cumberland, who died in that year, discovered to their dismay that lands worth £3,000 a year would yield little more than a tenth of that sum unless the terms of tenant-right were altered, which would require an Act of Parliament. Clifford not surprisingly announced his intention to proceed with a bill, although there is no evidence that he ever did so.6 Secondly, the Crown lands in the barony of Kendal were granted to Prince Charles upon his creation as Prince of Wales. The prince’s newly appointed steward, John Lowther I, immediately applied himself to the overthrow of tenant-right both in the barony and on his own newly purchased manor of Crosby Ravensworth.7 In 1618 the lord chancellor Sir Francis Bacon* issued a decree requiring the prince’s tenants to pay £2,700 for confirmation of their right of inheritance. There followed on 28 July 1620 a Proclamation abolishing tenant-right as incompatible with the Union of the Crowns, which provoked organized protests across the region.8

The next election took place against a backdrop of insurrection over tenures, led by Crown tenants in the barony of Kendal. A Remonstrance was drawn up by the vicar of Kirkby Stephen and read in Staveley chapel on 2 Jan. 1621 to a gathering described by the landlords as a ‘riotous assembly’.9 Nine days later Clifford and Wharton were re-elected. Two tenants’ bills were tabled in the Commons, one concerning the prince’s Kendal estates (26 Feb. 1621), and another ‘for enabling and confirmation of certain lands and tenements within the county of Westmorland to be customary lands and tenements of inheritance, according to the purport of decrees heretofore made within the space of two years last past in the High Court of Chancery, or within seven years hereafter’ (27 February).10 Clifford and Wharton were both appointed on 10 Mar. 1621 to consider the first of these bills, which was steered through committee by the prince’s solicitor, (Sir) Thomas Trevor*, and sent to the Lords on 26 May. It passed, but failed to be enacted at the abrupt end of the Parliament.11 The second bill was an attempt by the tenants of various private landlords in the county, including the Bellinghams of Over Levens, to protect themselves against high entry fines and rack-renting. However, the bill was not only rejected on second reading because of objections raised against its ‘future authority’, but the landlords also later sued the tenants responsible in Star Chamber.12 Clifford refused to stand again, and so Westmorland was represented in the last Jacobean Parliament by Lowther, a substantial landowner in northern Westmorland, together with Strickland’s son Robert.13

In 1625 and 1626 Lowther was re-elected, along with Sir Henry Bellingham, whose estates lay to the south of Kendal; the latter took the opportunity while in London to appear as a plaintiff in the Star Chamber tenant-right case. The tenants, who had engaged Sir Heneage Finch* as legal counsel, finally emerged triumphant from prolonged litigation with a ruling confirming their inheritance of their estates; the Bellinghams and other landlords were ordered to set agreed rates of fines.14

Perhaps because of the tradition of border service, there seems to have been no serious opposition either to the Forced Loan or to the pressing and billeting of soldiers in Westmorland.15 At the general election in 1628 both Members came from the north of the shire. Lowther was elected for the fourth time in succession, together with his son John, though the latter was then in London pursuing his legal studies.16 The choice of Lowther and his son was a unique honour for the family.

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. A.R. Appleby, ‘Agrarian Capitalism or Seigneurial Reaction?’, AHR, lxxx. 586-7.
  • 2. M. Campbell, Eng. Yeoman, 148-50; J. Scott, ‘The Kendal Tenant Right Dispute, 1619-26’, in Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xcviii. 169-82.
  • 3. CSP Dom. 1627-8, p. 198.
  • 4. R.E. Ruigh, Parl. of 1624, p. 106.
  • 5. C78/505/10.
  • 6. Lowther Fam. Estate Bks. ed. C.B. Phillips (Surtees Soc. cxci), 224-5.
  • 7. Ibid. 226.
  • 8. Stuart Royal Procs. ed. Hughes and Larkin, i. 488-90; Campbell, 150-2; J. Nicholson and R. Burn, Westmld. and Cumb. i. 51-5.
  • 9. STAC 8/34/4; S.J. Watts, ‘Tenant Right in Early Seventeenth-Cent. Northumb.’, NH, vi. 74-7.
  • 10. CJ, i. 526b, 529a.
  • 11. Ibid. 548b; CD 1621, iv. 142, 379; vii. 65-70, 75-77; Watts, 75-6.
  • 12. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 216; 1623-5, p. 107.
  • 13. Strafforde Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 19.
  • 14. STAC 8/34/4; Nicholson and Burn, i. 56-9; Scott, 174-80.
  • 15. CSP Dom. 1627-8, pp. 48, 198, 312.
  • 16. Lowther Fam. Estate Bks. 27.