LOWTHER, John I (1582-1637), of Lowther Hall, Westmld.

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



Family and Education

bap. 24 Feb. 1582,1 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Sir Christopher Lowther of Lowther and his 1st w. Eleanor, da. of William Musgrave† of Hayton Castle, Cumb.2 educ. Appleby g.s.; I. Temple 1599, called 1609.3 m. 2 Feb. 1602 (with £1,000), Eleanor (d. 16 Nov. 1659),4 da. of William Fleming of Rydal, Westmld., 3s. 2da.5 suc. fa. 1617;6 kntd. 6 June 1626.7 d. 15 Sept. 1637.8

Offices Held

Escheator, Cumb. and Westmld. 1610-11;9 j.p. Westmld. c.1614-d., Cumb. 1624-d., Yorks. 1626-d.;10 steward of Richmond fee, barony of Kendal, Westmld. 1617-34;11 commr. border malefactors 1618, 1619, 1635,12 subsidy, Westmld. 1622, 1624,13 oyer and terminer, Cumb., Northumb. and Westmld. 1624, Northern circ. 1626-d.,14 Forced Loan, Cumb., Westmld. and Yorks. (N. and E. Riding) 1626-7;15 dep. lt. Westmld. by 1627;16 commr. sewers, N. Riding 1627-at least 1632,17 gaol delivery, Ripon, Yorks. 1627-d.,18 recusants, Northern counties 1627-30;19 member, Council in the North 1627-d.;20 commr. piracy, Cumb. 1631.21

Master in Chancery extraordinary 1626;22 KC, York 1632-d.;23 recorder, Kendal, Yorks. 1636-d.24


Lowther traced his ancestry back to Sir Hugh Lowther, of Lowther, a lawyer who represented Westmorland in 1305.25 The family income was estimated to be around £570 a year in the early seventeenth century; but with his father in debt and seven younger brothers ‘to have gentlemanly maintenance out of that small living’, Lowther was expected to manage on a pittance while studying at the Inner Temple, and married a ‘very sober, frugal, temperate and mild woman’, with whom he shared an income of only £72 a year.26 He resolved on a legal career, since ‘husbandry I presumed I could resort to when I could not proceed in [my] profession’, though his private practice never brought in more than £150 a year.27 He kept meticulous accounts, and by careful management and judicious purchases increased his annual income to £1,183 in 1624. In a detailed autobiography he imparted to his sons his belief that ‘gentry and descent of blood ... is nothing else but a descent of riches’.28

Lowther took a second house in Kendal ‘for the resort of them that came to me for my profession’ on market days, which also served as the judges’ lodgings during the assizes. It was on the nomination of the assize judges that Lowther joined his father on the Westmorland bench in around 1614. He later proudly recalled that his father was ‘pleased in me when I give the charge, and that my opinion is taken as a rule in that court’.29 Soon after inheriting the Lowther estate in 1617, he purchased the manor of Crosby Ravensworth.30 However, he encountered difficulties with the copyholders, who brought an action in Chancery to prevent the enclosure of adjoining waste lands. Lowther’s chief objective was to overthrow tenant-right, the custom of charging minimal rents in consideration of possible military service to defend the border, both on his own estate and as steward of Prince Charles’s property in the barony of Kendal. Tenant-right was financially ruinous to the landlords, and after the Union of the crowns in 1603 it was disliked by James and Charles ‘as a name of hostility’ towards Scotland. Lowther therefore attempted to ‘keep the tenants in fear... and carry the business as the tenants see no other means to help them, nor shall find none but through me’.31

Lowther was returned to James’s last Parliament as Westmorland’s senior knight of the shire. While in London he lodged at the Inner Temple, and kept company with the Commons’ most eminent lawyer, Sir Edward Coke*, ‘being his daily companion dinner and supper, and I alone’.32 In line with his habit of journal-writing and careful accounting, Lowther kept a parliamentary diary. Indeed, his notes survive for every Parliament he attended, except that of 1625. These take the form of a small quarto notebook for each session; one of the volumes also contains lists of legal precedents, abstracts of statutes, and other memoranda. His lively 1624 diary accurately captures the tone of many speeches, as well as recording his irritation at the prolixity of Sir George More and Sir Miles Fleetwood.33 Lowther’s own maiden speech, on 2 Mar. 1624, was to move that the Southwark election should be declared void, perhaps on behalf of Coke’s kinsman Francis Myngaye†, who had been involved in a double return for the junior seat.34 Appointed to help draft a bill to reform parliamentary elections on 15 Mar., he was also named to consider measures to reverse a decree in Chancery corruptly obtained by Lady Wharton (17 Mar.), abuses in the Exchequer regarding actions for debt (24 Mar.), and the enfranchisement of county Durham (25 March).35 As a member of the committee for the continuance and repeal of expiring laws, he told the House on 10 Apr. that regulation of corn exports was difficult ‘in his country in the north’ because ‘corn was never under 8s. the bushel; but the bushel is double as big as in other places’.36 He was named to attend conferences with the Lords on monopolies (7 Apr.), the government of Wales (14 Apr.), and limitations and pleading in the Exchequer (30 April).37 On 27 Apr. he reported that there were no recusants in office in his county.38 Although not named to the committee for the bankruptcy bill, as a lawyer he was entitled to attend, and on 29 Apr. he reported the bill to the House, describing as a grievance the inability to arrest a debtor unless all the creditors assented.39 He remained in London for a few weeks after the prorogation in order to enrol in Chancery an agreement with the tenants of Crosby Ravensworth.40

Lowther was re-elected as senior knight of the shire in the first three Parliaments of Charles’s reign. In 1625 he was named to committees concerning the king’s tenants of Macclesfield (23 June), larceny (25 June), and sheriffs’ accounts (9 July).41 On 27 June, though not recorded as having attended the two meetings of the committee, he reported the Macclesfield bill, which aimed to restrain unauthorized coal mining. One historian has observed that this Crown measure presumably benefited from being handled in the Lower House by such a ‘quintessentially private Member’ as Lowther, but the bill was perhaps of particular interest to Lowther since the manor, like Richmond fee in Kendal where he was steward, had belonged to Charles as Prince of Wales.42 Though Lowther and Christopher Brooke were named to the drafting committee for a bill about the pressing of soldiers and the muster-masters (1 July), they were omitted from the final list.43 In the debate of 4 July on the Yorkshire election, he observed that ‘if the House shall now judge the sheriff, whether it be with him or against him, this may be afterwards crossed upon an action brought by Sir John Savile* for a false return’.44 Sir Thomas Wentworth*, whose return for Yorkshire was disputed and overturned, professed himself Lowther’s servant, as Lowther later recalled ‘for the right I did him in Parliament when he was put out of the House’.45 Lowther made no recorded contribution during the brief Oxford sitting after Parliament was adjourned to avoid the plague in London.

Lowther is not differentiated in the records of the 1626 Parliament from Richard Lowther, who sat for Berwick-upon-Tweed. However, it was almost certainly he, rather than his inexperienced cousin, who responded to calls for an inquiry into the seizure of the French ship, St. Peter of Le Havre, by defending the actions of the Admiralty, saying ‘if there be any power for those goods to belong unto the king then to keep them manfully, [or] else to do justice’; and he was included among the committee appointed to examine it further (23 February).46 Four days later, in further debate about the duke of Buckingham’s failures as lord admiral, Lowther expressed his reluctance to ‘blame ill counsels, defect of ships, of forts, etc.’ for the interruption of trade, instead pointing the finger at ‘some evil not yet mentioned ... [and] the evil of the river of Trent’.47 Although not named to the open committee on the bill for setting prisoners to work and instructing them in religion (8 Mar.), he reported the measure with amendments on 18 Mar., only to have it rejected.48 On 5 Apr. he was given leave to take a fortnight’s absence, thereby missing the call of the House; he had returned by 24 Apr., the date of the first entry in his diary of the proceedings.49 He was appointed to select committees to draft a bill against contagion (29 Apr.), and to prepare the preamble to the subsidy bill (5 May); and named to consider bills concerning the clergy (6 May) and recusants (8 May).50 On 11 May he reported that a private bill had been rejected in committee by a single vote, but the House upheld the decision.51 His purchases had made him a considerable Yorkshire landowner, and he took the chair for another private bill, promoted by Matthew Hutton* and his father, which he reported on 1 June.52 By this time Lowther felt increasingly out of step with the majority in the Lower House, whose main objective was to bring down the duke of Buckingham; he observed critically ‘how few or none did labour in the general good or general favour, but for private bills, factions about elections, and ... to pull down great officers for the private spleen of some leaders, the multitude glorying in destruction’.53 He could see no reason why the speech of Sir Dudley Carleton* on 12 May warning against ‘tumultuary licence’ was so ‘exceedingly disliked’, and thought ‘somebody much to blame for it’.54 At this juncture his ‘kind friend’ Richard Graham* commended Lowther to Buckingham, who ‘did take liking to me’. Sir Ferdinando Fairfax* noted that ‘Mr. John Lowther ... hath done the duke some good offices this Parliament’, and in reward Lowther was knighted nine days before the dissolution, appointed to the Council in the North ‘gratis without one penny given’, and given a minor office in Chancery.55

Lowther’s allegiance to the unpopular royal favourite apparently did him no harm in his own county. Indeed, in 1628 Westmorland paid him the unprecedented compliment of electing his son John II* as his colleague. In the supply debate of 4 Apr. 1628 Lowther spoke in favour of voting five subsidies, the highest amount proposed, so ‘that we may not be made poor but rich by this gift’.56 He also came to the defence of John Baber*, recorder of Wells, who was vilified by the Commons for complying with illegal billeting orders, arguing on 9 Apr. that ‘he did it upon necessity ... therefore I humbly move he may be spared, not doubting that this warning will be a sufficient punishment’.57 On 1 May, in grand committee on the bill for the liberty of the subject, Lowther urged circumspect action and ‘offered divers things of his own drawing’ concerning habeus corpus. He further suggested that they should ‘insert the promise and words of His Majesty, which may be a good help to the passage of the bill, and a fair way to bring after the resolutions of this House’.58 In the debate of 30 May on the monopoly granted to Sir Thomas Monson* for the issue of official documents by the Council in the North, Lowther observed that ‘the letters are as grievous as the bills’.59 His only committee appointments were to consider the Medway navigation bill (17 May) and to draft an arms bill (4 June).60 Lowther’s diary of this Parliament covers only the last few weeks of the first session, from 4-26 June; nevertheless he produced the fullest surviving private record of the second session.61 His final appointment was to a private bill committee (12 Feb. 1629), but he played no part in the tumultuous end of the Parliament, of which he concluded his account by declaring that ‘I shall never with goodwill desire to be there again’.62

Lowther was removed from the recusancy commission in 1630 after clashing with Wentworth, and the preferments promised him before Buckingham’s assassination never materialized.63 He observed that ‘times then so stood by the interruption of the Parliament as I durst not nor was it safe to desire any higher place’; and in any case he was in declining health ‘with an hernia in my left stone and in that side of my brain’. He calculated his annual profits from his estate at £1,900, including the part of Whitehaven which he had developed, while his income from mortgages and legal office amounted to £660, concluding that he and his sons ‘have great cause to praise God that hath set us before all our neighbours in our rank in these two counties’.64

Lowther undertook, and his successor continued, an ambitious programme of rebuilding and extension of Lowther Hall.65 When he drew up his will on 25 Apr. 1637 he had already established his second son Christopher on an independent estate at St. Bees in Cumberland, and was able to leave portions of £1,000, each to Christopher, his unmarried daughter Frances, and his third son William†, in spite of the latter’s ‘obstinate disposition in marriage against my will’.66 Lowther died on 15 Sept. 1637 after a fortnight’s sickness ‘conceived to be a hot fever’. John II, his successor, described him as ‘exceedingly laborious, both in the general care and in a manner sole government of the country, and in the managing of his own estate to the best advantage’.67 Portraits of Lowther and his wife, painted in 1630, remain in a private collection.68

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Authors: John. P. Ferris / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. Lowther Par. Reg. ed. J.F. Haswell and C.S. Jackson, 18.
  • 2. Lowther Fam. Estate Bks. ed. C.B. Phillips (Surtees Soc. cxci), 209.
  • 3. Ibid. 209; I. Temple Admiss.; CITR, ii. 41.
  • 4. Estate Bks. 248.
  • 5. Ibid. 161, 211.
  • 6. WARD 7/57/59.
  • 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 190.
  • 8. Estate Bks. 50-1; C142/564/168.
  • 9. Estate Bks. 221.
  • 10. C66/1988; C231/4, ff. 167, 206, 207; C193/13/2, ff. 12, 19, 21, 23, 70; C181/4, ff. 7v, 8v, 176v-7; 181/5, ff. 18v, 19, 51.
  • 11. Estate Bks. 226; H. Owen, Lowther Fam. 170.
  • 12. T. Rymer, Foedera, vii. pt. 3, pp. 38, 97; CSP Dom. 1635, p. 510.
  • 13. C212/22/21, 23.
  • 14. C181/3, ff. 107, 209v, 262v; 181/4, ff. 14v, 197v; 181/5, ff. 7v, 77.
  • 15. SP16/44/4, 16/53/43; C193/12/2, ff. 8v, 15v, 17, 62; Rymer, viii. pt. 2, pp. 144-5.
  • 16. SP16/73/41.
  • 17. C181/3, f. 223; 181/4, f. 114.
  • 18. C181/3, ff. 222, 265v; 181/4, ff. 8, 178; 181/5, ff. 19v, 52v.
  • 19. APC, 1627, p. 313.
  • 20. Estate Bks. 229; H. Owen, Lowther Fam. 161; R. Reid, Council in the North, 498.
  • 21. C181/4, f. 81.
  • 22. C216/1/97.
  • 23. CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 421.
  • 24. Owen, 164.
  • 25. Estate Bks. 208.
  • 26. Ibid. 162, 212.
  • 27. Ibid. 7, 27, 37, 211.
  • 28. Ibid. 17-19; C.B. Phillips, ‘Gentry in Cumb. and Westmld. 1600-65’ (Lancaster Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1973), pp. 146, 181, 216.
  • 29. Estate Bks. 213, 222.
  • 30. Ibid. 226; C2/Jas.I/C30/16; M. Campbell, English Yeomen, 152.
  • 31. Estate Bks. 226.
  • 32. Ibid. 229.
  • 33. Cumb. RO (Carlisle), D/Lons/L2/1, 2, 3; Russell, PEP, 173; HMC Lonsdale, 1-74.
  • 34. ‘Lowther 1624’, f. 16v.
  • 35. CJ, i. 686a, 688a, 748b, 749b.
  • 36. Ibid. 750b; ‘Nicholas 1624’, f. 137.
  • 37. CJ, i. 695, 757b, 767a.
  • 38. Ibid. 776b.
  • 39. Ibid. 694a; ‘Lowther 1624’, f. 67v.
  • 40. C78/277/1.
  • 41. Procs. 1625, pp. 226, 245, 358.
  • 42. Ibid. 252; C.R. Kyle, ‘Attendance Lists’, PPE 1604-48 ed. Kyle, 227; Russell, 234.
  • 43. HMC Lords n.s. xi. 198.
  • 44. Procs. 1625, p. 297.
  • 45. Estate Bks. 229.
  • 46. Procs. 1626, ii. 103, 110.
  • 47. Ibid. 143.
  • 48. Ibid. 226, 312.
  • 49. Ibid. i. 10; ii. 431.
  • 50. Ibid. iii. 97, 168, 180, 190.
  • 51. Ibid. 227-8.
  • 52. Ibid. 227, 341; Phillips, 184.
  • 53. Estate Bks. 229.
  • 54. Procs. 1626, iii. 247; Russell, 306.
  • 55. Add. 18979, f. 3v; Estate Bks. 229.
  • 56. CD 1628, ii. 312.
  • 57. Ibid. 386.
  • 58. Ibid. iii. 190, 192, 204.
  • 59. Ibid. iv. 31.
  • 60. Ibid. iii. 446, iv. 85.
  • 61. Ibid. i. 1.
  • 62. CJ, i. 929a; Estate Bks. 229.
  • 63. CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 301.
  • 64. Estate Bks. 40-1.
  • 65. M.H. Port, ‘Lowther Hall and Castle Illustrated’, Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. lxxxiv. 191-204.
  • 66. York Wills ed. F. Collins (Yorks. Arch. and Top. Assoc., Rec. Ser. iv), 71; Estate Bks. 229-30.
  • 67. Estate Bks. 50-1.
  • 68. Owen, 153.