LEVESON GOWER, William (c.1647-91), of Trentham, Staffs.
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Family and Education
b. c.1647, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Sir Thomas Gower, 2nd Bt., of Stittenham, Yorks. educ. Pocklington g.s. 1656, aged 9. m. c.1669, Lady Jane Granville (d. 27 Feb. 1696), da. of John, 1st Earl of Bath, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da. suc. cos. Francis Leveson (formerly Fowler) in Staffs. and Salop estate 1668, nephew as 4th Bt. 8 Oct. 1689.1
J.p. Yorks (N. Riding) 1669-81, Staffs. and Salop 1678-81, ?1689-d.; commr. for assessment, N. Riding and Salop 1673-80, Staffs. 1677-80, 1689, Salop 1689-90, (N. Riding) 1690, recusants, Yorks. 1675; dep. lt. Staffs. 1677-80, 1689-d.; steward, manor of Newcastle 1678-84.2
A younger son, Leveson Gower, according to a hostile account, ‘had a great estate fall to him by chance; but honesty and wit never came by accident’. His marriage gave him a strong link with the Court, and Lord Arlington wrote on his behalf when he first stood for Malton in his native Yorkshire. After a double return with James Hebblethwaite, he renounced the seat when he was elected two years later for Newcastle-under-Lyme, five miles from Trentham. A moderately active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was named to 12 committees, spoke nine times, and acted as a teller in four divisions. Sir Richard Wiseman included him among the government supporters in 1676, and in the next session Shaftesbury classed him as ‘doubly vile’. In the supply committee on 21 Feb. 1677 he asked:
Has the King invaded any man’s property, or shed any man’s blood in vain? You need not be jealous of property and religion. It goes hard with the King to retrench his house and the pensions, and he has parted with his revenue to pay the bankers’ debt, and moves therefore that we may supply the King with £600,000 for building ships.
But his principal concern in his early years in the House was to maintain the exclusion of foreign cattle. He twice acted as teller against proposals to modify the Act, but was nevertheless named to the repeal committee. Included on the government working lists among those ‘to be remembered’, he was enabled to consolidate his interest at Newcastle by the grant of the stewardship of the crown manor. His name was on both lists of the court party in 1678. He acted as teller for supply on 15 June, and in the final days of the Parliament he strove to divert the attack on Danby, not without some danger to himself:
I would not provoke the King, by this way of proceeding, to govern by arbitrary power and an army. I would know why the committee have not despatched the articles against the five lords in the Tower.3
Although blacklisted in the ‘unanimous club’, Leveson Gower was returned for Newcastle to all three Exclusion Parliaments. Shaftesbury marked him ‘vile’ in 1679, when he was moderately active, with three committees and as many speeches. During the dispute over the choice of a Speaker he inquired ‘roughly’ whether any address had ever been made without one, and was again called to order. When the speech from the throne of 22 Mar. about the proceedings against Danby was reported, Leveson Gower said:
If the Speaker had remembered all the King’s speech he would have reported all. The King said he has given this lord his pardon before the Parliament met, and has done no more than he did to the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Shaftesbury. And I think, if he be so removed as you are told by the King, that the nation is not in danger, and the King says he will pardon him again and again.
He was appointed to the committee to examine the disbandment accounts, and on 27 Apr. moved that none of the Queen’s servants should be exempted from the Test Act. He acted as teller for continuing the prohibition of Irish cattle, and was named to the committee for the bill. He was also appointed to the committee for reform of the bankruptcy laws. But before the Parliament ended he had gone over to the Opposition, voting for the exclusion bill, though his rivalry with Sir John Bowyer for control of Newcastle led him to support court candidates in the autumn elections.4
In the second Exclusion Parliament Leveson Gower was again moderately active as a committeeman. He was among those instructed to draw up an address on the state of the kingdom. He was fair-minded enough to object to the proposal to commit Edward Seymour without examining the charges that had been raked up against him. ‘Nothing less than a firm union among all Protestants in this nation can be sufficient’, he believed, though he still described the Church of England as ‘the unspotted spouse of our blessed Saviour’. But he complained that ‘the promises made to the nation at Breda are not kept’, and was compelled to explain, amid protestations of loyalty, that he was blaming not the King, but his ministers. He supported the bill to banish all considerable Papists, ‘excepting no one man in England whatsoever’, though he feared that ‘such bills as these will not do our business, because they will not destroy that footing which they have at Court’. He was added to the committee for the disbandment accounts, and appointed to that to prevent bequests for superstitious uses. By now one of the strongest exclusionists in the House, he helped to draft the address rejecting the King’s expedients to resolve the deadlock, and on 7 Jan. 1681 he said:
If the Lords had been left to themselves they would have passed this bill as well as we. But there is a great reason why we have not this bill passed. Persons near the King are interested for the Duke, and so long as they are at Court we shall not have this bill. ... The Court has become the nursery of all manner of vices transplanted into all England, and those are become only fit for the Court that are so. I would have the House freely express themselves about persons about the King, who hinder those things. ... I move that we may give no money till we are better secured of our religion and property, which I can see no way for but by this bill.
In the memoirs of James II he is reported as having averred at this time that, though some men would perhaps endeavour to make their peace with the Duke, he would perish first; ‘wherefore my opinion is we should break up, and each man return to his country and let the people see how we are used and I doubt not but they will soon join with us, their swords in their hands, and they will let the Duke know we defy him and all his popish adherents’.5
At the general election of 1681 Leveson Gower was returned for Shropshire, where he had inherited extensive estates from his uncle, as well as for his borough. At Oxford he chose the county seat, and was named to the committee of elections and privileges. In the first of his four speeches he favoured publication of the resolutions of the House. On the proposal to bring in the exclusion bill again he declared:
I hope the King will now come up to what he has said in his speech. My liberty and property are dear to me, and I will support the King’s prerogative too; and those people that are briars and thorns scratch you in your intentions against popery, which I see we cannot prevent without this bill, and therefore I am for it.
Two days later he returned to the subject:
If any gentlemen have expedients to preserve the Protestant religion without this bill of exclusion, they would do well to propose them, and they will deserve well of this House; and if they seem to them to give security then I should be glad to hear them.
Later in the same debate he urged that the King should be given reasons for excluding his brother from the succession to the throne:
I do think that the administration of the government has been in such hands since the King came in that, though the ministers have been shifted, yet the same principles of government remain to this day. ... The King of France made war with Holland for his glory, and our ministers to get taxes from us to make the King absolute: such violations as never were done upon the rights of the people!
As usual, he ignored calls to order, and as ‘Mr George’ he was appointed to the committee to bring in the bill.6
Early in 1682 Leveson Gower was named as one of the dissenters’ supporters in Staffordshire. The Duke of Monmouth visited Trentham immediately before his arrest at Stafford in September, when his host was among those who offered to stand bail. After the Rye House Plot information was obtained that he had purchased considerable quantities of fire-arms, but he was apparently more successful than William Forester in concealing them. He lost his stewardship in 1684, and was defeated at Newcastle in the following year, though he petitioned in both sessions of James II’s Parliament. But in September 1688 he was recommended for county office as a Whig collaborator, and approved as court candidate for his borough, though he later affected to believe that the regulators’ intervention was ‘on purpose to keep me out’. During the Revolution it was reported that Trentham had been attacked, and horses and arms carried away for the Protestant cause.7
Leveson Gower was in fact one of the court candidates able to overcome this handicap at the general election of 1689, and in the Convention he sat again for Newcastle. An active Member, he delivered 19 recorded speeches and was appointed to 50 committees. Still a strong Anglican, on 1 Feb. he moved successfully to thank the two archbishops for their defence of the Protestant religion, and was instructed to deliver the message himself. But he was equally committed to the Revolution, despite his earlier hesitancy, and on the following day he helped to prepare reasons for insisting that the throne was vacant. At the end of the month he carried up the resolution of the Commons to assist William with their lives and fortunes, and on the next day he was among those appointed to draft the address to this effect and to consider the suspension of habeas corpus. He was also named to the committees to inquire into the authors and advisers of grievances, to consider the first mutiny bill, and to examine prisoners of state. He helped to draw up the address for war with France and to prepare reasons for a conference on disarming Papists. His nephew, who had been given a regiment, was under orders for Ireland, and on 1 June he desired to know why the forces sent to relieve Londonderry had returned without effecting their purpose. He was appointed to the committee of inquiry, and a month later he was added to the committee to consider the Lords’ proviso on the succession. He assured the House that the Seven Bishops were too good Christians to desire any exceptions from the indemnity bill on their account. He helped to draft the address asking for permission to inspect the Privy Council records about Ireland and to investigate the charges of malversation against William Harbord. On 19 July he was teller against the adjournment. He took part in the attack on Lord Halifax in the House, for which he was denied the peerage that would naturally have come his way, especially after succeeding to Stittenham when his nephew died on active service.8
Leveson Gower moved for a vote of thanks for the speech from the throne which opened the second session, and was sent to carry it to the King with the Privy Councillors. He helped to conduct the inquiries into the miscarriages of the war and the state of the revenue. In the debate on Commissary Shales he said: ‘I am for taking out all the deer in this King’s park that were in King James’s park’. Nevertheless he was moving back towards the Tories. A vehement champion of Princess Anne, he took the chair in the committee to draw up an address for her maintenance. Although not listed as a supporter of the disabling clause in the bill to restore corporations, he was appointed to the committee on the bill to enforce a general oath of allegiance, and reported on 24 Jan. 1690 that the imprisonment of three informers on a warrant from a Middlesex j.p. was illegal.9
Leveson Gower sat as a Tory in the opening sessions of the next Parliament, but died on 22 Dec. 1691. His son succeeded him as Tory MP for Newcastle until raised to the peerage in 1703.10
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: A. M. Mimardière
- 1. Staffs. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxiii), 109; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxv. 62; HMC 5th Rep. 196; Hist. Pirehill (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. n.s. xii), 79.
- 2. Staffs. Dep. Lts. (Staffs. Rec. Soc. 1931), 285; Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 168.
- 3. Staffs. Parl. Hist. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), ii. 127-8; HMC 5th Rep. 197; Grey, iv. 112; vi. 386; CJ, ix. 406, 415.
- 4. Grey, vi. 412; vii. 21-22, 142; CJ, ix. 621.
- 5. Grey, viii. 89, 104-5, 157, 266; Exact Coll. Debates, 181-2, 263; HMC 12th Rep. IX, 100, 110; Clarke, Jas. II, i. 621.
- 6. Grey, viii. 294, 296, 313, 322-3; CJ, ix. 711.
- 7. CSP Dom. 1682, p. 381; July-Sept. 1683, pp 18, 65; Bodl. Carte 216, ff. 189-90; CJ, ix. 716, 760; Grey, ix. 108; Ellis Corresp. ii. 334-5.
- 8. Grey, ix. 40, 276, 378; CJ, x. 16, 37, 162; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 228.
- 9. R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 617; CJ, x. 271, 316, 343; Grey, ix. 464, 501-2.
- 10. Staffs. Parl. Hist. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), ii. 127-8.