LOWTHER, William (c.1612-88), of Swillington, Yorks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



16 May 1660

Family and Education

b. c.1612, 3rd s. of Sir John Lowther of Lowther, Westmld., and bro. of Sir John Lowther I, 1st Bt. m. by 1636, Jane, da. of William Busfield, merchant, of Leeds, Yorks., 5s. (1 d.v.p.) 9da. Kntd. 30 Dec. 1661.

Offices Held

J.p. Yorks. (W. Riding) 1632-43, July 1660-d., commr. for assessment Aug. 1660-80 capt. of militia ft. 1661-?76, commr. for corporations 1662-3, loyal and indigent officers 1662, dep. lt. (W. Riding) 1667-76, commr. for concealed lands, Yorks. 1670, recusants (W. Riding) 1675.1

Commr. for customs 1671-9.


Designed by his father for a mercantile career, Lowther had established himself by 1636 in Leeds, the thriving centre of the Yorkshire woollen industry. At the outset of the Civil War he helped to raise a loan of £5,000 to the King under the Yorkshire Engagement, and contributed to the Marquess of Newcastle’s Cavalier forces, allegedly under duress. From 1643 to 1645 he was in Rotterdam, where he had business interests, and on his return compounded for stock and investments worth £1,000 (excluding ‘debts desperate’). After paying a fine of £200 he resumed his business in Rotterdam. He is said to have contributed to the support of the exiled Court, but finally returned to England in or before 1653, when he bought several Yorkshire manors. He retired from trade at this time, though he exploited the coal and lime deposits on his property.2

Although ineligible under the Long Parliament ordinance, Lowther was involved in a double return with Sir John Hewley, at Pontefract, seven miles from Swillington, at the general election of 1660. He was seated on the merits of the election and classed by Lord Wharton as a friend. An active Member of the Convention, he was appointed to 53 committees, twice acted as teller, and made four recorded speeches. He was in touch with the Court before the Restoration, urging, despite his staunch churchmanship, that every effort should be made to win over Edward Bowles, whom he described as the Presbyterian patriarch of the north. He was among those ordered to consider the libel on Sir Richard Temple and to prepare reasons for a conference on three orders issued by the House of Lords. On 11 July he opposed the bill to confirm sales of land, quoting the old proverb: ‘He that eats the King’s goose may be choked with the feathers’. He was appointed on 30 July to the committee for settling ministers in ecclesiastical livings. He tried to insert a proviso in the indemnity bill to cover the Yorkshire Engagement, but withdrew it when he was included in a committee to bring in an accounts bill. His speech on 22 Aug. apparently persuaded the House to agree with the Lords in leaving Sir Henry Vane liable to the death penalty under the indemnity bill. He acted as teller against a naturalization bill on 30 Aug., and was named to the committee for the Dunkirk establishment. When Parliament met again after the recess he moved that the whole House might attend the King with a vote of thanks for his declaration in favour of a modified episcopacy. He was appointed to the committee for the attainder bill, and on 20 Dec. acted as teller for a proviso to prevent the intruded dons from taking advantage of the bill to confirm college leases.3

Lowther was re-elected to the Cavalier Parliament, in which he was very active. He was probably appointed to 564 committees, in four of which he took the chair. He acted as teller in five divisions, and made 12 recorded speeches. In the earlier sessions, as one of the few Members who combined mercantile experience with unimpeachable loyalty to crown and Church, he was particularly prominent, serving on all the committees for the Clarendon Code, though Wharton still listed him among the moderates. During the exceptionally mild winter the local markets had been frequently disturbed by Quaker nudists, many of them ex-officers, crying ‘Woe to Yorkshire!’ and abusing the Government. Lowther, who had moved in the Wakefield sessions for the suppression of these unseemly practices, was among those ordered to bring in a bill to prevent ill consequences from the activities of the schismatics. On 31 May 1661 he was sent to the Lords to ask for their concurrence for a day of public humiliation in respect of the immoderate rain, and he helped to manage a conference on the corporations bill. At the end of the year he was knighted, and acted as one of the managers of the conference of 7 Jan. 1662 on the ‘traitorous design’. He took the chair for the bill to regulate the West Riding woollen industry, which he reported on 31 Jan. He was sent on 13 Feb. with Sir Baynham Throckmorton, 2nd Bt. and Sir William Doyley to ask the lord treasurer to expedite his report on the Forest of Dean. After being added to the committee for the execution of those under attainder, he served on the deputation to ask the King to return Vane and John Lambert to the Tower to await trial. He was among those appointed to consider the Lords’ proviso to the bill against schismatics, and to prepare reasons for a conference on it. He acted as teller for referring a petition from the salt-makers of the north-east to the revenue committee. On 3 Mar. he carried a bill for the relief of maimed soldiers to the Lords, and on the following day a bill to discharge James Scudamore from a gambling debt, which he had chaired in committee. On 25 Feb. 1663 he was teller against adjourning the debate on the Declaration of Indulgence, and he was named to the committee for preparing a bill to prevent the further growth of Popery. He was one of four Members instructed on 26 Mar. to inquire about Cavaliers’ deeds remaining in the Exchequer, and he also served on the committee of inquiry into Temple’s conduct. In 1664 he assisted William Prynne to establish the correct title of the Triennial Act, and acted as teller for a proviso to the hearth-tax collection bill about punishing the misbehaviour of officials. He was one of the Members instructed to thank the King and the City for defending the honour, safety and trade of the nation against the Dutch. He acted as teller against bills for relieving the creditors of the Merchant Adventurers and regulating the manufacture of tobacco pipes. On 1 July 1665 he wrote to Sir Philip Warwick to complain of the insolence of Presbyterian and other conventiclers, and in the Oxford session his was the first name on the committee for the five mile bill. It is clear that during the second Dutch war, if not before, he moved into Opposition as a ‘country Cavalier’. He acted as chairman of the parliamentary accounts committee, from which he presented an admirably lucid report on the debts of the navy on 17 Oct. 1666. He helped to manage a conference on the subject, and he was the first Member nominated to the abortive public accounts commission in the following month. He was among those ordered to prepare reasons against the patent of the Canary Company and to manage conferences on the impeachment of Lord Mordaunt, and the bill to encourage coinage. On 21 Jan. 1667 he was sent to ask the Lords to fix a day for proceeding with Mordaunt’s trial.4

Lowther took the chair in the committee appointed to draw up an address on 10 Oct. 1667, and four days later presented a draft including an expression of thanks for the dismissal of Clarendon. He was among those ordered to bring in an accounts bill, to report on freedom of speech in Parliament, to inquire into the miscarriages of the war, to consider further charges against Mordaunt, and to reduce into heads the accusations against Clarendon. On 6 Nov. he cited the Historical Collections of John Rushworth to prove that ‘an impeachment may be justly drawn by the Commons against a peer by public fame’. He helped to draw up reasons for committing Clarendon and for freedom of speech, and was appointed to the committee on the bill to banish the fallen minister. Sir Thomas Osborne included him in 1669 among those Members to be engaged for the Court by the Duke of Buckingham, who had made him a deputy lieutenant. On 10 Nov. 1670 he recommended the postponement of the new customs farm till the alterations proposed by Sir Robert Howard had been considered. On 17 Mar. 1671 he urged that ‘all gentlemen who had lent any money to the King in the late wars might be satisfied’, and five days later, in a debate on conventicles, supported a clause to forbid the fining of juries by judges because ‘it is harder to corrupt twelve men than one judge’. Although his name continued to appear on committees directed against both conventicles and Papists, a major speech on 5 Apr. confirms that his attitude towards nonconformists was becoming less rigid:

Is the Church nothing but discipline? The Church of Christ is the doctrine of Christ; the ceremonies are the Church of men. As great men as the Church has had have dissented in discipline, though they have not published it. The Church is built upon the state of England, and the commonwealth bears the Church, not the Church the commonwealth. A great prelate, considering how to recover the honour of the Church, says, ‘How came the Church by that honour? By piety and humility, and by pride and insolence lost it’.

Lowther was not included by the Opposition among the court party at the end of the session, but in September he was appointed to the new customs commission with a salary of £2,000 p.a.5

Lowther helped to draw up the address against the suspending power in 1673, and was appointed to the committee which produced the test bill. He was also named to committees to consider the state of Ireland (20 Feb. 1674), for the recall of British subjects from the French service (10 Nov. 1675), and for the better preservation of the liberty of the subject (5 Mar. 1677). He was included among the officials in the House and on the working lists, and in A Seasonable Argument he was described as ‘a man whose honesty and integrity oftener fail him than his wit’. Nevertheless Shaftesbury marked him ‘worthy’ in 1677, and Anchitell Grey mentioned him, together with Henry Savile and Sir Cyril Wyche, as losing his place for voting with his conscience. His salary had in fact been reduced to £1,200 when the customs commission was renewed in 1675, but Osborne (now Lord Treasurer Danby) could not persuade the King to replace him by one of his wife’s family, though he was removed from the lieutenancy. In his last recorded speech, on 23 Feb. 1678, he opposed the proposal to tax the East India Company, because ‘that company does furnish the King with as many brave ships as any body of men do’. His name remained on the government list of court supporters, and he was appointed to the committees for hindering Papists from sitting in Parliament, preparing reasons for a conference on colliers, and translating Coleman’s letters.6

Although not on the opposition list of the ’unanimous club’ of court supporters, Lowther did not stand again. Nor was he reappointed to the customs commission in 1679, presumably because of his age. He died on 20 Feb. 1688, and was buried at Kippax. His son sat for Pontefract as a Whig from 1695 to 1698.

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / Paula Watson


This biography is based on Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. xlii. 67-76.

  • 1. Stowe 744, f. 53; HMC 8th Rep. pt. 1 (1881), 275; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 634.
  • 2. Royalist Comp. Pprs. (Yorks. Arch. Soc. xv), 146-7.
  • 3. Cal. Cl. SP, v. 30; Bowman diary, f. 73v; HMC 7th Rep. 117; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 472; Old Parl. Hist. xxii. 443; xxiii. 5.
  • 4. Kingdom’s Intelligencer, 6 June 1662; CSP Dom. 1660-1, p. 472; 1664-5, p. 458; CJ, viii. 311, 368, 373, 374, 537, 550, 580, 584, 655, 661, 669, 674; Milward, 26-27.
  • 5. Milward, 117; Grey, i. 280-1, 408, 420; Dering, 98; Bulstrode, 202; Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 1120.
  • 6. Grey, v. 200, 381; Cal. Treas. Bks. iv. 869; v. 1219; Browning, Danby, ii. 40, 70.