LOWTHER, Sir John, 2nd Bt. I (1642-1706), of Whitehaven, Cumb.
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Family and Education
b. 9 Nov. 1642, 1st surv. s. of Sir Christopher Lowther, 1st Bt., of Whitehaven by Frances, da. and h. of Christopher Lancaster of Sockbridge, Westmld. educ. Balliol, Oxf. 1657–8. m. 6 Mar. 1660, Jane, da. of Woolley Leigh of Addington, Surr., 2s. 3da. (2 d.v.p.). suc. fa. as 2nd Bt. Apr. 1644.1
Jt. farmer of excise, Cumb. 1662–5; ld. of Admiralty 1689–96; v.-adm. Cumb. and Westmld. 1686–1702.2
Member, R. African Co. 1672.
Commr. reprisals, Barbados and Jamaica 1693; Greenwich Hosp. 1694, 1704.3
Though he was continuously returned to Parliament as Cumberland’s knight of the shire for over 30 years, and held a seat on the Admiralty Board for the first seven years of William III’s reign, Lowther was most notable for his role in the economic development of Cumberland. Described by one modern historian as ‘a polymath interested in any industrial or commercial enterprise which seemed likely to bring a profit’, Lowther utilized the rich coal deposits of his lands to establish himself as a prominent industrial entrepreneur, notably playing a vital role in the establishment of a flourishing ‘new community’ and port at Whitehaven. An absentee landlord, not visiting the north between 1687 and 1698, Lowther was nevertheless diligent in exploiting and extending his assets. Though his frequent acquisition of land in Cumberland and Westmorland, designed to consolidate existing estates and thereby secure his mining interests, could and did arouse resentment, Lowther claimed that such activities were motivated by the belief that such purchases were for ‘the general benefit of the whole country’. His determination to exploit to the full his estate’s mineral wealth is, however, evident from the subordination of matters of estate management to the priorities of his mining interests, and the development of Whitehaven was at least in part a consequence of Lowther’s involvement in the export of coal to Ireland. He took a keen interest in the growth of both the port and town of Whitehaven, and the expansion of the port’s trade to the American colonies drew him into attempts to stimulate the county’s textile industry. His industrial interests also extended to such enterprises as copper smelting and salt panning, and his varied activities helped to prepare the way for the rapid expansion of west Cumberland’s economy in the first half of the 18th century. Despite his long parliamentary service after the Restoration, Lowther had made no great impression on the Commons. Having opposed Exclusion, he was nevertheless listed among the opposition to James II’s policies in the later 1680s, though he remained in attendance at court until April 1688. Lowther initially trod warily in 1688, but following the fall of James II, had little difficulty reconciling himself to the new regime, and in 1689 he was appointed, perhaps through the influence of his politically more prominent cousin, Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II*, a lord of the Admiralty. Lowther proved to be a diligent administrator, being one of the Admiralty Board’s most active members until 1693, at which time ill-health forced him to reduce his previously frequent attendance at meetings.4
Lowther was returned unopposed for Cumberland throughout the 1690s, but analysis of his parliamentary career is complicated by the presence in the Commons until May 1696 of his cousin and namesake. The duties of the other Lowther baronet as a Court manager in the 1690 Parliament suggest that most of the many references to ‘Sir John Lowther’ in this period are to Lowther’s younger cousin, and unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise such references have been attributed to the Westmorland Member. It was definitely the lord of the Admiralty who was classed at the beginning of the 1690 session as a Tory by Lord Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†), but no further activity in this session can, with any certainty, be attributed to Lowther, and the only definite references to him for the 1690–1 session are the classifications of Lowther as a Court supporter in two lists, one compiled by Carmarthen and dating from December 1690, and the other compiled in April 1691 by Robert Harley*. No significant activity can be definitely attributed to Lowther for the 1691–2 session, but it may be that his responsibilities as an Admiralty commissioner led on 23 Nov. 1691 to his questioning Sir Ralph Delaval* concerning the capture of a French ship alleged to be carrying information regarding the previous summer’s intended descent. Lowther’s mercantile interests may also have led him to speak in the debates of 18 and 21 Dec. on the East India Company. At the end of the session Lowther was included in a list of placemen, and he was to appear on every subsequent list of placemen compiled during this Parliament. Although problems of identification persist for the 1692–3 session, it may have been Lowther, bearing in mind his Admiralty post, who on 21 Nov. reminded Members that complaints regarding the losses of merchant shipping should be seen in the light of the monies received by merchants from insurance if ships were lost. It may also have been he who on 29 Nov. defended increases in the number of seamen for the following year, and who was nominated on 20 Dec. to the conference with the Lords regarding the previous summer’s naval expedition. It was certainly Lowther who five days later defended the lords of the Admiralty against allegations that they had been guilty of a breach of privilege by calling George Churchill* before them, to account for allegations he had made in the Commons of cowardice among naval officers. Later in the session, on 17 Jan. 1693, he was nominated to the conference with the Lords upon their amendment to the land tax bill, and he may have spoken on two occasions against the East India Company (24 Nov., 25 Feb.). The only other activity in the 1690 Parliament which seems attributable to the Cumberland Member, however, was the presentation of the fleet estimate on 26 Nov. 1694. It remains uncertain which of the two Sir John Lowthers was named on 27 Apr. 1695 as having, in April the previous year, received £110 8s. 4d. from the East India Company.5
Lowther’s election for Cumberland was unchallenged in 1695 but, having presented the naval estimates to the House on 3 and 4 Dec., he ‘resigned’ his place at the Admiralty in January 1696, a decision perhaps prompted by ill-health. When the lords of the Admiralty attended the Lords on 14 Jan., Lowther’s health was particularly poor and, because of his ‘infirmity’, was allowed to sit ‘behind out of sight’. Though now out of office, Lowther continued to support the ministry, being forecast as likely to support the Court in the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 on the proposed council of trade. In addition, he promptly signed the Association and voted in March to support the Court in setting the price of guineas at 22s. He absented himself from the division of 25 Nov. 1696 on the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†, as did his two kinsmen in the House. Such inactivity was not the consequence of a disengagement from public affairs, however, as he continued to take a close interest in those matters affecting his business and financial concerns in the north-west. In the summer of 1696, for example, he was anxious to ascertain the impact of the recoinage on Cumberland and Westmorland, while during the 1697–8 session he closely followed the unsuccessful attempt to impose a duty on inland coal, a proposal which he thought impossible to implement, as did his coal agent who wrote: ‘were a committee of the House to sit upon the Howgil bank, I cannot imagine what ways or means they could contrive to make it practicable’. The same session also saw Lowther take an interest in legislation concerned with the protection of the English wool market, and in June 1698 his business instincts led him to welcome, as ‘an earnest that the interest of trade will be considered’ by the Commons, the decision of the supply committee to remove the duty on tobacco pipes and earthenware and to halve the glass duty. Though there is no evidence that Lowther participated in the passage of such measures, his continuing activity in the capital, despite poor health, was illustrated by his mediation of a dispute, concerning a Whitehaven ship captured in the early 1690s, between some Whitehaven merchants and the ambassador to France, Lord Portland. Lowther was also still in attendance at court, being used by the King at the start of the 1697–8 session as a means to apply pressure upon Lord Lonsdale to come to London. In July Lowther was included on a list of placemen.6
Despite his modest contribution to parliamentary business in 1698, Lowther secured his return for Cumberland, following which a comparison of the old and new Commons classed him as a Court supporter. The decline in his health, attributed by a modern historian to rheumatoid arthritis rather than the gout which Lowther himself blamed, meant, however, that after his journey back to the north in August 1698 he never returned to London. Much of his time was devoted to the development of his estates and business interests, but the frequent letters from his son James* indicate that Lowther retained a keen interest in parliamentary and political affairs. His worry in December 1698 about explaining his absence from the House should the Commons be called, was overtaken the following January when opposition attacks upon the naval administration of Lord Orford (Edward Russell*) led to the investigation of some of Lowther’s actions while at the Admiralty. Though his son wrote that such inquiries were ‘not like to produce any great matter’, the debate of 2 Feb. 1699 upon the state of the navy saw Sir Robert Rich, 2nd Bt., allege that in 1695 Lowther had supported the irregular grant of an additional allowance to Orford’s associate Henry Priestman*, backdated to 1684, even though Lowther had not been a signatory to the order. The following day James Lowther challenged Rich to substantiate his accusations, Rich replying that ‘he did not know of his own knowledge, but that the thing was plain of itself’. James informed his father of the proceedings and that ‘your friends here think it would be proper if you were against making this order for you to write as much under your hand and to give me or somebody else authority to say as much’, but there is no record that this was done, and James himself wrote that the Commons gave ‘little credit’ to Rich’s claims. The following month Lowther wrote, on his son’s advice, to the Speaker to explain his absence from the House, and his concern to avoid being censured for absence was also evident in the 1699–1700 session. That Lowther had come to accept the permanence of his residency in Cumberland is indicated by his decision in December 1699 to break up his London home. His prolonged absence from the Commons is the most likely explanation for his classification as doubtful in an analysis of the House dating from early 1700. The death of Lord Lonsdale (the former Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II) in July of that year transferred to him much of the burden for managing the Lowther interest during the first 1701 election, but in November 1700 Lowther had informed James that poor health meant that he himself would not be standing for Cumberland. His concerns at the second 1701 election were limited to securing the return of his son James, in whose favour Lowther had in September disinherited his dissolute elder son. Following the accession of Queen Anne in 1702 Lowther busied himself to preserve James in his post at the Ordnance. The threat posed by the Tory resurgence was amply demonstrated by Lowther’s replacement as vice-admiral of Cumberland and Westmorland at the insistence, according to James, of Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.* Lowther’s neutral stance in the 1702 election may well have been intended to assuage Musgrave and other Tories in the hope of preserving James in his post. Now retired from public life, Lowther remained in touch with national news and parliamentary proceedings via James. Such interest was motivated at least in part by a desire to monitor developments impinging on his business interests, and was given fresh impetus in December 1704 when he let known his intention to oppose any bill brought in by Thomas Lamplugh* for enlarging Parton harbour, a Cumberland port which Lowther feared might pose a significant threat to his Whitehaven interests. When such a measure was introduced in December 1705 Lowther organized, through James, concerted opposition, and on 7 Jan. 1706 his petition opposing the bill was presented to the House. Lowther’s poor health had, however, deteriorated further, attributed by James to ‘the great thought and uneasiness he has had about this business about Parton’. James left London to attend his father on 16 Jan., but Lowther was buried at St. Bees, Cumberland the following day. Succeeded in his estates by James, Lowther’s baronetcy passed to his elder son Christopher.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison
- 1. H. Owen, Lowther Fam. 234, 240.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 424.
- 3. CSP Dom. 1693, p. 216; Add. 10120, f. 233; Daily Courant, 8 Aug. 1704.
- 4. J. V. Beckett, Coal and Tobacco, 4–8, 14, 19–37, 132–4; Lowther Corresp. ed. Hainsworth, pp. xxix–xxxiii; J. Ehrman, Navy in War of Wm. III, 296–7, 507, 512, 555.
- 5. Grey, x. 182, 283; Luttrell Diary, 88, 91–92, 247–8, 259, 261, 268, 449.
- 6. Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 8; Owen, 242; CSP Dom. 1695, p. 350; Lowther Corresp. 287, 302, 462, 449, 455–7, 501–2, 555, 557–9, 563, 570–3, 578, 581–2, 606–7, 619.
- 7. Lowther Corresp. 657, 659, 706–7; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/1, James to Sir John Lowther I, 27 Dec. 1698, 10 Jan., 4, 18 Feb., 7, 16, 21 Mar. 1698–9, 25 Nov. 1699; 3, same to same, 9 Jan. 99[–1700]; D/Lons/W1/20, Sir John Lowther I to [John] Aglionby, 12 Aug. 1700; D/Lons/L1/1/46, same to Lady Lonsdale, 29 Aug., 19, 26, 30 Sept. 1700; D/Lons/W1/21, same to James Lowther, 28 Nov. 1700, same to Mr Simpson, Dec. 1701; D/Lons/W2/2/4, James to Sir John Lowther I, 29 Nov. 1701; 5, same to same, 23 June, 2 July 1702; 7, same to same, 16, 19 Dec. 1704; 8, same to same, 22 Sept., 11 Oct., 20, 25 Dec. 1705, 1 Jan, 1705[–6]; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 244, 354; Owen, 245; W. Jackson, Cumb. and Westmld. Peds. and Pprs. ii. 169.