Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

about 4,000


12 Nov. 1806JOHN LOWTHER
 GEORGE HOWARD, Visct. Morpeth
 GEORGE HOWARD, Visct. Morpeth
14 Oct. 1812JOHN LOWTHER
 GEORGE HOWARD, Visct. Morpeth
26 June 1818JOHN LOWTHER
 GEORGE HOWARD, Visct. Morpeth

Main Article

Having failed in his ambition to carry both Members for the county in 1768 and likewise in his subsequent attempts to buy out his competitors, James Lowther, Earl of Lonsdale, adhered to the compromise reached in 1774 whereby he returned one Member, and the independent junto led by the Dukes of Portland and Norfolk and the Earls of Carlisle and Egremont the other. The pact had been ineffectually challenged in 1774 and 1780 by Sir Joseph Pennington and his son John. By 1787 Lonsdale was on the defensive and anxious to canvass for the next election. His eventual heir, the sitting Member Sir William Lowther*, differed from him politically when Lonsdale temporarily deserted Pitt during the Regency and was therefore dropped in 1790. It was Humphrey Senhouse, his second string in 1768, that Lonsdale put up, replacing him in 1796 with Sir William’s more amenable younger brother John. Had Lonsdale persisted in his opposition of 1789, (Sir) John Pennington* (Lord Muncaster) was ready to champion the ministry in the county. The other seat had been occupied since 1768 by Sir Henry Fletcher, the Foxite friend of the Duke of Norfolk, who did not go over to government with the Duke of Portland, but seemed secure for life. In fact, he ignored a plea from his own friends to retire on account of his ‘age and infirmities’ in 1802.1

On the death of Lonsdale on the eve of the election of 1802, his heir (now Viscount Lowther) was well disposed to the compromise with Portland in county politics, a disposition he made manifest at Carlisle. A replacement for Fletcher, who was not now expected to live long, put him in a dilemma. Since 1796 the Earl of Carlisle had made no secret of his wish to see his heir Lord Morpeth come in for the county, instead of Fletcher. In the summer of 1804, however, when Fletcher was reported to be dying, John Christian Curwen, the Whig Member for Carlisle who had joined with Norfolk, now the leading Foxite Whig in the county, in urging Fletcher to retire in 1802, was the only candidate talked of. Sir James Graham* of Netherby, who had no intention of coming forward himself, informed Lord Carlisle in August that Curwen was expected to ‘walk over the course’ as no one would risk a contest. Carlisle, who had not long before thought the moment inopportune to promote his heir’s candidature for the county in view of a threat to his interest at Morpeth, could not swallow this, for family or political reasons. He boasted an income of £18,000 p.a., £12,000 of it derived from landed property in the county, and was inclined to a coalition government that included Lord Grenville in Pitt’s ministry, but excluded Fox—a line his heir, drawn to ‘Devonshire House’ politics, admittedly did not share. In any case, Carlisle sent a hint to Viscount Lowther, through his brother-in-law the bishop of Carlisle, that if Lowther was not engaged to any candidate, particularly not to Curwen, he would put up Lord Morpeth. Lowther was evasive and interpreted the message in the sense that Carlisle, in his resolution to exclude Curwen, would put up Lord Morpeth ‘in case no person with whom I was connected or any gentleman of the county came forward’. The bishop informed Carlisle that Lowther had no engagement to Curwen, but would, in his own view, support Lord Muncaster if he stood, which seemed unlikely. Lowther informed his friends that he would take no part in dictating to the county whom it should return as its representative and would decide on merit when the time came.

Lord Carlisle’s choosing to interpret the bishop’s communication as evidence that Lowther would support Morpeth, and promoting his son’s candidature, irritated Lowther, who from September to November 1804 engaged in a running correspondence with the bishop to bring him to book. The bishop, on the defensive, denied that Carlisle was activated by animosity towards Curwen and urged Morpeth’s strong pretensions and ‘personal regard’ for Lowther: Curwen’s ambition for the county seat being already publicized, Carlisle could hardly be blamed for making his heir’s public, though without going as far as a canvass. To a hint that Morpeth would be disturbing the peace of the county, the bishop replied that Lowther, if he supported Muncaster, would be doing so, as the latter would be regarded as Lowther’s candidate ‘entirely’. Lowther denied that he was wedded to a compromise for the county (in Curwen’s favour) and that Muncaster, who despite his connexion with the Lowther family, had like his father opposed their interest in the past, could be his candidate, a status to which Sir James Graham or Sir Wilfrid Lawson might have a better claim; and still insisted that he would decide the issue on its merits when a vacancy really arose. He admitted that his private feelings might be better gratified by Morpeth’s return, as it promised advantages of co-operation in the county that Muncaster could not offer, but felt obliged to warn Muncaster of Morpeth’s intentions, which Muncaster and his friends duly denounced in the Carlisle Journal, 15 Sept. 1804. The bishop assured Lowther that Morpeth would not foist himself on the county if resisted; and that he would not be sidetracked by Curwen and his friend Norfolk’s bid to get him to step into Curwen’s shoes at Carlisle instead of contesting the county. Nor did Lowther’s hint that Morpeth would not receive support where he expected it deter his advocate: the bishop thought that Sir James Graham, for instance, would go ‘whichever way the tide sets strongest at the time’ and insisted that Lowther’s neutrality, all that was expected of him, would suffice Morpeth.2

Sir Henry Fletcher did not die in 1804 and even at the dissolution of 1806 there were fears in Carlisle’s camp that his ‘obstinacy’ might frustrate their hopes for Morpeth, in whose absence on a diplomatic mission his brother Frederick stood proxy. Muncaster by then was Lowther’s Member for Westmorland. Lowther, being induced to believe that a declaration from him would prevent the ‘calamity’ of a contest provoked by Morpeth and Curwen, had opted privately for Morpeth, as did Sir James Graham. Curwen and Norfolk tried to nullify this advantage by persuading Fletcher not to retire: as Portland and Lord Egremont (whom Fletcher had gratified in a land deal in Sussex) were committed to him in the first instance, Morpeth would be discouraged and the eventual retirement of Fletcher would operate in Curwen’s favour, the latter offering his seat for Carlisle as a sop. Fletcher maintained that to avert a contest he would yield to the sense of the nomination meeting at Cockermouth, a place considered by Curwen as (unlike Wigton) ‘particularly favourable’ to Fletcher, whose support was derived largely from the west of the county. Curwen disingenuously informed the bishop that he could not support Morpeth, a placeholder, and would on that account even prefer Muncaster. The stratagem was frustrated, though as late as 27 Oct. 1806 Lowther informed the bishop that Fletcher having ‘stronger claims than there was any reason to apprehend’, he was in a delicate situation, which was not improved by the Treasury’s blunder in delivering the writ not to Lowther but to a Castle Howard agent. On being entreated by the bishop, who began to think he must settle for a compromise and that Morpeth must wait until Fletcher finally retired, Lowther informed Fletcher on 3 Nov., in reply to the latter’s plea to preserve the old pact, that he no longer acknowledged any obligation to his predecessor’s compromise agreement for the county, to which, he pointedly remarked, Norfolk had never been a party. He therefore declined to support Fletcher on this occasion, hinting that the latter’s retirement had for some time been a foregone conclusion. This put paid to mischievous rumours that Lowther actually favoured Fletcher. Meanwhile, in reply to a handbill on Fletcher’s behalf put out by Curwen on 27 Oct. under the pseudonym of ‘A brother freeholder’, the indefatigable bishop had responded as ‘a freeholder’ next day, claiming that Fletcher, apart from his ‘age and infirmities’, was as seldom seen in Cumberland as Morpeth, who was at least engaged in public service abroad. The nomination meeting on 6 Nov. would of course be the decisive test, Morpeth’s friends being at first resolved to muster ‘in great force’ against Curwen’s threat of getting Workington ‘to pour forth its inhabitants above ground and under ground’. But as early as 1 Nov. Fletcher’s imminent withdrawal was announced and, apart from some anxiety lest this should be in aid of a bid to promote Curwen’s candidature at the eleventh hour, Morpeth’s promoters scented victory. This was clinched by Lowther’s firmness and Egremont’s decision to remain neutral. At the meeting the show of hands was in favour of Morpeth: a poll was called for, but Fletcher demurred.3

Although Morpeth was politically at odds with the Lowthers, he remained the most acceptable colleague to them in the county representation. When they insisted on a loyal address to the King in 1807, he absented himself.4 His father’s health was poor and in 1812 Sir James Graham’s son James Robert George Graham* was interested, should there be an opening for the county, but was assured that Lord Carlisle had ‘rallied again’. There was also a report that year that John Lowther would give up the county to his nephew Viscount Lowther (whose father had been in 1807 belted Earl of Lonsdale), but nothing came of it and the election was quiet, apart from an elaborate justificatory speech about his political conduct from Morpeth.5By 1818 his deference to the Lowthers, with whom his wife’s family were connected, was making him unpopular, and the campaign against the Lowther interest in Westmorland mounted by Henry Brougham was contagious enough to cause him some anxiety. He was able to discount a report that the Lowthers themselves meant to challenge him, a notion ridiculed by Brougham:

They must be beaten if attacked—but that would put Lord Morpeth to inconvenience. If he (Lord M.) runs any risk it is not from the Lowthers but from the independent party attacking the Lowthers. And the last person in the world who could help Lord M. would assuredly be Lord Lonsdale ...

Lonsdale nevertheless applied to Morpeth to maintain the status quo. For Morpeth’s sake his wife’s family, the Cavendishes, declined to assist any push against the Lowthers, and since the death of the Duke of Norfolk in 1815 they had been the obvious leaders of the Cumberland Whigs. Lord Egremont adopted the same line. This damaged Morpeth. James Graham junior of Netherby, whose father remained committed to the Lowthers, but whose own sympathies were Whig, warned him against adhering to any ‘secret understanding’ or ‘coalition of interests ... between Lord Lonsdale and your noble relations’, stressing ‘the impropriety of such a compromise, which would go far to transfer the elective powers of a large county into the hands of a small aristocracy’.6

The anti-Lowther party had to find a candidate, and after toying with the notion of adopting Sir Henry Fletcher, son of the late Member, in memory of the battle for independence in 1768, and then (so Lord Morpeth thought) ‘Sykes’, they adopted Curwen on the eve of the election. Rumour had it that Brougham would propose him. This was unfounded, as Lady Morpeth afterwards informed her brother:

The Westmorland contest had roused a great spirit in the sister county of Cumberland and the Lowthers are become so unpopular that a third candidate, Curwen, was started from dislike to them, and I believe partly to ascertain Lord Morpeth’s standing quite independent of them. He was questioned about it on the hustings and declared that he stood alone, so that I think his situation there pleasanter than it has ever been. I was in a grand fright because I knew that if Curwen persevered Lord Morpeth would be unable to support the expense of a contest—but hush about that. Curwen proposed a junction but Lord Morpeth refused on the same ground of standing alone, and Curwen withdrew. I must tell you that Brougham behaved beautifully, he spoke strongly and stoutly against the nomination of a third candidate, though it would have been for his interest to promote a contest as a diversion to the enemy in Westmorland.7

Brougham also thought he behaved beautifully in his ‘long speech against a contest at Cockermouth’, at the cost perhaps of losing his own election in Westmorland (as the Lowthers could scarcely contest both counties) and of forfeiting the confidence of Curwen, Sir Frederick Vane (Morpeth’s proposer) and all his well wishers in Cumberland. He was nevertheless certain that Morpeth would never hold his seat again. This proved correct: since Morpeth still refused to make common cause with the anti-Lowther ‘Blues’, who now became better organized and mustered at Carlisle races and at the county meeting in October 1819, he was ousted by Curwen at the election of 1820. He had asked his father to let him retire and was resigned to defeat. His colleague John Lowther would have liked to resign his seat too, but Lonsdale would not hear of it.8

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Lonsdale mss, Lonsdale to Sir W. Lowther, 12, 21 June 1787; Wilberforce Pprs. i. 71; Carlisle mss, bp. of Carlisle to Carlisle, Fri. evg. [17 Oct. 1806].
  • 2. Lonsdale mss, bp. of Carlisle to Ld. Lowther, 10, 13, 15, [16], 28 Sept., 5, 10, 16 [27] Oct., 11, 17 Nov., draft replies 11, 14, 17, 23 Sept., 14, 19 Oct., 20 Nov., Lowther to Grisdale and Satterthwaite, 17 Sept.; Carlisle mss, bp. of Carlisle to Morpeth, 21 Sept. 1804.
  • 3. Carlisle mss, bp. of Carlisle to Carlisle, Fri. evg. [17 Oct.]; Lady to Ld. Morpeth, 19 Oct., Carlisle to same, 20 Oct., bp. of Carlisle to Carlisle, Sat. [25], Tues. [28 Oct.], Sat. [1 Nov.]; Lonsdale mss, Ld. Lowther’s memo, n.d. [?Oct.], Carlisle to Lowther, 19 Oct., Muncaster to same, 23, 26 Oct., Satterthwaite to same, 26, 28 Oct., bp. of Carlisle to same, Sunday [26 Oct.], reply 27 Oct., Mon. [27], Wed. [29], Thurs. [30 Oct.],1 Nov. (bis), Sunday [2], 3 Nov., Fletcher to same, 30 Oct., reply 3 Nov., Grisdale, Curwen, Losh to same, 31 Oct.; Benson to John Lowther, 4 Nov.; Fortescue mss, Lowther to Grenville, 7 Nov.; Newcastle Chron., 15 Nov. 1806.
  • 4. Carlisle mss, Ld. to Lady Morpeth, Tues. [12 May 1807].
  • 5. Northumb. RO, Wallace (Belsay) mss ZMI/S/76/2/8, 18, 30; S/76/3/23.
  • 6. Chatsworth mss, Brougham to Ld. G. Cavendish, Thurs. [1818]; Brougham mss 62; Carlisle mss, Graham to Morpeth, 21 Apr. 1818.
  • 7. Add. 51565, Brougham to Lady Holland [25 June]; Carlisle mss, Ld. to Lady Morpeth, Mon. 22, Tues. [23 June]; Chatsworth mss, Lady Morpeth to Devonshire, 1 July [1818].
  • 8. Add. 51561, Brougham to Holland, Sunday [28], Mon. [29 June 1818], Fri. night; Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey, Sat. [9], Wed. [13 Oct.]; Carlisle mss, Carlisle to Morpeth, 27 Nov. [1819], Ld. to Lady Morpeth, 2, 9, 10 Feb.; Lonsdale mss, J. to Visct. Lowther, 12 Feb. 1820.