Lowther, James, Earl of Lonsdale 1736-1802, born on 5 Aug. 1736, was the second son of Robert Lowther of Maulds Meaburn in the parish of Crosby Ravensworth, Westmoreland, sometime governor of Barbadoes, by his wife Catherine, only daughter of Sir Joseph Pennington, bart., and granddaughter of John, first viscount Lonsdale [qv.]. In March 1751 he succeeded to the baronetcy and the large estates of the Lowther branch of the family on the death of Henry, third viscount Lowther, in January 1755 to the accumulated wealth of the Whitehaven branch on the death of Sir James Lowther, bart., and in April 1756 to the Marske estates on the death of Sir William Lowther, bart. At a by-election in April 1757 Lowther was returned to the House of Commons in the whig interest for Cumberland, and in May 1758 served as a volunteer in the expedition against St. Maloes (Walpole, Letters, 1861, iii. 136). At the general election in April 1761 he was returned both for Cumberland and Westmoreland, and elected to sit for Westmoreland. On 7 Sept. following he married Lady Mary Stuart, eldest daughter of John, third earl of Bute. Lowther's politics now took a tory turn, and fearing lest a whig should be elected for Cumberland in the place of Sir Wilfred Lawson, he resigned his seat for Westmoreland and was returned for the vacant seat for Cumberland in December 1762. In 1765 William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, third duke of Portland, who wantonly piqued himself on enmity to Bute (Walpole, Memoirs of George III, ii. 354), and was Lowther's rival in the North, filed bills in chancery against Lowther and the corporation of Carlisle for the perpetuation of testimony, in which he alleged that he was the owner of a fishery in the river Eden in right of the socage manor of Carlisle, and that this fishery had been rendered valueless by the mode of fishing adopted by the defendants. During their investigation of the duke's title Lowther's advisers found that in the original grant to the first Earl of Portland by William III of the honour of Penrith and its appurtenances (under the general words of which grant the duke claimed the socage manor of Carlisle), the forest of Inglewood and the socage manor of Carlisle had been expressly omitted. As these hereditaments, however, had been in the undisturbed possession of the Portland family for over sixty years, no one could impeach their title but the crown, against which the Quieting Act did not run. In order, therefore, to checkmate the duke's chancery proceedings, of which no further trace has been found, Lowther petitioned the treasury (9 July 1767) for a grant of the crown interest in these two properties for three lives, on such terms as to their lordships should seem meet. In spite of the duke's protests the grant was made to Lowther on 18 Dec. 1767. A pamphlet warfare at once ensued, and an outcry was raised by the duke's friends that no man's possessions were safe if the legal maxim Nullum tempus occurrit regi was to be enforced. On 17 Feb. 1768 Sir George Savile's motion for leave to bring in his Nullum Tempus Bill, the object of which was to abrogate the legal maxim and to deprive Lowther of his rights under the crown leases, was defeated by 134 to 114 (Parl. Hist. xvi. 405-14). In the following year, however, a compromise was effected, and Savile's bill was passed with a provision excluding all grants of the crown made previously to 1 Jan. 1769 from the operation of the act, provided the grantees prosecuted their claims within the year (9 Geo. III, c. 16). Lowther thereupon instantly filed a bill against the duke, and served some three hundred writs of ejectment upon the tenants. In February 1771 Sir William Meredith failed in his attempt to carry through the House of Commons a bill for repealing the clause, which had enabled Lowther to prosecute his claims (ib. xvii. 1-35), but judgment was finally given by the court of exchequer against Lowther on the ground that the grant was bad under the Civil List Act (1 Anne, c. 1) owing to the insufficiency of the rent reserved by the crown. The duke's title, therefore, to the forest of Inglewood and the socage manor of Carlisle was never tried, and the whole of the property was sold by him to the Duke of Devonshire in 1787. On hearing the rumour, in July 1767, that the treasury had been offered to Rockingham, Lowther threatened to break off his political connection with Bute, and, irritated by repeated violation of promises and by a total neglect, was strongly disposed to enter into the most explicit engagements with Temple (Grenville Papers, 1853, iv. 91, 93). At the general election in March 1768, after a poll of nineteen days and an expenditure of many thousands of pounds, Lowther was returned for Cumberland, with Curwen, one of the Duke of Portland's nominees, as a colleague. A petition was, however, presented against his return, and in December 1768 Lowther was unseated, and Fletcher, the duke's other nominee, was declared duly elected (Journals of the House of Commons, xxxii. 107). It was subsequently arranged between them that the duke's nominees should retain their seats for that parliament, and that in future each party should nominate one member. Lowther was elected for the borough of Cockermouth in March 1769, and at the general election in October 1774 was returned both for Cumberland and Westmoreland. He elected to sit for Cumberland, and continued to represent that county until the dissolution of parliament, March 1784. Throughout the whole of Lord North's administration (1770-82) Lowther acted with the whigs. On 26 Oct. 1775 he seconded Lord John Cavendish's amendment to the address, and attacked the whole system of colony government (Parl. Hist. xviii. 733-4). In November 1775, and again in April 1776, he unsuccessfully moved a resolution condemning the use of foreign troops within the dominions of the crown without the previous consent of parliament (ib. pp. 818-19, 1330-1). On 22 March 1780 Lowther drew the attention of the house to the duel which had taken place between Lord Shelburne and William Fullarton [qv.], and pointed out that such encounters directly militated against the freedom of debate (ib. xxi. 319-20, 322-3). In the following month he voted for Dunning's famous motion in respect of the influence of the crown (ib. p. 368), and on 2 June in this year formed one of the minority of seven who voted for Lord George Gordon's motion for the immediate consideration of the protestant petition (ib. p. 660).
In January 1781 he was the means of introducing William Pitt into the House of Commons by ordering his election for Appleby, Westmoreland. On 12 Dec. 1781 he moved two resolutions for putting an end to the American war without success (ib. xxii. 802-3). Upon the death of Rockingham in July 1782, Lowther gave notice to Lord Shelburne that he and his connections should withdraw their support from government unless his lordship took the direction of affairs and went to the treasury (Polit. Memoranda of Francis, fifth Duke of Leeds, Camd. Soc. Publ., 1884, p. 70). In this year Lowther is said to have offered to build and equip at his own expense a 74-gun ship, but the peace of 1783 made the execution of this offer unnecessary (Annual Register, 1802, Chron. p. 156*). On 24 May 1784 he was created Baron Lowther of Lowther, Baron of the barony of Kendal, and Baron of the barony of Burgh, Viscount of Lonsdale and Viscount of Lowther, and Earl of Lonsdale, and took his seat in the House of Lords for the first time on 2 June 1784 (Journals of the House of Lords, xxxvii. 86). He appears to have given a general support to Pitt's administration, though in December 1788 he ordered all his people in the House of Commons to oppose Pitt's regency resolutions (Duke of Buckingham, Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George III, 1853, ii. 64, 79, 83). He was further created, on 26 Oct. 1797, Viscount and Baron Lowther of Whitehaven in the county of Cumberland, with remainder to the issue male of his third cousin, the Rev. Sir William Lowther of Swillington, Yorkshire, bart. He died at Lowther Hall, Westmoreland, on 24 May 1802, aged 65, and was buried at Lowther on 9 June following.
Lowther, who was known throughout Cumberland and Westmoreland as the bad earl, was a man of unenviable character and enormous wealth. Alexander Carlyle declares that he was more detested than any man alive, as a shameless political sharper, a domestic bashaw, and an intolerable tyrant over his tenants and dependents, and in his own opinion was truly a madman, though too rich to be confined (Carlyle, Autobiography, 1861, pp. 418-19). Walpole records that he was equally unamiable in public and private (Memoirs of the Reign of George III, iii. 290-1), and De Quincey relates several instances of his eccentric and capricious behaviour (De Quincey, Works, 1854, ii. 255-9). Among his innumerable creditors from whom he withheld their due were the family of the Wordsworths, whose father acted as his attorney and law-agent at Cockermouth. Boswell, who hoped to have got into parliament through Lowther's influence, was grossly insulted by this brutal fellow in a most shocking conversation in June 1790 (Letters of James Boswell, 1857, pp. 323-5). Lowther fought several duels for most inadequate causes, and was Governor Johnstone's second in his duel with Lord George Germain [qv.] in Hyde Park in December 1770.
In the art of electioneering Lowther had few equals. By means of a lavish expenditure of money and the unscrupulous exercise of his enormous influence he was generally able to command the two seats for Westmoreland and Cockermouth, and one seat for Cumberland, Appleby, and Carlisle. These, with the two seats for Haslemere, Surrey, a nomination borough, which he purchased of a London attorney, made up the number of his representatives in the House of Commons to nine, who were known by the name of Sir James's Ninepins, and had to vote according to his orders. Not content with all this political power he frequently contested Lancaster, Durham, and Wigan. In 1763 Lowther became an alderman of Carlisle, and after a severe contest with the Duke of Portland's nominee was elected mayor of the city in 1765, when he instituted a rigorous examination into the corporation accounts, and subsequently endeavoured to swamp the constituency by the creation of hundreds of honorary freemen, who were known as mushrooms. His passion for electioneering was keen to the last, and seven thousand guineas were found after his death, which, it is supposed, he had put aside in preparation for the next general election. He was the subject of Wolcot's satire in A Commiserating Epistle to Lord Lonsdale and An Ode to Lord Lonsdale (Works of Peter Pindar, 1812, iii. 1-25, 41-7), and his political influence is celebrated in the Rolliad by the lines:E'en by the elements his pow'r confess'dOf mines and boroughs Lonsdale stands possess'd,And one sad servitude alike denotesThe slave that labours and the slave that votes.
Lowther did a good deal for Whitehaven, the land, fire, and water of which he boasted were all in his possession. He introduced the use of the steam-engine in his collieries, and established a manufactory for carpets and stockings in the town.
Lowther was custos rotulorum (3 Aug. 1758) and lieutenant (14 Aug. 1758) of Westmoreland, lieutenant (13 Dec. 1759) and custos rotulorum (18 Oct. 1763) of Cumberland, brigadier-general of the Cumberland and Westmoreland militia (25 June 1761), vice-admiral of Cumberland and Westmoreland (15 April 1765), steward and bailiff of Inglewood Forest (18 Dec. 1767), steward of Lonsdale (23 Nov. 1793), and colonel in the army during service (14 March 1794). Upon his death without issue all his titles became extinct except the viscounty and barony of 1797, which devolved upon his next heir male, Sir William Lowther of Swillington, bart., to whom he devised his Cumberland and Westmoreland estates. His widow survived him many years, and died at Broom House, Fulham, on 5 April 1824, aged 86.
Ferguson's Cumberland and Westmoreland M.P.'s, 1871, pp. 121-2, 126-81, 195-216, 407-410
Walpole's Memoirs of George III, 1845, ii. 354, iii. 143-6, 232, 290-2, iv. 230, 273-4
Wraxall's Memoirs, 1884, ii. 79-82, 154, 443, iii. 357, 358-60, iv. 132
Boswell's Life of Johnson (G. B. Hill), ii. 179, iv. 220, v. 112-13
Lord Albemarle's Memoirs of Rockingham, 1852, ii. 68-74, 214, 216
Trevelyan's Early Life of Fox, 1881, pp. 85, 326, 387-402
Sanford and Townsend's Great Governing Families of England, 1865, i. 60-4
Nicolson and Burn's Westmorland and Cumberland, 1777, i. 436-7, 503
Gent. Mag. 1761 p. 430, 1771 pp. 519, 549-52, 1802 pt. i. pp. 586-8
The Case of his Grace the Duke of Portland respecting two Leases, &c., 1768
a Reply to a pamphlet entitled the Case of the Duke of Portland, &c., 1768
Letters of Junius, 1814, i. 457, ii. 329-37, iii. 7-26, 34-9, 42-7, 51-7
Doyle's Official Baronage, 1886, ii. 412-13
Collins's Peerage, 1812, v. 710-11
Official Return of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 111, 125, 132, 138, 150, 157, 163
Notes and Queries, 7th ser. xi. 307, 358.
Contributor: G. F. R. B. [George Fisher Russell Barker]