LOWTHER, Robert (1681-1745), of Maulds Meaburn, Westmld.
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Family and Education
b. 8 Dec. 1681, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Richard Lowther† of Maulds Meaburn by Barbara, da. of Robert Pricket of Wressell Castle, Yorks. m. (1) 14 Aug. 1704, Joanna (d. 1722), da. and coh. of John Frere of Barbados, wid. of Thomas Lewis of Barbados, Samuel Crisp of Barbados and Robert Carleton of Carleton of Westmld. s.p.; (2) 22 June 1731, Katherine (d. 1764), da. of Sir Joseph Pennington, 2nd Bt.†, of Muncaster, Cumb., 3s. (1 d.v.p.) 3da. suc. fa. 1703.1
Freeman, Appleby 1700.2
Principal storekeeper of Ordnance 1708–10; gov. Barbados 1710–14, 1715–20.3
Though a scion of one of Cumbria’s leading county families, Lowther’s inheritance was a far from rich one. His father’s extravagance had been noted by contemporaries, and the mortgage for £1,703 taken out in 1697 to finance the purchase of land in Westmorland placed a considerable burden upon the estate Lowther inherited in 1703. His financial problems were exacerbated by the need to pay his mother an annual jointure of £140 and by the obligation to supply his four unmarried sisters with the interest due on their portions. With a rental worth only £200 p.a., Lowther was forced, shortly after his father’s death, to mortgage the family home, Maulds Meaburn, held by the Lowthers since 1615, for £1,500. It may have been the family’s poor finances that led Richard Lowther to reject the proposal of Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) that Lowther stand in 1702 for Westmorland, but the year after his father’s death Lowther married a wealthy widow, coheiress to a Barbados planter, a union which transformed his financial circumstances. Profits from these lands reached an average of over £3,000 p.a. after 1714, and with his financial status thus improved, Lowther was able to pursue his parliamentary ambitions. Shortly after the death in July 1704 of Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt.*, Lowther was canvassing support for the consequent by-election, but after the Whigs Sir Richard Sandford, 3rd Bt.*, and William Fleming* also entered the lists, Lowther and Sandford agreed to withdraw upon condition that Fleming make way for them at the imminent general election. Lowther nevertheless attended the court of election. Following Fleming’s unopposed return, Lowther made what one hostile observer described as a ‘long schoolboy’s’ speech criticizing those who in ‘the late reigns . . . were for taking off the Penal Laws and Test designed to have brought in a foreign power and subjected the people of England to popery and slavery’, though another witness described his oration as ‘learned’ and ‘expressed in the best of language that I have heard’.4
Returned for Westmorland in 1705, Lowther was listed as a ‘Churchman’ in an analysis of the new House, though only a year later Bishop Nicolson was to describe Lowther as ‘indifferent to all religions’. He voted on 25 Oct. for the Court candidate for Speaker, but analysis of his parliamentary career is inhibited by the presence in the House throughout the Parliament of his kinsman William Lowther II. It is certain, however, that during the 1705–6 session Lowther assisted his cousin James Lowther* in organizing opposition to the Parton harbour bill, and on 3 Dec. 1705 he spoke against a motion for the introduction of the measure. Though little of his other activity in this session can be discerned it seems likely, given the leave of absence granted to William Lowther on 12 Dec., that it was this Lowther who on 20 Dec. told on the Whig side in the division upon the Okehampton election case. Lowther was nevertheless a conspicuous absentee from the Court side in the division of 18 Feb. 1706 on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill. His concern to protect the interests of his cousin James was again evident during the 1706–7 session when he joined William Lowther on 20 Jan. 1707 in telling against the bill to make Lancaster a staple port for the import of Irish wool, having failed in an earlier attempt to have the port of Whitehaven allowed the same privilege. In addition, February saw one or other of the Lowthers tell twice to resolve into a committee of the whole on the Union (21st, 22nd). The problems of identification mean that all that can be said with certainty for the remainder of Lowther’s parliamentary career is that an analysis of the Commons of early 1708 classed him as a Whig, and that in February that year he was lobbied by Bishop Nicolson on the cathedrals bill. It is possible that it was also he who told on 9 Mar. against a Tory-sponsored amendment to this measure. Lowther contested the 1708 Westmorland election, and having been defeated at the poll, he advertised his determination to petition on the grounds of the returning officer’s alleged partiality. This intention was complicated, however, by Lowther’s attempts to succeed his cousin James as principal storekeeper at the Ordnance. He was supported in this pretension by Lord Godolphin (Sidney†), who described Lowther as a ‘pretty, well-tempered young man’, and the request was granted. However, this appointment compelled him to withdraw his election petition, as even if it had proved successful his new office would have forced him to vacate and recontest the Westmorland seat, although Gilfrid Lawson* had suggested that Lowther’s declaration of intention to petition had stemmed from a belief that it ‘better entitled him to the place’.5
Having secured a salary of £400 p.a., Lowther’s fortunes further improved in 1710. His interest in Barbadian affairs had been evident while he was still sitting for Westmorland, successfully lobbying in 1706 for the restoration of his brother-in-law Tobias Frere to the Barbados council, and two years later he supported Frere’s son in his bid to replace his now deceased father on the island’s council. Given Lowther’s interests in Barbados, it is not surprising that when complaints from Barbados led to the recall in September 1709 of the colony’s governor, Lowther informed Godolphin of his desire to succeed should the allegations be upheld. Lowther’s tenure at the Ordnance had not been successful, the historian of this office writing that Lowther ‘was addicted to intrigue and was unable to work with his fellow board members’. Moreover, his relations with the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) had, according to Godolphin, been ‘uneasy’. Godolphin saw no reason to oppose the appointment of Lowther to Barbados and, despite Marlborough’s concern that sending him there was inconsistent with his previously expressed opinion that such ‘governments’ should be reserved for military officers, Lowther was appointed in July 1710 at a salary of £2,000 p.a. Arriving in June 1711, he quickly proved unpopular with sections of the island community. By the end of 1713 he had suspended two of the colony’s leading officials, and reports of disagreements between the governor and the island’s council and assembly had reached England. A written complaint against Lowther from the suspended secretary of the council led to his recall in February 1714. Once in England, he successfully persuaded the English government that his difficulties stemmed in large part from the hostility of Jacobite sympathizers in Barbados, and in November 1714 he was reappointed governor by George I. However, though Lowther’s relations with the Barbados council improved during his second term, his governorship was dogged by a conflict with Rev. William Gordon, one of the island’s Anglican ministers. In 1718 Gordon travelled to London and published a pamphlet alleging that Lowther headed a corrupt and tyrannical regime, and though in February 1720 the Barbados assembly ordered the burning of this pamphlet as a seditious libel, the Board of Trade recalled Lowther a month later to answer charges of having received presents from the island’s council and of his allowing a Spanish ship to trade at Barbados. Upon his return Lowther busied himself in preparing his defence against these allegations, and in 1723 James Lowther reported that Lowther had ‘routed’ his accusers. He remained in England for the remainder of his life, the vast improvement to his financial fortunes demonstrated by his purchase in 1730 of the Duke of Wharton’s Westmorland estate for £30,000. On 13 Sept. 1745 Lowther died of a heart attack, brought on, so it was claimed, by news of the Jacobite invasion.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison
Unless otherwise stated this article is based upon the account of teh Lowthers of Maulds Meaburn in J. V. Beckett, ‘Inheritance and Fortune in the 18th Cent.: the rise of Sir James Lowther, 5th Bt.†’, Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. ser. 2, lxxxvii. 171-8.
- 1. H. Owen, Lowther Fam. 270–2, 276.
- 2. Cumbria RO (Kendal), Appleby bor. recs. WSMB/A minute bk. 3, 13 Nov. 1700.
- 3. H. Tomlinson, Guns and Govt. 225.
- 4. Hopkinson thesis, 80, 84; Bagot mss at Levens Hall, Lowther to [–], 1 Aug. 1704; Thomas Carleton to James Grahme*, 2 Dec. 1704 (Speck trans.); Owen, 272.
- 5. Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 369, 399, 408, 455; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/8, James to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 4, 6 Dec. 1705; D/Lons/L1/4/stray letters (Wharton), Lowther to [Ld. Wharton], 31 May 1708; Party and Management ed. C. Jones, 81; Bagot mss, [Christopher Musgrave*] to Grahme, 13 July 1708, Lawson to same, 10 Sept. 1708; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1047, 1057, 1096.
- 6. Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 353; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 1366, 1381, 1455; Tomlinson, 63, 81–82, 101; Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/1/43, James Lowther to William Gilpin, 6 Apr. 1710; Owen, 273–6.