LEVESON GOWER, Sir William (c.1647-91), of Trentham, Staffs.
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Family and Education
b. c.1647, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Sir Thomas Gower, 2nd Bt.†, of Stittenham, Yorks. by Frances, da. and coh. of Sir John Leveson† of Lilleshall, Staffs. educ. Pocklington g.s. 1656, aged 9. m. c.1669, Lady Jane (d. 1697), da. of John Granville, 1st Earl of Bath, sis. of Hon. Charles† and Hon. John Granville*, 3s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da. suc. cos. Francis Leveson (formerly Fowler) in Staffs. and Salop estates 1668, fa. 1689, nephew as 4th Bt. 8 Oct. 1689.1
Freeman, Newcastle 1678, steward, manor of Newcastle 1678–84.2
For a younger son, Leveson Gower was extremely fortunate, for by the end of 1689 he was consolidating a substantial inheritance comprising land in three counties. To the Leveson estates in Staffordshire and Shropshire, which fell to him in 1668, were added the ancestral estate of his father at Stittenham in the North Riding of Yorkshire in 1689. Even given that the nominal rent roll of nearly £4,000 p.a. was in reality only just over £2,000, due to poor management, it made him an influential figure. Thus, he was well placed to continue to play a prominent part in parliamentary politics which had already seen him follow the Court in the Cavalier Parliament, before switching to embrace Exclusion and welcome the Revolution of 1688 after he had signed an address from Staffordshire on 4 Dec. asking James II to remove all non-qualified people from civil and military posts. Indeed, the Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) still considered him to be a Whig when he analysed the Parliament elected in 1690.3
Nevertheless, a consideration of Leveson Gower’s speeches during the first session of Parliament must throw some doubt on Carmarthen’s analysis for it is far from clear that he espoused a Whig line consistently. On 1 Apr. 1690, in the committee of supply, he supported the Court request for a grant of £1,400,000 towards the war while simultaneously attacking maladministration and corruption, arguing that ‘we shall not only empty their pockets that have cheated us, but squeeze their veins of their blood, for the ill things they have done’. In common with many Whigs, he was vehemently opposed to William III’s intention of leading the Irish campaign in person, apparently even proposing a motion to establish who had advised the King to go, and that the Commons should advise him not to. This attitude coloured his whole view of the regency bill, designed to invest the Queen with regal power in the King’s absence. In a committee of the whole on 5 May 1690 Leveson Gower stated that he did not believe in tampering with the settlement of the crown, ‘chopping and changing regal power, to go a king from England, and be but a gentleman in Ireland’. On the following day he went further, expressing the opinion that by going to Ireland, the King risked losing England, particularly as in his assessment the army was mutinous. In keeping with this concern, he supported a proposal by Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt., for a committee of the whole to consider ways to preserve the peace and safety of the kingdom in the King’s absence. The tenor of Leveson Gower’s speech was that it was better to make provisions while the King was present. When the committee met the next day, he intervened to question the relevance of a proposal that Commissary John Shales be brought before the House, doubting whether it would contribute to the safety of the government. Later in the debate, he rose to defend his father-in-law, the Earl of Bath, who had been named in the attack on Privy Councillors aimed principally at Carmarthen.4
During the summer recess an important piece of advice was penned to the Earl of Portland by Lord Sydney (Hon. Henry Sidney†) and Thomas Coningsby*, outlining a strategy for the future management of the Commons. They mentioned Leveson Gower specifically as a leader of ‘the middle party’ who should be approached to manage Members of that viewpoint in the House. Honour was thought to be the best argument to persuade him. The paucity of evidence of debates from the following 1690–1 session makes it difficult, however, to judge his activities in the House. He was deputed on 20 Oct. to invite Dr Freeman to preach on 5 Nov. He was also appointed to draft a clause to be added to a supply bill which he duly presented to the House on 3 Jan. 1691. The tone of a letter he penned to his son’s tutor a few days after the end of the session later in January 1691 suggests that he was becoming disillusioned with politics. After noting that he liked the world less the longer he lived, he commended the Earl of Leicester (Philip Sydney†) as ‘the wisest man of his country, if not of the age he lives in; he is civil to all the men of wit or sense who visit him, without taking notice of what opinion or party they are of, and leaves the stage to those who have a mind to be actors’. In April 1691 Robert Harley* classed him as a Country supporter.5
In the opening month of the following session Leveson Gower was deeply involved in the important debates of the House. He intervened in the debate in the committee of the whole on the state of the nation on 3 Nov. 1691 to point out that ‘the army that submitted [are] not paid and they that did not submit are paid’ and that when the Protestants in Ireland were armed they contributed more to defeating the rebellion than the army. On 7 Nov. he intervened with Seymour to complain that the exchanges between Admiral Edward Russell and Sir Thomas Clarges* on the miscarriages of the fleet the previous summer were an unparliamentary way of proceeding. Two days later he spoke in favour of considering the naval estimates in the committee of supply rather than referring them to a select committee. Again, on 18 Nov., he supported the Court in wishing to expedite discussion of supply matters, on this occasion following the lead of Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. II, in moving for the land estimates to be discussed in the committee of the whole. When this estimate was debated in the committee the next day, he argued for putting the question for the total number of troops rather than the more time-consuming alternative of considering the actual requirements, on the grounds that the King’s judgment on such matters was likely to be better than his own or anybody else’s. No further speeches of his are recorded as he soon afterwards succumbed to serious illness. By 1 Dec. he was reported to have had some relief, but he died on 22 Dec. ‘after many days of tormenting pain with the stranguary and since that a flux’, or as John Pulteney* put it, a stoppage of urine. He was succeeded as Member for Newcastle by his son, John*.