LOWTHER, Sir John III, 2nd Bt. (1655-1700), of Lowther Hall, Westmld.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



29 Mar. 1677
Mar. 1679
1695 - 28 May 1696

Family and Education

b. 25 Apr. 1655, 1st s. of John Lowther by 1st w., and half-bro. of William Lowther. educ. Kendal g.s. 1668; Sedbergh 1669, Queen’s, Oxf, 1670-2; I. Temple, entered 1671, called 1677; travelled abroad (France) 1672-4. m. 3 Dec. 1674, Katharine (d.1713), da. of Sir Henry Frederick Thynne, 1st Bt., of Kempsford, Glos., 5s. (2 d.v.p.) 7da. suc. gdfa. Sir John Lowther I 30 Nov. 1675; cr. Visct. Lonsdale 28 May 1696.1

Offices Held

J.p. Westmld. 1675-d., Cumb. 1689-d.; commr. for assessment, Cumb. Westmld. and Yorks. (N. Riding) 1677-80, 1689-90; custos rot. Westmld. 1678-May 1688, Oct. 1688-d.; gov. Carlisle 1689-90; ld. lt. Westmld. 1689-94; gov. Ironmakers’ Co. 1693.2

PC 19 Feb. 1689-d.; v.-chamberlain 1689-94; first lord of the Treasury Mar.-Nov. 1690, second ld. Nov. 1690-2; ld. privy seal 1699-d.; one of the lds. justices 1699, 1700.3

FRS 1699-d.


The care devoted to Lowther’s education was not, as he himself admitted, matched by its success, because his tutors, through their social awkwardness, could not win his respect. Nevertheless his grandfather was determined to bring him before the world at the first opportunity. With the passing of the Test Act in 1673 it was only a matter of time before Sir Thomas Strickland should be disabled, and a vacancy created for Westmorland. But Sir George Fletcher argued so strongly against the candidature of a minor in these circumstances that no action was taken. On succeeding to the title Lowther was very anxious to join the ‘knot’ of opposition politicians meeting on Sunday nights, but his application was vetoed by Sir William Jones. After at length procuring Strickland’s disablement in 1677, he was returned in his absence and without a contest, and marked ‘worthy’ by Shaftesbury. On 7 Apr. he wrote to his cousin Sir Daniel Fleming:

I am afraid I brought ill luck with me into the House, for neither things foreign nor domestic have gone well since. ... The Prince of Orange’s army is wholly routed in attempting the siege of St. Omer and himself forced to retire to Ypres; which how much it concerns us you yourself can sufficiently judge. As to our domestic concerns, we have ordered the matter so that the contrary party took advantage of our party’s absence, and have voted an Act to be brought in for the repeal of the Irish Act, which prohibits the importation of Irish cattle. I hope I shall not send you every post so bad news, although by what I see there’s little likelihood there should be any good.

Although the Journals do not distinguish Lowther from his cousin, Sir John Lowther II, he was probably moderately active in the Cavalier Parliament; he may have served on 18 committees, and acted twice as teller for the Opposition. But he and Fletcher were absent from the House in March 1678, when they were visited by the Scottish covenanting peer, Lord Cassilis. (Sir) Christopher Musgrave commented that they expected to do ‘better service to their party’ as a result, and when Parliament met again in May Lowther and Sir Richard Grahme successfully opposed the adjournment of the debate on Lauderdale. After the Popish Plot he was appointed to the committee on the bill for disabling Papists from sitting in either House of Parliament. He made his maiden speech on 19 Dec., when it was revealed that the King had ordered the seizure of the papers of Ralph Montagu:

For aught I know Montagu may be served as Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey was; therefore I would not have him go out of the House for the papers. He knows by what practice these negotiations with France have been done. I am of opinion we shall not sit here to-morrow. I move therefore to have the papers sent for now.

Two days later he acted with Anchitell Grey as teller against adjourning the debate on Danby’s impeachment.4

Lowther was re-elected to the first Exclusion Parliament, and again marked ‘worthy’ on Shaftesbury’s list. But he was an inactive Member, and was absent from the division on the bill. He did not stand again in September 1679, but resumed his seat in the Oxford Parliament, in which he was probably appointed to the committee of elections and privileges. But it was James II’s Parliament that brought him to the fore. On 27 May 1685 he moved for a committee to consider the proper way of applying to the King for the return of the forfeited charters and the restoration of the customary franchise. He was supported by two young men of his own age, though without previous parliamentary experience, Lord Willoughby (Robert Bertie II) and Sir Richard Myddelton, and it was only by considerable manoeuvring that the Government managed to stifle the debate. A very active Member, he may have been appointed to 18 committees. He carried the naturalization and tithe bills to the Lords, and was named to the committee for the general naturalization of Protestant refugees. He was much alarmed by the attempt to extend the definition of treason to cover any proposal to alter the succession, but succeeded in emasculating the bill in committee. He was of course included among those in Opposition to James II. He drafted, in consultation with Fleming, the answers to the lord lieutenant’s questions on the Test Act and the Penal Laws that were given by at least 15 of the Cumberland justices:

If I be chosen a Member of Parliament, I think myself obliged to refer my opinion concerning the taking away the Penal Laws and Tests to the reasons that shall arise from the debate of the House. If I do give my interest for any to serve in Parliament, it shall be for such as I shall think loyal and well-affected to the King and the established Government. I will live friendly with those of several persuasions, as a loyal subject and a good Christian ought to do.

During the Revolution he intercepted a cargo of arms designed for the garrison of Carlisle, and with his friends produced a petition for a free Parliament. ‘The sun doth not always shine upon the same men’, he wrote on 5 Dec. 1688. ‘Some rays may fall upon me upon this change of weather.’5

At the general election of 1689 Lowther was returned unopposed, and also brought in Henry Wharton ‘whose family have a great claim, not only on account of their great estates, but much more for their well deserving upon this great occasion from all good Protestants’. Danby had already recommended him to William for office, and he was now also assured of Whig support. By his own account, however, he ‘went up to London to serve there, out of curiosity to see what would become of us in so extraordinary conjuncture’. As a committeeman he was only moderately active in the Convention. He may have served on 18 committees, and made 28 recorded speeches. Although his only known intervention in the constitutional debate was to urge the House to proceed deliberately, he considered the regency proposal absurd, or so he later wrote. After the transfer of the crown his colleague’s brother, the Hon. Thomas Wharton, ‘surprised’ him with the offer of the vice-chamberlain’s place, worth £1,500 p.a. and demanded an immediate answer:

I had a great family of daughters that wanted education, to be had only in London, which I knew must bring me thither for some time, and I had experienced the expense of living there, so that I considered the advantage proposed to me would be a great ease in that respect.

On his acceptance, he was also summoned to the Privy Council and appointed lord lieutenant of Cumberland and Westmorland, and governor of Carlisle. He was named to the committee on the Lords’ bill for removing disputes about the legality of the Convention. On 27 Feb. he reminded the supply committee of dangers at home and abroad, and urged them to show their confidence in the King. He spoke in favour of the temporary suspension of habeas corpus, and was appointed to the committee for the bill. He was also among those entrusted with the inquiry into the authors and advisers of grievances, the preparation of the first mutiny bill, the alteration of the oaths, and the drafting of an address for the suppression of the mutiny at Ipswich. But most of his energy was reserved for the indemnity bill, which he first proposed during the debate of 15 Mar.:

I would put men out of doubt, and make as many friends as we can. Therefore I move that whether, as you made a strict inquiry into grievances, there may not as well be an Act of Oblivion at the same time, and, at the same time, that you address the King to proclaim his pardon to such as shall surrender themselves and return to their obedience and duty.

‘We have got the Government settled’, he remarked on 15 June; ‘I would punish for the future, and pardon all that is past.’ In respect of his uncle, Sir Francis Wythens, he was justifiably afraid that excuses would be unwelcome, but he did his best:

He lost his place for his opinion about hanging the soldier who ran from his colours. He was never corrupt; he never took a shilling. I perceive I am ill heard upon this subject, but I leave him to your mercy.

He helped to consider the address on the dangers from France and Ireland, and rose in the King’s opinion when he argued, on Elizabethan precedent, against naming Princess Sophia in the bill of succession, although it is not clear that he went so far as to mention the Nassau family, as William thought. He claimed the principal responsibility for the passing of the tithe bill, though he was not on the committee.6

Lowther was given leave for five weeks on 18 July, but it was not until 8 Aug. that he arrived in the country, and discovered to his consternation, ‘not having been bred to any military skill’, that the garrison of Carlisle was to be totally withdrawn; but Shrewsbury at once reassured him that another regiment was on its way. After the recess he defended the Privy Councillors against (Sir) Rowland Gwynne, who accused them of misrepresenting the House to the King:

I am not so fond of my own opinion as not only to relinquish it, but obey you, contrary to my own sense. I would not only relinquish the service of the Council, but retire, if you think not well of me.

He was appointed to the committees for reversing two of the attainders pronounced after the Rye House Plot, and for stating the condition of the public revenue. He probably voted against the disabling clause in the bill to restore corporations, having previously expressed dismay at the multitude of persons involved in such a measure, and was chosen as spokesman for the meeting at the Devil tavern on 29 Jan. 1690 to assure the King of an adequate supply if the Convention were dissolved and a new Parliament called. When it met he was made first lord of the Treasury, and leader of the House. His honesty and moderation were respected, but he was not a ready debater, and his assumption that the wisdom of the House lay on his side, and its weakness on the other, was apt to be ill received. He continued to support William, in or out of office, for the rest of his life, and was raised to the peerage in 1696. After suffering much from ill health, he died on 10 July 1700, aged 45, and was buried at Lowther. His sons were all Whigs, the youngest, Anthony, representing the county from 1722 to 1741.7

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Leonard Naylor


  • 1. Collins, Peerage, v. 705-8.
  • 2. EHR, xxx. 93-94; Sel. Charters (Selden Soc. xxviii), 229.
  • 3. EHR, xxx. 91.
  • 4. Collins, v. 705; HMC Le Fleming, 104, 134; Westmld. RO, D/Ry 1854, Lowther to Fleming, 7 Apr. 1677; CSP Dom. 1676-7, pp. 562-3; 1678, p. 5; CJ, ix. 477, 562; Grey, vi. 346-7.
  • 5. Lonsdale Mems. 5, 7, 9, 16-17; CJ, ix. 731, 741; Jefferson, Cumb. i. 373; HMC 11th Rep. VII, 27; HMC Le Fleming, 226.
  • 6. HMC Le Fleming, 226, 250; EHR, xxx. 92-93; Hardwick SP, ii. 412; Yale Univ. Lib. Osborn mss 71/6/20, Lowther to Lowther, 29 Dec. 1688; Grey, ix. 124, 134, 168-9, 319, 343, 345; Foxcroft, Halifax, ii. 225.
  • 7. CSP Dom. 1689-90, pp. 219, 222; Grey, ix. 39, 154, 313. 458; Macaulay, Hist. 1792-3, 1797-8.