BOWES, Sir William (1657-1707), of Streatlam Castle, co. Dur.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Oct. 1679 - Mar. 1681
1695 - 1698
1702 - 16 Jan. 1707

Family and Education

bap. 6 Jan. 1657, 4th but 1st surv. s. of Thomas Bowes of Streatlam Castle by Anne, da. and coh. of Anthony Maxton, BD, preb. of Durham and chaplain to Charles I.  educ. Trinity Coll. Camb. 1672, MA 1675; G. Inn 1672.  m. 17 Aug. 1691, Elizabeth (d. 1736), da. and h. of Sir Francis Blakiston, 3rd Bt., of Gibside, co. Dur., 4s. (1 d.v.p.) 4da.  suc. fa. 1661; kntd. 13 Apr. 1684.1

Offices Held

Ranger, Teesdale forest and warden, Barnard forest 1685–9.2


Bowes’s wealth and status in the north-east stemmed not only from his family’s extensive estates but also from his involvement in Wearside’s coal mining and metallurgical industries. He established a profile of modest loyalty under Charles II and in the early years of James II’s reign, but had nevertheless been removed from the county Durham bench and militia by 1688, though no record survives of his answer to the three questions on the repeal of the Penal Laws and Test Acts. At the beginning of October 1688 the imminent landing of Prince William led to Bowes’s being ordered to raise the Durham militia, the letter delivering this order also promising to restore him to his local offices, and though there is no further evidence of his attitude to the Revolution it is the case that, once raised, the Durham militia made no attempt to confront supporters of the Prince of Orange either upon their entry to Durham city or when they read a declaration in favour of free parliaments. Despite this apparent failure to support James during the Revolution, Bowes was removed in May 1689 from his post of ranger of Teesdale and in September that year was one of those who visited Lord Preston (Sir Richard Grahme†) in the Tower. Against this suggestion of Tory sympathies must be set the support Bowes received in 1695 from the Whig Christopher Vane* at the Durham county election, and it may be that the classification of Bowes as ‘doubtful’ in a forecast of the divisions of 31 Jan. 1696 upon the proposed council of trade stemmed as much from genuine confusion as to his partisan loyalties as from the uncertainty of classifying a recently elected Member. That Bowes was no extremist was indicated by his prompt signing of the Association, but the difficulty in classifying his political beliefs is made clear by his vote in March 1696 against the Court’s proposal to fix the price of guineas at 22s. and his contrasting vote in the next session, on 25 Nov., for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. On 7 Jan. 1697 he was named to prepare a bill against ‘unlawful weirs and dams, which take and destroy fish and the fry of fish’, later presenting and reporting this measure, which was supported by a petition from Durham. The bill lapsed following the prorogation of April 1697, but in January 1698 Bowes introduced a bill for the preservation of the salmon fishery. He managed this measure until it was defeated on 9 Mar., shortly after which a cousin wrote that ‘I am not only sorry, but the whole county is the same for the ill fate of your bill’. His only other significant activity in this session was to assist the passage of an estate bill, and on 15 Apr. he was granted an indefinite leave of absence.3

In March 1698 Bowes had been assured that his advocacy of the fishery bill ‘has got you a good esteem in the county’, but he did not stand in 1698 and was noted, in about September of that year, as having been a Country supporter. He devoted his energies towards his estate and other business affairs and declined standing at the first election of 1701, his cousin claiming that Bowes had ‘neglected the best and fairest opportunity’ to be elected. Such concern proved to be misplaced as Bowes was returned for Durham unopposed in 1702, but he remained an inconspicuous Member. His only significant contribution to the legislative business of the 1702 Parliament was to manage through the Commons a private bill, concerning an estate for which Lionel Vane* was a trustee, between January and February 1704. It has been suggested by a modern observer that during Queen Anne’s reign Bowes should be listed among the Country Whigs. However, another modern historian’s comment that ‘little or nothing is known’ of Bowes’s political loyalties is more accurate, and what evidence there is does not create a clear picture of either Bowes’s partisan loyalties or his attitude towards the ministry. That Bowes was not a Tory extremist can be seen from the forecast that he was a likely opponent of the Tack, and he either voted against this measure on 28 Nov. 1704 or was absent from the division. His opinion, recorded by Bishop Nicolson in December that year, that ‘had the Whigs been courtiers the Tack had been carried, because the Court could not have influenced so many High Churchmen’, though perspicacious, reveals little of his own beliefs. More interestingly, Nicolson came away from this meeting assured that Bowes was ‘a hearty well-wisher to the confederate union of the two kingdoms in succession and trade’, an opinion incompatible with extreme Toryism and perhaps indicating Court and Whig sympathies. The former label would appear to be borne out by Bowes’s actions following his unopposed election for Durham in 1705. Shortly after his election Bowes wrote to the Court Tory John Ellis* of his hope that ‘we shall not differ (as sometimes we have done) in our votes’, and, having been classed prior to the start of the 1705–6 session as ‘Low Church’, Bowes’s support for the Court was apparently confirmed on 25 Oct. by his vote for the Court candidate for Speaker. Doubts as to Bowes’s loyalty to the ministry, and the description of him as a Country supporter, stem from his absence from the list of those who supported the Court in February 1706 during the proceedings upon the place clause of the regency bill, but there is no indication if this was an act of conscience. Though Bowes’s voting record is difficult to interpret, his recorded activity in the 1705–6 session reveals a clear concern for local interests, as January 1706 saw him appointed to draft bills for the better preservation of salmon (10th); to constitute the mayor of Newcastle-upon-Tyne governor of that borough’s hospital for keelmen (16th); and to build a pier or piers at the mouth of the Wear (23rd). Having spent the summer of 1706 in the north-east, being foreman of the Durham grand jury which drew up a congratulatory address on Ramillies, by December Bowes had returned to London for the new session. On 16 Jan. 1707, however, he died. His body was returned to county Durham and on 7 Feb. he was buried at Barnard Castle.4

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison


  • 1. Surtees, Durham, iv(1), p. 108.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. viii. 260; ix. 102–3.
  • 3. J. Nef, Rise of Brit. Coal Industry, i. 29; J. Hatcher, Hist. of Brit. Coal. Industry, i. 254; E. Hughes, N. Country Life, i. 63–64; Add. 40746, f. 137; 47047, f. 33; L. Gooch, The Desperate Faction? 8–10; V. L. Stater, Noble Government, 175; CSP Dom. 1689–90, p. 241; CJ, xi. 740.
  • 4. Add. 47047, ff. 33, 41; 28884, f. 344; 28893, f. 137; 70221, Bp. Crewe to [Robert Harley*], 29 July 1706; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 222; Party and Management ed. Jones, 47, 80; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 261, 405.