LAWSON, Gilfrid (1675-1749), of Brayton, Cumb. and Gray’s Inn

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



Feb. - Nov. 1701
1702 - 1705
1708 - 1734

Family and Education

b. 1675, 1st s. of Wilfred Lawson† of Brayton by Sarah, da. and coh. of William James of Washington, co. Dur.  educ. Queen’s, Oxf. 19 Oct. 1695; G. Inn 1700, called 1702, 1728.  unmsuc. fa. 1710; cos. as 6th Bt. and to Isel estate 8 Aug. 1743.1

Offices Held


Lawson’s first involvement in Cumberland elections was in July 1700 when he was nominated by Cumberland’s lord lieutenant Lord Carlisle (Charles Howard*) to stand at an anticipated by-election. Lawson probably owed the lord lieutenant’s support to the political links forged between his grandfather and Carlisle’s grandfather during the Restoration period. In the months preceding the dissolution of the 1698 Parliament, the county’s Whig interest rallied behind Lawson’s candidacy in opposition to that of the Tory Richard Musgrave*, cousin of Lawson’s father. Once a dissolution seemed imminent in December 1700, a compromise was struck which led to the unopposed return of Lawson and Musgrave at the election early in 1701. During February Lawson was included on a list of Members likely to support the Court in agreeing with the supply committee’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. It soon became clear that the electoral support Lawson had received from Cumberland’s Whigs was not an accurate reflection of his own beliefs. On 6 Mar. 1701 he reported the previous day’s debate upon the succession in a committee of the whole, commenting with some relish that ‘before we get through this bill, such care will be taken that we need not fear to have our liberties encroached upon, let our successor be who he will’. This suggestion of Country Tory sympathies was confirmed at the end of the month by the Whig and Court supporter James Lowther*, who confided to his father that ‘we are very much disappointed in Mr Lawson, for he never gives us one vote but goes continually with Sir C[hristopher] M[usgrave] [4th Bt.*]’, and that ‘my Lord Carlisle is vexed and Lady Lonsdale is extremely angry at it’. In April Lowther emphasized Lawson’s growing links with the Tories when he reported that Lawson was ‘naturally in with Sir C[hristopher] Musgrave’s family’, that a marriage was rumoured between Lawson and one of Musgrave’s daughters, and that Joseph Musgrave* was ‘the greatest acquaintance he [Lawson] has’. Such Tory sympathies would explain Lawson’s concern for the interests of the Established Church, as seen, for instance, when Lawson told, on 7 June, in favour of amending the land tax bill to exempt Anglican clergy with livings worth under £40 p.a. Later the same month he reported the ballot for commissioners of accounts. The Tory loyalties which Lawson had demonstrated in this Parliament fatally undermined his hopes of re-election later the same year. His request in November for Lord Carlisle’s support at the expected election met, according to James Lowther, with the reply that Carlisle ‘could never be for one that differed from him in opinion so much in voting’. Lawson’s hopes consequently came to nothing, and he remained in London rather than return to Cumberland to canvass the county. In 1702, however, he contested the election in alliance with Richard Musgrave against two candidates standing with Whig support. One of these was his cousin Sir Wilfred Lawson, 2nd Bt.*, and Lawson himself secured the second seat only after the sheriff had disallowed 46 of Sir Wilfred’s votes. Sir Wilfred petitioned against Gilfrid’s return but no report was made from the elections committee.2

Lawson frequently acted as teller in the 1702 Parliament, as indeed he was to do throughout the Queen’s reign, although very often in relation to detailed or routine business. One of the more prominent questions occurred on 7 Dec. 1702 when he was teller against a Whig attempt to adjourn consideration of the commission of accounts’ report on Lord Ranelagh (Richard Jones*); after the Commons had found Ranelagh guilty of financial misdemeanours, Lawson was appointed, on 1 Feb. 1703, to prepare an address condemning the former paymaster-general. Before the division of 28 Nov. 1704 on the Tack, Lawson had been forecast by Robert Harley* as a likely opponent of this measure, but voted for it on the 28th. His continuing hostility towards occasional conformity was demonstrated on 5 Dec., when he acted as teller in favour of engrossing the bill to prohibit this practice. In the new year he was to confide to Bishop Nicolson his hope that an occasional conformity bill would pass in the next session. On 24 Dec. his Tory sympathies were again in view when he told against an attempt to bring forward by a week the second reading of the bill appointing commissioners for an Anglo-Scottish union. During the first two months of 1705 he managed through the House a bill concerned with Northumberland estates, and he told on two further occasions.3

Lawson had begun canvassing support against the next election as early as January 1705, and left London nearly two weeks before the prorogation, presumably in order to campaign in person. Such efforts were, however, in vain and by May he had resolved not to stand at the election. He was more successful in 1708 when, following a complex series of manoeuvres among the county’s political elite, he regained his seat at an uncontested election. His Tory sympathies were evident in the autumn of 1708 when he wrote to James Grahme* of his concern that the inability of the Tories to settle on a single candidate could hamper their attempts to gain the Speakership. However, Lawson was less active in this Parliament than he had been previously or was to be subsequently. On 7 Dec. 1708 he was nominated to draft a bill for the improvement of the harbour at Whitehaven, and he was to some extent involved in the proceedings relating to the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. On 4 Feb. 1710 he was teller in favour of the Commons being present, as a committee of the whole, at Sacheverell’s trial, and his fellow knight of the shire, James Lowther, twice reported during February that Lawson was ‘zealous’ in his support for the accused clergyman. Numerous printed lists record Lawson’s vote against the impeachment, though one of them has him voting for it. On 4 Mar. he told in favour of recommitting an address condemning the Sacheverell riots and affirming the guilty verdict against the doctor. Having returned north following the prorogation, he was reported in July to have been ‘promoting’ a pro-Sacheverell address from the county.4

Lawson, despite his staunch Toryism and recent inheritance of his father’s Cumberland estates, was unwilling at the 1710 election to incur the expense of joining with a fellow Tory in an attempt to throw out the Whig James Lowther. He therefore agreed not to support a third candidate, in return for Lowther’s pledge to do the same, thus the two were returned without a poll. He served as teller on 4 Dec. against referring the Cockermouth return to the elections committee, so that it was ordered to be heard at the bar; and he told five days later in favour of instructing the committee preparing a bill for regulating elections to include a clause requiring the Commons to resolve by ballot all questions relating to disputed elections and returns. Electoral matters continued to preoccupy Lawson in the new year, and on 10 Jan. 1711 he told in favour of a motion to add to the bill regulating elections a clause allowing Quakers to affirm the oaths. In February Bishop Nicolson recorded Lawson’s resentment at the Lords’ rejection of the place bill, and the good relationship between the two men was clearly evident in the following months during consideration of the Carlisle election petition. It was not surprising that on 20 Feb. Lawson should be a teller against fixing a date for consideration of information from the defeated Tory candidate at Carlisle, information which included allegations that Nicolson had improperly sought to influence the election. Thus Lawson kept Nicolson informed of developments on the case, and when the claims of the defeated candidate were considered on 14 Mar. Lawson cautioned Nicolson not to attend the Lower House and give support to the Carlisle Member and Whig, Sir James Montagu. However, after Nicolson had been prevailed upon by Montagu to consent to appear, Lawson told against the motion that Nicolson’s actions at the Carlisle election had infringed the liberties and rights of the Commons. In the proceedings on the Cockermouth election petition Lawson told on 3 Apr. against hearing evidence intended to prove the qualification of one of the voters for the sitting Member James Stanhope, and four days later he was teller against the motion that Stanhope had been duly elected. He was included in the lists of ‘Tory patriots’ who had opposed the war, and the ‘worthy patriots’ who had helped to expose the mismanagements of the previous ministry, being marked in the latter list as a member of the October Club. The later months of the 1710–11 session also saw Lawson report and carry to the Lords a bill for the relief of creditors and proprietors of the Mine Adventurers’ Company (3, 8, 23 May), and assist James Lowther in the latter’s attempts to close a customs loophole which encouraged, to the detriment of Whitehaven merchants, the smuggling of tobacco from the Isle of Man to Liverpool. Lowther, however, regarded such assistance as counter-productive, claiming that when the matter was debated on 1 June Lawson’s speech condemning such abuses also attacked the clause offered by Lowther to close the loophole. Local concerns continued to occupy Lawson at the beginning of the 1711–2 session. On 11 Dec. 1711 he seconded Lowther’s motion for a bill to improve Whitehaven harbour, and was subsequently named to prepare this measure. Lowther, however, distrusted Lawson’s apparent support, believing it was offered merely as a bargaining point in a dispute concerning mining rights in part of Cumberland, and Lawson, whose initial support was only qualified, appears to have withdrawn this co-operation during the later stages of the bill. On matters of more national consequence Lawson began to waver from his staunch Toryism. It is difficult to know what significance to attach to his dining at the beginning of January with such leading Whigs as Lord Carlisle, Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*) and Sir James Montagu, all of whom were associates of Lawson’s friend Bishop Nicolson, but it is certainly true that Lawson did not follow the Tories during the Commons’ attacks upon Robert Walpole II* and the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†). On 17 Jan. 1712 he was teller against the motion to expel Walpole, repeating this stand on 6 Mar. when he told against declaring Walpole incapable of election; despite being included on Lord Oxford’s list of those to be lobbied regarding the Commons’ attack on Marlborough, Lawson spoke in defence of the Duke in the censure debate of 24 Jan. His precise political position at this time was explained in Kreienberg’s account of a debate on 11 Apr., where Lawson was named as one of the March Club members who had disagreed with Henry St. John II in his assertion that national exhaustion required an early peace, arguing that a separate peace was not in the national interest. Lawson’s increasing disillusion with ministerial policies was also evident in the 1713 session and at an early point James Lowther was writing that Lawson had thus far ‘generally voted with us’. This assessment is borne out by Lawson’s recorded parliamentary activity. On 6 May 1713 his hostility to the peace was indicated by his vote against the French wine duties bill, and on 18 June when he both spoke and voted against the French commerce bill. Before this, his support of back-bench Tory attempts to force the equalization of English and Scottish malt duty rates was demonstrated on 19 May in his tellership in favour of the recommittal of a government amendment to the malt tax bill intended to set the Scottish rate at half the English. The printed list of this division classed Lawson as ‘whimsical’, and two days after the division Lowther commented that Lawson had ‘voted with us all this session and was very zealous against the French bill’. Relations between Cumberland’s two knights remained cool, at least partly due to Lowther’s irritation that Lawson failed to assist in securing the renewal of the Act to prevent theft on the Scottish border, but before the end of the session the two had reached an agreement to stand on a joint interest at the coming general election.5

Lawson returned north in the summer and made no secret to his countrymen of his hostility to the ministry. When, in July, an address was being prepared:

Mr Lawson, who is newly come down into the country, and speaks with unaccountable freedom of the ministry, did not like some distinguishing expressions in it, as hereditary right, advantages to trade, and the suppression of anti-monarchical principles, etc.; and thereupon ordered another address to be drawn out of it, in a much lower style . . . Mr Lawson speaks with such freedom against the peace that many think he is not right in his head. He affirms that the nation is four millions a year loser by the peace, etc. in such terms as some of the justices were ready to call him to account for his extravagant and seditious assertions.

That such sentiments did not sit well with Cumberland’s Tories is suggested by the comment of one observer that the Tory Sir Christopher Musgrave, 5th Bt.*, could easily have ousted Lawson ‘with the charge of £400 or £500 at most’. However, Lawson, active in the Tory interest at the Cockermouth election, was nevertheless returned unopposed for Cumberland. That he intended to continue his independent line in the Commons was evident early in the first session of 1714, as on 18 Mar. he spoke in support of Richard Steele and voted against his expulsion. In June he was one of the Hanoverian Tories included on the Speaker’s (Sir Thomas Hanmer, 2nd Bt.) slate for the commission of accounts ballot, a list comprehensively defeated by that promoted by the October Club. The Worsley list classed him as a Tory who would often vote with the Whigs, and the extent of his disillusion with the Tory ministry is suggested by his classification simply as a Whig in another comparison of the 1713 and 1715 Parliaments. Lawson continued to sit for Cumberland until 1734, and died at his seat at Brayton on 23 Aug. 1749.6

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Hutchinson, Cumb. ii. 241–2; Surtees, Dur. i. 216; C. Roy Hudleston and R. S. Boumphrey, Cumb. Fams. and Heraldry (Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. extra ser. xxiii), 199.
  • 2. The Commons 1660–90, ii. 715–16; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W1/20, Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, to Ld. Carlisle, 21 Sept. 1700; D/Lons/L1/1/46, same to Lady Lonsdale, 23 Sept. 1700; D/Lons/W2/2/3, James to Sir John Lowther I, 17 Dec. 1700; D/Lons/W2/2/4, same to same, 27 Mar. 12 Apr., 13, 15, 22, 25 Nov. 1701; D/Lons/W2/2/5, same to same, 14 Mar. 1701[–2]; Howard mss at Castle Howard, Somerset to Carlisle, 2 Oct. 1700; Cumbria RO (Kendal), Le Fleming mss WD/Ry 5556, Cumb. justices to freeholders, 7 Oct. 1700; Ld. Carlisle to Lawson, 7 Dec. 1700; Bodl. Ballard 34, ff. 139–40; Leconfield mss at Cockermouth Castle box 169, Sir William Pennington, 1st Bt., to Joseph Relfe, 24 July 1702 (Speck trans.); CJ, xiv. 6.
  • 3. Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 266.
  • 4. Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W1/28, Lawson to Sir John Lowther I, 2 Jan. 1704[–5]; D/Lons/W2/2/8, James Lowther to same, 3 Mar. 1704[–5]; D/Lons/W2/1/43, same to William Gilpin, 4, 11 Feb. 1709[–10]; Bagot mss at Levens Hall, Lawson to Grahme, 9 May 1705, 9 Sept. 1708; HMC 10th Rep. IV, 342.
  • 5. Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/1/43, Gilpin to Lowther, 26, 31 Aug. 1710, Lowther to Gilpin, 29 May, 2, 5 June 1711; D/Lons/W2/1/44, same to same, 11, 13, 15 Dec. 1711; D/Lons/W2/1/45, same to same, 7 June 1712; D/Lons/W2/1/46, same to same, 2, 21 Apr., 5 May, 9, 20 June 1713; D/Lons/W2/3/13, Nicholas Lechmere* to James Lowther, 1 Sept. 1713; Nicolson Diaries, 541, 548, 550, 559, 576, 581, 583, 592; [Bull. I] HR, lxxi. 58–61; Add. 70331, Oxford’s canvassing list, c.Jan. 1712; J. Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. (1735), 488; NSA, Kreienberg despatch 16 Apr. 1712; Boyer, Pol. State, v. 389.
  • 6. HMC Portland, v. 304–5, 343; Kreienberg despatch 19 Mar. 1714; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 8, f. 138.