LUTHER, John (?1739-86), of Myles's, nr. Ongar, Essex

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



13 Dec. 1763 - 1784

Family and Education

b. ?1739, o.s. of Richard Luther of Ongar by Charlotte, da. of Hugh Chamberlen, M.D., physician to Queen Anne.  educ. Hackney; Trinity, Camb., Michaelmas 1756, aged 17; M. Temple 1755.  m. 16 Jan. 1762, Levinia, da. of B. A. Bennett of Ongar, 2 ch. d.v.p.

Offices Held


Luther had no direct parliamentary ancestry but had parliamentary connexions: his sister Charlotte was married to Henry Fane; his wife’s mother to Richard Bull; her brother was R. H. A. Bennett, married to a daughter of Peter Burrell II.

William Harvey, M.P. for Essex, died 11 June 1763, and a week later Luther declared his candidature. The initiative did not come from the Opposition leaders in London, but by the end of the month Newcastle was writing letters in his support. Lord Rochford favoured him; George Grenville declared his neutrality between Luther and John Conyers; Sandwich came out wholeheartedly on the side of Conyers, endorsed by the ‘old interest’ in the county. Luther called on Sandwich, 28 Oct., and expressed his concern at hearing that Sandwich ‘had taken a part against him’. Pressed by Sandwich about his future attitude, Luther prevaricated; declared ‘he was a friend to Government’ but hesitated to subscribe unreservedly to Sandwich’s formula that he was ‘a friend to This Administration, and more so to This than he should be to any Administration of which Mr. Pitt was a Member’.1 And this was Sandwich’s conclusion: ‘I really think Luther a pretty young man, I will go farther, I think he means to be in general a friend to Administration, but I think he means to leave himself open to act against us upon any decisive question.’ Whatever his original intentions, the warmly contested and exceedingly expensive election, which Luther won by 209 votes on a poll of 5,125, bound him closer to the anti-Grenville Opposition.

Still, when the struggle started over Wilkes and general warrants in February 1764, Luther was absent. ‘On 12th Feb. 1764,’ writes his friend and late tutor at Cambridge, Richard Watson, ‘I received a letter informing me that a separation had taken place’ between Luther and his wife, and that he had gone to Paris.2 Various rumours were circulating: some blamed him, and some his wife.

Others laid it to his expenses at his election [wrote Horace Walpole to Lord Hertford, 18 Mar. 1764]; others again, to political squabbles on that subject between him and his wife—but in short, as he sprung into the world by his election, so he withered when it was over, and has not been thought on since.

Watson twice crossed over to France, and finally brought Luther ‘back to his country and his family’.

He was a thorough honest man ... His temper was warm, and his wife (a very deserving woman) had been over-persuaded to marry him—had she loved him as he loved her, she would have borne with his infirmity of temper.

In all the parliamentary lists 1765-8 Luther is classed by Newcastle and Rockingham as a ‘sure friend’ and a ‘Whig’. He voted with Opposition on 30 Jan. 1765, on the renewed motion about general warrants.3 But he was absent from the division on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, for which he was reproached in a representation voted by the grand jury at the Chelmsford assizes, March 1767. He voted with Opposition on the nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768.

In 1768 Luther stood jointly with Sir William Maynard, a Government supporter; they were opposed by Eliab Harvey and Jacob Houblon, on the ‘old interest’ supported by Rigby; but they won by a comfortable margin, Luther topping the poll. In the Parliament of 1768-74 every known vote of Luther’s was given on the Opposition side, but he appears in only about half the lists; and no pattern can be discerned in his voting or absenting himself. He was a friend of Sir Anthony Abdy, of an old Essex Tory family but now connected with the Cavendishes: Bamber Gascoyne, writing to Strutt in November 1773, called Luther ‘the tool of Abdy’.4 He was also on friendly terms with Lord Rochford. When in the summer of 1769 a petition was to be moved at the Essex assizes asking for the dissolution of Parliament, Rochford sent a letter to Luther telling him that it was a measure most disagreeable to the King and his ministry; and implored Luther on the friendship he (Rochford) had shown him in his two contests to oppose a measure which would reflect on him as lord lieutenant.5 Luther consulted Abdy, and while acknowledging his obligations to Rochford, gave a noncommittal reply. ‘I thought’, wrote Abdy, ‘the more general the better.’ It apparently called for no great effort to induce vagueness in Luther.

In 1774 Luther stood on a compromise with John Conyers, an old Tory; the two traditional parties were determined to avoid any further costly contest. At the last moment it was brought on by an interloper, Lord Waltham, whose only chance was in taking his opponents unaware. But each of the two joint candidates obtained double the number of Waltham’s votes. In the Parliament of 1774-80 Luther voted steadily with the Opposition. In 1780 the compromise was continued, and Luther was re-elected jointly with Bramston, Luther voting with Opposition, and Bramston with the North Government. Luther did not vote either on Shelburne’s peace preliminaries or Fox’s East India bill, but after the dismissal of the Coalition must have voted against Pitt, being classed both by Robinson in January, and by Stockdale in March 1784, as Opposition. He did not stand again in 1784. There is no record of his having spoken in the House during the 20 years he sat in it.

Luther died 13 Jan. 1786, leaving his Essex estate to his nephew Francis Fane but his estate at Petworth in Sussex to Bishop Watson who sold it a year later to Lord Egremont for £23,500.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Sandwich to Rigby, 28 Oct. 1763, Sandwich mss.
  • 2. Anecdotes of Life of Richard Watson, Bp. of Llandaff, i. 42-45.
  • 3. B. Gascoyne to J. Strutt, 31 Jan. 1765, Strutt mss.
  • 4. Ibid.
  • 5. Abdy to Rockingham, 10 Sept. 1769, Rockingham mss.