LOWTHER, James (1753-1837), of Aikton, Cumb. and Kensington Gravel Pits, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



7 Dec. 1775 - 1812
1812 - 1818

Family and Education

b. 23 Feb. 1753, 2nd s. of Rev. Henry Lowther, rector of Aikton, by Dorothy, da. of William Tatham of Overhall, Lancs. m. bef. 1780, Mary Forsyth, ?illegit. da. of Sir William Codrington, 2nd Bt.*, 4s. 5da.

Offices Held

Equerry to the Duke of Gloucester 1782-90.

Brevet col. (during militia service) 1798; col. Westmld. militia 1803.


Lowther represented Westmorland for nearly 40 years as if it were a pocket borough, never faced a contest and never made a speech of any note. Although the most distantly related, he was the most devotedly loyal of the Earl of Lonsdale’s kinsmen who sat in the House, and on at least two occasions acted as Lonsdale’s second in the duels which his irritability and pride frequently provoked.1 There is no record of his having opposed Pitt’s ministry after 1790, when, as in 1796, Lonsdale also returned him for Haslemere. He was listed ‘doubtful’ on the Test Act repeal question in 1791. On 17 Mar. 1795 he presented a petition from Whitehaven expressing confidence in ministers, but he was only classed ‘hopeful’ by Rose in 1796, possibly because of his previous defection on the Regency in 1789. In a debate on the Prince’s debts, 8 Mar. 1799, he asked for confirmation that the Prince had incurred no new difficulties, but voted in favour of the Prince’s claims to the arrears of the revenues of the duchy of Cornwall, 31 Mar. 1802, and was helped by the Prince to find a situation for his son in 1805.2

After Lonsdale’s death in 1802, he was continued in the Westmorland seat by Lonsdale’s successor, William Lowther, Viscount Lowther* and followed his political lead, voting for Pitt’s question for the orders of the day, 3 June 1803, and his motion on naval strength, 15 Mar. 1804, and supporting the three motions preceding Addington’s resignation, 16, 23 and 25 Apr. He was classed ‘Pitt’ in all the known lists drawn up by the government in 1804 and 1805, but did not vote on Whitbread’s motion of censure on Melville, 8 Apr. 1805, having probably seceded with his patron following Sidmouth’s inclusion in the government.3 His only known vote against the Grenville ministry was on the repeal of the Additional Force Act, 30 Apr. 1806. He was classed ‘against the Opposition’ by the Whigs in 1810 and is not known to have opposed the ministries of Portland and Perceval. There is some confusion between his votes and those of John Lowther*, but he clearly stood by ministers on the address and Scheldt questions in 1810. He also voted against parliamentary reform, 21 May. He was not a punctilious attender, which sometimes alarmed his patron’s ministerial friends, who feared it would be construed as lukewarmness, or even hostility. He brushed aside solicitations to attend as unnecessary. On 20 Dec. 1810, when he went away without voting on the adjournment of the Regency question, though favourable to it, he thought fit to explain that, to be consistent with his conduct in 1788, he could not support the restrictions and wished Perceval to be informed of it. He yielded, however, to Lord Lonsdale’s judgment and on 1 Jan. 1811 sided with government.4 On 4 May 1812 he opposed sinecure reform.

By 1812 Lowther, who was clearly in financial difficulty, was seeking a colonial appointment and his transfer to the Lowthers’ seat at Appleby may have been in anticipation of his vacating his seat in the House for good. On 17 Sept. Charles Long reported to Lonsdale (as Lord Lowther had now become) that Lord Bathurst, the Colonial secretary, was ‘ready to give him the first appointment that becomes vacant which he can accept’. Lowther himself told Long on 1 Jan. 1813 that ‘nothing but a very good thing would answer his purpose’ and on 10 Apr. Long reported to Lonsdale:

The colonel is not yet quite decided as to his intentions; he has desired me to keep it open a little longer—I have been endeavouring to exchange Bourbon for Mauritius but there is nothing so good as the latter that is not promised—I have however succeeded in getting an office at the latter of £450 a year for his son-in-law [?Thomas Forrest] which he said would be a great object with him—so that I hope he will at length undertake the office proposed, as I fear it will be difficult to find another that will suit him as well.

Before long his family tired of his indecision and Lonsdale’s heir Viscount Lowther informed his father on 8 July:

Colonel Lowther has just been with Arbuthnot upon the subject of the Marshalsea of Malta. From the tenor of the colonel’s conversation I do not think he is likely to accept that or any other situation that will be offered to him. He says it is a place not worth the acceptance of a hackney coachman. I see evidently he will not accept anything and it is mere pretence his wish to go abroad. However Arbuthnot will keep the place open till he hears from you. Croker tells me the place is worth £1,200 a year and it may be performed by deputy so that any year he wished to come home, it would cost him £500 to nominate a deputy. I think he could be called to explain himself and name what he would or would not accept, for we are giving ourselves a vast deal of trouble to no purpose.

Lowther ultimately rejected all the appointments offered to him.5 On 24 Mar. 1818 Robert Ward saw no advantage in putting his claims to the Regent rather than the government: ‘It will be useless, as his unfitness is supposed, whether he is so or no’.6

Classed ‘Government’ by the Treasury after the election of 1812, Lowther voted with them on civil list questions, 8, 31 May 1815, 20 May 1816, for a reduction in the number of lords of the Admiralty, 25 Feb., and for the suspension of habeas corpus, 23 June 1817. A few other votes with ministers were perhaps John Lowther’s rather than his. He paired on occasion (17 June 1816). Like other members of his family he regularly opposed Catholic relief. Speaking in defence of the East India Company’s monopoly, 3 June 1813, he called for the reconciliation of the native and British troops: ‘It was upon the native troops, principally, that the continuance of our Indian empire depended’: the continuance of that empire was of some importance to Lowther who had three sons employed in the Bengal civil service. He also defended the Lowthers’ purchase of the barony of Kendal, 8 May 1818.

Lowther left the House in 1818. J. Robson, writing to Brougham from Camden Town, 21 Mar. 1820,7 informed him that Lowther had for some years been accepting money to procure situations under government. He himself had been fool enough to give Lowther £100 which he had recovered after ten years: ‘however some other dupes, not so fortunate, I believe to this hour have never got either principal or interest’. Robson added that ‘not a piece of furniture in his house belongs to himself’ and at some later date financial problems drove him abroad. He died at Caen in 1837. His will,8 in which he left all sums of money in his bankers’ hands to his two younger daughters Barbara and Annette, was made on 17 July and administration was granted on 19 Aug. 1837.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: J. M. Collinge


C. M. Lowther Bouch, ‘Lowther of Colby Leathes’, Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. n.s. xliii. (1943), 127-31.

  • 1. HMC Le Fleming, 361-3.
  • 2. Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1429; v. 2054.
  • 3. See LOWTHER, John.
  • 4. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 3, 8 Feb., 22 Dec. 1810.
  • 5. Ibid.
  • 6. Ibid. Ward to Lonsdale, 24 Mar. 1818.
  • 7. Brougham mss 21247.
  • 8. PCC 611 Norwich.