LOWTHER, William, Visct. Lowther (1787-1872).

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



11 July 1808 - Nov. 1813
22 Nov. 1813 - 1831
2 Feb. 1832 - 1832
1832 - 8 Sept. 1841

Family and Education

b. 30 July 1787,1st s. of Sir William Lowther, 2nd Bt.*, and bro. of Hon. Henry Cecil Lowther*. educ. Harrow 1796-1803/4; ‘under the roof of the Rev. John Stonard’ 1804;1 Trinity Coll. Camb. 1805. unm. Summ. to the Lords in his fa.’s barony as Baron Lowther 8 Sept. 1841; suc. fa. as 2nd Earl of Lonsdale 19 Mar. 1844.

Offices Held

Ld. of Admiralty Nov. 1809-July 1810; commr. Board of Control July 1810-June 1818; ld. of Treasury Nov. 1813-Apr. 1827; PC 30 May 1828; chief commr. of woods, forests and land revenues June 1828-Dec. 1830; vice-pres. Board of Trade and treasurer of navy Dec. 1834-May 1835; postmaster-gen. Sept. 1841-Dec. 1845; ld. pres. of Council Feb.-Dec. 1852.

Dir. Greenwich Hosp. 1819.

Lt.-col. Whitehaven militia 1809.

Ld. lt. Cumb., Westmld. 1844-68.


Lady Harriet Cavendish described Lowther, 3 Oct. 1807, as ‘very young and very good humoured and seems endeavouring to retrieve by reading and good company, the harm that a neglected education has done him. There never was certainly any creature sent out into the world so unfinished.’ These educational deficiencies were no doubt the result of his father’s wish, when Lowther was a boy, that he should become ‘the best rider in England’. But they did not prevent his election, shortly before coming of age, for one of his father’s six borough seats. This was arranged when he was 19.2

Lowther’s chance of preferment came with the collapse of Portland’s administration, when Perceval asked him to move the address and, after it had been refused by Lord Percy, Mulgrave offered him Palmerston’s place at the Admiralty board. Lowther, however, was now in a difficult situation. Although generally well disposed to administration, he was critical of the conduct of the Walcheren expedition, of which he had been a civilian observer, and on 25 Oct. 1809 told Robert Ward* that ‘he saw such proofs of Ld. Chatham’s dilatoriness and sloth, that he would not pledge himself to vote his exculpation, still less to vote for him at the expense of Strachan’. On the following day he dined with Perceval, declined to move the address, but agreed to seek his father’s advice on taking office. Palmerston, who was at the dinner, wrote to Malmesbury that he ‘will most probably take it. He seems to wish it himself, and Lord Lonsdale will no doubt be glad to get him employed, with the hope of taking him a little away from the turf’. His father, however, wrote on 29 Oct. warning him of the difficulties to which his opinions on Walcheren could lead and concluded:

if you accept his offer I should advise you to do it under the stipulation that you may retire from it whenever he can supply your place more to his satisfaction, but it will be proper that you name your feelings in respect to the Walcheren question, and if that is likely to produce a personal disagreement betwixt Lord Chatham and Lord Mulgrave I think it would not be prudent in you to make yourself more of a party in this misunderstanding than the discharge of your public duty may require.

Lowther therefore wrote to Mulgrave agreeing to accept office if his support on the Walcheren question could be waived. Mulgrave referred the matter to Perceval who in turn wrote to Chatham on 5 Nov. 1809:

You may naturally feel how embarrassing it is to me to think of introducing any person into an office under a sort of understanding that he shall not be expected to take any part ... upon a subject so material as this in question. And I have determined that I will not consent to it unless you shall give me leave. The case is not without its difficulty either way. If he does not take the office, it will no doubt be known why he does not, and when any question does come on he will probably, if not in office, take an active part against us upon it, whereas if he accepts office, we shall have the advantage of his name and support in all other questions, and I conceive we shall prevail upon him at least to stay away upon that question.

Chatham replied next day that, if Lowther objected only to the military conduct of the expedition, ‘I have not the least wish that any opinions that he may have taken up, and any line he may be desirous in consequence to pursue, should interefere with any general advantage to be derived to government by his accepting office’. It was, as Ward wrote, ‘a handsome letter, and it must be owned, what was not expected’ and opened the way for Lowther’s appointment.3 He did not vote on Porchester’s resolutions on the Walcheren expedition, 26 Jan. 1810, but, as Perceval had predicted, he rallied to the side of administration on the questions of 23 Feb., 5 and 30 Mar. 1810, although he confessed to his father on 6 Mar., ‘I did not think that last night anyone could conscientiously support the government’. He was listed ‘against the Opposition’ by the Whigs and was also in the majorities against the release of the radical Gale Jones and parliamentary reform, 16 Apr., 21 May 1810. He hedged on the Regency question. On 1 Jan. 1811 he informed his father that he had been ‘by accident locked out’ the night before; next day, though, he was reported as having voted with government. On 16 Jan. Robert Ward hinted to Lonsdale that he and Lowther might think it diplomatic to be locked out again on an impending division on the question. When Lowther left London in March 1812, pairing on the orders in council, there were rumours that his father’s hostility to Lord Sidmouth’s being restored to office was the reason for it, but nothing came of reports that the Lowthers would not oppose Stuart Wortley’s motion of 21 May 1812. He invariably opposed Catholic relief.4

Lowther’s reasons for wanting office he had expressed in a letter to his father of 3 Nov. 1809:

A lord of the Admiralty is far from a desirable situation, yet if I have a wish at any future period to accept an office having once held an office it will necessarily give me a precedence over those who for the next few years will be joining the government, and also in any future arrangement. It has also occurred to me that as I have no particular engagement or anything to occupy me for the next few months, that I could not employ myself better than obtaining a general insight into the management of the affairs of this country, and particularly into our great national defence, the navy. Though a civil lord of the Admiralty has but little to do, yet I understand he may have opportunities of inquiring and learning the general routine of business and of acquiring a general information of the management of every department of the state. I also thought if I bluntly refused the offer now I should not perhaps be able to obtain it when I should wish it. I also conceived it would show the world I was interested in politics. a consideration far from trifling in these days.

Although he left the Admiralty with Mulgrave in 1810 he had acquired an appetite for business, marred only by ill health. He was at once provided with an India Board post; indeed he continued to hold office until the formation of Canning’s ministry in 1827. Farington reported a conversation concerning Lowther in October 1812:

His shy manners have caused him to be considered a heavy young man, but after he had been a while a lord of the Admiralty he disclosed more promise of ability than he was at first thought to possess. Mr Barrow, a secretary at the Admiralty, said that Lord Lowther had too mean an opinion of himself.5

Soon after Lord Liverpool became prime minister, Lowther decided that his health was sufficiently restored to render him capable of more efficient office. On 5 Aug. 1813 he made ‘the first advances’ to Liverpool, which he felt a man of ‘moderate and less shining parts’ must do to obtain his object. Liverpool received him well and said his regular attendance on the ministerial side had been noticed. Lowther thought of becoming under-secretary to Lord Sidmouth at the Home Office, a likely vacancy. He assured his father that he wanted employment, not salary (though privately he wished his father would increase his annual allowance to him) and added ‘I believe there are but three of my name who ever have held office’. On 18 Aug. Liverpool wrote to Lonsdale apropos of his son’s application to him:

I considered this communication as originating entirely with himself, and arising from a natural and laudable desire on his part to be placed in some situation in which his time might be creditably employed and where he might acquire knowledge and habits of business, which might be useful to him hereafter. I could do no more at the time than assure him that I would take his application into consideration, and that I should be most happy to meet his wishes, if I found I could do so consistently with other public claims upon me.

You may rely upon my paying every attention to what you say in your letter and that whilst I would be most happy in having an opportunity of offering Lord Lowther a situation which might be agreeable to him, I will not overlook the considerations which you have been so good as to bring before me.

Urged to ‘jog’ Liverpool, Lowther did so on 22 Sept. 1813 and was soon promised a place at the Treasury board vice Robinson. This point gained, Lowther, whose diary that year shows that he was rapidly becoming one of the Prince Regent’s ‘family’, noted in it, 11 Dec.: ‘Saw the Prince. Fixed for myself the place in future of master of the horse and a seat in the cabinet.’ Henceforward, he was an assiduous supporter of the ministry. On 28 Nov. 1816 he informed his father from Paris that he would find it hard to meet his father’s wish that he should relinquish the Treasury board.

It affords me much amusement in London and I am sure the tax of a constant attendance in the House of Commons is paying dear enough for it, and the only near question I was absent from last year was that upon Sir Thomas Thompson, and then no notice was given.6

In 1813 Lowther had transferred from Cockermouth to Westmorland, one of the county seats controlled by his father. From dislike of election bustle he had been reluctant to accede to Lord Liverpool’s suggestion that he should contest Lancaster in 1812, but he became responsible in 1818 for a large share in his family’s defence against Brougham’s anti-Lowther crusade in the county. The campaign produced his first reported speeches in the House—on the subject of land tax assessment (4, 27, 30 May, 1 June 1818)—and also prompted him to withhold his support from government on the additional allowance to the royal dukes in April 1818. After the election had been won, Dorothy Wordsworth, for one, felt it had been beneficial to his development:

This contest must have been of infinite use to him. If he did not know it before he must now perceive that much will be and is already required of him, and that rank and great professions must be upheld by personal character and a judicious attention to the interests of the people with whom he is connected, and indeed he seems disposed to give his mind to the acquirement of knowledge, especially in connexion with these two counties.7

In July 1818 Lord Yarmouth thought that Lowther would rally to a ministry headed by Robert Peel.8 In the ensuing Parliament he wound up the debate on Catholic relief, 3 May 1819; opposed a proposal by his creditors to sell the Duke of Kent’s property by lottery, 2 July; defended the training prevention bill, 8 Dec., and on 14 Dec. defended, against Brougham, the inclusion of Westmorland in the seizure of arms bill. Lowther stayed in town as late as 23 Dec. to support ministerial measures against sedition. He died 4 Mar. 1872.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: J. M. Collinge


  • 1. Heber Letters, 196.
  • 2. Letters of Lady Harriet Cavendish, 214-15; Farington, vii. 121; SRO GD 51/1/200/26.
  • 3. Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. i. 276, 287-9, 292-3; Malmesbury Letters, ii. 174; Lonsdale mss; PRO 30/8/368, ff. 131, 133, 143.
  • 4. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 22 Dec. 1810, 16 Jan., 6 Mar. 1812, Lowther to same, 1 Jan. [1811]; Buckingham, Regency, i. 311.
  • 5. Farington, vii. 121.
  • 6. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 6, 12, 20 Aug., 2 Oct., 5 Nov. 1813, 28 Nov. 1816, Beckett to Lowther, 20, 30 Sept. 1813; Lowther jnl. 1813, passim.
  • 7. Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lonsdale, 20 Dec. 1812; Letters of Wm. and Dorothy Wordsworth, iii. The Middle Years, pt. ii (2nd ed. 1970), 382, 383, 481-2.
  • 8. Croker Pprs. ed. Jennings, i. 115.