Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 34.djvu/225

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

less his lordship took the direction of affairs and went to the treasury’ (Polit. Memoranda of Francis, fifth Duke of Leeds, Camd. Soc. Publ., 1884, p. 70). In this year Lowther is said to have offered to build and equip at his own expense a 74-gun ship, ‘but the peace of 1783 made the execution of this offer unnecessary’ (Annual Register, 1802, Chron. p. 156*). On 24 May 1784 he was created Baron Lowther of Lowther, Baron of the barony of Kendal, and Baron of the barony of Burgh, Viscount of Lonsdale and Viscount of Lowther, and Earl of Lonsdale, and took his seat in the House of Lords for the first time on 2 June 1784 (Journals of the House of Lords, xxxvii. 86). He appears to have given a general support to Pitt's administration, though in December 1788 he ordered all his ‘people’ in the House of Commons to oppose Pitt's regency resolutions (Duke of Buckingham, Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George III, 1853, ii. 64, 79, 83). He was further created, on 26 Oct. 1797, Viscount and Baron Lowther of Whitehaven in the county of Cumberland, with remainder to the issue male of his third cousin, the Rev. Sir William Lowther of Swillington, Yorkshire, bart. He died at Lowther Hall, Westmoreland, on 24 May 1802, aged 65, and was buried at Lowther on 9 June following.

Lowther, who was known throughout Cumberland and Westmoreland as the ‘bad earl,’ was a man of unenviable character and enormous wealth. Alexander Carlyle declares that he was ‘more detested than any man alive, as a shameless political sharper, a domestic bashaw, and an intolerable tyrant over his tenants and dependents,’ and in his own opinion was ‘truly a madman, though too rich to be confined’ (Carlyle, Autobiography, 1861, pp. 418–19). Walpole records that he was ‘equally unamiable in public and private’ (Memoirs of the Reign of George III, iii. 290–1), and De Quincey relates several instances of his eccentric and capricious behaviour (De Quincey, Works, 1854, ii. 255–9). Among his innumerable creditors from whom he withheld their due were the family of the Wordsworths, whose father acted as his attorney and law-agent at Cockermouth. Boswell, who hoped to have got into parliament through Lowther's influence, was grossly insulted by ‘this brutal fellow’ in ‘a most shocking conversation’ in June 1790 (Letters of James Boswell, 1857, pp. 323–5). Lowther fought several duels for most inadequate causes, and was ‘Governor’ Johnstone's second in his duel with Lord George Germain [q. v.] in Hyde Park in December 1770.

In the art of electioneering Lowther had few equals. By means of a lavish expenditure of money and the unscrupulous exercise of his enormous influence he was generally able to command the two seats for Westmoreland and Cockermouth, and one seat for Cumberland, Appleby, and Carlisle. These, with the two seats for Haslemere, Surrey, a nomination borough, which he purchased of a London attorney, made up the number of his representatives in the House of Commons to nine, who were known by the name of ‘Sir James's Ninepins,’ and had to vote according to his orders. Not content with all this political power he frequently contested Lancaster, Durham, and Wigan. In 1763 Lowther became an alderman of Carlisle, and after a severe contest with the Duke of Portland's nominee was elected mayor of the city in 1765, when he instituted a rigorous examination into the corporation accounts, and subsequently endeavoured to swamp the constituency by the creation of hundreds of honorary freemen, who were known as ‘mushrooms.’ His passion for electioneering was keen to the last, and seven thousand guineas were found after his death, which, it is supposed, he had put aside in preparation for the next general election. He was the subject of Wolcot's satire in ‘A Commiserating Epistle to Lord Lonsdale’ and ‘An Ode to Lord Lonsdale’ (Works of Peter Pindar, 1812, iii. 1–25, 41–7), and his political influence is celebrated in the ‘Rolliad’ by the lines:

E'en by the elements his pow'r confess'd
Of mines and boroughs Lonsdale stands possess'd,
And one sad servitude alike denotes
The slave that labours and the slave that votes.

Lowther did a good deal for Whitehaven, the land, fire, and water of which he boasted were all in his possession. He introduced the use of the steam-engine in his collieries, and established a manufactory for carpets and stockings in the town.

Lowther was custos rotulorum (3 Aug. 1758) and lieutenant (14 Aug. 1758) of Westmoreland, lieutenant (13 Dec. 1759) and custos rotulorum (18 Oct. 1763) of Cumberland, brigadier-general of the Cumberland and Westmoreland militia (25 June 1761), vice-admiral of Cumberland and Westmoreland (15 April 1765), steward and bailiff of Inglewood Forest (18 Dec. 1767), steward of Lonsdale (23 Nov. 1793), and colonel in the army during service (14 March 1794). Upon his death without issue all his titles became extinct except the viscounty and barony of 1797, which devolved upon his next heir male, Sir William Lowther of Swillington, bart., to