The Lowther Family

The name Lowther came to England with the ancestors of the Lowther family in the Norman Conquest of 1066. The Lowther family lived in Lowther, now in the civil parish in Eden District, Cumbria. Historically in Westmorland, Lowther was first recorded as Lauder c. 1175 and it thought to have been named from the River Lowther.

The surname Lowther was first found in Westmorland, an area in the North East of England (now part of Cumbria) where the family is "eminently a knightly family, traced by Brydges to Sir Gervase de Lowther, living in the reign of Henry III. Other authorities make Sir Hugh de Lowther, knight for this county, in the 28th of Edward I., as the first recorded ancestor; his great-grandson was at Agincourt in 1415."

The Lowther family accumulated extensive estates, including the lordship of numerous manors in Westmorland and Cumberland. The family were established at Lowther in Westmorland by the twelfth century and held estates in Cumberland by the fourteenth century. The Lowther name is mentioned in grants of land from the time of Henry II. In the reign of Henry III, in the early thirteenth century, Thomas de Lowther was witness to the foundation charter of a chantry at Great Strickland. Gervase de Lowther (a younger brother) was archdeacon at Carlisle at the time. Sir Hugh de Lowther I (c.1250-1317), Attorney General to Edward I and a Justice of the King's Bench, was the first of the family to be knighted. His successful legal career under Edward I firmly established his family. Every successive head of the Lowther family through the Middle Ages was knighted, often fighting for the King in Scotland, representing Westmorland in Parliament, serving as Sheriff of Cumberland and intermarrying with other great Northern families such as the Lucys of Cockermouth or the Cliffords of Appleby.

In the seventeenth century various branches of the family were created baronets including the Lowthers of Lowther, the Lowthers of Whitehaven, and the Lowthers of Marske in Yorkshire. The family estates were greatly extended in the seventeenth century by Sir John Lowther I of Lowther (1582-1637), whose acquisition of the manor of Saint Bees in Cumberland, laid the foundations of the Whitehaven estate. On his death the Lowther estate passed to his eldest son Sir John Lowther II (1606-1675), created baronet in 1638, whilst Whitehaven descended to his second son Sir Christopher Lowther (1611-1644), 1st Baronet of Whitehaven in 1642, who also acquired Sockbridge and Hartsop in Westmorland through his marriage to Frances Lancaster of Sockbridge. A third son, Sir William Lowther (1612-1688), knighted in 1661, purchased an estate in Yorkshire and founded the Lowther family of Swillington. Sir John Lowther IV (1655-1700), 2nd Baronet, was a strong Whig and supporter of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and was suitably rewarded by William III under whom he served as Lord Privy Seal and was granted an annuity of £2,000 per annum. He was created 1st Viscount Lonsdale in 1696. He greatly increased the family estates buying the barony of Burgh in Cumberland from the Duke of Norfolk in 1685, as well as enlarging and improving the Lowther estate and rebuilding Lowther Hall in the 1690s.

On the death without issue of Henry, 3rd Viscount Lonsdale (1694-1751), the viscounty became extinct and the Lowther estates were inherited by his second cousin Sir James Lowther (1736-1802), known as 'Wicked Jimmy', whose father, Robert Lowther of Maulds Meaburn (1681-1745), Governor of Barbados, had acquired an estate in Barbados through his marriage in 1709 to Joan, widow of Robert Carleton, and had purchased the Duke of Wharton's Westmorland estates in 1730. Through further inheritance, the large estates of the two main branches of the family based at Lowther and Whitehaven were brought together. Sir James Lowther inherited the estates of the 4th and last Baronet of Whitehaven, Sir James Lowther (1673-1755), leaving him the town (the first planned town in England), harbour, coal mines and flourishing trade with Ireland and American colonies. He also inherited an estate at Laleham, Middlesex. Having bought Sir Charles Pelham's Workington property in 1758, Lowther was created Earl of Lonsdale in 1784. In addition, he wielded enormous political influence controlling nine parliamentary boroughs in the north west, the 'Lowther Ninepins'. He was a patron of William Pitt the younger (1759-1806) whose first parliamentary seat in 1781 was the Lowther borough of Appleby. Sir James Lowther began a campaign for control over the Parliamentary seats of Cumberland and Westmorland by purchasing and leasing landed estates and manors across the two counties. He spent much of his fortune on politics and commissioned various unexecuted designs for a vast new palace at Lowther to replace the 1st Viscount's house which had burnt down in 1718. Dying without issue in 1802, he left his Barbados property to his sisters, his Cumberland and Westmorland estates to his third cousin Sir William Lowther (1757-1844), Baronet of Swillington (who had also purchased Cottesmore in Rutland in 1796) and Laleham was sold.

On his inheritance of the Lonsdale estates Sir William Lowther was created 1st Earl of Lonsdale (of the second generation) in 1807, surrendered his paternal Swillington property to his brother John Lowther in accordance with their father's will. 'William the Good', 1st Earl of Lonsdale, was the founder of the modern Lowther family. He spent his inheritance on improving the Lowther estates including the building of Robert Smirke's Lowther Castle, 1806-1814. He was also a patron of painters and writers, including William Wordsworth (1770-1850). The 2nd Earl of Lonsdale, also William (1787-1872), was a businessman who promoted railways and had an active political career and served as first Lord of the Admiralty. He was succeeded by his nephew Henry Lowther (1818-1876) as 3rd Earl of Lonsdale, but Henry died only four years later. His eldest son, St George Henry Lowther (1855-1882) then succeeded but suffered ill health and died in 1882. Hugh Cecil Lowther (1857-1944) succeeded him as the 5th Earl of Lonsdale, known as 'Lordy' or the 'Yellow Earl'.

His personal extravagance depleted the family fortune and eventually led to the closing of Lowther Castle in 1936. He was famous as a sportsman and instigator of the Lonsdale Belt for boxing. On the death of the 'Yellow Earl' in 1944 the title and estates were inherited by his youngest brother, Lancelot Edward Lowther (1867-1953) who sold the majority of the family collections of paintings, silver, sculpture, furniture and books in 1947 in the largest of all English twentieth century country house sales, spread over several weeks. The 6th Earl died in 1953 and was succeeded by his grandson James Hugh William Lowther (1922-2006), 7th Earl of Lonsdale, who had to sell the West Cumbria estate to finance the death duties. During his lifetime he concentrated his commercial activities on the Lowther estate by consolidating and improving, in addition to creating new businesses connected with the estate. In 1957 he dismantled the castle and sold the materials, retaining the shell as a landscape feature in Lowther Park.

Lowther Castle, 1839
Lowther Castle, 1839

TRENDING ON HERETOFORE

Jackie Sewell



ABOUT WHITEHAVEN
Whitehaven had been small harbour and fishing village from 13th century or earlier. Expansion began in mid-17th century with building of piers by Lowthers 1632-4 and 1679-81 and granting of market charter 1660. By the 1680s it had grown rapidly, expanding from village of c.30 households in early 17th century to a town of over 1,000 inhabitants by 1685, which more than doubled to 2,281 by 1696. Sir John Lowther had laid out grid of streets by 1680s, making Whitehaven the earliest planned new town in post-medieval Britain.

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