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William Lowther, second Earl of Lonsdale (1787-1872)

This article was written by Thomas Seccombe and was published in 1893

William Lowther, second Earl of Lonsdale (1787-1872), was the eldest son of Sir William Lowther, by Augusta, daughter of John Fane, ninth earl of Westmoreland. His father, Sir William, was eldest son of the Rev. William Lowther (1707-1788), rector of Swillington, who was a great-grandson of Sir John Lowther, the grandson of Sir Richard Lowther, sheriff of Cumberland. On the death of Sir James Lowther, first earl of Lonsdale, in 1802, the father, Sir William, succeeded by special patent to his viscounty, but the earldom became extinct; he was, however, created Earl of Lonsdale on 7 April 1807. Wordsworth dedicated his ‘Excursion’ to the second earl in 1814, subsequently inscribed to him a sonnet upon the Lowther motto — ‘magistratus indicat virum’ — and constantly wrote of him to Samuel Rogers and other friends in terms of the highest regard. He is also remembered as a munificent patron of the arts, who in the years following 1808 pulled down Lowther Hall and built the ‘majestic pile’ now styled Lowther Castle. He died, aged 86, at York House, Twickenham, 19 March 1844.

The son was born at Uffington, near Stamford, Lincolnshire, on 21 July 1787, and educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge, whence he graduated M.A. in 1808. In that year he entered parliament as M.P. for Cockermouth, but in 1813 preferred to represent the county of Westmoreland, for which, however, he had severe contests with Henry (afterwards Lord) Brougham in 1818, 1820, and 1826. As an opponent of reform he was in 1831 reduced to sit for the pocket borough of Dunwich, but returned to the representation of his county in 1832.

Lowther entered upon official life under Perceval's administration, succeeding Palmerston as junior lord of the admiralty in 1809; from 1813 to 1826, with a short interval, he was on the treasury board, and was made first commissioner of woods and forests by the Duke of Wellington in 1828. He was president of the board of trade under Peel's short-lived administration in 1834-5, and was postmaster-general with a seat in the cabinet in 1841. He was summoned to the House of Lords in his father's barony on 6 September 1841; succeeded to the earldom on his father's death in 1844, and held the office of president of council in 1852, when he is said to have refused the offer of a Garter from Lord Derby. Though a good business man, Lonsdale was no orator, and took no real initiative in politics. His great wealth, however, and the influence of his family gave him importance in his party, and extra-parliamentary meetings of the tories were frequently held at his house in Carlton Terrace.

Lonsdale was a good landlord, and spent vast sums in drainage; he had been in his earlier days a patron of Macadam, the road-maker, and was at his death chairman of the Metropolitan Roads Commission. He was something of a sportsman, his horse Spaniel having won the Derby in 1831, paid large subsidies for the maintenance of Italian opera in London, and was an enthusiastic collector of porcelain. He was the distant original of Lord Eskdale in Disraeli's ‘Tancred,’ ‘a man with every ability, except the ability to make his powers useful to mankind.’

Lonsdale died at his house in Carlton Terrace on 4 March 1872, and being unmarried was succeeded by his nephew, Henry Lowther (1818-1876).

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