(3) The Gowers of Trentham
John Leveson-Gower, 1674-1709
M.P. Newcastle 1692-1703
Created Baron Gower 1703
John Leveson-Gower, 2nd Baron Gower, 1694-1754 (son)
Created Earl Gower, 1746
William Leveson-Gower (brother) 1696-1756
M.P. Staffordshire 1720-56
Baptist Leveson-Gower (brother) 1703-82
M.P. Newcastle 1727-61
Granville Leveson-Gower, (son of John) 1721-1803
2nd Earl Gower
M.P. Bishop’s Castle 1744-47, Westminster 1747-54, Lichfield 1754
Created Marquess of Stafford, 1786
John Leveson-Gower, 1740-92 (brother)
M.P. Appleby 1784-90, Newcastle 1790-92
George Granville Leveson-Gower, (son of Granville)1758-1833
2nd Marquess of Stafford
M.P. Newcastle 1779-84, Staffordshire 1787-99
Created Duke of Sutherland, 1833
Granville Leveson-Gower (younger brother), 1773-1846
M.P. Lichfield 1795-99, Staffordshire 1799-1815
Created Viscount Granville, 1815
The Gowers are a classic example of a family rising in wealth and importance with every generation, by a mixture of profitable marriages with heiresses and wise investments. Politics also played an important part in their success.
The 2nd Baron Gower was a Tory and a Jacobite. In 1715 he was on the point of setting out to join James Edward Stuart’s rebellion when he heard that the English Jacobites had been defeated at Preston, so he prudently abandoned his plans and went home. This provoked later taunts of “Whose foot was in the stirrup?”. He was linked with Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, the immensely rich M.P. for Denbighshire and leading Jacobite, who was nicknamed “the Prince of Wales”. Gower and Wynn presided over the annual Lichfield races, a traditional gathering-place of midlands Jacobites.
After the fall of Walpole in 1742, the Tories hoped for places in a new government and a serious reform of the system; but were disappointed, for they got nothing, and many turned instead to more Jacobite plotting. A major conflict was now breaking out in Europe, which became known as the War of the Austrian Succession. Britain was not yet involved, but the French planned a pre-emptive strike, involving an invasion of the south coast of England, linked with a new Jacobite rising. A French spy in 1743 reported that Staffordshire was “unanimously attached to the legitimate king” (i.e. to the exiled James Edward Stuart, “the Old Pretender”), and named Gower, Bagot, Chetwynd and Wolesley as likely rebels, as well as various lords with estates in the county. It was noted how they gathered every year at Lichfield races.
In late 1743, the French built up a Channel fleet and an invasion force of 10,000 men. French agents were in communication with English Tories, as well as with Scottish clan chiefs. British spies only discovered the plot at last moment. On February 24th 1744, the French and British fleets faced each other off Dungeness, waiting for battle - but then the greatest storm for decades swept through the Channel, many French ships and stores were destroyed, and the invasion plans had to be abandoned. Formal war was now declared between Britain & France. The government made it clear that it knew of Tory plots; but for the sake of peace and quiet decided against holding treason trials, with the result that little hard detail has become known to historians.
The person most upset by this failure was James’s son, Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, who now resolved to go on his own. In summer 1745 Charles landed in Scotland, captured Edinburgh and headed south through Lancashire and into the Midlands. In December his little army of Highlanders reached Derby, but there they halted and turned back. Charles had promised the clan chiefs that reinforcements would come, but there was no sign of the French landing, and not one prominent local Jacobite had made a move: not Wynn, not Bagot, and especially not Gower! He had committed the ultimate treachery: he’d changed sides at the end of 1744 and joined the government! He raised a regiment to fight against the rebels, with himself as Colonel, and was rewarded with an Earldom 1746!
With the failure of Jacobitism, Tory fury turned particularly against Gower. The Staffordshire election of 1747 was extremely violent. William Leveson-Gower held his seat, but Sir Walter Bagot came top of the poll, and the other Gower candidate, Sir Richard Wrottesley, was defeated. Chetwynd’s house in Stafford (now the old Post Office) was ransacked by Jacobite sympathisers: 18 people charged with the offence, but rioters threatened to pull down the town gaol if any of their people were locked up! Gower found the voters of Lichfield “insolent to a degree you cannot conceive”, and appealed to the government to send in troops. Huge riotous demonstrations by Jacobite sympathisers marked the Lichfield races that year, with many wearing tartan to show sympathy with the Scots rebels: Gower’s son was beaten up and the Duke of Bedford was attacked with a horse-whip! Years later Dr Johnson, a Lichfield man, a Tory and a Jacobite, discussing his great dictionary, said that when he defined the word “renegade” as “one who deserts to the enemy”: “I added, “Sometimes we say a Gower”, but the printer struck it out!”
The 2nd Earl Gower was an immensely influential figure, holding a long series of high official positions: Lord Privy Seal, Lord President of the Council, Lord Chamberlain, Master of the Horse, Master of the Great Wardrobe: in fact, he was hardly ever out of office from 1749 to 1794 (though it is noticeable that all these were actually highly-placed sinecures, without any real policy-making role.) He didn’t always get own way in local politics, however. At the Lichfield election in 1761, Gower put forward a friend called Hugo Meynell, scion of a rather disreputable Derbyshire family: Meynell’s father, according to Horace Walpole, “had created a large fortune by play (cards), and no-one doubted that it was by unfair play”. Hugo Meynell himself was distinguished only by being esteemed the best foxhunter in the kingdom. Many people in Lichfield did not like Meynell and resented the dominance of the Gowers, and a local lawyer called John Levett was put up to oppose him. Meynell defeated Levett by two votes, but then the sheriff disqualified seven of Meynell’s voters and declared Levett elected! Meynell petitioned against this result, and the House of Commons voted to overrule the sheriff, expelled Levett and declared Meynell elected. Meynell withdrew from Lichfield at the 1768 election, but then represented Stafford 1774-80.
A more significant client of the Gowers to be elected to Parliament was Thomas Gilbert, M.P. for Newcastle 1763-68 and then for Lichfield 1768-94, when he retired at the age of 75. He was a lawyer who worked as Land Agent to the 2nd Earl - that is, he was the manager of his vast estates. Gilbert is worth mentioning because his brother was John Gilbert, who held same important position for the Duke of Bridgwater, the sponsor of Britain's first important canal up in Lancashire. Earl Gower married as his second wife Bridgwater’s sister Louisa, and the two great lords, together with Josiah Wedgwood, were the chief sponsors of Trent-Mersey canal, which John Gilbert worked with James Brindley in building. The Earl’s family eventually inherited the vast Bridgwater fortune when the Duke died unmarried, and so the Gowers took yet another step forward in their acquisition of enormous wealth.
(4) The Ansons of Shugborough
Thomas Anson, 1695-1773 (unmarried)
M.P. Lichfield 1747-70
George Anson, d. 1762 (brother, childless): the Admiral
M.P. Hedon 1744-47
Created Baron Anson, 1747
First Lord of the Admiralty, 1751-56 & 1757-62
(Hedon was a constituency in Yorkshire, very much under the controlling influence of the local Whig nobility)
George Adams/Anson, 1731-89 (sister‘s son: changed his name to Anson )
M.P. Saltash 1761-68, Lichfield 1770-89
(Saltash was another “rotten borough” with just 38 voters, rarely going to the poll!)
Thomas Anson, 1767-1818 (son)
M.P. Lichfield 1789-1806
Created Viscount Anson, 1806
The Ansons are said to be an old family of Staffordshire gentry, but the founder of the family base at Shugborough was William Anson, a rich and successful London lawyer, who built a large brick house there, on the confluence of the Sow and Trent, in the 1690s. When he died in 1720, Shugborough was inherited by his eldest son, Thomas; a cultivated man with a deep interest in architecture and music; but it was his second son, George, born in 1697, who was the real founder of the family’s fortunes. He became a great admiral, famous for his piratical voyage round the world in 1740-42, for his victory over the French in 1747, and for his vital work as First Lord of the Admiralty, in change of the navy, in the Seven Years’ War. After a brief spell as an M.P. he was given a peerage, and became an extremely rich man.
Admiral Anson was at sea when Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” the Jacobite claimant, staged his rising, and marched his little army of Highland clansmen through Manchester and Macclesfield and Leek and as far as Derby in December 1745, before turning back and suffering eventual defeat at Culloden. Thomas Anson remained at Shugborough during this crisis and sent his brother details of the revolt. He, like many other contemporaries, greatly overestimated the size of the rebel forces.
Admiral Anson was now a great man, and to befit his status he bought himself a suitably grand house, Moor Park in Hertfordshire (now a golf club, and seldom opened to the public). Anson is said to have spent £80,000 improving the estate: an immense sum. But in addition to this, much of Anson’s new wealth went to Shugborough, where his elder brother Thomas began to rebuild the house, bought 1,000 extra acres and shifted the village of his tenants across the Trent to Haywood, to leave space for a romantic parkland in the latest fashion. The Chinese pavilion, and a wooden pagoda that no longer survives, were designed for him by Piercy Brett, who had been with Admiral Anson on his great voyage, which had included a stay in Canton.
Both brothers were supporters the Whig government. Thomas Anson became M.P. for Lichfield in the general election of 1747, and continued to represent the town until his retirement in 1770, though really he took little interest in politics and is only known to have spoken once in the House of Commons; on a purely local issue concerning Lichfield cathedral.
Admiral Anson died childless, his wife having predeceased him in 1760, and so his wealth devolved on his brother Thomas, who used it for further elaborations at Shugborough. Amongst other things, he erected a replica of the Arch of Hadrian in Athens as a monument to his brother, containing effigies of the admiral and his wife. But Thomas never married, and when he died it all passed to the brothers’ nephew, the son of their sister Jeanette. This man, George Adams, changed his name to Anson, and inherited not only the property but also the parliamentary seat at Lichfield. Like his uncles, he too was a staunch Whig, though the party was now out of office: he opposed Lord North’s American policies in the 1770s, which the Gower family supported, and after 1783 opposed William Pitt‘s government; again differing from the Gowers.
By this time the Ansons were rich and powerful enough to share control of Lichfield politics with the Gowers; the two families taking one of the seats each and avoiding expensive contests with each other; despite the fact that they supported different political parties! This is illustrated by what happened in 1789. When George Adams/Anson died, his son Thomas, aged just 22, was away in Vienna. Agents for Pitt suggested to the Marquess of Stafford, the current head of the Gower family, that now might be a suitable time to bring in another government supporter for Lichfield; but Stafford rejected the idea, saying that young Thomas was “a man of good character and disposition”, ought to be allowed into Parliament for what was now effectively the family seat, and might be persuaded to support the government anyway. So Thomas Anson was elected an M.P. in his absence, and did not get home till next year! In fact Stafford’s hopes were dashed, because Thomas followed his family’s support for the Whigs, and when the party finally returned to power following Pitt’s death in 1806, he was rewarded with a peerage. The later Earls of Lichfield are descended from him.
A note on Tamworth
Tamworth didn’t fit into same picture as other Staffordshire constituencies; the traditional families not elected there as they were in the other county boroughs. But in the 18th century Tamworth did elect one M.P. of first-rate political importance, Edward Thurlow, one of greatest lawyers of his day. He represented Tamworth 1765-1778, and in this time served as Attorney-General before being raised to Lord Chancellor. He then held this position as a key member of cabinet, and very close to king, for 10 years before Pitt had had enough of his double-dealing and treachery, and sacked him. Then in 1796, Tamworth elected a new kind of M.P.; a cotton manufacturer from Bury named Robert Peel. He represented the town till 1820, and was father of Sir Robert Peel, twice Prime Minister, creator of the modern Conservative party, and reckoned by some historians to be greatest Prime Minister ever. Sir Robert Peel represented Tamworth from 1830 through to his death in 1851, and could claim to have immortalised the name of the town when he issued his famous “Tamworth Manifesto” in 1835.
(The final part of this essay will deal with Sheridan in Stafford)