Hugh Cecil Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale (25 January 1857–13 April 1944)
The second son of Henry Lowther, 3rd Earl of Lonsdale, he succeeded his brother, St George Lowther, 4th Earl of Lonsdale, in 1882.
Before obtaining his inheritance, Hugh had in 1878 married Lady Grace Cecilie Gordon, third daughter of Charles Gordon, 10th Marquess of Huntly. Her family opposed the marriage as Hugh was then not wealthy and seemed irresponsible. This proved to be correct as the following year he invested in cattle in America; the venture collapsed and the Lowther family was forced to save him.
The couple then lived at Barleythorpe Hall near Oakham and Grace became pregnant but she had a fall while hunting and lost the baby. After this she was unable to bear children and remained a partial invalid for the rest of her life.
He inherited enormous wealth, derived from Cumberland coalmines, and owned 75,000 acres of land. He had residences at Lowther Castle, at Whitehaven Castle, Barleythorpe and Carlton House Terrace, London. He devoted his wealth to a life of ostentatious pleasure.
After the scandal of an affair with the actress Violet Cameron Lonsdale set out in 1888 to explore the Arctic regions of Canada as far north as Melville Island, nearly dying before reaching Kodiak, Alaska in 1889 and returning to England. His collection of Inuit artefacts that he assembled during his explorations in Alaska and north-west Canada at this time is now in the British Museum.
Lord Lonsdale was known as the Yellow Earl for his penchant for the colour. He was a founder and first president of the Automobile Association (AA) which adopted his livery. He was an avid sportsman and bon vivant and was known by some as "England's greatest sporting gentleman". He was a founding member and first president of the National Sporting Club and he donated the original Lonsdale Belts in 1909 for the boxing championship trophy. His name was later given to the Lonsdale clothing brand of boxing garments and the Lonsdale cigar size.
Lonsdale was part of the famous wager with John Pierpont Morgan over whether a man could circumnavigate the globe and remain unidentified. He enjoyed foxhunting, serving as Master of The Quorn from 1893 to 1898 and of the Cottesmore Hunt for long periods. He was also a keen football fan, and was chairman of Arsenal Football Club for a brief period in 1936 (having previously been a club director) and later became the club's honorary president.
In August 1895 the German Emperor Wilhelm II visited Lowther Castle for some grouse-shooting. The kings of Italy and Portugal later came to stay, and the Kaiser a second time in 1902. The Kaiser conferred upon the Earl a knighthood of the first class of the Order of the Prussian Crown.
He was Assistant Adjutant-General for the Imperial Yeomanry in the Second Boer War, from 28 February 1900 until 1901. During the First World War his chief role was as a recruitment officer of both men and horses. He formed his own pals battalion, the Lonsdales (11th Battalion, Border Regiment). He had helped to found Our Dumb Friends League (now Blue Cross) and was its chairman during the war.
After the war Hugh gave up hunting and became more involved with race horses. He became a senior steward of the Jockey Club. He had only one major win, the St Leger in 1922. He was also the first president of the International Horse Show at Olympia. Although he was a Peer, he was rarely seen in the House of Lords.
Because of his extravagance he was forced to sell some of his inherited properties. In 1921 Whitehaven Castle was sold, and in 1926 Barleythorpe. The same year the west Cumberland coalmines closed. In 1935 he moved from Lowther Castle because he could no longer afford to live there and moved to much smaller accommodation. Grace died in 1941 and three years later, Hugh died at Stud House, Barleythorpe, aged 87.
His free-spending had largely wrecked the estate, and his heir, his brother Lancelot, the 6th Earl was forced to auction off the contents of Lowther Castle in 1947. This proved to be the largest English country house sale of the 20th Century.
Lord Lonsdale was the subject of a Douglas Sutherland biography, The Yellow Earl: The life of Hugh Lowther (ISBN B0006BNPO6), published by Cassell in 1965.
5th Earl of Lonsdale
September 24, 2014 Posted In: Aristocrat
Hugh Cecil Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale (1857-1944), was a sporting legend affectionately known as ‘Lordy’ who lived almost entirely for pleasure. As Lord Birkenhead mournfully wrote, ‘almost alone he preserves an atmosphere to which our grandchildren, alas, will be nothing but a dream’. Born a second son of the 3rd Earl of Lonsdale, Lord Lowther had little prospect of inheriting the family’s not inconsiderable fortune. He absconded from Eton to join a travelling circus before selling his claim to the Lowther estates for £40,000 to speculate on a cattle ranching venture in Wyoming.
The speculation collapsed and the Lowther family quietly bought back the young Lord’s squandered birthright. He married Lady Grace Gordon, daughter of the 10th Marquess of Huntley, against her parents’ wishes in 1878 and the newlyweds were granted Barleythorpe Hall in Rutland. While hunting on the estate Lady Grace fell losing a baby and leaving her invalided for the rest of her life. Time would tell that the accident ended Lady Grace’s hopes of bearing another child.
In 1882 Lord Lowther’s brother St George, 4th Earl of Lonsdale, died aged 27 leaving his brother, 25, in possession of 150,000 acres of land, a six-figure annual income, revenue from Cumbrian coal mines and principal residence Lowther Castle as well as Whitehaven Castle and a Nash-designed London townhouse at No 15 Carlton House Terrace. With the exception of the House of Lords where he was seldom seen, the Earl launched himself upon London society with all the enthusiasm of a man with unlimited funds at his disposal.
Six feet tall, blonde and with the athletic build of a skilled boxer, rider and yachtsman, the 5th Earl was an imposing figure. His nickname ‘the Yellow Earl’ was coined with no little thanks to his tailor and livery maker Henry Poole & Co. The 2005 biography of his friend Kaiser Wilhelm II describes the 5th Earl thus: ‘At Royal Ascot he took his yellow and black wagonette (horse box) with exactly matching chestnuts, grooms and postilions in yellow livery with every buckle and button shining. He drank white burgundy with breakfast and champagne at midmorning. He had his suits made of his own Lonsdale tweed and produced a different colour of home grown and woven tweed for his staff’.
The Earl grew yellow gardenias for his buttonhole in the hothouses at Lowther Castle and would later order a yellow Rolls Royce with an unusually tall roof to accommodate his black silk top hat. ‘Almost an emperor, not quite a gentleman’ was King Edward VII’s spectacularly hypocritical verdict on the 5th Earl of Lonsdale. Both dallied with the celebrated beauty Lillie Langtry. The Earl’s affair with Violet Cameron (whose opera company he paid to appear in New York) resulted in at least one illegitimate child.
In 1888 the Earl embarked on an expedition to explore the Arctic regions of Canada and nearly lost his life while exploring Alaska. His collection of Inuit artefacts is now in the British Museum. But his travels were secondary to his sporting prowess. While in New York the 5th Earl knocked-out reigning heavyweight champion of the world John L. Sullivan. He was founder member and first President of the National Sporting Club and donated the original Lonsdale Belts for the boxing trophy in 1909. The sports clothing company named after him still trades today.
As well as being master of five hunts including The Quorn (1893-8) and a famously good shot, his prowess as a yachtsman earned the 5th Earl interesting friends. Kaiser Wilhem II had first visited Lowther Castle in 1895 for a grouse shooting party. In 1896 the Earl raced the Kaiser’s yacht, Meteor, at Cowes Royal Regatta and took 17 out of 22 prizes. The friendship caused diplomatic incident when the Kaiser announced his intention to follow a State Visit to his uncle Edward VII at Windsor Castle with a visit to Lowther Castle in 1907.
The King wrote to Sir Charles Hardinge ‘it would in every sense of the word be a mistake’. Sir Frank Lascelles replied from the British Embassy in Berlin ‘Bulow has more than once expressed his regret at the Emperor’s friendship with Lonsdale who, he believes, has done a great deal of mischief, perhaps unintentionally, but unfortunately the Emperor looks upon him as the type of straightforward and honest English gentleman and believes every word he says’. The Kaiser awarded the 5th Earl a knighthood of the First Class Order of the Prussian Crown. With the outbreak of the First World War, the 5th Earl refused to remove a bust of Kasier Wilhelm II from the hall of Lowther Castle.
The 5th Earl had served as Assistant Adjutant-General for the Imperial Yeomanry in the Second Boer War but his activities in the Great War were limited to recruiting horses and men; a service he repeated in 1911 for George V’s Coronation Durbar in Delhi. The Earl’s enthusiasm and patronage for all things sporting saw him become a Senior Steward of the Jockey Club, first President of the International Horse Show at Olympia and Chairman then Honorary President of Arsenal football club. He was also President of the AA and a moderately successful racehorse owner whose ride Royal Lancer won the St Ledger in 1922.
In the reign of King George V the 5th Earl’s mutton chop whiskers, nine inch cigars named in his honour, yellow gardenia buttonholes and estate check tweed suits gave him the appearance of a rather heroic throwback to the flamboyance of the Edwardian era. He could no longer live in the grand manner of a pre-war ‘Lordy’. Whitehaven Castle was sold in 1921 and by 1935 the 5th Earl was forced to leave the Robert Smirke-designed Lowther Castle to live in more modest accommodation. A year later Carlton House Terrace was shut-up and the contents removed for storage at Lowther Castle.
In short the 5th Earl had all but exhausted his vast inheritance. He died without an heir at Stud House, Barleythorpe, in 1944 aged 87. His tombstone was inscribed ‘a great English sportsman’. The Earldom passed to the 5th Earl’s brother Lancelot who was forced to sell the contents of Lowther Castle in 1947. The roof was removed and the castle left to gently decay. In 2012 the ruined facade of Lowther Castle was shored up, the surrounding buildings restored and the landscape brought back to its former glory after a £9 million restoration project.
(c) James Sherwood
THE YELLOW EARL – Almost an Emperor but not quite a Gentleman – Hugh Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale
An Appreciation by Robert Jarman
In a lifetime of studying the habits and habitats, eccentricities and antics of the British Aristocracy, I have seldom come across any character as amusing, entertaining, eccentric, or as profligate as Hugh Lonsdale.
The best known of the Earls of Lonsdale, and perhaps the most famous English Lord in the world in his time, Hugh Cecil Lowther was born on 25th January, 1857.
The 2nd Earl was still alive when Hugh was born, and he was very much a part of Society.
His ancient lineage, high rank and his important political offices, and above all, his immense personal fortune made his position secure, and he was to live for another fifteen years after Hugh was born, to enjoy his two favourite sports, of hunting and entertaining actresses.
When he died, in the arms of a well-known opera singer, he was succeeded by his nephew, Hugh Lonsdale’s father – but Hugh and his two younger brothers, Charles and Lancelot, knew the likelihood of their ever succeeding to the spectacular family fortunes remained remote.
In fact, so unconsidered was Hugh’s chance of succession that his father could not be persuaded to bother to educate him properly, and whilst his elder brother, St George was being carefully groomed for a gilded future, Hugh spent most of his time in the stable yard of the family home at Asfordby, or running wild in the surrounding countryside.
As a penniless, wayward, younger son who had not expected to inherit, Hugh had joined a travelling circus for a year after leaving Eton, and travelled to America, spending months buffalo-hunting, and had pawned his birthright to make his fortune from cattle ranching in Wyoming. When the scheme failed, the family trustees bought back his inheritance rights, and allowed him to live at Lowther.
Hugh’s resentment of his incredibly rich elder brother became an obsession, and he desperately tried to outdo him, which led to a series of scandals which caused many of the desirable doors in Society, to be closed to him, and he was almost reduced to bankruptcy.
The Yellow Earl and Lowther Castle
Hugh Lowther, who unexpectedly became the 5th Earl of Lonsdale and Lowther Castle which he inherited along with the title
Fortunately, at the eleventh hour, his elder brother, St George died, and Hugh, spurned by Society, and hounded by his creditors, became overnight one of the richest men in England. He was only 25 when he unexpectedly, inherited the title in 1882.
In addition to his many titles, he inherited a Kingdom in Cumberland and Westmorland, along with Lowther Castle, which was one of the largest houses in the country. It was built between 1806 and 1811 and had 365 rooms, one for each day of the year!
There was an agricultural estate of fifty thousand acres, and another fifty thousand acres of common land, over which he owned most of the sporting and mineral rights. There were the lakes of Windermere and Grasmere, and the ruggedly beautiful Hawes Water.
In West Cumberland, he owned the entire town of Whitehaven with the rich coalfields which stretched far under the Irish Sea, and another family seat, Whitehaven Castle.
Hugh Lowther with dogs Carlton House Terrace
In London two of the great Mansions in Carlton House Terrace were knocked into one, providing him with a huge townhouse. There was another house at Newmarket, and two, fully crewed Steam Yachts lying at anchor at Cowes. There were rich lands in the heart of hunting country in Rutland and the magnificent hunting box and stables at Barleythorpe.
Above all, from his own coal fields, iron mines, and agricultural lands, there flowed a prodigious tax-free income of almost £4000 a week then, which would now be worth £400,000 a week, or £20,000,000 (twenty million) a year.
Having been frustrated for so long, Hugh Lonsdale set about enjoying his good fortune with great enthusiasm, trumpeting like a thirsty bull elephant who suddenly scents water, he cut a swathe through Society.
His boyhood had made him shy and uneasy, with his social equals, and he covered this shyness in Society with a flamboyance, which, even in the ostentatious age of the Edwardians, people found hard to accept.
At the same time, his passionate devotion to sport, and his instinct for ‘fair play’ and his showman’s love of the spectacular earned him the adulation of the crowds and a reputation as England’s Greatest Sportsman which spread far beyond this green and pleasant land.
His Yellow Carriages, his colourful entourage and his feudal style of living made him one of the best known figures of his time; what the modern media would describe as a ‘celebrity’, but he was much more than that.
His huge cigars, immaculate clothes, and ever-fresh gardenia were the delight of the cartoonists of the day. His public appearances at sporting events were acclaimed with as much delight as if he had been Royalty.
As he drove down the course at Ascot behind the King, his yellow carriages and liveried postillions made the Royal Carriages look drab and dowdy by comparison, the cheers for ‘Lordy’ as the working classes called him, were at least as loud and prolonged as those for the King.
He was a founding member of the National Sporting Club and he donated the original Lonsdale Belts for boxing. His name was also given to a clothing brand of boxing garments, worn by Muhammad Ali, and many great athletes.
High profile affairs with the actresses Lillie Langtree, and Violet Cameron led to him being advised by Queen Victoria to leave the country until the scandal died down.
Heeding her advice, in 1888, he went to the Arctic, on a gruelling polar expedition in which over 100 guides died. Lonsdale set out to reach the North Pole, nearly dying before reaching Kodiak, Alaska in 1889, and in 1890 he returned to England, a hero and a celebrity.
Under the 5th Earl, Lowther enjoyed both a colourful heyday and an expensive swansong.
Lowther Castle with yellow Rolls Royces
The Yellow Earl had his regiment of yellow-liveried servants. He had his fleet of yellow motor-cars, and his pack of yellow dogs, and a hot-house to grow yellow gardenias for his buttonhole.
He was known as the Yellow Earl for his penchant for the colour, and was a founder and first President of the Automobile Association (AA) which adopted his livery.
The Lowther coat-of-arms was reproduced every morning in the centre of the stable yard using coloured chalk powders on freshly laid sand.
He extended the estate – flattening 20 farms in the process in order to create the largest enclosed parkland in England, mainly to upstage the Royal Family at Windsor Great Park.
The Yellow Earl redecorated the house, and added to the gardens, as a setting for lavish entertainment and royal visits, which included the German Kaiser in 1895, when Hugh had made extravagant arrangements to entertain the Kaiser.
Dissatisfied with reports on the grouse on his own moor at Shap, Lonsdale had rented the Earl of Strathmore’s famous moor at Wemmergill, for the opening day of the grouse season, and in four drives they shot over 500 brace!
This was just one of the many elaborate entertainments arranged for the Kaiser’s visit, following which the Kaiser bestowed an honorary Title on Hugh Lowther, which is the German equivalent to ‘Master of the King’s Horse’.
Lonsdale was a keen sportsman, a talented horseman, and a ‘horse whisperer’ of his day, patron of hunting and racing, and founder of the Royal International Horse Show. He also supported local sports such as hound-trailing, fell-running and Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling and instigated the Lonsdale Belt for boxing.
Hugh Lowther on horseback with cigar
Lord Lonsdale was the inspiration for the Lonsdale cigar size, and was part of a famous wager with John Pierpoint Morgan over whether a man could circumnavigate the globe and remain unidentified.
Perhaps the most famous story of all which Hugh used to tell of his young days was of the time he went to New York to fight the then World Heavyweight Champion of the World, John L. Sullivan.
At the beginning of the eighteen nineties, the formidable figure of John J. Sullivan, dominated the boxing scene.
There may since have been more skilful fighters, and holders of the proud title, Heavyweight Champion of the World, but for sheer power and ferocity, John J. Sullivan still stands, head and shoulders above his successors.
Sullivan’s rise from a poverty stricken childhood was meteoric. He would fight everyone and anyone, and as World Champion, he toured the United States offering £300 to anyone who could knock him down, and he never had to pay out.
‘I’ll fight anyone except pigs, dogs, and niggers’ (sic) he would roar, sweeping all the glasses off the counter of the Saloon, and happily taking on anyone who objected to his conduct. He was a braggart and bully of the worst description, particularly when he had drunk too much which was very often.
In spite of his heavy drinking his massive frame stood up to all the punishment his opponents could hand out, until he was finally stopped by ‘Gentleman Jim’ Corbett after more than ten impregnable years.
The Champion of England at the time was Jem Smith and there was much talk of a match between Smith and Sullivan to take place in the presence of the Prince of Wales. Furious at the suggestion that Smith might have the better of him, Sullivan offered to fight him for nothing and pay him £200 into the bargain.
However, for whatever reason, this match never took place, but the general feeling was that, at the height of his career, Sullivan would have been to much for the gallant Jem Smith.
Hugh Lowther, typically, took the opposite view, and boasted one evening to a group of admiring friends that he himself would be quite prepared to put on the gloves with the great Sullivan.
One of the group was Haydn Coffin, the actor, who was leaving the following day to tour the US and, meeting Sullivan a few weeks later, Coffin remarked that there was a young aristocrat in England who was game to have a bout with him.
This news electrified Sullivan who said : ‘If he wants a fight he can have one, and that goes for any ‘Dooks’ and ‘Oils’ as he cares to bring with him’.
Eventually a Match was arranged in the greatest secrecy, and Hugh Lowther sailed for New York.
The match had been arranged at the Central Park Academy as to the fight itself Hugh Lowther himself wrote an account of it all in late years for The People.
The account was very detailed so I will not repeat it here but suffice to say that Hugh Lowther beat John L Sullivan after a vicious battle.
Hugh Lowther finished his account with the words, “I can look at my strong right hand and say with truth, this hand put to sleep John L. Sullivan!” Modesty was never one of Hugh Lowther’s weaknesses.
Because of the secrecy with which the whole affair was conducted, doubts were later raised as to whether the fight took place at all.
Whatever the real truth of the matter the effect of the reports on the fight on Hugh’s reputation with the sporting public was immense and further enhanced his celebrity status.
Hugh was a consummate sportsman. He enjoyed foxhunting, serving as Master of The Quorn from 1893 to 1898, and was also a keen football fan.
He was chairman of Arsenal Football Club for a brief period in 1936 (having previously been a club director), and later became the club’s Honorary President.
But in a long life he spent the family fortune, bankrupting his coal mines which were the source of his great wealth. This, the high taxes and the slump in farm incomes of the Great Depression of the 30s led to the closing of Lowther Castle in 1936.
His lavish entertainment of the Kaiser and other European Royalty, his vast stables of horses, his private Orchestra and the money he poured into equipping the private battalions he raised to fight in the Boer War, and the First World War, finally took its toll on his finances.
Step by step he retreated as the lights of his personal empire were snuffed out one by one.
Whitehaven Castle was sold, then Barleythorpe, and finally Carlton House Terrace and Lowther Castle had to be closed, although the latter still remains in the family’s ownership, and there have been half-hearted attempts to restore it to its former glory, but it has proved too big a project.
It is impossible to even begin to tell his story in so few words, but he was undoubtedly one of the greatest ‘characters’ the Peerage has ever produced, and his infamous antics are unlikely ever to be repeated.
Hugh Lowther was never quite accepted by Victorian Society, and was once described by Lord Ancaster as ‘almost an Emperor, but not quite a Gentleman’; something Hugh Lowther might have considered a compliment not a criticism!
The longest lived of the Earls of Lonsdale, the 5th Earl died in 1944 with no heir and with little concern for those who would be burdened by the Castle, the estate and his debts, which were inherited by his (by then aged) youngest brother Lancelot who sold the majority of the family collections in 1947. The 6th Earl died in 1953.
By contrast, the 7th Earl, whom I met, a year before he died in 2006, aged 82, was a conservationist, businessman and the saviour of his family estates in Westmoreland and Cumberland, and largely responsible for the preservation of the Lake District as we know it today.
Robert Jarman – Editor and Founder