CONINGSBY, Fitzwilliam (c.1596-1666), of Hampton Wafer, Docklow, Herefs.; later of Hampton Court, Herefs.
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Family and Education
b. bef. 25 Feb. 1596,1 4th but o. surv. s. of Sir Thomas Coningsby† of Hampton Court, Herefs. and Philippa, da. of (Sir) William Fitzwilliam† of Milton, Northants.2 educ. Hereford Cathedral sch.; Lincoln, Oxf. BA 1613.3 m. 12 July 1617, Cecilia, da. of Sir Henry Neville II* of Birling, Kent, 3s. 2da. suc. fa. 1625. bur. 23 Apr. 1666.4 sig. F[itz]w[illiam] Conyngesby.
J.p. Herefs. 1617-at least c.1641, 1660-d.,5 commr. subsidy 1621-2; 1624-6, 1641-2,6 sewers, Wye valley 1621;7 dep. lt. Herefs. 1623-46, 1660-d.;8 high steward, Leominster ?1625-c.1649, 1660-d.;9 sheriff 1626-7, 1642-3;10 commr. Forced Loan 1626-7,11 swans, Midland counties 1627,12 knighthood compositions, Herefs. 1631,13 oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. 1631-42, Wales and the Marches 1634-40;14 member, Council in Marches of Wales 1633-?;15 commr. array, Herefs. 1642-3,16 safety (roy.) 1643;17 assessment 1661-d., loyal and indigent officers, Herefs. 1662.18
Member, Westminster Co. of Soapmakers by 1636.19
Gov. Hereford (roy.) 1642-3; col. of ft. 1643.20
Coningsby was descended from the eldest son of Sir Humphrey Coningsby (d.1535), justice of king’s bench, who purchased Hampton Court, four miles south-east of Leominster, in 1509. Descended from Sir Humphrey’s third son, Sir Ralph Coningsby, who sat for Hertfordshire in 1614, was this member’s second cousin once removed.21 Coningsby’s father, Sir Thomas, represented Herefordshire in the last three Elizabethan Parliaments, but in 1601 complained that his declining health made the journey to Westminster difficult; there is no evidence that he sought re-election in the Jacobean period.22 Sir Thomas nevertheless remained active in local government, founding in 1614 a hospital for disabled veterans in Hereford.23
Coningsby was described by his grandson as ‘a man of great extravagance and expense, as well as beyond description negligent in the management of his affairs’.24 In 1612 his friend (Sir) Thomas Littleton* warned him that his (unspecified) actions threatened his reputation, and not surprisingly any hope that Coningsby’s father would allow him to study at the inns of court was soon disappointed.25 When Sir Thomas Coningsby drew up his will in August 1616 he wrote of his ‘disturbance’ at Coningsby’s ‘facility to entangle himself to all our detriments’ and his concern that ‘innocents taste not of his folly’. In an undated codicil his father instructed Coningsby to continue living at the latter’s house in Hampton Wafer for three years after his father’s death, ‘with a train proportionable and not to spend above £1,000 by [the] year ... which a provident man of estate should not be without’.26 It was not until 2 July 1623 that the elder Coningsby felt able to appoint his son sole executor of his will.27
The flight overseas of Sir Herbert Croft* gave Coningsby the opportunity to represent the county in the third Jacobean Parliament. Coningsby’s father was probably the ‘Sir T.C.’ to whom Sir Robert Harley wrote, along with other prominent Herefordshire figures, in late 1620 proposing a meeting of the Herefordshire gentry to choose candidates for the county Members in the forthcoming Parliament, but it was Coningsby himself, and not his father, who attended the meeting on 7 Dec. at Hereford which drew up an agreement to avoid contests and which presumably also nominated Coningsby and Sir John Scudamore.28 However, Coningsby’s father drew up some ‘Directions for his Son’ dated 20 Dec. 1620, at which time Coningsby was elected.29 He made no recorded speeches but received two committee appointments, to consider the bills to vary a trust set up by Anthony, 2nd Viscount Montagu (16 Mar. 1621) and to provide for the maintenance of Tewkesbury bridge (5 May). He was also named to attend the joint conference with the Lords of 24 May on the Sabbath observance bill.30
During the summer recess Coningsby was appointed to the commission of sewers procured by the city of Hereford to remove weirs from the river Wye. His efforts won praise from Henry Vaughan of Moccas, who wrote to Coningsby after he had returned to London in November for the second sitting, stating that he had ‘taken exceeding pains for the good of your country, and thereby gained yourself the entire and hearty love of all honest Herefordshire men’. However the work of the commission had aroused the opposition of powerful forces within Herefordshire, as Vaughan also referred to ‘slanderous imputations’ voiced against the commissioners. After adding that ‘at this Parliament, you know we are, as I trust, to obtain what we have so much desired’ (almost certainly a reference to a proposed bill against the weirs), Vaughan went on to hope that Coningsby would procure his wife’s uncle, Sir Edward Sackville*, as a ‘powerful man to speak in the Lower House’ in support of the measure. However the bill was not introduced in the Commons until 1624 and Coningsby left no trace on the records of the second sitting of the 1621 Parliament.31
It is not known whether Coningsby sought election to the 1624 Parliament, although he evidently influenced the return of Edward Littleton II at Leominster, where he became high steward, probably shortly after the death of his father, the previous incumbent. Littleton, the brother-in-law and employee of Coningsby’s friend Sir Thomas Littleton, also represented the borough in 1625 and 1626, and was elected there again (but did not serve) in 1628. Although he did not sit in Parliament again during the 1620s, Coningsby remained an important figure in Herefordshire county politics. Indeed, a very active magistrate, his refusal to support Sir John Scudamore in 1625 was a major blow to Scudamore’s chances of securing re-election for the county in that year.32
Coningsby co-operated in levying the Forced Loan, attending the first meeting of the Herefordshire commissioners on 13 Feb. 1627.33 However, three years later he initially refused to pay the knighthood composition, claiming in September 1630 that he was not liable as he had not sued out his livery at the time of Charles I’s coronation. He nevertheless subsequently paid £35 and was appointed to the Herefordshire commission when it was renewed in February 1631. He was active in collecting the compositions until he was removed from the commission in the following June.34
Coningsby held ceremonialist religious views. In 1629 he set up a stained glass window in his chapel depicting the removal of Christ from the cross, and bearing the defensive inscription: ‘the truth hereof is historical, divine, and not superstitious’.35 He may also have been a friend of William Laud, who claimed that Coningsby brought a Herefordshire squire, Christopher Seborne, to him to prevent Seborne from converting to Catholicism.36
Re-elected to the Long Parliament for the county, Coningsby was expelled from the House in October 1641 on the grounds that he was a beneficiary of the soap monopoly. He was thereupon succeeded as knight of the shire by his son Humphrey. One of the most resolute Herefordshire royalists during the Civil War, he was exiled at the surrender of Worcester in 1646, but after the execution of Charles I he petitioned to compound for his delinquency. His estate was valued at £1,684 p.a., most of it mortgaged or extended for debt. His fine was initially fixed at £4,243 but was subsequently reduced to £1,316 on the discovery of several miscalculations; although in any case nothing seems to have been paid. He regained county office at the Restoration, and sought election for Leominster in 1661, but was denied a poll on the grounds that he was then a prisoner for debt. He made his will on 25 Feb. 1666 and two months later was buried at Hope-under-Dinmore, the local parish church of Hampton Court. His son died in a debtors’ prison five years later; but his grandson Thomas sat for Leominster as a Whig in 13 parliaments between 1679 and 1716, whereupon he was elevated to the peerage.37
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: John. P. Ferris
PROB 11/148, f. 295.
- 1. T. Coningsby, Marden ([1722-29]), i. 649.
- 2. C.J. Robinson, Hist. of Mansions and Manors of Herefs. 148; Collins, Peerage (1756), iv. 314.
- 3. Duncumb, County of Hereford, i. 589; Al. Ox.
- 4. Robinson, 148.
- 5. C231/4, f. 60; C66/2859; 66/3074; C220/9/4, f. 34v.
- 6. C212/22/20-1, 23; Add. 11051, ff. 19, 141, SR, v. 85, 152.
- 7. C181/3, f. 33.
- 8. Cheshire Archives, DNE 16; HEHL, EL7443; SP29/11/261; 29/60/142.
- 9. M.F. Keeler, Long Parl. 139; G.F. Townsend, Town and Bor. of Leominster, 291; Vis. Herefs. (Harl. Soc. n.s. xv), 29.
- 10. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 61; J. and T.W. Webb,