COOTE, Richard, 1st Earl of Bellomont [I] (c.1655-1701).
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Family and Education
b. c.1655, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Richard, 1st Baron Coote of Coloony [I], by Mary, da. of Sir George St. George of Carrick Drumrusk, co. Leitrim. m. lic. 19 Aug. 1680, aged about 25, Catherine (d. 12 Mar. 1738), da. and h. of Bridges Nanfan† of Birtsmorton, Worcs., 3s. suc. fa. 10 July 1683 as 2nd Baron Coote; cr. Earl of Bellomont [I] 2 Nov. 1689.1
Capt. of horse, Dutch army 1687–Mar. 1688; capt.-gen. Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Is. and the Jerseys 1697; capt. ind. coy. New York 1697–d.2
Treasurer to Princess Mary of Orange Mar. 1688 (as Queen) 1689–93; gov. co. Leitrim 1689–93; gov. Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire 1697–d., v.-adm. 1698–d.3
Gov. Saltpetre Co. 1692.4
Member, New Eng. Co. 1697; commr. for Indian affairs 1701.5
Bellomont, an Irish peer, left England in 1687 for the United Provinces, and, once there, accepted a commission in the English regiments serving in the Dutch army. Although summoned to return by James II, he entered into the service of Princess Mary, eventually sailing with her husband in the invasion fleet of 1688. At the Revolution he retained his post in the Queen’s household, secured an Irish county governorship and a promotion in the Irish peerage. He was returned to the Convention of 1689 for Droitwich, probably on the recommendation of the Earl of Shrewsbury, and with the support of the Foleys. Although his main estates lay in Ireland these Worcestershire connexions were sufficient to secure his re-election at Droitwich in 1690. His own landholding in the county appears to have been slender, hence his comment in 1689 that he was ‘not satisfied whether I rightly account myself a freeholder of England’. However, his wife was a Worcestershire heiress and he had the power to bequeath the manor of Pendock just to the south of Birtsmorton in his will in 1697, possibly as part of the marriage settlement. In general his economic circumstances were difficult: he was in financial straits even before the war in Ireland, his father-in-law excusing his removal into Holland on the grounds that it was a ‘cheaper’ country in which to live. No doubt this condition contributed to an abiding interest in two issues throughout his political career: the mismanagement of Irish affairs and the search for additional sources of income.6
The Marquess of Carmarthen (Sir Thomas Osborne†) classed Bellomont as a Whig in an analysis of March 1690. In April 1691 Robert Harley* listed him as a Country supporter, albeit with the caveat of ‘doubtful’, which may well point to the contradictions of Bellomont’s position, as a placeman deeply mistrustful of the crown’s chosen servants in Ireland and committed to the principles of Country Whiggism. Harley was certainly acquainted with him, possibly through the Foleys. In 1692 he became interested in a new money-spinning project, to take advantage of the speculative boom of the early 1690s. Luttrell reported in October that a charter of incorporation had been granted to ‘Lord Bellomont and 20 others’ to manufacture and supply the King with saltpetre. This was probably the company for making saltpetre in England, which raised a considerable amount of capital only to fold in 1694. Bellomont’s role may have been to smooth the passage of the charter, which was the responsibility of a Worcestershire Whig, the attorney-general, Sir John Somers*, whom Bellomont had known since at least 1684. Unfortunately, involvement in this project can only have worsened his financial predicament.7
Bellomont’s name appears on three lists of placemen from the years 1692–3, drawn up by Carmarthen and by Samuel Grascome. Events were to show that office-holding and support for the Court were not necessarily compatible, especially if Irish issues were involved. On 7 Jan. 1693 Edward Harley* reported to his father a petition from Ireland aimed at Lord Coningsby (Thomas*), ‘which is likely to be followed with vigour. Lord Bellomont is concerned in it. I am told that country is under great oppression and misery.’ This agitation prompted the Commons to conduct an investigation into the state of Ireland, which in turn led to the appointment on 24 Feb. of a committee (of which Bellomont was a member) to draft an address to the King. Bellomont was undoubtedly to the fore in attempts to punish the Irish administration and this, together with his advocacy of the triennial bill and criticism of the use of the royal veto, led to his dismissal from the Queen’s service for having ‘behaved himself impertinently’. Indeed, the Queen having ‘spoke to him in that matter’, she sent him a message that ‘he was not put out of his place for any misbehaviour in it, but for the reason he knew himself’. It was Lord Sunderland’s view that his post should be left open until the King’s return, ‘that my Lord B[ellomont] might have more than is intended, for that matter sticks and was most extremely unreasonable’. He was probably referring to some kind of financial compensation in the form of a pension, which Bellomont refused in response to Coningsby’s elevation to the Privy Council, an event described by Sunderland ‘as if care had been taken that that business should not die, he being the man in whom all that matter centred’. The opposition response was a paper published in November 1693 by Charlwood Lawton, which described Bellomont as a ‘gallant lord’ who had been turned out ‘merely for giving his vote in the House of Commons according to his conscience’.8
The response of Coningsby and Sir Charles Porter*, the lord chancellor of Ireland, was to solicit during the summer recess a pardon for their actions as lords justices of Ireland. A counter-petition from Bellomont and Colonel James Hamilton, another Irish landowner, claimed that since Parliament had taken cognizance of mismanagements in Ireland, and given notice that they would be pursued in the next session, no pardon should be granted, as it would be a breach of the Bill of Rights – an argument which neatly precluded the Privy Council’s attempt to pre-empt Parliament by inquiring into events in Ireland and vindicating the accused. It was suspected that Bellomont ‘is put upon it by some members of the House of Commons w[h]ere he expects to be supported. Some think that one or both of them may have an eye to some recompense or employment if that open not a way to too many.’ There is some evidence of Bellomont receiving advice from prominent opponents of the Court, chief among them Robert Harley, whose papers contain draft replies of arguments used and advice to Bellomont on questions of tactics. On one occasion Bellomont invited Harley to dinner with James Sloane* (an Irish MP sitting on the Hamilton interest), the Earl of Monmouth (a noted trouble-maker and Hamilton’s brother-in-law) and Hamilton himself. Bellomont duly took up the attack on Irish mismanagements in the following session, presenting articles of impeachment against Coningsby and Porter on 16 Dec. 1693. Harley was again active behind the scenes in preparing the charges, being asked by Bellomont to ‘take the pains to illustrate them with all the advantage you please (which you are well able to do) that each article may have a sting in the tail’, and to ‘polish’ them, ‘my credit being engaged in the effectual and speedy carrying on the impeachment’. Bellomont seems to have been tenacious in pursuit of his enemies, for on 22 Dec., when the Commons ‘showed a disposition . . . not to prosecute them’, he announced his readiness to produce further witnesses. However, after several more hearings at the bar, Coningsby and Porter were cleared on 29 Jan. 1694. Bellomont was also disappointed in a plan to mobilize the Commons against his dismissal from office, writing somewhat plaintively to Harley of a promise he had made ‘of consulting some of our friends what were proper to be done in the House about my being so turned out of my employment as I was, to the breach of the privilege of Parliament’.9
Nevertheless, Bellomont’s fate did elicit some sympathy from those Whig friends who had received honours and office following the 1693–4 session. Shrewsbury (once again secretary of state) persuasively put Bellomont’s case to William III in June 1694 for a grant of Irish forfeited estates:
his condition I really believe is necessitous to a great degree, and there are several persons, Members of Parliament, who lay great weight, and think his friends obliged to see him taken care of. He seems to the world to have been displaced, for a reason that would do your Majesty great prejudice to have it believed that it sticks with you.
Sunderland, too, was employed in an approach to the Earl of Portland. For the moment nothing came of this pressure. In the meantime the 1694–5 session had opened with Members debating the so-called Lancashire Plot and the ensuing treason trials at Manchester. Investigations revealed that Bellomont had been in contact with the two informers, John Taaffe and John Lunt, to discover lands put to superstitious uses, which could be the basis of allegations of treason. No doubt Bellomont’s interest was in lands which would thus fall forfeit to the crown.10
There is no evidence that Bellomont expressed any wish to contest the 1695 election at Droitwich; no doubt a wise course in view of his parlous financial position. Indeed, he appears now to have favoured a classic escape-route from penury, namely emigration as a colonial official. In April 1695 he appears to have been appointed governor of Massachusetts, but the question of his salary held up his commission: a vexed question as it concerned not only his desire to clear his debts, but the more general problem of the financial independence of royal governors from colonial assemblies. His friends suggested an Irish grant, through the friendly auspices of Lord Capell (Hon. Sir Henry Capel*), now lord deputy of Ireland, and in July 1695 Bellomont duly petitioned for a grant of the forfeited estates of Sir Valentine Browne (Lord Kenmare) and Sir Nicholas Browne. In April 1696 he was allowed £1,000 p.a. from the estate. The Whigs had contrived an additional plan to augment his salary, while scoring a political point. In July 1695 Shrewsbury had outlined a proposal to the King that Bellomont be made governor of New York as well as Massachusetts, an appointment which would have involved the removal of the Tory incumbent in New York, Benjamin Fletcher, and to that end the Whigs exerted pressure on the Board of Trade. Eventually, Bellomont was appointed governor of both colonies in March 1697, although he did not sail for America until November.11
Parliamentary controversy pursued Bellomont across the Atlantic in the person of Captain Kidd, and yet another scheme based on the suppression of piracy in the seas around Madagascar. Bellomont was instrumental in drawing in the Duke of Shrewsbury, and Lords Orford (Edward Russell*) and Romney (Henry Sidney†) as financial backers, as well as Somers, who procured the patent. However, all the participants were vulnerable to attack when Kidd himself turned pirate. Bellomont protected himself by having Kidd arrested as he returned to New York, then sending him to England and scrupulously accounting for all the captured treasure (although this did not prevent him from claiming a share of one-third as vice-admiral). The Tories, however, exploited the grant and it formed the 13th article of impeachment against the former lord chancellor in May 1701. By then Bellomont had died in New York of gout in the stomach, on 5 Mar. 1701. His wife and sons were left destitute in New York where he had to be buried at public expense. In his will he ordered his debts to be paid from the estates bequeathed to him by his father in five Irish counties, provided for the education of his sons, and left his estate to two noted Whigs, Somers and Robert Molesworth*, to sell or mortgage in order to pay his debts and annuities. His long-suffering wife, to whom he paid tribute in his will, remarried successively Captain (later Rear-Admiral) William Caldwell, Samuel Pytts* and Alderman William Bridgen. She died in 1738, leaving Birtsmorton, to which she had succeeded in 1704, to her son, Richard Coote, 3rd Earl of Bellomont.12
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxx), 39.
- 2. Add. 41820, f. 273; HMC Downshire, i. 286; CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 59–60, 298.
- 3. Add. 41821, f. 74; Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 435, 515; CSP Col. 1693–6, p. 506; Publns. of Col. Soc. of Mass. ii. p. xxix.
- 4. Sel. Charters, 235.
- 5. W. Kellaway, New Eng. Co. 290.
- 6. Add. 41820, f. 273; 41821, f. 74; 70014, f. 290; CSP Dom. 1689–90, pp. 31–32, 456, 464; HMC Hastings, ii. 184; HMC Lords, ii. 139–40; CJ, xiii. 192.
- 7. Add. 70233, Sir Edward* to Robert Harley, 11 Nov. 1690; 70015, f. 211; 34720, f. 93; Econ. Hist. Rev. ser. 2, xxxix. 552, 558–9; Luttrell, ii. 585; W. R. Scott, Jt.-Stock Cos. ii. 473–4.
- 8. Add. 70017, f. 1; Ranke, vi. 212; Mems. Mary Queen of Eng. 59; Centre Kentish Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/O59/2, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 11 Apr. 1693; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 115, 121; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1211, 1219, Sunderland to Portland, 25 Apr. , [c.June 1693]; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. p. cii.
- 9. PRO NI, De Ros mss 638/9/7, Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) to Coningsby, 24 June 1693; D638/18/11, [?Francis Gwyn*] to same, 24 June 1693; Huntington Lib. Ellesmere mss 9885, Bellomont’s charge against Coningsby and Porter, 17 Aug. 1693; Trinity, Dublin, Lyons (King) mss 1997/284, George Tollet to Bp. King, 24 June 1693; Add. 70264, drafts of Bellomont and Hamilton’s answer to the Council; 70219, Bellomont to Harley, ‘Wed. morning’ [7 Aug. 1693]; 70282, same to same, Thurs. night, Sun. night; HMC Portland, iii. 542; Grey, x. 364; Cobbett, 819; Stanhope mss U1590/O53/2, James Vernon I* to Stanhope, 18–27 Dec. 1693.
- 10. Shrewsbury Corresp. 40; Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 1240, Sunderland to Portland, 5 Aug. 1694; Add. 70017, f. 345; Boyer, Wm. III, 7; HMC Kenyon, 333–4.
- 11. Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn Coll. Blathwayt mss, Ld. Godolphin (Sidney†) to William Blathwayt*, 3 June 1695; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 1116, 1178, 1405; xi. 95; CSP Dom. 1696, pp. 134, 407, 459; 1697, p. 441; CSP Col. 1696–7, p. 313; Shrewsbury Corresp. 94; Wm. and Mary Q. ser. 3, xx. 532–8.
- 12. G. B. Nash, Urban Crucible, 90; M. Kammen, Col. New York, 141; R. C. Ritchie, Capt. Kidd and War Agst. Pirates, 48–54; D. M. Hinricks, Fateful Voyage of Capt. Kidd, 138; HMC Portland, viii. 69; PCC 23 Gee.