COOPER, Grey (c.1726-1801), of Worlington, Suff.
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Family and Education
b. c.1726, 1st s. of William Cooper, M.D., of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, by Mary, da. of Edward Grey of Alnwick. educ. M. Temple 1747, called 1751. m. (1) 5 Oct. 1753, Margaret (d. 1755), da. of Sir Henry Grey, 1st Bt., of Howick, Northumb., s.p.; (2) 19 July 1762, Elizabeth Kennedy of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2s. 2da. suc. fa. 5 May 1758; assumed, Aug. 1775, the baronetcy of Gogar [S] as heir male to the elder bro. of his gt.-gd.-fa., having been, at the sheriff’s court at Edinburgh, served heir by a service which was however, ‘never returned to Chancery, and [even] if it had been, could have conveyed no right to a title which had no existence’.1
Sec. to Treasury 1765-Mar. 1782; K.C. duchy of Lancaster 1765- d.; ld. of Treasury Apr.-Dec. 1783; P.C. 29 Apr. 1796.
In 1765 Cooper was making about £1,000 a year from his successful practice at the bar,2 and he strengthened his reputation by his defence of the interests of the Duke and Duchess of Atholl during the hearing in the Commons of their petition regarding the sale of their sovereign rights in the Isle of Man to the Crown. Later in the year Cooper recommended himself to Rockingham by two pamphlets written in defence of Rockingham’s newly-formed Administration—A pair of Spectacles for Shortsighted Politicians ... and The Merits of the New Administration truly stated. In October he accepted Rockingham’s offer of the post of secretary to the Treasury; but as this meant abandoning his career at the bar, demanded an adequate pension settlement as a recompense in case of loss of office. When the arrangement was almost completed, he suddenly jibbed at accepting promises which Rockingham might not later be in a position to fulfil and asked for the immediate grant of an income by letters patent under the Great Seal. In the extravagantly emotional language which he affected, he wrote to Rockingham:3
My hand trembles whilst it lays before your Lordship the humble remonstrance of a heart anxious to do its duty and to perform its engagements of honour to your Lordship ... [a friend] has stated my present most critical situation to me in a light which my eagerness to be connected with your Lordship and my ardent and disinterested love of the good cause which you conduct and support prevented me from seeing with my own eyes ... Yet perhaps I could have had firmness enough to have resisted [these] attacks. But—the sight of my wife and children whose happiness, whose welfare, and even provision in the world depend upon my ultimate and final determination in this most important moment of my life, forces me with great reluctance, and after a severe and anxious conflict in my breast, to tell your Lordship, that the duty which I owe to myself and to my family will not permit me to enter upon the office which your Lordship destines for me before the security which has been promised to me in case of a removal be actually in my hands.
On this condition he gave assurances of ‘constant zeal and unalterable fidelity’ to the King and to Rockingham. In October he took up the appointment, and a grant of an annuity to him of £500 p.a. duly passed the Great Seal.4 A seat in Parliament now had to be found, and on a vacancy at Rochester all the engines of Government, especially the Admiralty interest, were engaged to secure his election. Newcastle recommended him to one supporter as ‘a very proper and a very ingenious man’, who ‘has at all times been a zealous Whig’;5 and his opponent complained:6
Sir Charles Saunders, Admiral Keppel, and Sir William Meredith have been sitting three days in this city, as a board, to do any Admiralty favour that could procure a vote, as well as canvass for Mr. Cooper ... My lord president of the council has been here also.
Once in the situation which he had accepted after much show of ‘timidity’ and ‘feminine apprehensions of danger’,7 Cooper clung to it for over sixteen years. In 1768 by Treasury arrangement with Edward Eliot he was returned for Grampound, and in 1774 and 1780 on the Admiralty interest for Saltash. As a junior minister, Cooper spoke frequently in the House, mainly on financial matters, sometimes on matters of procedure, and also to introduce and to forward Government business in general: but he did not take any part in the great political debates. He took notes of Opposition speeches with which to prime Lord North before his replies, and he wrote many of the brief reports on proceedings preserved among George III’s papers. In the Treasury he took charge of the revenue side—where the conduct of affairs was described by his colleague in 1780 as ‘slovenly’.8 During the minority of the Prince of Wales he had the superintendence of the Government interest in the Cornish boroughs, and took a part in 1774 in settling the election arrangements,9 but he does not appear to have continued these election activities in 1780. The English Chronicle described him in 1781 as ‘a sort of man that every minister must have under him. He is a good drudge in business, is very important in his manner, and in his disposition very pleasant. He takes down notes in the House for Lord North, and both in public and private laughs most loudly at all his Lordship’s jokes.’ By 1782, in addition to his office as secretary, then worth about £5,000 p.a., and his annuity of £500 p.a., he had secured sinecures as searcher at Newcastle and as King’s Counsel in the duchy of Lancaster, and for his sons the reversion of the post of auditor of the land revenue.
Cooper lost his place at the Treasury on the fall of the North Government. In November 1782 Shelburne hoped for his support,10 but in the following months he was one of the men who urged North to join forces with Fox;11 and he voted on 18 Feb. 1783 against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries. He held office under the Coalition as a lord of the Treasury. After its fall he adhered to North in opposition, but only once entered prominently into the political debates of the early months of 1784. Ministerial election arrangements at the general election of 1784 involved his displacement from Saltash, and for the next two years he was out of Parliament. But by June 1785 he was looking forward to returning to the House;12 in January 1786 it was rumoured he was to be brought in ‘to make up for the loss of official knowledge’ due to the defection to the Government of William Eden;13 and in February he was provided with a seat at Richmond on the Dundas interest. For the next four years Cooper, still acting as a follower of North, took a prominent part in debate, speaking mainly on fiscal and commercial matters, ably and pertinaciously harassing Pitt. In 1787 he attacked the commercial treaty with France and ‘yielded to few in his accurate knowledge of the complicated interests which it included’.14 When the Coalition hoped to return to office in 1789, during the King’s illness, he was set down for reappointment to the Treasury Board.15 But no seat was found for him at the general election of 1790.
Cooper’s interest in public life was not yet ended. The excesses of the French Revolution led him to abandon opposition. Early in 1793, as soon as Alexander Wedderburn, Lord Loughborough, had been appointed lord chancellor, he offered his services to the Government through him, and told Portland, his nominal political chief, that had he been in the Commons he would have voted with Burke and Windham in support of the Government.16 In February 1795 he suggested to Pitt that he might be appointed a commissioner in London to look after the loan to the Austrian Government.17 In June he pressed Portland for the honour of appointment to the Privy Council, though without office or emolument:18 this wish at least was granted in 1796, but his other applications were ignored.
Cooper died 30 July 1801.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: I. R. Christie
- 1. GEC Baronetage, ii. 446-7.
- 2. Ld. Geo. Sackville to John Irwin, 14 Sept. 1765, HMC Stopford-Sackville, i. 102-3.
- 3. Rockingham mss.
- 4. Add. 36133, f. 128; 33056, f. 148.
- 5. Newcastle to Chas. Polhill, 26 Nov. 1765, Polhill mss.
- 6. J. Calcraft to Pitt, 30 Nov. 1765, Chatham Corresp. ii. 338.
- 7. Cooper to Mellish, n.d. [Oct. 1765], Rockingham mss.
- 8. Robinson to Jenkinson, 6 Dec. 1780, Add. 38567, f. 89.
- 9. Wraxall, Mems. i. 428; North to Cooper, 5 Oct. 1774, to Robinson, 5 Oct., 19 Nov. 1774, Abergavenny mss.
- 10. Parlty, list, Lansdowne mss.
- 11. Robinson to Jenkinson, 22 Mar. 1783, Add. 38567, ff. 137-40.
- 12. Cooper to Sir R. M. Keith, 24 June 1785, Add. 35534, ff. 240-1.
- 13. Daniel Pulteney to Rutland, 23 Jan. , HMC Rutland, iii. 277.
- 14. Wraxall, Mems. iv. 398.
- 15. Fox Corresp. iv. 284.
- 16. Cooper to Portland, 10 Feb. 1793, Portland mss.
- 17. 8 Feb. 1795, Chatham mss.
- 18. 10, 29 June 1795, Portland mss.