COOTE, Sir Eyre (1759-1823), of West Park, Hants.
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Family and Education
bap. 20 May 1759, 2nd s. of Very Rev. Charles Coote of Shaen Castle, Queen’s Co., and bro. of Charles Henry Coote*. educ. Eton 1767; Trinity, Dublin 1774. m. (1) 9 Nov. 1786, Sarah (d. 30 Oct. 1795), da. and coh. of John Rodbard, 3da. d.v.p.; (2) 25 Aug. 1805, Katherine, da. of John Bagwell I*, 1s. suc. to estates of his uncle Sir Eyre Coote† 1783 and to £2000,000 by rem. on d. of his fa. 1796; KB 19 May 1802; GCB 2 Jan. 1815 (degraded 1816).
Ensign and lt. 37 Ft. 1776, capt. 1778; maj. 47 Ft. 1783; lt.-col. 70 Ft. 1788, col. 1795; a.d.c. to the King 1795; brig.-gen. 1796, maj.-gen. 1798, lt.-gen. 1805; col. 62 Ft. 1806-10; lt. gov. and c.-in-c. Jamaica 1806-7; col. 34 Ft. 1810-16, gen. 1814, res. 21 May 1816.
MP [I] 1790-11 Jan. 1800.
Coote was nephew and heir to the celebrated general of the same name and likewise pursued a military career. He served in the American war, in the West Indies (1793, 1795), in the Netherlands (1798 and 1799) and subsequently in Egypt, where his services earned him public thanks and his KB in 1802. He was prevented from embarking on a South American expedition by the peace. In 1790 he had made a bid to come into Westminster on Lord Camelford’s interest as a friend of Pitt’s ministry. He had been Member for Ballinakill (1790-7) and, on the family interest, for Maryborough (1797-1800) in the Irish parliament, but had vacated the latter to enable his elder brother to return a Member who could attend in support of the Union. When his brother became a peer of Ireland in March 1802, Coote was invited to stand for the Queen’s County in his place. He declined from want of preparation and to avert a contest, although Addington’s government were prepared to back him on the occasion, without pledging themselves for the next general election. Addington’s brother-in-law Charles Bragge being a relative of Coote’s stepmother, Coote had a personal link with administration, and the viceroy’s half-brother Charles Yorke recommended him as ‘one of the most efficient and distinguished heroes of Aboukir and Alexandria ... really a very amiable and worthy man, besides being a most steady and excellent officer. One has only to regret that he ... [has] not yet been noticed ... A red ribband and an old regiment is the least that can be given to such a man as Coote.’ After negotiations with the Castle, Coote stood down until the general election, on his brother’s advice.1
He was returned unopposed at the general election of 1802 and supported government. On 8 Dec. 1802 he advocated provision for an expeditionary force in defence proposals. The chief secretary assured Addington that he would find Coote a useful ally against his Irish critics the Hely Hutchinson family, ‘should things go wrong on foreign politics or military matters’. Coote voiced his approval of the Irish militia bill, preferring recruitment by bounty rather than by ballot, and paid tribute to the militia’s services, 16 Mar. 1803. A month before he had been with the chief secretary ‘very high indeed and full of grievances’ connected with maintaining his interest in the county, but they parted ‘very good friends’.2 He supported the army of reserve bill, 23 June 1803, and a week later ‘heartily wished the enemy to land’. In 1804 Coote was placed in command at Cork and was not expected to attend Parliament; though prepared to be critical in July, he was listed a supporter of Pitt’s ministry in September and was in England in December, when he was promised the government of Jamaica, for which he further applied to Pitt, 25 Mar. 1805. He was recommended for it to the King, 4 May, though he had meanwhile displayed his independence by criticizing the composition of courts martial, 5, 12 Mar. 1805, and by voting for the censure of Melville, 8 Apr. On 9 May he took leave of the House and subsequently vacated his seat.3
In August 1807 government learnt that Coote wished to be relieved of his post, as the climate of Jamaica disagreed with his health. He duly returned home and was made second in command in the Walcheren expedition in 1809. His behaviour on this occasion, when he asked to be relieved of his command at Middleburgh owing to the dangerous illness of his eldest daughter, 8 Sept. 1809, was subsequently adduced as evidence of a ‘mind not always sound’. He was examined by the House on his part in the expedition, 27 Feb. 1810. In 1811 he applied for the government of Canada.4
Coote, who had failed to maintain his interest in the Queen’s County, was returned after a contest, in which he spent freely, for Barnstaple in 1812. He was regarded as well disposed to government, who were ‘hopeful’ of his support.5 On 2 Mar., as also on 13 and 24 May 1813, he supported the Catholic claims by his vote, having on 26 Feb. explained that he could not vote against them in view of their contribution in the war. The viceroy commented, 3 Mar.: ‘That fool Sir Eyre Coote I see has joined the Catholics. He talks of the Irish Roman Catholics as having deserved great credit for their conduct in the West Indies under Sir Charles Grey. I believe they did, that is to say all that there were—about 3 officers and a hundred men. Certainly not more.’6 On 2 June 1813 Coote deprecated undermining Company rule in India and on 7 July paid tribute to Wellington and his officers for the victory at Vittoria. On 18 May 1814 he applied to the premier for a peerage, seeing no prospect of further military employment and pointing out that his uncle and namesake, ‘who saved the Carnatic’, had died before he could receive his reward.7 He had to be content with a GCB. On 18 Mar. 1816 he voted with the majority against the continuation of the property tax.
Coote had sternly opposed the abolition of flogging in the army, 15 Mar. 1813, and on 25 Nov. 1815 was charged with improperly indulging in flogging with scholars of Christ’s Hospital whom he had paid for the purpose. The lord mayor dismissed the case, Coote ‘reluctantly’ agreeing to donate £1,000 to the school (afterwards returned) but the scandal led to a military inquiry, 18 Apr. 1816. Fourteen Members were among the friends who in a letter to the Duke of York declared that Coote had acted ‘solely from insanity’, attributed cumulatively to heredity, the Jamaican sun and the deaths of his daughters, but Coote was adjudicated eccentric, not insane, 14 May, stripped of his honours and struck off the army list. He had been warned in April that he must retire from Parliament to avoid expulsion, but his brother-in-law William Bagwell*, who ‘most foolishly’ published a defence of Coote, made it clear that if Coote were attacked in Parliament, which his family was anxious to avoid, the decision of the military inquiry would be challenged.8 Coote did not resign, but went abroad. In May 1817 some of his constituents complained, but they were overruled by the corporation, who in a petition expressed the ‘fullest satisfaction’ with Coote’s conduct.9 He did not offer again in 1818 and died 10 Dec. 1823.