COKE, Thomas William II (1793-1867), of Longford, Derbys
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Family and Education
b. 30 Jan. 1793,1 1st s. of Edward Coke† of Longford and Grace, da. of William MacDowall Colhoun† of Wretham, Norf. educ. by Dr. Samuel Parr of Hatton; Eton 1808; Christ Church, Oxf. 1812. unm. 2s. illegit. suc. fa. 1836. d. 21 May 1867.
‘Billy’ Coke, a handsome, reckless character, who was known for his practical jokes and relentless pursuit of distinction as a huntsman, had sat for Derby on his father’s share of the corporation interest since 1818. As a very inactive Whig in the Commons, he was outshone by his uncle and namesake, Coke of Norfolk, who had recognized him as heir to his Holkham estate and, from June 1820, provided him with an annuity of £1,000.2 Despite his poor attendance, he promised to maintain his ‘disinterested and independent principles of public duty’ on being again returned unopposed for Derby at the general election that year.3 He voted against Wilberforce’s compromise motion on the Queen Caroline affair, 22 June, and the appointment of a secret committee, 26 June 1820, when he was granted two weeks’ leave on urgent private business. In a rare appearance at the county meeting in Derby, 9 Jan. 1821, he seconded, in ‘a short but forcible speech’, the duke of Devonshire’s successful amendment, which was in the queen’s favour and hostile to the Liverpool government; he missed the town meeting on this later that month.4 He divided against the omission of Caroline’s name from the liturgy, 23, 26 Jan., and to censure ministers’ conduct towards her, 6 Feb. In what was probably his first and only speech, he opposed extensive revision of the game laws, 5 Apr. 1821, since this would blacken the reputation of country gentlemen as sportsmen by converting ‘an exclusive source of amusement into a means of lucre’.
His uncle wished him to marry and suggested as a possible wife his goddaughter Lady Anne Keppel, who had been a constant visitor to Holkham as a child. However, Coke made plain his aversion to her and she confessed to a surprising tenderness for his uncle, who, despite being 50 years her senior, stood up quickly to the mark and turned suitor himself. The nephew, according to Sir James Mackintosh*, then ‘took the alarm and paid his court, but was told he was too late’. He had to be content with having his annuity raised to £6,000 prior to the humiliation of his uncle’s marriage to Lady Anne in February 1822. The lesson was not lost on his contemporaries: as Mackintosh put it, ‘if there should be a child, nephews will learn to yield to the matrimonial suggestions of their rich uncles’. A son and heir, another Thomas William, was duly born in December 1822, so depriving Coke of his expected inheritance.5 His only known vote that session was for Hume’s amendment to use the sinking fund for naval and military pensions, 24 May 1822, and the Nottingham Review, 21 Feb. 1823, looked askance at his failure to divide on any of the important questions of the day. Shortly afterwards, Devonshire’s agent opined that Coke, who had apparently cited his wounded feelings as the reason for his non-attendance, would not be re-elected if he continued to absent himself from Parliament.6
Coke made little attempt to improve his record in the Commons, though he was in the minority against the existing system of naval promotions, 19 June 1823.7 He voted against the beer duties bill, 24 May, for securing proper use of the Irish first fruits fund, 25 May, and to condemn the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824. During election speculation that autumn it was reported that an attempt would be made to turn him out at the next opportunity.8 He was a defaulter on a call of the House, 28 Feb., but was excused, 1 Mar., when, as on 21 Apr. 1825, he divided for Catholic relief. He voted against the duke of Cumberland’s grant, 27, 30 May, 6 June, and for the St. Olave tithe bill, 6 June 1825. No further evidence of parliamentary activity has been traced before the dissolution the following year, when he unobtrusively retired. A devotee of field sports, he had famous shooting contests with Henry Cockburn and Horatio Ross* in the mid-1820s. ‘Squire’ (George) Osbaldeston†, a fellow enthusiast, described him as a ‘thorough gentleman and very agreeable’, who ‘never interfered with anybody’s affairs nor gave anyone reason to quarrel with him’. But when he died, at his then residence of West Bilney Hall, Norfolk, in May 1867, the New Sporting Magazine was less than complimentary, calling him ‘a hard, wild rider, and rather irascible and unreasonable in his ways’.9 According to his will, dated 3 May 1865, which was proved in London, 19 June 1867, he had, with different women, two natural sons (William Heath and Henry Merrin), each of whom received £1,500.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Authors: Stephen Farrell / Simon Harratt
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1793), i. 184.
- 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 480; Stirling, Coke of Norf. 145, 229, 391-5; R. A.C. Parker, Coke of Norf. 128.
- 3. Derby Mercury, 1, 8 Mar. 1820.
- 4. Ibid. 10, 24 Jan. 1821.
- 5. Add. 52445, ff. 52, 54, 63; Stirling, 462-4, 480-1; S.W. Martins, Great Estate at Work, 45-46.
- 6. Chatsworth mss, Lockett to [Abercromby], 20 Mar. 1823.
- 7. Black Bk. (1823), 147; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 457.
- 8. The Times, 28 Aug. 1824.
- 9. Stirling, 393-4; E.D. Cuming, Squire Osbaldeston, 75, 185-6; New Sporting Mag. xiii (1837), 354; lxxii (1867), 318.