COVENTRY, Hon. William (1627-86), of Whitehall and Bampton, Oxon.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1679

Family and Education

bap. 4 Oct. 1627, 5th s. of Sir Thomas Coventry, 1st Baron Coventry of Aylesborough, being 4th s. by 2nd w.; bro. of Henry Coventry and John Coventry and half-bro. of Thomas Coventry, 2nd Baron Coventry. educ. Queen’s, Oxf. 1642; travelled abroad (France) by 1649-52. unm. Kntd. 26 June 1665.1

Offices Held

Capt. of ft. (royalist) c.1645.2

Sec. to the Duke of York May 1660-7; commr. for trade Nov. 1660-9, plantations Dec. 1660-9, navy 1662-7, Tangier 1662-9; PC 26 June 1665-5 Mar. 1669; ld. of Treasury 1667-9.3

Freeman, Yarmouth 1660, Portsmouth 1661, 1666; agent, R. Adventurers into Africa Dec. 1660-3; j.p. Essex, Kent, Mdx. and Suss. 1662-7, Oxon., by 1669-bef. 1680; asst. R. Fishing Co. 1664; commr. for assessment, Oxon. 1673-80, Norf. 1677-80, Glos. 1679-80.4


The youngest of a large family, Coventry returned from his travels to fight for the King, and at the age of 18 commanded a company of foot. He was not required to compound, but joined the royalist exiles in Paris, and gained a great reputation as a collector of intelligence. In 1652 Sir Edward Nicholas wrote: ‘Mr William Coventry is doubtless of the Presbyterian faction, and so may upon good hopes of advancement be anything else’, while Sir Edward Hyde concluded that he had ‘good parts, but is void of religion’. Despite his family background, he was a professed enemy of the lawyers, and spoke as disparagingly of the great seal ‘as if it had been a common scroll of no significance’. He returned to England in the same year ostensibly on a royalist mission, but soon made his peace with the regime, probably through his brother-in-law, Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, and took little part in conspiracy, though after Penruddock’s rising he was arrested at Rufford, the home of his nephew, Sir George Savile.5

Recommended by Sir Philip Warwick as ‘honest and useful’, Coventry crossed over to The Hague on the eve of the Restoration and offered himself as secretary to the Duke of York, who had been appointed lord high admiral. His political career was to bring him into the keenest conflict with Hyde, who wrote of him:

He was a sullen, ill-natured, proud man, whose ambition had no limits, nor could be contained within any. His parts were very good, if he had not thought them better than other men’s; and he had diligence and industry, which men of good parts are too often without. ... He was without those vices which were too much in request, and which make men most unfit for business, and the trust that cannot be separated from it.

He led the royal entry into London on 29 May 1660, and at the general election of 1661 he was returned for Yarmouth, where the Admiralty interest was important as an employer of labour and a source of government contracts. A very active Member of the Cavalier Parliament, he was named to at least 398 committees, in 12 of which he took the chair, made 353 recorded speeches, carried 14 bills and messages, and acted as teller in nine divisions. In the opening session he was appointed to the committees for restoring bishops to the House of Lords, for the uniformity bill, and for the bill of pains and penalties. He took the chair for the first time on 24 July to consider a proviso to the naval regulations bill, which he carried to the Lords. After the recess he attended conferences on traitorous designs and the execution of the attainted republicans. Bullen Reymes noted that he spoke very well in favour of cancelling the conveyances extorted from Lady Powell during the Commonwealth, though it was his brother Henry who was teller against adjourning the debate. For some years to come they worked very closely together, with the younger brother taking the lead, and it is not always possible to distinguish them in the Journals. It was Coventry who was on the first delegation to the King for recovering money collected for the redemption of English slaves in Africa, a lifelong interest of his, and his brother who served on the second. Formal recognition of his position in the Admiralty was accorded by his appointment as extra commissioner of the navy in 1662. The House gave him leave on 18 Apr. to bring in a bill for requisitioning transport for naval and military stores, which in due course he reported and carried to the Lords. He was also named to the committee for the additional corporations bill.6

Coventry was persuaded by William Pierrepont that it was necessary to enlarge the use of martial law in the fleet. He reported a bill to this purpose on 17 Mar. 1663, which in the opinion of his friend and admirer Samuel Pepys gave the Admiralty tyrannical power over under-officers. He was named to the committee for the bill to restrain abuses in the sale of offices, though it was primarily aimed at himself; by his own calculations his position was worth something like £25,000 in the first three and a half years. The attack was nominally led by the ‘undertaker’, Sir Richard Temple, but it was clearly inspired by some of the lord chancellor’s friends, for example Sir George Carteret, who were alarmed at Coventry’s growing ascendancy in Parliament and his alleged intimacy with Sir Henry Bennet. Clarendon himself wrote of Coventry after his own downfall:

He had sat a Member in the House of Commons from the beginning of the Parliament, with very much the reputation of an able man. He spoke pertinently, and was always very acceptable and well heard; and was one of those with whom they who were trusted by the King in conducting his affairs in the Lower House consulted very frequently; but not so much, nor relied equally upon his advice, as upon some few others who had much more experience, which he thought was of use only to ignorant and dull men, and that men of sagacity could see and determine at a little light, and ought rather to persuade and engage men to do that which they judged fit than consider what themselves were inclined to do: and so did not think himself to be enough valued and relied upon and only to be made use of to the celebrating the designs and contrivances of other men, without being signal in the managery, which he aspired to be.

With his less tolerant brother, he was named to the committee for the relief of those who had inadvertently failed to subscribe to the declaration in the Act of Uniformity, and promoted the bill to vest in his employer the revenue from wine licences and the Post Office. He probably acted as teller against a proviso on behalf of the haberdashers and vintners’ apprentices, and was sent to the Lords on 23 July to desire a conference. Two days later he attended the King with recommendations from the House for the free transport of horses to the plantations and the preservation of the Forest of Dean.7

Coventry was listed among the court dependants in 1664, and appointed to the committees for the conventicles bill and the additional corporations bill. He took the chair for the bill to prevent the handing over of merchantmen to pirates. He was sent to the Lords on 16 May to desire a conference on the conventicles bill, which he helped to manage. In 1665 he twice acted as teller with his colleague Sir William Doyley in the interests of his constituency to oppose the incorporation of its suburb of Little Yarmouth, and the grateful corporation rewarded him with £25. On 9 Feb. he helped to manage a conference on the supply bill, and four days later he was sent with Sir Maurice Berkeley, Edmund Progers and John Frescheville to thank the King for his constant favours to the Commons. He accompanied the Duke of York on board the fleet during the summer campaign, and after the battle of Lowestoft he was knighted and sworn of the Privy Council, despite Clarendon’s objections to his lack of status. In the Oxford session he helped to prepare the bill attainting English fugitives in the service of the enemy and to present an address for an inquiry into the management of the Chatham chest for disabled seamen and their dependants. He also served on the deputation to present the joint address for the prohibition of French imports, and was nominated to the abortive parliamentary accounts commission. Andrew Marvell regarded him at this time as the virtual leader of the court party in the House. On the death of the Earl of Southampton he was appointed to the treasury board, and supported the proposal of Sir George Downing to strengthen government credit by repaying loans in course. During the brief session of July 1667, he was the only speaker to oppose the motion of (Sir) Thomas Tomkyns for the immediate disbandment of the new-raised forces on the grounds that the peace (which his brother was engaged in negotiating) was not certainly known.8

Before the next session Coventry resigned from the Duke of York’s service ‘that he might be the more free to prosecute the Earl of Clarendon’, and took up residence in a new house in Pall Mall which he bought from (Sir) Thomas Clarges for £1,400. When Parliament met he defended the lord chancellor’s dismissal:

When the Kingdom was in such consternation I made it my request to the King that if I were anyway obnoxious to him or the nation he would remove me; and so thought I did no man injury to let them be exposed to that which I offered myself, thinking none fitting for his service that was not liking to him and his people, and those most proper that the nation most liked.

Coventry’s successive posts in the Admiralty and the Treasury left him wide open to attack for the mismanagement of the war. Indeed he was sometimes credited with advising it, though such a suggestion cannot survive a scrutiny of his own papers. He was among those ordered to bring in a public accounts bill, to report on freedom of speech in Parliament, and to summarize the charges against Clarendon. But, by what he later admitted to be an ‘unfortunate mistake’, he tried to divert the accusation of faulty intelligence in the 1666 campaign, for which he and Bennet (now Lord Arlington) were chiefly responsible, by reading ‘a letter from the Duke of Albemarle [George Monck] touching the good condition of all things at Chatham just before the Dutch came up and did that fatal mischief’. Albemarle’s dogged courage in the Four Days’ battle, though hard to justify in terms of the losses sustained, had raised him above criticism, and his friends in the House now joined with the Clarendonians against Coventry. He was sent with Lord Ancram (Charles Kerr), Sir Robert Brooke and Sir Philip Musgrave to ask the Duke of York what orders had been given for the fortification of Sheerness; but he was by now so alarmed about his own position that he absented himself from the debates on Clarendon, much to the King’s displeasure. To his friend and admirer Samuel Pepys he said: ‘I have done my do in helping to get him out of the administration of things for which he is not fit; but for his life or estate, I will have nothing to say to it’. According to Marvell, who failed to perceive the delicacy of Coventry’s position both at Court and in the House in this session, he ‘miscarried far against his expectation in the bill he offered for the repair of Yarmouth pier’. But after the Christmas recess he ‘gave good satisfaction to the House’ over the failure to recall Rupert in time to assist Albemarle at the start of the Four Days’ battle, and an attempt by Sir Richard Temple and Sir Frescheville Holles to reopen the inquiry into the sale of offices in the navy came to nothing. Coventry had prudently surrendered his claim to gratuities in return for a pension of £500 p.a., and this arrangement continued under his successor, Matthew Wren. He was named to the committees to prevent the refusal of habeas corpus and to appropriate the wine-tax to the navy.9

The King disliked Coventry as a ‘visionaire’ and a melancholy man, and was only awaiting an excuse to dismiss him. This was afforded by the Duke of Buckingham, who caricatured Coventry as ‘Sir Cautious Trouble-all’ in his play The Country Gentleman; Coventry sent a challenge to his fellow Privy Councillor, and was removed from all his offices. Despite frequent reports to the contrary, he was never employed again. Nevertheless Sir Thomas Osborne still for a time included him among those who might be engaged for the Court by the Duke of York. As a private Member he took the chair for two naturalization bills, and was named to several committees in 1669-71 concerned with conventicles, the growth of Popery, and illegal imprisonment. Although his standing in the House must have been second to none, he was twice defeated in divisions on the revived Yarmouth pier bill; but on 4 Apr. 1670 he reported reasons for disagreeing with a Lords proviso on behalf of Norwich, and was sent to request a conference. His warning to the Commons against usurping the judicial powers of the Lords persuaded them to drop their attempt to punish the dissenter Jekyll. He was at one with his brother in urging the House to enable the King to repay William of Orange, and not to make the assault on his nephew Sir John Coventry an excuse for deferring supply, though he himself drafted the bill to punish the culprits. When the Lords sought to reduce the sugar duties Coventry helped to manage one conference and to prepare reasons for another. During the recess that followed he sold his town house to Nell Gwyn and went to live in Oxfordshire as a country gentleman.10

Coventry remained on the best of terms with his brother, despite the divergence in their politics, and in January 1673 his nephew Thomas Thynne II wrote to assure him that the Court wished for his attendance in the next session. Nevertheless he proposed the motion of 10 Feb. ‘that the laws for uniformity of the Church of England cannot be suspended but by Act of Parliament’, and helped to draw up both addresses to this effect. On 21 Feb. he introduced a bill to enable young people to be apprenticed to gentlemen as cooks and gardeners. He steered the bill through committee, and it was ordered to be engrossed ten days later, but never reached the statute book. As one of the committee that brought in a bill of ease for dissenters, he opposed an amendment disqualifying them from sitting in the Commons, asking whether it was intended to imitate the Rump ‘by narrowing their party and garbling the Parliament with oaths and tests’. Nevertheless, he helped to manage a conference on the growth of Popery and served on the committee that produced the test bill, which he supported in debate. Fearing an outright attack on the ministry, he left Westminster before the end of the session, and found himself, to use his own expression, ‘out with all sides’. Nevertheless Sir William Temple seems to have regarded him as the leader of the most radical opposition group in the Commons in the autumn session, including William Garway, Robert Thomas, William Sacheverell, the Hon. William Russell, and William Cavendish, Lord Cavendish. This party, he wrote,

would run up to the height and fall upon the ministers, especially Buckingham, Arlington and Lauderdale, and their carriage, particularly in the business of the war, so as absolutely to break all the present set both of men and business at Court and bring some of themselves in their room.

He thought Coventry would be ‘very busy this session, but his carriage in the last and extreme ambition, so generally believed, has lost him a good deal of credit in the House of Commons’. When Parliament met, he spoke against the Modena marriage and helped to draw up the address. He was among those directed ‘to show how this standing army is a grievance’, and his speech on supply obliged the Court to accept a conditional offer as the best they could hope to get. When a bill was proposed in the next session to withhold the franchise from Papists and nonconformists, Coventry objected that Convocation would become the arbiters of election, since they alone could decide what conformity entailed. He supported addresses for the removal of the surviving ministers of the Cabal from the King’s counsels in 1674, but would go no further, opposing proposals to expel Lauderdale from the country, to cancel Buckingham’s patent as master of the horse, and to impeach Arlington. ‘It was never a good time when the subject has been for breaking and infringing pardons’. He was given special responsibility for devising a general test. On the war with Holland he perceived that ‘it is our interest to have peace before our neighbours, if we can’; but he pointed out that ‘we are wholly in the dark as to the affairs of Christendom, since few of us have the means of knowing how intelligence and reasons of state are abroad’. He helped to draw up the address for peace, took the chair in the committee to prepare reasons, and reported a conference with the Lords. He defended Pepys against charges of Popery, and as chairman of the small committee of inquiry insisted that the accused should be present when they interrogated Shaftesbury, from whom the reports had been found to emanate. The humiliated intriguer gave out that Coventry was aiming at recall to office, and he was indeed received at Court in August for the first time since his dismissal, when he found the Duke of York considerably more cordial than the Kings.11

When Burnet first became acquainted with English politics in 1675 he recognized that

Sir William Coventry had the greatest credit of any man in the House. He never meddled personally with any minister; he had a perfect understanding of affairs. So he laid open the affairs of government with the more authority, because he mixed no passion or private resentments with it. His brother, the secretary [of state], usually answered him with much life in a repartee, but not with the weight and force with which he spoke.

In the spring session he spoke in favour of impeaching Lauderdale, and helped to draft the address for his removal. He was reluctant to admit claims of privilege by spendthrifts like Sir John Pretyman; ‘this may tend to sending hither the most unfit men in England’. He had long outgrown his youthful cynicism and become a very religious man, believing that ‘our Church has preserved more decency of ceremonies than any church whatsoever’. He disliked the proposal for a register of Papists, but was named to the committee to draw up a bill. On 22 Apr. he brought in a place bill that anticipated the Act of 1707 in requiring Members to seek re-election when appointed to offices of profit under the crown. He was reported as arguing that such a measure was essential because

at the beginning of this Parliament there were but about forty pensioners to the Court by offices, places, etc., and that now there were about 200, and he feared that, except this or a like bill did pass, or this Parliament [were] dissolved and the Triennial [Act] revived, we should shortly be at the French lock, that an edict from the King would pass here for an Act of Parliament.

The second reading was carried in a thin House, with Marvell and Sir Nicholas Carew acting as tellers, but the bill was rejected a week later by 145 votes to 113. While admitting that the patent granted to Richard Kent as cashier of excise provided no grounds for impeaching the lord treasurer, Coventry complained that:

The end of this patent is that trick of making new credit for the King. ... The anticipation of the King’s revenue, and the facility of it, [is] an inducement to spend more than the revenue, and to entrap men by such securities is the ruin of themselves, wives, and children.

He was among those ordered on 14 May to draw up a further address for the recall of British subjects from the French service, and five days later to consider an appropriation bill. He described himself as ‘of the coolest side’ in the dispute between the Houses over the Lords’ jurisdiction, though he helped to manage or to prepare reasons for the principal conferences. In the autumn session he was named to the committee on the bill for preventing Papists from sitting in either House of Parliament. The debate on the naval programme was almost monopolized by ‘the two professors’, Pepys and Coventry, the House eventually accepting the latter’s recommendation of a total grant of £300,000. Costs, he considered, could be reduced by encouraging a native sailcloth industry, and he was given leave, with John Birch, to bring in a bill for this purpose. He complained of the arbitrary conduct as Speaker of Edward Seymour, who retaliated (in his capacity as treasurer of the navy) by alleging that the ‘vermin’ to whom Coventry had ‘sold’ office had not yet been weeded out, and were costing the taxpayer dear. He took the chair in the committee to draw up reasons for avoiding a revival of the dispute with the Upper House, and was sent to desire a conference.12

When Parliament met in 1677 Coventry was eager to debate the constitutional issue whether the long recess entailed an automatic dissolution, and Shaftesbury originally marked him ‘worthy’. He opposed the doubling of the estimates to provide for an expansion of the naval programme from 20 to 30 ships, pointing out that his constituents were likely to be better informed over such matters than Seymour’s. He was named to the committees for the recall bill, the prevention of illegal exactions, and habeas corpus. It was probably his efforts to convince the House of the overwhelming gravity of the international situation that prompted Shaftesbury to alter his rating to ‘vile’. He opened the debate on grievances on 6 Mar. with the chilling injunction:

Consider the posture we are in with respect to France, the greatest grievance that can be to the nation. In respect of France and Popery, all other things are but trifles. Popery may be here without France, but ’tis impossible that France should be here without Popery. Four or five years since we had the notion of France’s greatness, but we see the thing not better. ... He alone [Louis XIV] can contend with all Europe. ... The end and purpose of France’s conquests is not for trade. The whole bent of France (a stirring people) is to consider what next thing he’ll undertake if he get rest again. Having almost swallowed Flanders, will he not begin again? ... If once France gets peace, nothing is so feasible and practicable as [an attack on] England.

He was the first Member named to the committee to draft an address for an alliance against France. On 11 Apr. he carried up the Yarmouth pier bill, and was among those appointed to manage a conference on the naval programme. He helped to draw up the address promising an immediate credit of £200,000, and reported another asking for a short adjournment, so that further supply could be debated in a full House.13

Coventry was still a hawk during the earlier sessions of 1678. On 29 Jan., in one of his longest and most effective speeches, he was reported as showing

the great inconvenience of raising a land army, the danger that might follow on it, the little use that could be made of it, the great charge it must put the nation to. He was for hiring bodies from the German princes, and for assisting the Dutch with money; and he moved to recall our troops from France, and to employ them in the Dutch service. He thought that which did more properly belong to England, was to set out a great fleet, and to cut off the French trade everywhere.

He was the first Member named to the committee to draw up an address for reducing France to her 1659 frontiers, and on 30 Apr. he was among those ordered to summarize the alliances communicated to the House by (Sir) Joseph Williamson. Almost alone in the Commons, he remained undaunted by the increasing war-weariness among the confederate powers:

Does any man know why the States of Holland draw out of the war? Not that they like the peace, but from their inability to support so vast a charge with so little help; and perhaps they are jealous of the Prince of Orange’s power amongst them. ... If that jealousy of Holland be of the Prince, some means must be thought of to remove that jealousy. If indeed the States cannot carry on the war on account of their poverty and inability, I am sorry we must stretch our purses; but rather than leave them out we must do it. ... I am of opinion that the French King has a weak side, and, if the war be held on a while, that weak side would be seen. He has, we see, quitted Sicily; and there’s some defect surely, and he hastens his project of peace at Nymwegen. ... As soon as the confederacy is dissolved, France has you at his mercy. Let no man think the confederacy can be raised again when once dissolved. It would be the most joyful thing to all the princes of the Continent for the King of France to employ his arms upon an attempt against England; they then may breathe awhile. The danger is so near us, and so irresistible, because we have so few friends. I could wish we had clearer lights in this matter; but yet we had better go into a war than be swallowed up by a peace.

In the debate on councillors of 10 May, he declared that ‘there was not a cobbler in the street but could have told what would save England’. Later in the month he spoke for disbanding the army, observing: ‘I cannot come up now to matter of war, though formerly I was as much for it as any man’. He agreed with his brother against some of the more impractical Members of the Opposition that a further supply would be required to pay off the new-raised forces, despite the ‘fears and jealousies ... that the pretence of a truce from time to time would be still an occasion of keeping up the army’. On 18 June he moved for an inquiry into corruption of Members. Two days later he attended a conference to hear a dispatch from Nymwegen about a hitch in the negotiations, and on 22 June he helped to draw up an expedient to be offered to the Lords over their proviso to the disbandment bill.14

It was probably Coleman’s letters, confirming his belief that Popish intrigues were based on French support, that persuaded Coventry to give credence to the Popish Plot. He proclaimed himself an enemy to the Roman Catholics ‘not because they are erroneous in religion, but because their principles are destructive to the government where I live’. In the final session of the Cavalier Parliament he helped to draw up seven addresses, including that for the continued imprisonment of his brother’s colleague, (Sir) Joseph Williamson, whose casual attitude to the signing of commissions for Roman Catholic officers he condemned. On 19 Nov. he reported an address for the offer of rewards to encourage further information on plots to assassinate the King. Prejudiced, as he admitted, by his obligations to the Duke of York, he supported the Lords’ proviso to exempt his former patron from the bill excluding all Papists from both Houses of Parliament. He asked the House to bear in mind the duke’s services to the navy, and his concurrence in the marriage of his daughter to the Prince of Orange. The proviso was carried by two votes, and Coventry was among those instructed to prepare for a conference on two less important provisos concerning the servants of the Queen and the duchess. Another address that he had helped to draft was for calling out the militia, and he was dismayed by the King’s rejection of the militia bill. ‘The most considerable and the most remarkable man’ in the Commons, according to Daniel Finch, he left Westminster ‘on purpose that he might be turned out of the House’ for not taking the oaths in the bill against Papists. But he was recalled in time to hear of the attempt by the Government to seize the diplomatic papers of Ralph Montagu, which he considered a most sinister move. After they had been read to the Commons he was among those appointed to draw up Danby’s impeachment.15

Coventry was reluctant to stand again, but the corporation of Yarmouth would not be ‘prevailed with to part with him’, and he was returned to the first Exclusion Parliament without attending the election. Shaftesbury apparently believed that he was also a candidate for Oxfordshire. Temple, who had been out of England for the greater part of Danby’s administration, considered that at this period

Sir William Coventry had the most credit of any man in the House of Commons, and, I think, the most deservedly, not only for his great abilities, but for having been turned out of the Council and Treasury to make way for my Lord Clifford’s greatness and the designs of the Cabal. He had been ever since opposite to the French alliances, and bent upon engaging England in a war with that crown and [with the] assistance of the confederates, and now extremely dissatisfied with the conclusion of the peace, and with the ministry that he thought either assisted, or at least might have prevented it; and in these dispositions he was like to be followed by the best and soberest part of the House of Commons.

Sobriety, however, was not much in evidence in this Parliament, and Shaftesbury classed him as ‘vile’. An active Member, he delivered 26 speeches, and was named to 23 committees, including those to draw up the addresses remonstrating against Danby’s pardon, and demanding a proclamation for his apprehension. He also helped to manage a conference on the attainder bill, and to examine the disbandment accounts. When the Lords sent down a bill ‘for the better discovery and more speedy conviction of Popish recusants’, he was named to the committee, and defended it in debate against those who considered it too lenient as a bill with ‘a very good title ... and a good aim’. When Oates accused (Sir) John Robinson I of threatening to rack a prisoner, Coventry brought a message from his brother, who was too ill to attend, undertaking to secure the King’s permission to inform the House more fully; and he was appointed to the committee to inquire into Robinson’s alleged miscarriages. He helped to draw up the bill prolonging the ban on cattle imports, although he was dubious of its merits:

Gentlemen are to consider the general and universal good, which must take place of the more particular good. ... As to the common people, there is no comparison who receives advantage or disadvantage by it. It is plain, if Irish cattle be kept out, it makes flesh dearer.

In the debate on the militia he reminded the House of the French King’s appetite for glory; ‘and nothing will fill his sails with more glory ... like the accession of such a spot of ground as this to the Catholic religion’. He helped to draw up reasons for asserting the illegality of Danby’s pardon, though he does not seem to have been convinced of it himself, and he boldly resisted the demand of the extremists that the fallen statesman should be denied counsel to plead for him. On 11 May he reported a conference on the trial of the lords in the Tower, whose prolonged imprisonment he contrasted with the professed zeal of the House for habeas corpus. According to (Sir) Allen Brodrick Coventry ‘very dexterously’ foreclosed the republican position before the main debate on exclusion, in which he said:

I hope the whole carriage of my life will make me need no apology for myself as to my sincerity for the Protestant religion ... Whenever it comes to pass that the Duke shall be disinherited, and they in Scotland set him up for a king whom you acknowledge not, they will set up such a thorn in your sides, by the help of France, that you will never be able to get it out; and how France has formerly played that game we all know ... Let us not throw another strength into the King of France’s hand by making the Duke desperate.

Like his brother, he voted against the commitment of the bill, and he warned the House against accepting the evidence of his former butler against Pepys.16

It is hardly surprising that Coventry could not be persuaded to stand again in the autumn, and finally retired from public life. He died ‘calmly and piously’ at Tunbridge Wells, where he had gone to take the waters, 23 June 1686, and was buried at Penshurst. During his lifetime he had given £2,000 for the redemption of slaves, to which he added £3,000 in his will and another £2,000 for the relief of Huguenot refugees. His epitaph describes him as

energetic, sagacious and indefatigable in business, far-sighted, steadfast and fearless in war and conflict. In the Privy Council and in Parliament his singular wisdom and keenness of intelligence were admirable and conspicuous; and, what is very difficult in times of variance, he was most careful in all his offices to combine the loyalty due to his prince with zeal for his country’s safety. A pious adherent of the reformed religion and its strenuous and successful champion, the ornament of his own age and an example for ages to come, ... he redeemed many prisoners and succoured the needy.17

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


This biography is based on D. T. Witcome, ‘Parl . Careers of Sir William and Mr Henry Coventry’ (Oxf. Univ. B. Litt. thesis, 1954).

  • 1. Lysons, Environs, iii. 155; Evelyn Diary, ii. 564.
  • 2. Clarendon, Life, ii. 201.
  • 3. Peppys Diary, 22 May 1660, 27 Oct. 1662, 2 Sept. 1667, 6 Mar. 1669.
  • 4. Yarmouth Freemen, 92; R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 357, 359; Sel. Charters (Selden Soc. xxviii), 173, 183.
  • 5. Nicholas Pprs. (Cam. Soc. xl), 208, 297, 309; Cal. Cl. SP, ii. 138; iv. 593; Thurloe, iv. 598; CSP Dom. 1655-6, p. 228; Camb. Hist. Jnl. xii. 111-12.
  • 6. Cal. Cl. SP, iv. 611; Clarendon, Life, ii. 104, 202; CJ, viii. 341, 355, 395, 420, 428; Reymes diary, 28 Jan. 1662.
  • 7. Pepys Naval Mins. (Navy Rec. Soc. 1x), 400, Bodl. Carte 47, f. 403; Pepys Diary, 12 Oct. 1663; Clarendon, ii. 203; HMC Le Fleming, 225; Camb. Hist. Cal. xii. 114-15; CJ, viii. 518.
  • 8. CJ, viii. 549, 564, 623, 644, 661; C. J. Palmer, Hist. Yarmouth, 214; Clarendon, ii. 460, iii. 11; Marvell ed. Margoliouth, i. 146; Milward, 83.
  • 9. Clarke, Jas. II, i. 431; Savile Corresp. (Cam. Soc. 1xxi), 20; Add. 35865, f. 10v; Camb. Hist. Jnl. xii. 113; P. Fraser, Intell. of Secs. of State, 79-80; Pepys Diary, 28 Oct. 1667; CJ, ix. 18, 107, 140; Marvell, ii. 248.
  • 10. Pepys Diary, 7 Dec. 1668, 6 Mar. 1669; CJ, ix. 119, 140, 146, 153, 233; Dering, 11, 28; Survey of London, xxix. 377; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxii), 103.
  • 11. Bath mss, Thynne pprs. 16, ff. 53-54, 104-5; E. C. Legh, Lady Newton, Lyme Letters, 52; Dering, 126; Essex Pprs. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xlvii), 131; Grey, ii. 223, 243, 267, 321, 356; CJ, ix. 259, 260, 263, 300, 307, 309; Williamson Letters (Cam. Soc. n.s. ix), 69; Foxcroft, Halifax, i. 113.
  • 12. Burnet, i. 479; ii. 89-90; Grey, iii. 13, 16, 63, 72-73, 264, 320, 397-8, 407, 410-11, 416; CJ, ix. 320, 321, 344, 352, 371, 380; Dering Pprs. 65, 68; HMC 7th Rep. 492.
  • 13. Grey, iv. 93, 130, 188-9; Burnet, ii. 124.
  • 14. Burnet, ii. 133; Grey, v. 18-22, 299-300, 325, 377; vi. 13, 70, 103-4.
  • 15. Grey, vi. 235-6, 249, 301, 330, 344, 391; Finch diary, 19 Nov., 11 Dec. 1678.
  • 16. Foxcroft, i. 141; Courtenay, Temple Mems. ii. 27; CJ, ix. 584, 587, 592; HMC Ormonde, n.s. v. 95; Grey, vii. 66, 102-3, 107-8, 207, 256-8, 295.
  • 17. Works of Sir Thomas Browne ed. Wilkin, i. 257-8; Foxcroft, i. 465; Ellis Corresp. i. 131, 136; PCC 92 Lloyd; Reg. Roff. 918.