COPLEY, Sir Godfrey, 2nd Bt. (c.1653-1709), of Sprotborough, Yorks. and Red Lion Square, London

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



15 May 1679 - Mar. 1681
1695 - 9 Apr. 1709

Family and Education

b. c.1653, 1st s. of Sir Godfrey Copley, 1st Bt., of Sprotborough by his 1st w. Eleanor, da. of Sir Thomas Walmesley† of Dunkenhalgh, Lancs.  educ. L. Inn 1674; I. Temple 1681.  m. (1) lic. 15 Oct. 1681, Catherine, da. and coh. of John Purcell† of Nantribba, Mont., 3s. d.v.p. 3da. (2 d.v.p.); (2) settlement 31 May 1700, Gertrude, da. of Sir John Carew, 3rd Bt.*, s.psuc. fa. as 2nd Bt. Feb. 1678.1

Offices Held

Sheriff, Yorks. Feb.–Nov. 1678.

FRS 1691–d.2

Commr. taking subscriptions to land bank 1696, public accts. 1702–4.3

Commr. Aire and Calder navigation 1699.4

Comptroller of army accts. Apr. 1704–d.5


Copley, described as ‘ingenious’, ‘worthy’ and a man who ‘judged very well of the interest of his own estate and his country’, was a keen and active member of the Royal Society from 1691 onwards, serving on the Society’s council on several occasions. His interest in science and antiquities was accommodated by healthy finances and a good estate in Yorkshire. When in London, besides attending to Society matters, Copley regularly frequented taverns such as the Thatched House, the Vine, and the Grecian, acquiring in the process a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, including political figures such as Robert Harley* and men of letters such as Dr Hans Sloane, Ralph Thoresby and John Toland. Copley’s political stance, which was that of a prominent Country Tory back-bencher, was concomitant with the mixed views of his associates. Copley’s earlier parliamentary career had been short-lived and mostly uneventful, though a contested election for Aldborough in 1679 had resulted in rumours being spread by his opponent that he was a Roman Catholic. Although the rumours were unfounded, his connexion with Catholic interests in Lancashire, through his maternal grandfather, remained significant on his return to politics. Having been defeated at Pontefract in 1690, in the 1695 election Copley chose not to stand at Aldborough where he retained an interest, and initially considered standing in Clitheroe, as the Earl of Derby, a ‘friend’, was prepared to propose him as a colleague to Ambrose Pudsay*. Derby thought Copley a good candidate because ‘Mr Walmesley and Mr Townley and all the popish gentlemen’s interest he will probably have, because they are his relations, so that if . . . he resolves to spend a great deal of monies, in all likelihood he may carry it’. Copley supposedly only wanted to stand in order ‘to keep out a worse’ candidate, and to serve ‘his country and his Church’. However, he did not contest the seat, and was returned instead for Thirsk, seemingly on the interest of Ralph Bell*.6

Copley was active in the Commons from the outset. On 29 Dec. 1695 he wrote:

I confess my attendance on the House has in a manner taken up all my time, and yet I think it is but a slender excuse for a man’s not writing to his friend, especially since we are scarce able to talk of much service we have done our country as yet . . . I wish our public affairs go on well. We stand great need of management and good husbandry, great sums are to be paid and I doubt the money is very hard to be found.

His involvement in business relating to coinage and public revenue continued during the rest of the session. On 23 Jan. 1696 he was appointed to a committee concerned with the shortages of halfpennies and farthings. His heavy workload and concern over money matters were evident when he wrote on 15 Feb.:

I have had such a cold with sitting up at committees of elections till one and two in the morning that I have been forced to bleed twice to save me from the honour of dying in my country’s service. I am as apprehensive as anybody can be of the want of money in the country, and of the vast mischiefs and ill consequences of the high value of guineas. We have laboured as for life, to have had Mints in the country, and cannot obtain it as yet. That very thing alone would cure both evils and all the ill consequences depending thereon, but we are overpowered by the traders in money and guineas and those who send out silver and import gold, who are afraid they shall not cheat the nation six months longer.

Copley demonstrated a certain flexibility in his political stance, and, despite having been forecast as likely to oppose the Court on 31 Jan. over the proposed council of trade, in a debate in committee on 17 Feb. it appeared that he and several other back-benchers were prepared to support the Court on the issue of the value of guineas, and ‘were now ready to alter their earlier votes for a 28s. ceiling’. The following day he was appointed to inquire into the number of guineas coined at the Mint the previous year. When the coinage issue came to a head on 26 Mar., he told against fixing the price of guineas at 24s. However, despite his activity in relation to coinage, he was not listed as voting on the motion for fixing the price at 22s. He was one of the majority of MPs who signed the Association promptly. He also told for a motion that the right of election at Dunwich was in non-resident as well as resident freemen (12 Feb.), thereby favouring the Whig candidate in the borough.7

Prior to the 1696–7 session Copley was still expressing concern over the money matters raised in the previous session, and the failure of the land bank, writing on 4 June:

I have been endeavouring to serve some of my friends in the country in helping [?them] of [?off] with clipped money, but we have been in expectation of a new bank which I think comes to nothing and so disappoints us, and the goldsmiths are in such favour that they are admitted to fill up the funds by their knavish subscriptions and by that means cheat poor country gentlemen according to their old prescription time out of mind.

When Parliament reconvened, Copley was prominent among the opposition to the Court-sponsored bill of attainder against Sir John Fenwick†. On 16 Nov. he warned of the consequences of dispensing with the legal requirement of evidence from two witnesses, by allowing a written testimony instead:

Some have said, that it should be read as evidence. Some others are for reading of this paper, but yet at the same time tell us, it is not to be looked upon as evidence, at least not equivalent to a witness. If the paper be . . . read at all, I would know for what reason? If it be to have any sway upon our judgment, if it hath any effect upon my judgment, then in some measure it is equivalent to a witness, when it is in the nature of a witness. And if it should be read to supply the defect of a witness, then I would know, what the consequence of this might be? I do very well understand, that the court of Parliament does take no precedent from Westminster Hall, nor am I afraid of any precedent they should give to Westminster Hall. But I am afraid of a precedent to future Parliaments. Suppose the information of . . . Fenwick, that has been delivered in here, should be produced as evidence against any of those honourable persons that are charged in it, though I believe they are very innocent, and some knaves and rascals in future reigns should come in against them, and this paper should be brought to supply another witness, what a consequence would that be!

He again emphasized the danger of setting precedents in a later contribution to the debate:

I must confess, it would weigh with me, if it had been made appear, that . . . Fenwick had taken off any evidence, and I should be ready to apply it as well as I could. But I must needs take notice of what was said in this debate, that we had done as much as this comes to already. This makes me a little more apprehensive, and to take care what we do now, since what this House does hath so quick an operation. We are citing precedents of this very day already, and make one thing a hand to draw on another. And so they may easily be made use of in after Parliaments.

On 25 Nov. he rejoined the debate in a long and impassioned speech, which detailed his objections to the proceedings. He pointed out that there was ‘something in duty incumbent upon every man, especially upon me, who can’t concur with the general sense of the House, to give my reasons for my disagreement’. While many speakers had said ‘they would not speak as to the power of Parliaments, yet the greatest part of their arguments have touched upon your method of proceedings, and to show you how they interfere with the rules of Westminster Hall; so great is the force of custom and education’. He went on to point out that ‘it is the custom of our nation, to have two positive witnesses to prove treason’, but acknowledged that this rule was alterable, as Parliament had the ‘power to abrogate all laws that they have passed, if they think good’. However, this did not mean that they could ignore ‘the eternal rules of equity, and justice, and right reason, and conscience’ which were unalterable, and needed to be considered in relation to Parliament’s proceedings:

it is a rule agreeable to what I speak of, that no man shall be accused by he knows not whom, and that no man shall be accused, but that the evidence against him, and he, should be confronted, and brought face to face. I am one of those that believe . . . Fenwick to be guilty, and there is clear proof of it by one witness, and you have added to this an indictment that is found. But I must needs own, that I think that to be so far from giving any addition or strength to the evidence, that when that is brought in, I look upon the scales to be lighter than they were before. For if any record or writing that is sworn to behind a man’s back, shall be brought here to supply another part of the evidence (and if not so, why is it brought here?), and if that be to be interpreted to make up a part of the evidence, I do, by parallel reason, argue, that the like may make up the whole at one time or another.

He then stated that he wished the case had never come before the House, and proceeded to argue that Fenwick was no threat to King or government while he was in prison, though the proceedings in Parliament were dangerous ‘for the nation in general, and for our posterity’. He did not argue for Fenwick’s life, as he did not think it worthy of ‘a debate in this House, nor the consideration of so great an assembly; but I do say, if this method of proceeding be warranted by an English Parliament, there is an end to the defence of any man living, be he never so innocent’. His final endeavour was to remark that it had been ‘mentioned on the other side’ that

King James attainted a great number of persons in a catalogue, in a lump . . . I am not afraid of what arbitrary princes do, nor an Irish parliament. But I am afraid of what shall be done here. I am concerned for the honour of your proceedings, that it may not be a precedent to a future Parliament in an ill reign.

Following a rejoinder from Lord Cutts (John) over the ‘small value’ Copley put on Fenwick’s life, he explained that his intention was to point out that Fenwick, ‘considered in his single capacity’, was not worth ‘the whole of this House to act in their legislative capacity upon him’. In keeping with the sentiments expressed in his speeches, Copley voted against the attainder, and on 28 Jan. 1697 attended Fenwick to the scaffold. On 7 Nov. 1696 he told for a motion that the Bank of England lay its accounts before the House, while on the 9th he was nominated to examine abuses by receivers-general in paying more clipped coin into the Treasury than they actually received from the collectors. On the 30th he was appointed to prepare reasons for disagreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the bill to remedy further the ill state of the coinage. These financial interests continued in the new year, with his appointment on 14 Jan. 1697 to a committee for drafting a clause or clauses for better explaining the recoinage Acts, and to inquire into any miscarriages by patent officers at the Mint. On 26 Jan. he told against a motion to pass the amended supply (land tax, subsidy and duties) bill, while on 13 Feb. he was nominated to a committee of inquiry into the abuses of Exchequer officers and receivers of taxes.8

In the 1697–8 session Copley’s attention shifted to local issues, and the economic interests of his county. On 30 Dec. 1697 he was given leave to bring in a bill for making the Don navigable. On 1 Jan. 1698 he wrote to his regular correspondent, Thomas Kirke, informing him that

I find by a letter I received from Leeds that the same is intended for their river [Aire and Calder]. I pray tell them I will do them all the service I can, but I desire you would show them the list of Members of Parliament and they would consider what friends they can make, be they of what county they will, and that they would not fail to write to any of their correspondents in town that are well acquainted with Members to solicit for them. I will engage all that are for our river to be for both, but here is Mr Lister of Bautree [Bawtry] solicits as it were for his life.

Copley presented the bill on 21 Jan., though its passage was disrupted by petitions from Doncaster, both for and against, and by the influence of Lister. Despite Copley’s efforts to lobby support, the bill was thrown out on 1 Feb., on which occasion he told for the bill’s committal. By March his attention had turned to the bill for punishing (Sir) Charles Duncombe* for making false endorsements of Exchequer bills. On 3 Mar. he reported to Kirke that ‘the Lords are to be upon Duncombe tomorrow and if they throw out the bill I shall not wonder. They sent down a bill against blasphemy, atheism and profaneness, but it is so crude and indigested that there never was a bill of less goodness with so pious a title.’9

Copley was returned again for Thirsk in 1698, though he was unsuccessful in using his interest to get his close friend Cyril Arthington* returned for Aldborough. His involvement in the Aldborough election may have been the cause of his intention of delaying his journey to London until after the 1698–9 session opened. Robert Molesworth* tried to convince him otherwise, writing on 1 Nov. to hasten his friend up to London, and again on 10 Nov., having heard of Copley’s intention of deferring his journey to London until 10 Dec:

I hope when you consider that the Parliament certainly meets on the 29th instant and that perhaps there will be the greatest struggle that ever was known about the choice of a Speaker, that you will not only take [?post] to be here before that day . . . but also that you will encourage all the Members of Parliament that are within your call to accompany you. The Court persist strongly in their standing for Sir Thomas Littleton [3rd Bt.], and perhaps through the negligence of the country gentlemen will carry it. If they do, assure yourself nothing will be able to stand before them.

Although it is unclear whether Copley attended the House when Littleton was elected Speaker on 6 Dec., Molesworth’s correspondence was in keeping with the fact that Copley was listed as a Country supporter in a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments. Copley appears to have been inactive in December, though on the 28th he received a letter from Leeds recalling his support in the previous Parliament for the Aire and Calder navigation, to which he gave ‘very great encouragement’, and requesting his assistance for a petition for a second bill. However, Copley became more active in the new year, becoming involved in the standing army issue, and again in matters of public finance. In late 1698 he had been forecast as likely to oppose a standing army, and was not recorded among the MPs who voted against the disbanding bill. As part of the preparations for disbandment he was appointed to a committee on 17 Jan. 1699 to prepare a bill to allow discharged soldiers to exercise trades in cities and corporations. In keeping with his opposition to a standing army, on 18 Mar. Copley was nominated to the committee of address against the Dutch guards remaining in England. On the 19th Hon. James Brydges* recorded in his diary that Copley met with various Members at Sir Richard Onslow’s, including Sir Christopher Musgrave, 4th Bt., and Sir John Leveson-Gower, 5th Bt., ‘about drawing up the address’. On the 20th Copley told against recommitting the resultant address. On 6 Apr. he presented the bill for allowing disbanded soldiers to carry on trades, which he managed through all its stages in the House. Another issue in which Copley identified himself with the Country party concerned the legality of revenue officials sitting in Parliament, and in mid-February he chaired and reported from a committee appointed to scrutinize returns of revenue officials which the House had called for. Copley also continued to figure in the considerations on coinage. On 15 Feb. he chaired the committee of the whole to consider the price of gold and silver, which sat twice that day. The following day he reported that it was the committee’s opinion that no person was obliged, by the two recent coinage acts, to take guineas at 22s. Although not appointed to the committee of 14 Mar. for preparing a bill for a commission of accounts, Copley was deeply involved in the behind-the-scenes activity of the Country interest in preparing this bill. On 17 Mar. Brydges, a member of the committee, recorded in his diary that he dined with Harley, Gervase Pierrepont* and Copley, ‘upon account of bringing in the bill for the commission of accounts’. On the 20th Brydges met Copley and Pierrepont again, in order to draw up the bill. Having dined together on the 22nd, Copley and Brydges went to Pierrepont’s on the 25th to meet Sir Bartholomew Shower* and Lord Cheyne (William*), the third and final member of the committee, who both agreed on the bill. He was also active on other issues, telling on 7 Feb. for (Sir) Thomas Lee* (2nd Bt.) not being duly elected for Aylesbury, and on 9 Mar. against rejecting the East India Company bill.10

In the 1699–1700 session Copley was as active as ever in relation to the public revenue, and as part of the Country interest. He was nominated on 15 Dec. to the committee for drafting the bill to apply the Irish forfeitures to public use. On 12 Jan. 1700 he told against referring the report on the state of the fleet to a committee of the whole. The next day Brydges noted that he had gone with Copley to the Goat, where they stayed till 11 o’clock ‘concerting about Lord Ranelagh’s [Richard Jones*] accounts’. On the 26th Copley had further discussions about Ranelagh’s accounts with Brydges. He also spoke in favour of putting to a vote Brydges’ convoluted resolution of 13 Feb. about the obtaining of land grants by government officials, which was ostensibly related to the Commons’ earlier resolutions on the Irish forfeitures, but was in reality a thinly veiled attack on Lord Chancellor Somers (Sir John*). Copley’s active participation in the preparation of the Irish forfeitures bill, and his consistent attitude to placemen, was demonstrated on 18 Mar. when he told for including a clause in the forfeitures bill for preventing Members from serving on the excise commission. On the 22nd he again acted as a teller for a clause to be included in the forfeitures bill for protecting the grant bestowed on the children of Sir Charles Porter*. Copley’s abilities in the area of public finance became more apparent on the 25th, when he was made chairman of the committee of the whole on the bill appointing commissioners of accounts. He reported these proceedings on the 27th, and joined in the ensuing debate to agree that the commissioners should be paid. With the bill for appointing commissioners of accounts approaching completion, Copley went with Brydges on 4 Apr. to the Vine tavern, where they ‘met several Members and agreed upon a list for commissioners for the accounts’. The next day Copley was appointed to scrutinize the ballot to choose public accounts commissioners, while on 6 Apr. he carried the bill up to the Lords. Copley was also kept busy during the session dealing with other issues. He had a particular interest, of a more personal nature, in the passage of a private bill for confirming the sale of Thomas Barlow’s lands in Yorkshire, as his cousin Lionel Copley was involved in purchasing the lands. On 20 Jan. 1700 he informed Lionel that ‘the bill hath passed the House of Peers and is come down to us, and I have moved for a day for the first reading’. He subsequently managed the bill through the House, while keeping his cousin informed of its progress. Thus on the 29th he wrote

I could never yet have an opportunity to report the bill, but it wanting now nothing at all but one reading I think it is out [of] danger quite. As for the amendments which you mention, you stood in no need of them, for they will not suffer any private bill to create new settlements, but this bill doth supply the want of good title in Mr Barlow when he conveyed to you, [and] secures you against all in remainder after him, which is as much as any private bill doth . . . I hope to get the bill reported next week.

Copley was true to his word, and on 4 Mar. reported on the bill to the House, carrying it to the Lords on the 30th. He reported on 23 Mar. from a committee for inquiring into precedents for Members returned to multiple constituencies. An analysis of the House into interests classed Copley at this time as a follower of the Duke of Leeds (Sir Thomas Osborne†).11

Copley was returned once again for Thirsk in January 1701, and also succeeded in securing Arthington’s return for Aldborough. Probably in keeping with the changing face of the Court party, Copley was forecast in February as likely to support the Court in agreeing with the supply committee’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’. On 21 May, when Sir Edward Seymour sought to placate the Court by retrieving an earlier vote for reducing the civil list, John Howe stood out for the original scheme, receiving support from Copley and a number of Whigs. However, on the 23rd Howe was shown the ‘inconveniences’ that would follow, so that he and Copley retreated on the issue. The result of the ballot for new commissioners of accounts on 17 June saw Copley elected in first place alongside Howe. This new parliamentary commission was instigated by Tory back-benchers, including Copley, who hoped to make good the repeated charges that millions of pounds of public money granted for the war remained unaccounted for. However, their plans were frustrated by the Lords, whose attempt to alter the composition of the commission, plus other amendments made to the returned bill, made it unacceptable to the Commons. In consequence, Copley was ordered to take part in a conference with the Lords on this issue. Copley was also kept busy during the session with his involvement in the endeavours to take proceedings against certain ministers. He was nominated on 1 Apr. to draw up the articles of impeachment against the Earl of Portland, and later against Orford (Edward Russell*) and Halifax (Charles Montagu*). As part of these proceedings he was among those appointed on the 12th for translating the Vernon–Portland letters relating to the Partition Treaty in 1698, reporting from this committee on the 14th. In a debate on 4 June on the impeachments, Copley stated that ‘if we insist on more than what is our right’ the House might be accused of delaying proceedings for reasons other than the impeachments. He also pointed out that

sometimes Lords have been impeached and articles never exhibited, and there may . . . be reason for it as particularly when my Lord Portland was first impeached it was because he did, being a foreigner, make treaties to the prejudice of England without consulting [?of] English council, and so it did then appear. But looking further into matters upon these other impeachments it does appear he has acted nothing but by and with the directions and advice of English councils, so that it does appear that he is not so guilty as at first we had reason to believe him.

In a debate on the war on 9 May, Copley ‘was for sending the army out of Ireland that they were ready raised and disciplined and we might presently recruit if occasion’. The next day, in a half-empty House, when Whig placemen moved to throw out the clauses in the bill of settlement excluding office-holders from Parliament, he successfully moved to send the serjeant-at-arms to summon Members, thereby causing the placemen to retreat on the issue. In what was a very active session for Copley it was hardly surprising that he ‘made a positive resolution not to be concerned with any petitions at all’.12

Following the end of the session Copley opposed the Whig-inspired pressure for a dissolution of Parliament. On 12 Aug. the King was informed that an address ‘is set on foot in Yorkshire’ in favour of a dissolution, and that ‘all the gentlemen that were at the assizes’ had signed it, except for Copley and Arthington. However, although included in the ‘black list’ of those who had opposed the preparations for war with France, Copley was returned once again for Thirsk in the November election, and successfully ‘set up’ Arthington at Aldborough, despite support from the Duke of Newcastle (John Holles†) for the other two candidates. In the new Parliament Copley was listed with the Tories by Harley. His parliamentary activity followed its usual pattern, with nomination to the committee for drafting the bill of accounts on the 6th. On 31 Jan. he intervened in a debate on the war, saying ‘we must accommodate the war to our conveniencies since we cannot accommodate our conveniencies to the war’. Copley and Sir Richard Cocks, 2nd Bt., clashed on 14 Feb. in a debate on the Malmesbury election, when Copley spoke against ‘reflections’ being made on the conduct of gentlemen, ‘and said we should not say things that would look ill one upon another. Would that gentleman take it well to say that Sir Richard Cocks did not bribe the county but was chosen for his great merit and virtue?’ Angrily, Cocks declared that

my country knows me better than his borough I believe does him . . . he is chose 40 miles from the place where he lives and so ill beloved in his own country that his house was lately on fire and his neighbours got about it and said ‘a bonfire’ and would hard[ly] help to put it out.

In keeping with his earlier stance, Copley was listed among those who favoured the motion of 26 Feb. vindicating the Commons’ proceedings on the impeachments of the King’s ministers in the previous Parliament. He was also nominated to the committee for drafting a bill relating to the Irish forfeitures. Copley continued to be active in relation to the revenue and at a meeting of Tory MPs at the Thatched House tavern on 4 Mar. was included in a list of six names agreed upon to be commissioners of accounts. Not surprisingly, he was appointed to the committee to scrutinize the ballot. The next day he was declared elected in fifth place, his lower placing on this occasion being due to the fact that the Whigs, having failed to select a list of their own commissioners, chose to ‘blemish their [Tory] commissioners by naming the least of theirs, and, by putting him in our list, make him first of the commission’. On the 19th Copley seconded a successful motion that the commissioners should not take any other office, though it was thought that several of his fellow commissioners disagreed with him on this point. It is also worthy of note that Copley’s close associate, Brydges, acted as a teller for a motion on the petition of the Jacobite banker Sir Daniel Arthur, for a bill to reverse his outlawry, which was defeated by 148 votes to 16 (26 Mar.). Although Copley appears to have had no direct involvement in this issue, he was a business associate of Arthur’s, and had received a letter from him the previous August ‘about his case in Ireland’.13

Although continuing to figure as one of the significant men in Yorkshire politics, Copley appears to have ceased taking an active part in Aldborough affairs after 1702, as Arthington did not contest the election following Queen Anne’s accession. In view of the fact that Copley sold his landed interests in Aldborough to the Duke of Newcastle in 1703, it is possible that the land deal was preceded in July 1702 by Copley allowing Newcastle’s two candidates to be returned in an uncontested election. However, Copley continued to receive Bell’s support at Thirsk, and was returned to the first Parliament of the reign. In the 1702–3 session most of his time was consumed by the concerns of the commission of accounts and their inquiries concerning Lord Ranelagh’s army accounts. He was re-elected as a commissioner on 7 Jan. 1703, on this occasion in third place. Copley noted on 16 Feb., as the session drew to an early close, that

I thought we should have seen an end of this session some time ago, though it will be much sooner than ever we used to be at liberty. All the money bills, which is now reckoned the chief, if not the only public business of a House of Commons, are passed our House. We have sent up the qualification bill to the lords, who finding it thwarts the privilege of obliging us to trust men of their putting in with our estates, who they dare not trust themselves with any estate at all, have adjourned it to a long day, and so put the negative upon it.

Cunningham observed that, around this time, when the Commons were debating on ecclesiastical questions, and Members maintained the excellence of the Church of England, Copley, ‘who was a man of wit’, stated:

Everyone admires his own church, and we are fond of ours: for my part, I admire it chiefly for this reason, that it is fit for the people, subject to the laws, and most suitable to the clergy. For here, without care, without thought, and without trouble, honour and ease are enjoyed at once, which is a state that most men wish for. But we are not here disputing about churches, but about the common good of the kingdom.14

Following the end of the 1702–3 session it was rumoured that Copley had ‘deserted’ the Tory party, though there was no evidence to substantiate such a claim. He was kept busy during the following months with the work of the commission of accounts. On 2 Mar. he wrote to Kirke, telling him

I will not say a word of state affairs, nor the public accounts. You are better employed in planting and walling, and other country diversions, and you have all the little lampoons of The Golden Age, and The Golden Age Reversed . . . and there is to come out in print, when the Lords please, a most severe something upon us poor commissioners.

Thoresby, on visiting Copley at Sprotborough in March, noted that although Copley received him kindly, ‘he is obliged to return [to London] in a very few days, being a chief commissioner for taking the public accounts’. However, Copley did find time to show Thoresby, who was also a fellow of the Royal Society, his ‘new canal’, his ‘noble and spacious house’ with the gallery adorned with original Van Dykes ‘and other great masters’, plus other ‘choice curiosities’, including mathematical instruments in which Copley was ‘well versed’. Copley also wrote to Thoresby reassuring him that ‘I would by no means have you to be afraid of interrupting my business as a commissioner . . . by your correspondence: that would be to make me a greater sufferer for the public than in reason I ought to be’. However, although he tried to keep up a regular correspondence while in London, he found himself struggling against a weight of business:

I must own my friends may well think they have good reason to complain of my silence or rather rudeness to them. I have failed writing to everybody. My mistress (if I may be allowed to have any), I mean my borough, would have reason to blame me unless she would call to mind that I am every day sore employed in her service, and I believe it will be very visible in divers places about Sprotborough how much I have been forced to neglect what I love to take care on.15

In the 1703–4 session Copley’s standing among the Tory party back-benchers was highlighted by his inclusion by Sir William Trumbull* in a list on 17 Dec. of the ‘secret committee’ of the Commons. As in previous sessions Copley was actively involved in revenue matters, and on 25 Feb. 1704 was again among the successful candidates in the ballot for the accounts commissioners, though now down to the penultimate place. The work of the commission became even more time-consuming than before, as two of his colleagues were prevented from attending due to family bereavements, while, as Copley put it, ‘the House hath, for fear we should want employment, given us the examination of the whole account of the 12 commissioners of the Irish forfeitures, which consist of abundance of volumes, and multitudes of vouchers’. On 29 Feb. he delivered the commission’s reply to Orford’s answer to an earlier unfavourable report, and on 11 Mar. delivered their favourable report on the Irish forfeitures material. In keeping with his commissioner’s role, he was nominated on the 21st to prepare reasons for disagreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the public accounts bill, arising from the Lords’ endeavours to remove Robert Byerley* from the commission. His attention was also taken up with supply legislation. At some point in January or February he informed Kirke that it was

with much ado that we save 12d. out of the 4s. upon land this year. If you know how many there are here who make it their business to charge us deep with debts and deficiencies in order to bring on heavy taxes, you would think a country gentleman had but an ill time of it, and you will find I doubt in a short time their discouragement to be so great that they will most of them come down, and then I know how it will be. I hope to ask leave to come down myself, since I can do some service though it be but little in the country. I am sure if the next House of Commons be like us, it will deserve to be commended as much as we do.16

Following the session Copley was appointed comptroller of army accounts in April 1704. However, he continued to express his Country instincts on occasion, although he also became less active in Parliament and the 1704–5 session was a quiet one for him. He was forecast in October 1704 as a probable opponent of the Tack, and was listed by Harley as one of the MPs who could assist in lobbying against it. He did not vote for it on 28 Nov.17

Returned for Thirsk once again in 1705, Copley was described as ‘Low Church’ in an analysis of the new House. He voted on 25 Oct. for the Court candidate in the division on the Speaker. He played a significant role in the naturalization bill for a French Protestant, Peter Silvester, managing its progress through the Commons. On 4 Dec. he chaired the committee of the whole for considering the proceedings of the Scottish parliament relating to the Union and the succession. He contributed to the debate on the 8th about the resolution of the Lords on the ‘safe and flourishing condition’ of the Church, which the ministry and Whigs wanted the Commons to endorse. He spoke of ‘ecclesiastical [inclination?] to ruin moderation’, of a ‘man in Convocation’ who ‘preached a scandalous sermon’, and concluded that ‘the nation may see that groundless . . . imaginery by both Houses’. He also participated in the debates on the regency bill in January 1706, though the content of his contribution is unclear. On 4 Feb. he was nominated to prepare reasons for disagreeing with the Lords’ amendments to the clauses added by the Commons to this bill and, despite being a placeman, he appears to have remained true to the Country interest by failing to support the Court on 18 Feb. on the ‘place clause’ of the bill.18

Although still taking an interest in election activity in Yorkshire, Copley became less active in the 1706–7 session. On 19 Apr. 1707 he told against a motion for agreeing with an amendment to the bill for preventing customs frauds. Following the session he appears to have suffered a bout of illness, writing to his agent at Thirsk, on 16 July, in order to apologize for his lack of attention to the borough-men, though he had been ‘much indisposed’ since coming to Yorkshire, and intended to send ‘a buck for them this summer’. It appears that Copley also took more time to attend to matters on his estates, though he still maintained an interest in state affairs, expressing concern over the ‘deadness of trade and want of money’ due to the war. In the first Parliament of Great Britain his visible activity was now mainly concerned with parochial issues relating to his county, although he was also prominent in leading a conference with the Lords over amendments to legislation for the completion of St. Paul’s Cathedral. In two lists dating from this period he was marked as a Whig. This classification, although inconsistent with Copley’s Country Tory affiliations, may have been due to his support for the Court following his appointment to office in 1704.19

Returned again for Thirsk in 1708, Copley was noted in the 1708–9 session for opposing certain expedients suggested by the Court party in the debates, following the Queen’s Speech, on proposals for completing the Union. On 29 Jan. 1709 he was appointed to draft the bill to standardize the treason laws within the Union, and on 9 Mar. to draft a bill for the more effectual prohibition of the importation of French wine and other goods. On 12 Mar. he told for a motion that all papers laid before the House in relation to the invasion of Scotland be printed. He died while Parliament was still sitting, on 9 Apr., ‘after four or five days’ indisposition’. The cause of death was ‘the quinsy’, an inflammation of the throat (considered a rare ailment in England). He was lamented by Dyer, the Tory newsletter-writer, as ‘an honest, loyal gentleman that served his country faithfully’. In his will, dated 14 Oct. 1704, he made substantial financial provision for his second wife and for his only surviving daughter, Catherine, as well as leaving £100 to the Royal Society. This sum became the basis for an annual gold medal award named after Copley, which in time was to be regarded as ‘the highest scientific distinction’ bestowed by the Society. His close friends Arthington, Sloane and Hon. Sidney Wortley Montagu* were among the trustees appointed under the will, by which the estates were put in trust for Copley’s cousin, Lionel Copley of Wadsworth, on the failure of whose issue they descended to Sir Godfrey’s grandson Joseph Moyle (son of Joseph Moyle* by Copley’s surviving daughter), who assumed the name Copley by Act of Parliament.20

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Ivar McGrath


  • 1. Yorks. Arch. Soc. Copley mss DD38 box H–J, Copley ped.; Sheffield Archs. Copley mss CD246, CD75, marriage settlements, 23 Feb. 1682, 31 May 1700; The Gen. n.s. xvi. 110–11; Clay, Dugdale’s Vis. Yorks. ii. 52–53.
  • 2. Rec. R. Soc. 386, 527.
  • 3. CJ xii. 508.
  • 4. HMC Lords, n.s. iii. 204.
  • 5. Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 417.
  • 6. Thoresby Diary, i. 308, 373; ii. 6, 38; Nichols, Lit. Hist. i. 478; iv. 74–76; Stowe 747, f. 8; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 26(2), James Brydges’ diary, 12 Feb. 1698, 21 Dec. 1699, 4 Mar. 1702; NLW, Mackworth diary, mss 14362E, 22 Dec. 1701; Add. 70248, Robert Monckton* to Harley, 23 Apr. 1705; Sheffield Archs. Copley mss CD503/14, acct. of Don navigation bill, n.d.; CD75, marriage settlement, 31 May 1700; CD338, memo. 1690; CD246, marriage settlement, 23 Feb. 1682; CD468, acct. of rents, 1691; CD473, ff. 4, 7; HMC Var. ii. 394–5; Sloane 4038, f. 95; Lancs. RO, Kenyon mss DDKe/HMC/969, Thomas Wilson to Roger Kenyon*, 24 Sept. 1695.
  • 7. Stowe 747, ff. 56, 62; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 168.
  • 8. Stowe 747, f. 66; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 1039–40, 1050, 1115–17, 1120; Chandler, iii. 58–60; Ralph, Hist. Eng. ii. 696, 700; Clarke, Jas. II, ii. 558; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 193; Oldmixon, Hist. Eng. 152.
  • 9. Sheffield Archs. Copley mss CD503/14, acct. of Don navigation bill, n.d.; Stowe 747, f. 84.
  • 10. Yorks. Arch. Soc. Copley mss DD38 box B–C, Molesworth to Copley, 1, 10 Nov. 1698, Caleb Askwith to [same], 28 Dec. 1698; Cam. Misc. xxix. 387; Stowe mss 26(1), Brydges’ diary, 17, 19, 20, 22, 25 Mar. 1699; Luttrell, iv. 484.
  • 11. Stowe mss 26(2), Brydges’ diary, 13, 26 Jan. 1700; Som. RO, Sanford mss DD/SF 4107(a), notes on debate on Ld. Chancellor, 15 [sic] Feb. 1700; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/51, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 28 Mar. 1700; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Copley mss DD38 box H–J, Copley to Lionel Copley, 20 Jan., 29 Feb. 1699[–1700].
  • 12. Sloane 4038, ff. 95, 115–16; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Copley mss DD38 box H–J, poll for election for commrs. [1701]; Cocks Diary, 118, 120, 140, 147, 163, 179; Horwitz, 284, 290, 292; Luttrell, v. 61; HMC Portland, x. 34; HMC Cowper, ii. 424–5.
  • 13. Add. 40775, f. 67; 24475, f. 134; 7078, f. 78; Stowe mss 26(2), Brydges’ diary, 4 Mar. 1702; Cocks Diary, 198, 213, 248–50, 256; Sheffield Archs. Copley mss CD473, f. 9.
  • 14. Thoresby Diary, i. 373; Notts. RO, Portland mss DD3P10/2/2, Newcastle acct. bk. 30 June 1703; Sheffield Archs. Copley mss CD473, f. 16; Cobbett, vi. 97–104; HMC Lords, n.s. v. 63; Yorks. Archs. Soc. Copley mss DD38 box D–G, Copley to [Molesworth], 16 Feb. 1702[–3]; Cunningham, Hist. GB, i. 315.
  • 15. TCD, King letterbks. ms 1489/2, p. 178; Nichols, iv. 74–75; Thoresby Diary, i. 411–15, 441–2; Stowe 748, f. 9.
  • 16. HMC Downshire, i. 817; Nichols, iv. 76; Stowe 748, f. 21.
  • 17. Luttrell, v. 417; Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 93, 95.
  • 18. Luttrell, 620; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. ii. 221–2; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 32, 47, 67.
  • 19. Sloane 4040, ff. 225–6; 4041, f. 12; Sheffield Archs. Copley mss CD473, f. 20; Party and Management ed. C. Jones, 110; Boyer, Anne Annals, vi. 356–7.
  • 20. Cunningham, ii. 137; Add. 70420, Dyer’s newsletter 12 Apr. 1709; Bank of Eng. Morice mss, Sir Nicholas Morice, 2nd Bt.*, to Humphrey Morice*, 15 Apr. 1709; Luttrell, vi. 428; PCC 70 Lane; Nichols, i. 478; Rec. R. Soc. 53, 112–13; Yorks. Archs. Soc. Copley mss DD38 box H–J; The Gen. n.s. xvi. 110–11; Clay, ii. 52–53; Misc. Gen. et Her. ser. 5, ix. 350.