COTESWORTH, William (1665-1730), of St. James Clerkenwell, Mdx.

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



10 Jan. - 6 Mar. 1701
Dec. 1701 - 1702
1705 - 1710
20 Dec. 1711 - 20 Mar. 1712
2 Apr. 1712 - 1713
1713 - 1715

Family and Education

b. 26 Sept. 1665, 4th s. of Michael Cotesworth of South Shields, co. Dur. by 1st w. Elizabeth, cos. and h. of Edward Heslop of South Shields and the Hermitage, West Acomb, Northumb.  m. 18 Oct. 1692, Sarah (d. 1736), wid. of James Wallis of St. Gabriel’s Fenchurch, London, 1s. 1da.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Newcastle 1689, Boston, 1711, Barber-Surgeons’ Co. bef. 1710; asst. and ‘examiner’ 1717; warden, 1718, 1721, 1722; master, 1723.2

Dir. New E.I. Co. 1704–8, manager, united trade 1708; dir. E.I. Co. 1710–13.3


The Cotesworths were of relatively humble, even obscure, origins, and the connexion between Cotesworth the MP and his namesake, the rather more well-known merchant of Gateshead Park, has not been fully elucidated, although it is probable that they were cousins. Cotesworth’s grandfather had been a yeoman at Egglestone, county Durham, and his father was apprenticed in Newcastle, became a hostman and freeman of that city and, in 1657, made a fortunate marriage. Little is known of Cotesworth’s mother except that in 1682 she and her husband were presented as recusants, and her cousin Heslop’s will, made in 1689, left his whole estate to her and the Cotesworth children. This inheritance included interests in two salt pans and a ship, the Fortune. Cotesworth’s elder brother, John, was master of this ship and in 1689 was ‘credibly reported to be in King William’s interest’. Although Cotesworth was described as a hostman on his admission to the freedom of Newcastle in 1689, there is no record of any involvement with the Hostmen’s Company; rather it is the Barber-Surgeons’ Company in London with which he may be associated, although no date for his admission to the freedom has been discovered. Cotesworth followed his brother Caleb to London and in 1681 was apprenticed to him as a surgeon, later working alongside him as a doctor for St. Thomas’ Hospital, Southwark. He continued to live with, or close, by Caleb for some years as in 1695 they were both living in the parish of St. Gabriel’s Fenchurch, Cotesworth being then worth at least £600 in personalty. He was probably the William Cotesworth who was one of the original subscribers to the Bank of England in 1694 and contributed £1,000 to the first instalment of £200,000 of the Old East India Company’s loan to the government in 1698.4

By 1701 Cotesworth was firmly associated with the New East India Company, being one of the candidates put up by the company to fight the first general election of 1701. He contested the notoriously corrupt borough of Great Grimsby as a Whig against Arthur Moore*, a Tory and one of the directors of the Old Company. Although ‘never heard of there until he was actually on the road thither’, Cotesworth secured his return by an extensive use of bribery but was unseated after Moore petitioned the Commons and on 6 Mar. was sent to the Tower for being ‘notoriously guilty of bribery and other indirect practices’. The hearings were widely reported and at least one commentator thought that several Tory Members behaved ‘very partially’ and that Moore was ‘undoubtedly as criminal as Cotesworth’. Moore escaped a bribery charge but no new writ was issued before the dissolution. Perhaps recognizing in each other a certain ruthlessness, and undaunted by their experiences with the committee of elections, Moore and Cotesworth, despite political and commercial differences, combined successfully to contest Grimsby in the following election. Having survived another accusation of bribery, this time in a petition from disappointed candidate Thomas Vyner* on 5 Jan. 1702, Cotesworth retained his seat. Most ironically, he was included among those named on 17 Jan. to bring in a bill to prevent bribery at elections.5

Defeated at Grimsby in 1702, Cotesworth continued to prosper commercially and by 1704 held 40 shares in the New East India Company and had been chosen as one of the company’s directors. He regained his seat at Grimsby in 1705, was listed as a ‘Churchman’ in an analysis of the new Parliament and voted on 25 Oct. for the Court candidate for Speaker. A petition against his election, again on the grounds of bribery, was presented on 12 Nov. by several Great Grimsby freemen, but had no repercussions. He both spoke and voted for the Court, on 15 Jan. and 18 Feb. 1706, during the proceedings on the regency bill. In July he was granted a secret service pension of £500 p.a. during the Queen’s life at the request of the 2nd Earl of Clarendon (Henry Hyde†) ‘for the better accommodation of his [Clarendon’s] affairs’, the money to come out of Clarendon’s own pension of £1,500 p.a.6

In the next session Cotesworth was a teller on 5 Dec. 1706 against bringing up a petition from the attorneys and clerks of Chancery and in early 1707 was one of a number of MPs who sought to protect their own interests by opposing any advantage Scottish merchants might gain from the Union. In March Cotesworth was described as ‘a mighty hot man’ who ‘says positively we would not allow them [the Scots] drawbacks’. He was also a teller on 27 Feb. for the question of agreeing with an amendment to the bill for the better preservation of game. Cotesworth’s next notable parliamentary action was in March 1708, when he managed a bill to limit the time for claims to forfeited Irish estates through all its stages in the Commons.7

Classed as a Whig in two lists of early 1708, Cotesworth was returned unopposed for Grimsby in May and appointed in June to the Whig-dominated London lieutenancy commission. He supported the naturalization of the Palatines early in 1709. In the following session he told on the Whig side on 6 Feb. 1710 for levying a perennial duty on candles, and later that month was appointed to three drafting committees for bills to prevent bribery and corruption in elections, to regulate select vestries within weekly bills of mortality, another anti-corruption measure, and for the relief of the Royal African Company’s creditors. He also voted for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. Defeated at Grimsby in 1710, Cotesworth was back in London in time to vote for the Whig candidates in the London election. Despite the alterations in 1710 to the London lieutenancy in favour of the Tories, Cotesworth retained his place, and indeed remained on the commission until at least 1716.8

Cotesworth returned to the Commons, successfully contesting the Boston by-election in December 1711, but then lost his seat when the election was declared void on 20 Mar. 1712, bribery being proved against both candidates. During the committee hearings it was alleged that Cotesworth was unknown in Boston until a few days before the election. At least one historian has taken this allegation from a hostile witness at face value, describing Cotesworth as a ‘carpet-bagger’, but it is possible that the allegation was malicious, Cotesworth having acquired by 1706 the manor of Coningsby, about 15 miles from Boston. Cotesworth stood successfully at the resultant by-election held on 2 Apr. 1712 and this time retained his seat, despite another petition against him from the defeated candidate. As a long-standing director of the East India Company and an MP, Cotesworth was an obvious choice in May 1712 to lay before Lord Treasurer Oxford (Robert Harley*) a petition which the company planned to present to the Commons, for perpetuating the company and asking that the debt owing to it from the crown be paid. He voted on 18 June 1713 against the French commerce bill. On 9 July he told against an amendment (in favour of the merchant, Samuel Shepheard I*) to the bill for encouraging the tobacco trade. At the 1713 election he contested both Boston and Grimsby, being returned for the latter. He voted for the Whig candidates at the London election that year and in the new Parliament divided against the expulsion of Richard Steele in March 1714. Surprisingly, given that all his known votes were on the Whig side, he was described in the Worsley list as a Whig who would often vote with the Tories. Having failed to retain his seat at Grimsby in 1715, Cotesworth retired from active parliamentary politics, although at the time of his death he was a j.p. for Middlesex. He died on either 8 or 12 Dec. 1730, leaving his property, which included lands in Lincoln, Essex and Norfolk, and a lease of London wharves from the Fishmongers’ Company, to be divided among his wife and children.9

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Sonya Wynne


  • 1. Soc. Antiq. Newcastle-upon-Tyne Procs. ser. 4, i. 263–5; PCC 4 Isham, 127 Derby.
  • 2. Soc. Antiq. Newcastle-upon-Tyne Procs. 264; Boston Corp. Mins. ed. Bailey, iv. 726–7; Guildhall Lib. mss mic. 5257/7, p. 163; S. Young, Annals of the Barber Surgeons, 11.
  • 3. London Post, 14–17 Apr. 1704; Add. 38871 (unfol.); C. Prinsep, Madras Civilians, p. xi.
  • 4. J. Ellis, Business Fortunes of William Cotesworth, 2; J. C. Hodgson, Hist. Northumb. iv. 143–5; Soc. Antiq. Newcastle-upon-Tyne Procs. 264–5; Morrice ent’ring bk. 3, p. 184; Add. 33084, f. 112; Guildhall Lib. mss mic. 5266/1, pp. 14, 115; CSPDom. 1699–1700, p. 350; London Rec. Soc. ii. 65; DZA, Bonet despatch 6/16 July 1694; CJ, xii. 322.
  • 5. Liverpool RO, Norris mss 920NOR 1/93, William Clayton* to Richard Norris*, 6 Mar. 1700–1; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/4, James Lowther* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 6, 11 Mar. 1700[–1], 3 Apr. 1701; Cocks Diary, 79–80.
  • 6. Bodl. Rawl. A.303, f. 58; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 69; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxiii. 491.
  • 7. Norris mss 920NOR 2/452, 462, Thomas Johnson* to Norris, 23 Feb., 22 Mar. 1706–7.
  • 8. London Poll Bk. (1710), 10.
  • 9. W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 55; Lincs. Rec. Soc. iv. 35; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvi. 36; xxviii. 51, 200; London Rec. Soc. xvii. 77; Boyer, Pol State. xl. 649; Hist. Reg. Chron. 1730, p. 67; PCC 4 Isham.