COWARD, William I (1634-1705), of Chamberlain Street, Wells, Som. and Totteridge, Herts.

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



Mar. 1679 - Mar. 1681
17 Jan. - 6 Feb. 1690
1695 - 1705

Family and Education

bap. 19 July 1634, 1st s. of William Coward of Wells, and East Pennard, Som. by Catherine, da. of John Dodington of Som.  educ. Lyon’s Inn; L. Inn 1655, called 1662, bencher 1680, treasurer 1689–91.  m. (1) by 1666, Bridget (d. 1683), da. of Sir Thomas Hall of Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts., 1s. 1da.; (2) bef. 1692, Lady Philippa, da. of Arthur Annesley†, 1st Earl of Anglesey, wid. of Charles, 3rd Baron Mohun of Okehampton, 1s.  suc. fa. 1664.1

Offices Held

Commr. for appeals in excise Oct. 1660–79; serjeant-at-law 1692–d.; commr. for taking subscriptions to land bank 1696.2

Dep. recorder, Wells 1663, recorder by 1670–83, Aug.–Oct. 1688, 1689–d.3


An Exclusionist who afterwards became a Whig ‘collaborator’ under James II, Coward was defeated at Wells in 1690, despite his strong interest there conferred by his property-holding in the town and his holding the office of recorder. He was, however, successful in 1695 and retained the seat until his death. By this time he had become a Tory, and, as his attitudes in 1696 indicate, he was a regular member of the Country opposition to the government. In January 1696 he was forecast as a probable opponent of the Court over the proposed council of trade, and in March voted against fixing the price of guineas at 22s., but showed no hesitation in his subscription to the Association the previous month. In the next session, on 25 Nov., he voted against the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. Following the 1698 election, he was listed as a placeman on account of his legal rank as a serjeant-at-law, but also as a supporter of the Country party, and in another list was considered likely to oppose the government on the standing army issue. In February 1701 he was listed as a probable supporter of the Court on the question of agreeing with the committee of supply’s resolution to continue the ‘Great Mortgage’, and on 26 Feb. 1702 voted for the motion vindicating the proceedings of the Commons in the impeachments of William III’s ministers. As a lawyer he occasionally undertook the supervision of private legislation, and it was perhaps due to legal commitments that he was at various times granted leave of absence, as on 4 Mar., 30 Dec. 1697, 13 Jan. 1700, 24 Apr. 1701, 3 Jan. and 22 Dec. 1704.

On 28 Nov. 1704 Coward fulfilled an earlier prediction that he would vote in support of the Tack, despite being lobbied on the ministry’s behalf by Nathaniel Palmer, one of the knights for Somerset. He died shortly after the dissolution of Parliament, on 8 Apr. 1705, and, in accordance with the terms of his will, was buried in St. Cuthbert’s church, Wells, near his first wife. This direction, together with the assertion that his second spouse, Lady Philippa, ‘will not permit me to have anything out of her estate though I have paid £1,500 in debts for her before my intermarriage with her’, suggests that his second marriage had been unhappy. He further ruled that if his widow attempted to dispute the will the grants to her and her son would be annulled.4

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Authors: Paula Watson / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. A. J. Jewers, Wells Cathedral, 132–4.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 75; v. 1263; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 247; CJ, xii. 509.
  • 3. Wells corp. mss, act bk. 1662–5, f. 33; roll of recorders.
  • 4. Jewers, 134; PCC 133 Gee.