CONINGSBY, Thomas (1657-1729), of Albemarle Street, Westminster and Hampton Court, Herefs.
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Family and Education
b. 2 Nov. 1657, o. s. of Humphrey Coningsby† of Hampton Court by Lettice, da. of Sir Arthur Loftus of Rathfarnham, co. Dublin. educ. L. Inn 1671. m. (1) lic. 18 Feb. 1675, Barbara (div. 1697), da. of Ferdinando Gorges, merchant, of St. Bartholomew by the Exchange, London and Eye, Herefs., sis. of Henry Gorges*, 3s. d.v.p. 4da.; (2) Apr. 1698, Lady Frances (d. 1717), da. and coh. of Richard Jones*, 1st Earl of Ranelagh [I], 1s. d.v.p. 2da. suc. fa. 1671; cr. Baron Coningsby of Clanbrassil [I] 7 Apr. 1692; Baron Coningsby of Coningsby 18 June 1716; Earl of Coningsby 30 Apr. 1719.1
Commr. appeals in excise 1689–June 1690; jt. receiver- and paymaster-gen. [I] July 1690–July 1698, sole July 1698–1710; ld. justice [I] Sept. 1690–Mar. 1692; vice-treasurer and treasurer at war [I] Dec. 1692–1710; PC [I] 1692–d.; PC 13 Apr. 1693–7 Nov. 1724; gamekeeper of Ireland and ranger of Phoenix Park by 1696–1702.2
High steward, Hereford 1695–d.; custos rot. Herefs. 1696–1721, Rad. 1714–21; ld. lt. Herefs. and Rad. 1714–21; steward of crown manors, Rad. Nov. 1714–21.3
Commr. taking subscriptions to land bank 1696, Queen Anne’s bounty 1704, taking subscriptions to S. Sea Co. 1711.4
Chairman, cttee. of ways and means 6–9 Jan. 1697.5
Coningsby represented what many opposition critics came to consider the true picture of a Court Whig: greedy, unscrupulous and probably corrupt. Accustomed to fawn upon the powerful and bully the powerless, he naturally gravitated to government and, except for one brief interval, succeeded in keeping on good terms with every administration from the Revolution until the fall of his friend Lord Treasurer Godolphin (Sidney†) in 1710, when he himself temporarily retired from Parliament and from national politics. Wealth and titles accrued to him from a career in office, but he also acquired a pack of enemies, many of them political opponents who had run foul of his notorious ill-temper. As one put it, Coningsby ‘was ever a hot and violent man’. A more charitable assessment was that of a local historian, for whom Coningsby was always
contending against the disadvantages of a neglected education, although he never overcame the evil effects of a want of early discipline and self-control . . . Upright, courageous, and high-principled, though vain, impulsive and impatient of control, Lord Coningsby’s greatest enemy was himself.6
Coningsby’s father and grandfather, both Royalists, had successively represented Herefordshire in the early years of the Long Parliament, before seclusion. Mortgages and fines, aggravated by his grandfather’s indescribable negligence, as Coningsby himself termed it, reduced an estate of £4,000 a year to a mere £800, and both his parents were imprisoned as debtors. Recovery was solely due to Coningsby’s marriage to the daughter of a parvenu merchant, Ferdinando Gorges, while he was still a minor. The marriage itself was a failure, but Coningsby’s father-in-law took over the management of the estate and restored financial solvency. Unfortunately, Coningsby seems to have been emotionally scarred by the episode: he suspected Gorges of having defrauded him, and relations between the two were always strained. It is indeed possible that early insecurity and the sense of being his father-in-law’s pawn may have contributed in large measure to the almost desperate ambition and avarice which characterized his later behaviour. From his entry into the Commons in the second Exclusion Parliament Coningsby had shown himself to be a busy, if not especially eloquent, Member, and a stout Whig. It was as a Whig that he was returned to the Convention, for his own borough of Leominster, and during the first session he ‘carried himself very worthily’, in the eyes of the doyen of Herefordshire Whiggery, Sir Edward Harley*. However, his appointment as commissioner of appeals in excise seems to have worked a change in him. In the second session he several times acted as a teller for the Court side, and probably voted against the disabling clause of the corporations bill. This shift towards administration placed Coningsby in an awkward position at the 1690 election, at which he managed to fall out with the Harleys, the most powerful Whig family in Herefordshire, over both the county election and his own return in a contest at Leominster. He was, however, unhappy at the thought of burning his boats, and by the following winter had effected a reconciliation with Sir Edward Harley, but it is doubtful whether any of the Harleys were prepared to trust Coningsby again.7
Classified as a Court supporter in Lord Carmarthen’s (Sir Thomas Osborne†) list of the new Parliament, Coningsby regularly spoke and acted for the government in the first session: his appearances as a teller on 10 and 15 May (with Tory colleagues) in favour of the bill vesting certain forfeited estates in the crown are probably cases in point. This sometimes involved him in a pragmatic departure from old Whig principles: over habeas corpus, for example, on which he spoke on 26 Apr. and 5 May. ‘For some time I would repeal that law’, he stated on the latter occasion, ‘it does not so much save you, as that your enemies, that would destroy the government, may not have the benefit of the government.’ In a further debate on the security of the kingdom, on 29 Apr., he made the case against relying solely on the militia to resist invasion: ‘I am for having an army and the militia, not the militia to defend us against the army, but that both defend us.’ In each instance he was not abandoning his former beliefs so much as arguing priorities: the maintenance of the Revolution settlement demanded the suspension of constitutional niceness. The voice of the Exclusionist might still be heard in his speeches. Later in the debate on 29 Apr. he declared that ‘all papists are enemies to this government’ and moved for an order ‘that they shall not come within five miles of a market town, if so to be esteemed papists convict’. Some other interventions showed the continued functioning of partisan reflexes. He was a teller on 26 Apr. in favour of the bill imposing an oath of abjuration and made a trenchant speech on the 17th on the changes that had been made in the London lieutenancy in which he expressed the hope that the new lieutenants included ‘no murderers’ and that ‘those that will not qualify themselves will be turned out’. However, in a division the same day on whether to call in the sheriffs of the City to present their petition he told for the Tories against admitting, and in other divisions, especially over election cases, he figured as a teller for the Tory rather than the Whig side: on 12 Apr. on the Bedford election; on 30 Apr. against permitting Quakers to vote without taking the oaths, a question arising out of the Hertford petition; and on 2 May on a procedural point, effectively supporting the motion to censure Anthony Rowe* for publishing his election ‘black list’ against Tories, the Letter to a Friend. Coningsby’s name had not appeared on Rowe’s list of the division of 5 Feb. 1689 on the transfer of the crown, but had figured on an unpublished manuscript version of the same vote. His remaining tellerships in this session took place on 25 Apr. for an additional clause to the tunnage and poundage bill to extend the time given in a former Act to allow Gilbert Heathcote* and Arthur Shallett* to import brandy from Spain, and on 3 May to engross the bill for the erection of a court of conscience in Southwark.8
Coningsby’s connexions with the Court were already stronger than the bonds of his office, for he had been borrowing money on the security of his estate in order to make loans to the crown, and apparently had been soliciting an army paymaster’s place. He had probably been promised the post of receiver- and paymaster-general in Ireland, which he was granted in July 1690 jointly with Charles Fox*, some time before the issue of the warrant, for he accompanied King William’s expedition to Ireland that summer, and had the good fortune, at the battle of the Boyne, to be at hand with a bandage when the King required one, thereby performing the kind of personal service that guaranteed royal gratitude. When William returned to England in September Coningsby was appointed to the commission of lords justices who were to head the civil government in the King’s absence. His colleague was Lord Sydney (Henry† Sidney), with whom he quickly established a close rapport, gaining a new, though somewhat indolent, patron. Taking as their excuse the critical posture of affairs in Ireland and Europe, the two men sent the Earl of Portland a long letter of advice in late September 1690 concerning the management of the forthcoming Parliament at Westminster, on which depended ‘not only his Majesty’s happiness, but the fate of England, of this poor country [Ireland], and consequently of the Protestant interest in Christendom’. The main thrust of their comments was that it was vital for the King to have ‘a formed management’ in the Commons.
By that we mean, a number of men on whom the King may confidently rely, joined with the Speaker [Sir John Trevor*] (who now is most certainly yours) and they to meet privately every night, and there to resolve how and by what methods they will oppose anything which may obstruct his Majesty’s affairs, or propose anything that will further his interest the next day. Amongst these there ought to be had at any rate two or three men who have fair reputations in the House, such as Sacheverell [William*], Leveson Gower [Sir John, 5th Bt.*] and Sir Tho. Clarges*, who must by no means have any employments during the session but be rewarded afterwards, and we look upon these three to be those that have the greatest influence over the three parties of the House that are not for King James; Sacheverell of the Whigs, Leveson Gower of the middle party, and Sir Tho. Clarges of the High Church; the first of these . . . it may be a matter difficult enough to secure . . . but the other two may most certainly be had, the one by honour, the other by . . . a promise of some considerable employment . . . together with an assurance of the King’s supporting the Church.
It was also vital that the King remind Parliament what he had done for his subjects, especially in the reduction of Ireland. ‘Pray, my lord, don’t let the King forget that nine tenths of the common people of England are firmly his, which is more than could be said by any of his predecessors this many ages.’ Moving on to Irish affairs, Coningsby and Sydney argued strongly against permitting the English Parliament to interfere with the forfeited estates of Irish rebels, and in particular to ‘sell’ them ‘towards the supply’:
It would be very hard upon the King if he should not have the disposing of some of those lands to such who he thinks deserves his favour, and whenever the King has any such thoughts if he pleases to let us have his commands therein we’ll take care according to the value he designs to bestow, to pick out the choicest and best situated estates in the kingdom, of which a large account is preparing and shall be suddenly sent.
As for the domestic government of the kingdom, they urged the advantages of calling an Irish parliament quickly, not from any devotion to representative institutions but in order to forestall any outbreak of disaffection or even independent-mindedness on the part of the Anglo-Irish Protestant landowners, many of whom had spent 1689–90 in exile in England and were yet to return. A parliament called in the near future, the lords justices argued, could effectually be packed with Williamite army officers and other officials. Coningsby seems to have spent most, if not all, of the next two years in the chief government of Ireland, first in commission with Sydney and then with an English Tory lawyer, Sir Charles Porter*, who also became not only a congenial colleague but a close friend. An Irish observer in December 1691 bracketed Coningsby and Porter together as assiduous servants of the Court interest. Coningsby ‘kept in the old trade of revelling’ while in Dublin, according to one crony, but his post nevertheless carried considerable responsibility and brought with it a heavy workload, especially when combined with the paymastership of the forces. The lords justices were responsible for the maintenance of public order in areas under Williamite control, and for completing the negotiations with the Jacobite forces in Connaught and Munster which ended the war. Coningsby and Porter signed the final Treaty of Limerick, and indeed Coningsby himself had been responsible for much of the draftsmanship. Although ultra-Protestant critics denounced the treaty and its architects as too favourable to the Catholics, it is clear that Coningsby’s own preference was for severity. Sydney wrote to him in June 1692 to thank him for giving an account
of the behaviour of the papists upon the hopes of a descent; I confess you have been all along in the right in your opinion of these gentlemen, and I was in the wrong, for I thought they might have been made good subjects, but now I see ’tis impossible, and they must be used accordingly.
Coningsby did not, however, believe in the universal application of harsh measures. Another criticism of the lords justices was that they had been willing to favour individual papists, allegedly in return for bribes or other considerations. Such rumours may have found their way to England as early as October 1690, for in that month Coningsby’s intimate friend Lord Ranelagh sent him a copy of a pamphlet in which the lord justice was depicted in an unflattering light. ‘The author hath not yet been beaten’, added Ranelagh in a sinister postscript, and ‘if you have any service of that kind to command me, I will do my utmost to obey you.’ None of this made any difference to the high regard in which Coningsby seemed to be held by some at least of the English ministers. On hearing in March 1691 that he had been taken ill in Dublin, Lord Godolphin expressed not only fear for his health but anxiety for the future good government of Ireland if his services should be ‘lost’, while in the following October he was being spoken of as a likely deputy in the event of Sydney being given the viceroyalty. Politically he remained strictly faithful to administration. During his absence in Ireland the compilers of parliamentary lists regularly included him among the adherents of the ministry: he figured in the list of probable supporters of Carmarthen in December 1690 in the event of an attack on the minister in the Commons; in Robert Harley’s* analysis of the Commons in April 1691, on the Court side; and in two lists of placemen drawn up in 1692. In return for loyalty, and service in Ireland, Coningsby expected further rewards. He had espied for himself a choice parcel of forfeited estates, approximately 6,000 acres in and around Dublin, and was granted a custodiam in January 1692. The rental amounted to less than £100 p.a. and the property was encumbered with a mortgage of £100, but the potential resale value was over £2,000, and to this end Coningsby pressed to be given the freehold. However, his ‘prodigious gettings’ had ‘made such a noise’ that the King thought it would harm both himself and Coningsby to do anything immediately on that score. Coningsby was assured that ‘the King hath promised you that estate under his hand, and if he hath but £100 a year in Ireland you must have it by virtue of that promise’; only not just yet. He was also informed that ‘your place is in no manner of danger, and your Irish friends, though they have done you all the harm they could, have not lessened you at all in the King’s good opinion’. At some point he also obtained the sinecure of ranger of Phoenix Park, and in September applied for the even more lucrative post of vice-treasurer of Ireland, vacant following the death of William Harbord*, which indeed had often been held in conjunction with the paymastership, and which he received before the year was out. Meanwhile in April 1692 he had been raised to the Irish peerage, though he had to accept a barony instead of the viscountcy he had at first expected.9
When the Irish parliament for which the lords justices had helped prepare the way was eventually convened in Dublin in October 1692, under Sydney’s lord lieutenancy, Coningsby attended its upper house, where he presumably acted as a linchpin of the Court interest. He soon came under fire because of his participation in the peace settlement at Limerick, regarded by the opposition factions in Ireland as their greatest grievance. According to one observer, many members ‘were averse from doing the Irish . . . justice’ and thus ‘aspersed Lord Coningsby’ for his role in ‘signing the articles’. The Irish house of commons in particular began to inquire into allegations of administrative corruption, which threatened to involve office-holders at the highest level, so that in order to protect his own reputation and those of his friends Sydney prorogued the parliament after little more than a month. Coningsby then sailed for England where he threw himself immediately into the business of the English parliamentary session. On 18 Nov. he spoke against the committal of the treason trials bill, arguing that the moment was inopportune to embark on reforms which in practice would ‘only be a benefit to the enemies of this government, those that will not own it, and give them an advantage to bring back a government which, I’m sure, will make traitors of all of us’. He was particularly hard on the Catholics, condemning them as ‘public enemies’, an opinion that was doubtless heartfelt but was out of harmony with the rumours concerning his conduct in Ireland. As a corollary to his stand against the treason trials bill, he appeared in support of the abjuration bill, speaking for it in the debate of 14 Dec. His commitment to the Court was reflected in a series of contributions on matters of supply. On 25 Nov. Coningsby joined Charles Montagu* in opposing a Country-inspired motion to delay referring the army and navy estimates to the committee of supply. Four days later he rebutted opposition criticisms that England was spending a disproportionate amount on the continental war, especially in comparison to the Dutch. ‘I am not for letting in an exasperated, abdicated King’, he declared, ‘and therefore I think we are engaged deeper in the war and are more concerned therein than they are.’ Further speeches in the committee of supply occurred on 2 Dec., when he stressed the need for promptness in tackling financial questions and dismissed an opposition proposal which would have deferred consideration of the army estimates to a later date, and on 3 Dec., again over the army, when he observed, ‘I think the question properly before you is whether you will have so many men for the defence of England’. Always his argument for granting whatever the King asked was that domestic security depended on effective military strength. He repudiated any suggestions that the army could be reduced, or that its administration required improvement, and, as befitted one who had first-hand experience in Ireland of the successful leadership of foreign-born general officers, resisted demands to restrict such appointments to native Englishmen. He was equally vehement in opposing attempts to remove naval officers, speaking on 21 Nov. 1692 in defence of the Admiralty Board. In all this he was complying with the wishes of the Court rather than fellow Whigs, as was the case too in his dogged opposition to the triennial bill. He first used the pretext that the bill had originated in the Upper House. ‘I am not afraid to have the Parliament dissolved’, he said, ‘but would not have it from the Lords. If the Lords will make themselves temporary, I will consent to do it in this House.’ In committee on 7 Feb. 1693 he spoke against the first clause, providing that a Parliament be held every year, ‘for that it is unnecessary, being the law already’, and at the third reading on 9 Feb., when he acted as a teller against the bill, he made a passionate, if not particularly cogent or rational, attack on the measure as a whole:
He thought it tended to the alteration of the ancient government, and the next step to that is anarchy and confusion. There was a bill of this nature in King Charles II’s time, and when that was passed the next step was to sit as long as they pleased. I will not say this will be, but what has been may be, and therefore I am against this bill.
However, his other parliamentary activity was more localized in scope. On 4 Feb. he presented a petition from one Robert Fitzgerald, possibly an Irish acquaintance, against a private bill; and on 13 Jan. 1693 he was a teller for committing the bill to improve the navigation of the Wye and Lugg, a measure directly affecting his own county, and in the introduction of which he had been consulted. His anxiety to repair relations with Whig interests in Herefordshire is evident from the eagerness with which he entered into schemes to bring Sir Edward Harley into the Commons in January 1693 for a vacant county seat. He was also keen to demonstrate his friendship for another Whig ally, Bishop Burnet, even though the bishop regarded him with contempt as a ‘vicious’ and unprincipled opportunist. When Burnet’s Pastoral Letter was denounced in the Commons in January 1693, Coningsby was ‘among those who signalized their favour to Dr B[urnet] by speaking in his behalf . . . very zealously’. He commented that ‘though there were some expressions which might give offence, yet there were many excellent things in that book, and therefore he hoped they would censure the passages which gave offence and not burn the book’. Not for the last time, he found himself the butt of another Member’s wit, as this unguarded speech was taken up by Colonel Silius Titus*, who observed that ‘in the beginning of King James I’s reign, the Bible was printed, and the word “not” being left out of the seventh commandment, the whole impression was burnt, and yet no man can deny but there were many good things in it’. Afterwards ‘Coningsby sought out Titus to shake hands, and make friendship with him’, but only gave the colonel a further opportunity to twit him, by asking ‘why he fell so foul upon [him]’. Titus answered that ‘he could not help it . . . but did assure him if he had any occasion to name a commandment, if it were possible he would endeavour to name one he [Coningsby] had not broken’.10
Coningsby’s obvious desire to maintain good relations with old Whig confrères like Titus and Sir Edward Harley almost certainly stemmed from his apprehension that the accusations made against him in Ireland would be raised again at Westminster, as indeed they were during the 1692–3 session. Some notice had in fact already been taken of ministerial trafficking in forfeited estates in the proceedings of the accounts commissioners in 1691–2 and in the report of the committee of 1 Jan. 1692 to receive proposals for raising money on the Irish forfeitures. Various charges were levelled against Coningsby in the committee ‘but they being trivial and the evidence of them amounting to no more than hearsay’ nothing of them appeared in the report, which picked out the revenue commissioner William Culliford* as a scapegoat. Then in April 1692 Sir Rowland Gwynne* had unsuccessfully brought allegations against Sydney before the Privy Council. There were ‘bitter’ remarks made in private against Coningsby at that time, but nothing came of them. Less than a week after Coningsby’s reappearance at Westminster in the following November, the grievances of Irish Protestants were raised in a Commons debate. Hon. Harry Mordaunt* noted that tales of extortion by the army in Ireland were current and referred the subject for comment to ‘the gentlemen that came lately out of those parts’. Coningsby was quick to excuse himself and his colleagues in the civil administration from responsibility for military matters, and there the inquiry rested. But in January came a report that a petition against Coningsby was in preparation in Ireland. Leading oppositionists from the Irish parliament were proposing to bring over to the English Parliament their case against Sydney, Coningsby and Sir Charles Porter. In debates in the Commons on 22 and 24 Feb. Irish affairs came under scrutiny, and Coningsby was obliged to defend himself against a series of allegations pressed by Lord Bellomont (Richard Coote*) and other Irish politicians, and backed by a temporary alliance of English Tories, Country Whigs and Junto Whigs. The Harleys in particular seem to have been closely associated with the Irish petitioners. Coningsby’s defenders were a similarly heterogeneous collection, prominent among whom was Sir Edward Seymour, 4th Bt.* Many of the charges were levelled against the Irish administration in general, which was held responsible for the economic dislocation of the kingdom and the demoralization of the Protestant interest. Coningsby was specifically accused of corruption in securing grants of forfeited estates for himself and to oblige ‘favourites’; in permitting his deputy-paymaster to embezzle funds; and in acting arbitrarily to seize the property of a Protestant landowner at the behest of a Catholic claimant. But the most serious charge concerned the summary execution of one Gaffney, servant to a Catholic landed gentleman named Sweetman and the principal witness to his master’s involvement in the murder of some Williamite soldiers. It was claimed by more than one witness to the proceedings that Sweetman had obtained his acquittal by bribing members of the administration (although not Coningsby personally), and that to silence Gaffney Coningsby had ordered the provost marshal to take him and ‘hang him up immediately’, on a gun-carriage if there should be no gallows ready. The story was to haunt Coningsby throughout his political career: indeed, he was often referred to as ‘Gaffney’s hangman’, sometimes to his face. During the inquiries into mismanagements in Ireland, undertaken by both Houses of Parliament, Coningsby made two speeches: a general justification of the conduct of the Irish government since 1690 (22 Feb.), and two days later a more personal defence. ‘I do not think things are so bad in Ireland as some gentlemen have represented them’, he said on the 22nd,
or that there are so many miscarriages as you are told. As to the army’s free quarter, I cannot excuse all their actions, but they were not so well paid as they ought . . . As to the disarming of the papists, it is a difficult matter to do it . . . As to the forfeitures, I never was concerned in them, and for the decrease of the forfeited lands from £31,000 to £10,000 that arises from the articles of Limerick, into which the Council there are inquiring.
His remarks on the 24th seemed ‘weak and silly’ to one side; ‘satisfactory’ to the other. Fortunately for Coningsby, who at this crisis had appeared ‘paler than a criminal on the scaffold’, the majority held the latter view, so that although an address was ordered, to set forth the various abuses that had been perpetrated in Ireland, none of the lords justices was mentioned by name. The King chose this moment to underscore his confidence in Coningsby by advancing him to a seat on the English Privy Council, not the most tactful of promotions, since the parliamentary inquiries had aspersed rather than effectively vindicated Coningsby’s reputation. It was, observed Lord Sunderland, ‘as if care had been taken that that business should not die’. This outcome was rendered even more likely by a decision to grant Coningsby and Porter a pardon for any crimes committed in Ireland. News of this move prompted Bellomont and an Irish party colleague, James Hamilton, to enter a caveat in June 1693 against the passing of the warrants, followed by a petition to the English Privy Council to put a stop to the pardon. On 3 Aug. Bellomont and Hamilton delivered a paper to the Council ‘containing the effects of what they had to offer, as if they designed to impeach’ the two lords justices in the next session of the Westminster Parliament. The Council, however, requested the presentation of formal charges and appointed a date on which they themselves would hear the matter. Prompted by Robert Harley and other ‘Country’ politicians, the two petitioners stuck to their guns. They submitted a second paper, recapitulating the evidence given to Parliament in the preceding February, and the subsequent address, but declined to accept a conciliar determination, protesting that this would constitute a breach of parliamentary privilege: ‘by the late bill of rights . . . [it] is expressly declared that proceedings in Parliament ought not to be questioned in any court or place out of Parliament’. This point the Councillors reluctantly accepted, leaving the way clear for an impeachment. The role played by the Harley interest in the affair was of considerable importance, and it was not to Coningsby’s advantage in this respect that he had been ‘meddling’ once more in Herefordshire elections, to the Harleys’ disgust.11
During the late summer and autumn of 1693 Bellomont and his friends were busy seeking out further information to support their accusations, and when Parliament resumed at Westminster the procedure of impeachment was quickly set in motion. On 16 Dec. 1693 Bellomont presented articles against both Coningsby and Porter, alleging ‘high treason, and other high crimes and misdemeanours’. Some of the articles against Coningsby sought to blame him for policies which had been decided by his superiors, the restrictions applied to the militia, for example, or the allowance of free quarter to the army; others were unsubstantiated, such as the claim that Coningsby ‘did . . . settle and maintain a correspondence . . . with the subjects of the French King’ while a lord justice, or that he had ‘favoured and supported the papists in their . . . outrages committed upon the Protestants’. A few, however, struck home, notably that Coningsby had enriched himself through the acquisition of forfeited estates and that he had acted arbitrarily and tyrannically in ordering the execution of Gaffney. In his own defence Coningsby had ‘several things’ to say, presumably a repetition of his statements in February. The main thrust of his speech in reply to the presentment was in fact to recall that the matter had been aired before and decided, or so he said, in his favour. He added, somewhat disingenuously, that neither he nor Porter had sought to avoid the renewal of the accusations (whereas in fact their friends on the Privy Council had tried to settle the matter during the summer). The House proceeded to take evidence during December from a number of witnesses, most of whom had already appeared the previous February, and after several adjournments Coningsby and Porter were themselves heard formally on 20 Jan. 1694. By all accounts they stood together, and a lengthy debate ensued that day, which seems to have been decisive, although the final judgment was not given until the 29th. The impeachments were defeated, but resolutions were accepted declaring the impositions by the lords justices of a new oath on Irish militiamen to have been ‘illegal’ and the order for Gaffney’s execution to have been ‘arbitrary and illegal’. Opposition noises about pursuing the affair in the Lords, or obtaining Coningsby’s dismissal from the Irish paymastership, came to nothing. Instead, in May 1694 Coningsby and Porter received the royal pardons they had been promised a year before. Moreover Coningsby was able to forestall an attempt by the former proprietor of one of the forfeited estates he held in custodiam to have the outlawry lifted, and in June the custodiam itself was extended for a further three years. Preoccupation with the lengthy impeachment process probably accounts for Coningsby’s relative inactivity in this session. His one major committee, that of 1 Jan. 1694, to receive proposals concerning the Irish forfeited estates, was on a subject of close personal interest to him, and as paymaster in Ireland he was an obvious choice as chairman of the committee of the whole on the mutiny bill. Apart from defending himself against impeachment, his only recorded speech occurred on 18 Dec. 1693, in committee on the reintroduced triennial bill, which he opposed with as much vigour and with mostly the same arguments as before. He again exploited hostility towards the Upper House, which he professed to regard as possessing a vested interest in the institution of more frequent sessions: ‘the Lords will infallibly proceed upon their judicature, and draw all the causes of England before them’.12
Having ridden out the storm, Coningsby found himself not only safe but in high favour at court. He was in the close counsels of leading ministers, attending some Cabinet meetings, and had the self-confidence to send William a memorandum after the 1693–4 session, ‘to make several observations that may prove for your service to know’. Noting that he had himself ‘made it my business not only to give a constant attendance in the House at this sessions, but at all meetings to which I was called to carry on your affairs . . . and it being generally discoursed as if you had a peace in prospect’, Coningsby emphasized the importance of concluding that peace before Parliament met again. ‘The two great points’ that required William’s ‘care’ were ‘how to manage the parties as to maintain yourself against the enemies abroad, and at the same time to preserve your authority at home’. He took it for granted that ‘the Tories who are friends to prerogative are so mingled with Jacobites that they are not to be confided in during the war’. As for the Whigs, although ‘for the reason of necessity’ they had perforce ‘to be employed to support your cause against the common enemy’ they would certainly
endeavour all they can to make use of the opportunity to lessen your just power; and, let them pretend what they will to you, the several instances they have given this sessions of their intentions that way puts this matter out of all doubt to any person who has taken the least pains to observe them, and it is beyond all dispute manifest, that they will give money to keep out King James, yet they never give you one vote to support your just right in any point where (what they please to call) the interest of your people is concerned.
The exigencies of war, he observed, would throw the King upon the mercies of these Whigs, for royal finances were too weak to maintain present levels of expenditure without parliamentary subsidies, and in any case it was ‘manifestly the designs of some people to keep necessities always upon you’. In an aside that sounded strange coming from a Whig, he enunciated the principle that ‘it ever was, and ever will be, impracticable for any King of England to be the least happy, who must depend upon a Parliament every year, to give him a million of money for his common and necessary support’. The dissolution of the Parliament would probably avail little, ‘for let who will be the giver, there will remain still the same ways of giving; and let which sort of men be chosen, I dare say but a majority of them will be much rather for mortgaging the revenue of the crown than their own land’. Indeed, it was likely that ‘the Whigs’, who ‘pressed’ so hard for a new Parliament, would achieve their expected majority, which would leave the King worse off. The only answer, Coningsby argued, was to keep the present Parliament in being, end the war ‘honourably’ and then ‘set up for a party of your own’, based upon the loyal courtiers who in the previous session had made an offer of supply of unparalleled generosity, only for this to be ‘refused by those that pretended to be your friends’. William should
let all people see that if they expected your favour they must depend upon you for it, and not let anyone hope for promotion for being true to a faction but by serving of you. I presume to say that, the war being ended, a new Parliament called, and such measures pursued, you would quickly find that the Jacobites would turn moderate churchmen and loyal subjects, and the Whigs much more obsequious courtiers and easy servants than they now are.
In the following September Coningsby travelled over to Holland to attend the King, being primed before his journey by Godolphin with details of the fiscal expedients Godolphin proposed for the ensuing parliamentary session. While there he also raised the subject of changes in the government of Ireland. The necessity of a new parliament in Dublin brought up the question of a viceroy to succeed Sydney. Favourite was the Whig Lord Capell (Hon. Sir Henry Capel*), already a member of the commission of lords justices, but Coningsby, fearful of Capell’s close connexions with leaders of the opposition in the Irish parliament of 1692, tried to persuade the Earl of Shrewsbury to let his name go forward, and may have spoken to the King on Shrewsbury’s behalf. Certainly Shrewsbury was obliged to deny to Capell that any intrigue had taken place:
As to my Lord Coningsby, he is a man who owns some former obligations to me, and told me, when he went into Flanders he would say upon the business of Ireland the words I should put in his mouth . . . In all the discourses I ever had with him, unless sometimes when he has wished I might go [as viceroy of Ireland], which I took as a courtier’s compliment, at all times it has been taken for granted that your lordship must stay. But it matters not much what his opinion is.13
Coningsby returned from Holland just before Parliament resumed and was quickly involved in defending the King from Country Tory complaints that William had spent too long out of England that summer to be fully aware of the needs of his kingdom. His speech, however, was considered to be ‘weak’ by the Prussian resident. Then in a wide-ranging contribution to the debate on the motion for a supply he ‘spoke somewhat in excuse of the . . . witnesses’ brought by the government to prove the Lancashire Plot, adding ‘that we had a gracious King who would redress all the just grievances’. It may have been in this debate that the affair of Gaffney’s execution was raised again and Coningsby received a ‘rap’. Later, on 5 Feb. 1695, he acted as a teller for the Court side in a division arising from the inquiry into the Lancashire Plot. He was also a teller on several occasions on questions relating to supply: on 2 Jan., for the Court, in favour of a motion to go into ways and means the following day; on 2 Feb. against an opposition amendment to the land tax bill; and on 19 Apr., once more on behalf of the Court, on a procedural motion relating to the glass duties bill. His other tellership this session was on 20 Feb. against passing the place bill. On 27 Apr. he was ordered to carry a message to the Lords concerning Sir Thomas Cooke’s* ineligibility for indemnity. This time his reward for service to the Court during the session was in the form of a gift of two Herefordshire manors, formerly granted in trust for Queen Catherine of Braganza, and worth about £75 p.a.14
In the 1695 general election Coningsby was re-elected again for Leominster without opposition, despite the fact that he had offended voters by neglecting to correspond with the corporation in the customary way. Their displeasure had been compounded by his support for the leather duty, which adversely affected two important interest-groups in the town, the glovers and tanners, so that, although his influence was strong enough to intimidate potential opponents in the parliamentary election, he failed to carry the subsequent election to the recordership, when his offer to the corporation was refused. He was rather more successful at Hereford, where he challenged the High Tory Lord Chandos for the high stewardship left vacant by the failure of the previous incumbent, Lord Scudamore (John†), to take the oaths. That contest became a party cause, and emotions ran so high that the two principals became involved in a duel, in which neither was seriously hurt. It is possible that this championing of the Whig interest did something to repair Coningsby’s local standing. He sought to improve matters further in this respect by taking a leading part in Parliament in the promotion of the Wye and Lugg navigation scheme. Named to the drafting committee for the enabling bill on 12 Dec. 1695, he presented the bill himself five days later, and lobbied hard for it behind the scenes. His success in transferring his allegiance to the new administration of the Whig Junto was evident from his prominence in the proceedings on several issues with which the ministry was intimately concerned. When the scheme for a recoinage got under way he made a speech on 19 Mar. 1696 to propose adding a clause settling the price of guineas to the bill for encouraging the bringing in of plate to the Mint. This was rejected the following day but on the 26th Coningsby reintroduced it successfully, acting as a teller in favour of the clause when the opposition divided against it. Naturally he was listed among those who favoured fixing the price at 22s. Having been classed as likely to support the Court in the division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, he spoke and acted as a teller in favour of the imposition of an oath of abjuration on the councillors. He signed the Association promptly, and on 7 Apr. was a teller for a motion to oblige all Members of Parliament to subscribe on pain of disqualification from sitting. As Irish paymaster, he presented the militia bill on 8 Feb. and chaired the committees on both this measure and the mutiny bill. His Irish connexions, and his own personal vested interest in Irish forfeitures, made it almost impossible for him not to speak in the debate on 11 Feb. on the bill to make void grants of forfeited estates in England and Ireland which had been or were to be made without parliamentary consent. As much for his own benefit as anything else, he moved ‘to have a bill to attaint those who had forfeited their estates’ but received a stinging and not unfamiliar reply, ‘that since attainders were to follow forfeitures and not forfeitures attainders, it was desired Gaffney might be expressly attainted, for that lord’s sake that moved’. Among his other tellerships, one was related, albeit indirectly, to the business of supply: on 7 Apr., on the Court side, against referring to the committee on the wines and spirits duty bill a petition from those entitled by patent to annual payments on the hereditary excise. He also told on 15 Feb. for a clause to exempt the university constituents from the provisions of the electoral qualifications bill, and on 21 Apr., against the bill for enforcing the laws against unlicensed marriages, and was responsible for introducing, on 22 Feb., a bill to encourage the trade of gardening. As had often been the case before, he sought and received some post-sessional largess from ministers and King: at Shrewsbury’s recommendation, he was made custos of Herefordshire; at his own request, he received a grant in fee simple of the Irish property he had hitherto held in custodiam. There was even a rumour in Dublin that Coningsby might go back to the Castle as lord deputy in the place of Capell, now mortally ill. At this, however, Portland commented that ‘a great part of the people of Ireland are prejudiced against him and would I fear be very uneasy under his government’. That much had been apparent during the 1695–6 session of the Irish parliament, when the opposition factions from 1692 had resumed their pursuit of those they considered guilty of betraying the Protestant interest at the Treaty of Limerick and thereafter. In September the Irish commons had passed a resolution deploring ‘the countenance and favour which the Irish papists have had in this kingdom during the late governments here since the year 1690’, and it had been ‘mentioned in the House that the governments were during the time of my Lord Romney [as Sidney had now become], Sir Charles Porter and Lord Coningsby’. Some observers actually interpreted the vote as a condemnation of the three men, who themselves had feared some such attack ever since the appointment of Capell as deputy and the decision to call a new parliament. They had observed the advance into favour and eventually into office in Ireland of their former enemies, especially the brothers Alan† and Thomas Brodrick*, and had accordingly taken steps for their own protection. In May 1695 Lord Portland had instructed Capell to do what he could to prevent the Irish commons from falling upon Romney and those who had ‘counselled’ the former lord lieutenant during the 1692 parliament, Coningsby in particular. When the Irish commons passed its resolution against pro-Catholic policies, Capell was able to report that ‘I used the best endeavours I could that my Lord Romney and my Lord Coningsby should not be brought on the stage, and indeed most of the leading men promised me not to meddle with them’. Neither Romney nor Coningsby was prepared to rely solely on Capell’s goodwill, however, and both deployed what interest they possessed in the Irish parliament on their own behalf. The course of events which followed the first vote is not entirely clear. Impeachment proceedings were brought by some of Capell’s supporters against Porter alone, with the deputy’s tacit encouragement. They were defeated by an alliance of High Churchmen, ‘country gentlemen’ and interests associated with the old ministry, among whom may have been numbered ‘Lord Coningsby’s friends’. Relations between the deputy and Coningsby were still difficult, and in January 1696 Portland wrote again to Capell to relay Coningsby’s anxious protestations of friendship. News that Capell had given orders for an inquiry into the validity of Coningsby’s patent as ranger of Phoenix Park had excited Coningsby’s suspicions, and Capell was politely warned off. The deputy’s subsequent illness and death removed what was potentially a serious obstacle to Coningsby’s full integration into the Junto ministry.15
According to a Jacobite agent’s report, Coningsby was one of the leading spokesmen for the Court party in the 1696–7 session of Parliament. Before the session opened he paid a visit to Lord Sunderland at Althorp, and he made friendly overtures to the Harleys, possibly on his own account. He was not slow to offer King William his advice, in particular over the contentious case of Sir John Fenwick†. Under-Secretary James Vernon I* recorded a meeting with Coningsby shortly before Parliament opened in which he
told me that, finding how much people are set upon having Sir John Fenwick before the Parliament, and that it is not to be avoided, though it shall be thought inconvenient, it came into his head that it was for the King’s service, he should make the advances himself, and mention it in his speech, somewhere towards the latter end, which he thinks will prevent its being called for, in the first place to the disturbance of matters of greater moment, and then it will come on only in its course, after the intentions of the House are seen upon the chief points laid before them, and by that means it might be better managed to the King’s satisfaction. He is so well persuaded he is right in his notion, that he proposed it to my Lord Portland yesterday.
Coningsby’s first reported intervention of the session was on 28 Oct. 1696 in a debate on the Address. He replied to a comment by John Grobham Howe* that the King had been misinformed as to the extent of ‘disorder’ in the country, saying ‘all was quiet where he lived, but perhaps it was that the pamphlet writ to incense the mob against part of the Members was not then come down’. Otherwise his recorded participation in debates mostly concerns the proceedings against Fenwick. On 6 Nov. he ‘stood . . . resolutely’ in favour of a bill of attainder. At one point, according to Vernon, he ‘very dexterously moved that Fenwick might be sent for, and prevented the others doing it’; then to the resolution that Fenwick’s ‘informations’ were ‘false and scandalous’ he successfully moved the amendment ‘and a contrivance to undermine the government, and create jealousies between the King and his subjects, in order to stifle the real conspiracy’. On the 13th he argued in favour of allowing Fenwick ‘a short time to make his defence’, though he added that he would not oppose granting ‘longer time’ if ‘gentlemen do insist upon it’, in order to make it clear that the fate of the bill depended ‘upon the guilt of Sir J.F.’ and not merely ‘upon the bare suggestions of the bill’. Four days later he felt himself impelled to speak in defence of his friend and patron, Godolphin, implicated in Fenwick’s allegations. Godolphin ought to be informed before Fenwick was questioned, he argued, ‘and then you will do injustice to nobody’. Naturally, he voted in favour of the bill of attainder on 25 Nov. He was active on the Court side on numerous other occasions: on 18 Nov., for example, he moved that the petition presented by the English wife of the Brandenburg trooper Conrad von Griebe, arbitrarily deported to Holland at the time of the discovery of the Assassination Plot, should lie on the table until it could be properly answered by Secretary Trumbull (Sir William*), then absent from the House; and on 8 Dec., in a committee on the state of the nation, he exploited a report of the French king’s willingness to recognize William’s title to the English throne to ‘put the committee in good humour’. He was a teller no less than four times against the bill to introduce a landed qualification for Members of Parliament, and on 18 Jan. 1697 acted as a teller for the Court against a motion to proceed with a call of the House. On 2 Feb. he reported the King’s reply to an address from the House on the Newfoundland trade. But his most significant contribution to the ministerial cause was in the business of supply, when he often worked alongside his old friend, the English paymaster Ranelagh. He acted as a teller on 3 Nov. 1696 for the administration, against a motion to refer to the committee of supply the returns from the accounts commissioners which gave an account of the deficiencies of funds, while in January and February 1697 he chaired the committee on the bill to encourage the bringing in of plate to the Mint, and for a brief spell from 6 to 9 Jan. took over the chair of ways and means, making one report on the 9th. Four tellerships arose directly from supply debates: for engrossing the land tax bill (23 Jan.); for going into the committee of supply (16 Feb.); against an opposition attempt to prevent consideration of provision for the civil list (25 Feb.); and for agreeing with ways and means to lay a duty on cider (3 Mar.). On the last occasion, local Herefordshire interests had prevailed over the wishes of ministers. Coningsby was also responsible for chairing the committee on the paper duties bill in February, and for introducing on 26 Feb. the bill for continuing the additional duties on several classes of goods. On related matters, he was a teller on 17 Dec. 1696 against passing the bill for the relief of creditors and, having told on 15 Jan. 1697 for adjourning consideration of the bill to prohibit the importation of East Indian stuffs, figured as a teller in favour of passing the bill on 6 Feb. By virtue of his office he took the chair in March of the committee on the annual bill for raising the militia. His role in this session as an auxiliary Treasury minister, and in particular his close parliamentary co-operation with Ranelagh, seemed to be reflected in his personal life: after the ending of his first, unhappy, marriage (through divorce in 1697 and the subsequent death of his wife) he married one of Ranelagh’s daughters. However, his new father-in-law had been too long and too well acquainted with Coningsby’s character to approve the match. There is a story that Ranelagh disinherited his daughter, but if he did so at all this can only have been a temporary punishment for his will left much of his real and personal estate to her daughters by Coningsby, a bequest that was to lead Coningsby himself into characteristically bitter litigation, since Ranelagh’s affairs at his death were in great confusion. A further twist to the tale is given by the contemporary rumour that, some time before the marriage, Ranelagh had discovered Coningsby and Lady Ranelagh in flagrante delicto in his own bed, not the first time that Coningsby had been surprised in this way by an injured husband. Ranelagh’s reaction, however, had been far from outraged. Rather, he ‘said nothing, but withdrew very civilly and went about his business’. If the friendship between the two men was at all affected by these events, the interruption did not last long, for within 18 months of the marriage Coningsby was being employed by Ranelagh as an intermediary in the purchase of property which had to be acquired under an assumed name. Relations with the ministry in general do not seem to have been in the least fraught. Coningsby was one of the subscribers for circulating Exchequer bills, and in April 1697 asked for and was given a grant in reversion of property in England to the value of some £215 p.a., another part of Queen Catherine’s jointure, to make up for the amount by which his share of the Irish forfeitures allegedly ‘fell short of’ the King’s ‘intentions’.16
Coningsby’s substantial Irish interests were still vulnerable, however, since even after Capell’s death the administration in Dublin continued to be influenced by those Irish politicians, like the Brodrick brothers, closely associated with the Whig Junto in England, who had long-standing grudges against him. His interest at court and with some ministers was enough to ensure that he was one of an inner group called upon by the King to ‘devise a scheme for raising the money necessary in Ireland’ before a parliamentary strategy was decided upon. But he needed friends in Dublin Castle, and when Capell’s successors were eventually named in May 1697, a commission of three lords justices from England, Coningsby lost no time in worming his way into the confidence of the one he considered the most influential, Lord Winchester (Charles Powlett I*). At the same time he emerged as a spokesman for the ‘Irish lobby’ at Westminster, presumably with an eye to advancing his prestige in Ireland. At a meeting of ‘the gentlemen of Ireland’ in June 1697 to discuss possible responses to the proposed English legislation against the Irish woollen industry he advised strongly against proceeding by petition, saying
he verily believed that Ireland had in that House so few friends that such a petition, instead of preventing, would forward the bill, and that they had better take no notice at all of the matter, for that he was sure he could put off the reading the bill for that day, and afterwards their time of sitting would be so short that it must fall of course.
The bill did indeed fall, though what credit Coningsby could claim for its demise is not clear. The purposes of his machinations were twofold: to help him stave off further attacks in the Irish parliamentary session that began once the English Parliament was prorogued; and to obtain legislative confirmation in Ireland of his grant of forfeited lands. Old grievances were rehearsed briefly in August when the Irish parliament debated a bill to ratify the Treaty of Limerick, and Coningsby and Romney were criticized again in the same month when their patent to coin copper money in Ireland, granted some years previously, came under scrutiny. It was their deputy, Roger Moore, who was ‘prosecuted against’, but Coningsby was informed that the real motive of those who had raised the issue was to ‘strike at your lordship’s interest’. Then in October further remarks were passed concerning the favour Coningsby had allegedly shown to papists in 1690–2 over the selling of forfeited lands. Much more serious than these minor irritations was the prospect of opposition to the measures being proposed to safeguard his own grant, which had been his prime personal objective for some time. A general bill of attainder to confirm outlawries was supplemented, at Coningsby’s insistence, by a private bill confirming the particular outlawries upon which his grant depended. He had already been promised Winchester’s support, but made sure of it by assiduous solicitations for the passage of the Irish bills through the English Privy Council, which gratified the lords justices. He might also have hoped that the friendship he was endeavouring to forge with Charles Montagu, by collaborating on fiscal measures in Parliament and by ‘taking care of’ Montagu’s Irish concerns, would have contributed to the muzzling of Irish Whig interests. But while no voice was raised against Coningsby’s bill in the Irish privy council, where Winchester and his fellow lord justice, Lord Galway, presided, the Brodricks and their followers opposed him strongly in the Irish parliament, aided and abetted by the Tory faction led by the Duke of Ormond, and the bill was lost. Coningsby could reassure himself that at least the Treaty of Limerick had been ratified, in an amended form, which gave him some small security, but the potential remained for difficulties in the future. He therefore made some efforts to conciliate his Irish Whig enemies over the winter of 1697–8, using English as well as Irish contacts and evidently doing little to assist those Irish friends who appealed to him for protection against the Brodricks. There were rumblings of criticism against him in the Irish parliament in March 1698 for having stopped prosecutions for the seizure of forfeited estates, but by the following June, when another bill to confirm his grant was being contemplated, the attitude of the Brodrick brothers towards him had changed significantly. Alan Brodrick gave ‘all the assurances he can give that he will in all things serve your lordship’.17
It may have been anxiety over the fate of his Irish bill and resentment at the behaviour of the Irish Whigs in the autumn of 1697 that led Coningsby to attend a meeting at the house of Lord Rochester (Laurence Hyde†) prior to the 1697–8 session of the English Parliament, at which Country Whigs like his cousin Hon. Henry Boyle* were to be found. However, he was also present at a subsequent ministerial conference and, as the session got under way, he settled into his customary round of duties as a Court manager. On the 7th he moved that the House go into committee the next day to consider only the supply and not the King’s Speech as a whole, which was the opposition’s preference. In his official capacity he laid before the House during this month various accounts of the arrears due to Irish regiments, and in the debate on the army on 10 Dec. he followed Ranelagh and Charles Montagu in unavailingly opposing the Country party motion to disband all the forces raised since 1680. When the struggle over disbandment was resumed after the Christmas recess he acted as a teller for a Court amendment to the instruction to the committee of supply relating to the army estimates, which would have omitted all reference to that earlier vote. On 16 Feb. 1698 he was sent by the Commons to know when the King could be waited upon, and much later in the session, on 29 June, reported William’s answer to the address concerning the Londonderry garrison. He was twice a teller in divisions arising out of the inquiry into Exchequer bills: on 22 Feb., for the Court, against a motion condemning the receipt of bills by excise officers; and on 18 June, for leave for a clause to be added to a supply bill to permit the tellers of the Exchequer to accept bills in payment of taxes. Three of his speeches were on fiscal issues. In the debate on 8 Mar. on whether to reconsider the level of subsidies paid to the Allies, Coningsby proposed that a sixth of the sum agreed upon might be remitted as a sign of good faith, a suggestion that won support from Charles Montagu among others. On 13 Apr., in ways and means, he moved for ‘a quarterly poll’, and was seconded by Montagu – this being only a few days after the Treasury spokesmen had met together at the Cambridgeshire house of Lord Orford (Edward Russell*). Then, in the same committee, on 19 May, when the renewal of the sugar duty came under consideration, Coningsby answered opposition objections against reimposition by advancing the compromise solution of renewing for two years only. He continued his advocacy of Irish interests as the woollen bill was reintroduced. At the committal on 12 Feb. he argued strongly against the measure but made no impression. Surprisingly, perhaps, his other recorded speech in this session was in support of the blasphemy bill. With his rakish reputation, this expression of piety sounded strange to contemporaries, but it is worth remembering that Coningsby was a generous benefactor to the cause of the Huguenot refugees, a favourite charity of many ‘reforming’ MPs such as the Harleys, with whom Coningsby may still have wished to ingratiate himself for local reasons. At the end of the session he was included in two lists of placemen, and in August he succeeded finally in manoeuvring his erstwhile colleague Charles Fox out of the Irish paymastership, which he now had entirely to himself. Fox and his father, Sir Stephen*, were bitter at what they viewed as Coningsby’s intrigues, which went back at least two years, Coningsby refusing to assist Fox in his difficulties in the office and simultaneously misrepresenting Fox’s parliamentary conduct by ‘treacherous insinuation’. Nor was this development popular with opinion in England generally: a parliamentary report the preceding January had revealed that in May 1697 Coningsby had received an addition to his vice-treasurer’s salary of £1,000 a year ‘in consideration of his good services’, and many observers, including some who were themselves Court party men, felt it to be improper that he ‘should be so insatiable as to have some new grant every session’. One common explanation was that ‘this is given as a portion to his lady, and that it is to be the means of accommodating matters between the father[in-law] (Lord Ranelagh) and the son’. An alternative interpretation appeared in the autumn. Coningsby went over to Ireland in September 1698 to assist the Irish lords justices and lord chancellor, John Methuen*, with the management of the parliament there. A scheme was laid by Methuen, and it was said that Coningsby ‘came into this counsel at last; and, that his agreeing to go over, and make it effectual, got him to be sole paymaster’.18
Coningsby had returned from Ireland before the 1698 Parliament opened. He had been re-elected at Leominster easily enough despite previous difficulties: the ‘leather mob’ at Hereford had again in 1697 expressed their disapproval of the support given to the leather duty by local MPs, and in October of that year Coningsby had endured various ‘slights’ while canvassing in his borough. A comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments classed him as a Court supporter, and on the first day of the session he stood as a teller for Sir Thomas Littleton, 3rd Bt.*, in the division on the Speakership. On 16 Dec. Coningsby laid before the House some official papers relating to the Irish army, as he did again on 11 Jan. 1699. He was less active than before in financial business, but made up for this by his prominence in Court party moves in defence of a standing army. The first occurred on 19 Dec., at the report of a resolution of the committee of supply that would have limited the army in Ireland to 12,000 men. A clarifying amendment was moved to declare that the number included officers, but William Cowper* noted that ‘this was indiscreetly opposed by the paymaster of that army . . . who by that means had like to have renewed the debate and reduced that army to yet a lesser number, some beginning thereupon to debate if so many were necessary’. Despite Coningsby’s efforts, the amendment passed. The struggle then centred on the disbanding bill. On 22 Dec. the second reading was adjourned for a day ‘on motion of Lord Coningsby and [Charles] Montagu, with design as believed to get time to solicit against it’. He then spoke against committal, arguing the ministerial line that in the event of an invasion the kingdom would be left ‘without remedy’. King James would not be prevented from returning ‘if he hath a mind’. During Christmas Coningsby participated in a conclave of Court politicians presided over by Lord Chancellor Somers (Sir John*) at which the prospects for retaining a substantial standing force were ventilated, and tactics settled. One outcome of this meeting was the motion of 4 Jan. 1699 for an instruction to the committee on the disbanding bill to increase the numbers retained, to which Coningsby spoke. He also intervened twice in the crucial debate of 18 Jan. at the bill’s third reading, first to reiterate the usual comment that disbandment would ‘expose us to slavery by lessening our security’, and later, when a rider was proposed by a ministerialist to exempt the Dutch guards,
which probably would have been complied with by the House, but Lord Coningsby beginning to express himself against the bill itself, and being heard with more quiet and attention than had been usual for the House to give to such as before spoke against the provision of the bill, it encouraged him and others to debate at large against the bill.
His name was of course included in the black list of those who had voted for a standing army. He spoke twice for the Court in the committee of supply, on 3 Feb. and 2 Mar., and in the committee of inquiry into naval mismanagements on 10 Mar. he sprang to the defence of Lord Orford and the Navy Board. Opposition to the East India bill, against which he was a teller on 9 Mar. 1699, was another political stance dictated for him by his involvement with the Court. The same could not be said of his support for the immorality bill, which many courtiers opposed but which was of a piece with his backing for the previous year’s blasphemy bill; unless it was part of a tactical move to dissociate the ministry from opposition to the bill. On issues relating to Ireland he was certainly at greater liberty. Busy again in the ‘Irish lobby’, he presented on 4 Apr. 1699 a bill to take off the duty on Irish linen imported into England, as a compensation for the textile industry in Ireland should the woollen bill pass, a measure against which he also ‘laboured’ hard. The fact that two of his daughters either had married or were about to marry Anglo-Irish squires with property in woollen-manufacturing districts gave him something of a personal interest in the subject, besides his general concern to cultivate some influence in Irish political circles and, it may be conjectured, a role for himself in English politics as an expert on Irish affairs.19
Ireland, however, remained Coningsby’s Achilles’ heel where the question of the forfeited estates was concerned. The matter had been brought up again, this time at Westminster, with the appointment of a parliamentary commission of inquiry; the report of this commission was submitted in December 1699, and the tremulous Coningsby found that not only was his own grant detailed, together with the fact that he had recently sold the property, but that he and Romney were accused of receiving goods during their governorship for which they had not accounted. To draw the sting from possible criticism, Coningsby spoke up in favour of a bill of resumption when the Commons considered the report, on 15 Dec. A subsequent motion, on 13 Jan. 1700, that the report be printed, touched a tender spot: he appeared ‘very pathetic in their expostulations, not to be proclaimed criminals . . . upon false suggestions’. At the committal of the resumption bill, on 18 Jan., he supported a motion that a third of the forfeited lands still be reserved to the King’s disposal. He was doubtless encouraged by the thought that this stand would be gratifying to William, and in his speech ‘said the King had ventured and exposed himself for the reducing of Ireland, and repeated the history of Ireland’. Even so, his remarks were observed by the Prussian resident to be noticeably muted, except when it came to protesting that neither he himself nor any other of the grantees had broken a law by receiving the properties in question. He became a little bolder as the opposition increased the vehemence of its attack. On 13 Feb., the day after the House had been informed of grants of forfeited estates in England, including those he had himself received, he acted as a teller against the motion, chiefly aimed at Somers, condemning those ministers concerned in procuring grants for themselves. Then on 26 Feb., when the King’s answer to the Commons’ address over the Irish forfeitures was reported, and opposition Members protested that those who had advised William as to his response were guilty of ‘endeavouring to create a misunderstanding’ between King and people, Coningsby reverted to his previous timidity, denying that, as a Privy Councillor, he had taken any part in the advice. This drew the observation that all Councillors would now have to ‘make their confessions’. Coningsby had been classified as a placeman in a list of the interest-groups in the House compiled early in 1700, and several of his contributions to debates show him continuing to support the Court on financial business. On 31 Jan. he joined other ministerial spokesmen in opposing a resolution of the committee of ways and means for a duty on imported East India stuffs, and on 24 Mar., when the deficiencies of funds were being considered, he supported Ranelagh and Montagu in the proposition to dock half-pay officers a quarter of their salaries to make up the shortfall, a speech which may have led to an incident shortly afterwards in which he was insulted by a half-pay officer in the court of requests. Challenged to a duel, Coningsby refused to give satisfaction and instead complained of a breach of privilege. The aggrieved officer was not the only person to be angered by Coningsby’s manner of discharging his official responsibilities. In common with other office-holders he proved deliberately unco-operative when called upon by the commissioners for taking army accounts. In the House his remaining tellership this session was in a party cause, on 14 Dec. 1699 in favour of Charles Montagu’s brother, Irby Montagu*, in the disputed election for Maldon.20
In his ‘History of Parties’, presented to King George I after the Hanoverian succession, Coningsby described the circumstances leading up to the ministerial reconstruction late in 1700. It was, he said, the consequence of a deep-laid plot by ‘the Jacobite interest’ in the Commons, who by ‘cramping the public credit’ had prolonged the Nine Years War and thus made the Junto Whig ministry unpopular in the country. The Tory party having attained a majority in Parliament, King William was forced to ‘throw himself into the Tories’ hands’. Possibly Coningsby believed this at the time. But, scenting a change in the wind, he also sought to rebuild his relations with leading Tories, notably Godolphin, with whom he renewed an amicable correspondence as early as the summer of 1700. Hon. James Brydges*, visiting the Duke of Marlborough (John Churchill†) on 31 Oct. 1700, found Marlborough in the company of Godolphin, Henry Guy* and Coningsby. A correspondence was also renewed with Rochester. Robert Harley was another important figure for Coningsby to conciliate, and he seems to have tried to do so. But electoral politics in Herefordshire made for difficulties. Coningsby had entered into an alliance there with Henry Cornewall*, a maverick local Tory, to challenge established Tory interests in the county and at Weobley. He was even accused of trying to secure for himself a monopoly over the parliamentary representation of the county. The alliance with Cornewall brought Coningsby into conflict with the Harleys whether or not he himself wished it. In fact, both Coningsby and Harley professed to want no more than the peace and quiet of the county and a consensual choice of candidates by ‘gentlemen’. Coningsby’s real motives may have been different. He claimed that he would have preferred to assist Harley’s brother Edward in the three-cornered contest that arose at Leominster and involved Coningsby himself, Edward Harley and another Whig, John Dutton Colt*. It was only Cornewall’s connexion with Colt, and his own engagement to remain neutral, that prevented him; or so he said. But Coningsby’s attitude to the Harleys was always ambivalent, and envy was never far from his mind. He may have relished the chance to see Edward dished at Leominster while taking advantage of Robert Harley’s evident detachment from local political struggles to make himself the arbiter of Herefordshire elections. At any rate, the apologies and forced cordiality between the two men that followed the January 1701 election rang hollow, as in 1690. When the Parliament met, Coningsby was moderately active. He presented the Irish army accounts to the House on 28 Mar., while the first speech attributed to him in this Parliament was on 15 Apr., at the report of the Partition Treaty address. An amendment was proposed to declare Members’ readiness to support King William’s government against all its enemies, at home and abroad. Coningsby ‘would have the words insisted’ but feared what would happen if the amendment was put and not carried – ‘it might be a thing of dangerous consequence to England’ – so himself moved the previous question. A week later, when the subject of Exchequer bills was under discussion, he protested at the irregularity of a motion made by John Grobham Howe for going immediately upon ways and means. As befitted one who still held an important office, his approach to important political questions was careful and moderate, and calculated to appeal to the sentiments of the King. On 5 May he spoke against a proposal to appropriate part of the civil list for public expenditure. Recalling an earlier theme, and professing the greatest concern for the fate of William’s foreign policy, he stressed that ‘it would sound ill abroad’ to seem to show disrespect to the King. He was therefore happy to be able to join Robert Harley and other Court Tories in endorsing the compromise proposal put forward by Sir Edward Seymour, to preserve the civil list funds and underwrite them by anticipating future taxation. He was still the object of High Tory animosity, as was shown by yet another reference in a debate on 30 May to the affair of Gaffney. On this occasion Coningsby was fortunate that the baiting was done by the notorious eccentric Sir John Bolles, 4th Bt.*, possibly one of the few Members against whom Coningsby could be confident of scoring a point, as indeed he did, if somewhat clumsily, noting that ‘Bolles might do anything in any place safely, for he always carried his privilege about him’. However, the impeachments controversy in this Parliament placed Coningsby in a delicate situation, given his partisan identification and his close association with the old ministry. When on 4 June he spoke against sending a message to the Lords and in favour of continuing with conferences in the usual manner, he felt himself obliged to say that he was ‘as much for the honour and dignity of the House as anybody’. The skill with which he performed his balancing act is evident from his absence from any of the electoral ‘white’ or ‘black’ lists published at around this time, and Robert Harley’s inability to classify him with the Whigs or the Tories in his analysis of the Members returned at the second general election of 1701. Sunderland, however, had accurately judged Coningsby’s shift of position. The Earl’s considered opinion in the aftermath of the 1701 Parliament was that the King should turn back to the Whigs, but he added that William ‘would do well to propose none of this to . . . Coningsby’. In the November election Coningsby would seem to have done nothing to harm the Harleys, and was returned at Leominster with Edward Harley. In Parliament the abjuration bill drew Coningsby’s particular interest: he clashed with the Tory Hon. Heneage Finch I* in a debate on the bill on 9 Feb. During their exchange Coningsby observed that ‘the bill looked as if it was made in another place [and] fitted for the humour and palate of those that could not digest the abjuration oath’. Another Tory Member vainly called for him to be brought to the bar, but the quarrel was made up. He was a teller once, in a party matter, over the East Retford election on 17 Mar., where he supported the Whig candidates, and himself introduced two bills: the routine bill to raise the militia (31 Mar.), and a bill for the relief of Sir Redmond Everard, 4th Bt., a convert from Catholicism and the scion of an Irish Jacobite family, whose cause he may have taken up as a favour to the Duke of Ormond, or the then viceroy of Ireland, Rochester. His two remaining speeches show him abetting the Court. Both occurred on 2 May, over the Queen’s message concerning the declaration of war; and in the second of them he moved an amendment to the address against foreign officers, to exempt from objection those on half-pay.21
Coningsby’s memoirs depict Queen Anne’s first ministry as entirely dominated by the Tories, and thus, as far as he was concerned, intolerable. In fact, he was able to work with the Godolphin–Marlborough administration from the very first, even while it was predominantly Tory in complexion. He based himself on his close personal relationship with Lord Treasurer Godolphin, and his burgeoning friendship with the Duke of Marlborough, whose favour he courted in a succession of flattering letters. He also tried to force a friendship with Robert Harley, though predictably with less success. As early as November 1702 he had been admitted to the small circle of parliamentary managers to whom Godolphin looked ‘to adjust what shall be opened to the House’. On 7 Dec. Coningsby acted on behalf of the ministry, and more particularly on behalf of his father-in-law, when he told for the adjournment of a debate on Ranelagh’s accounts, in order to forestall a motion of censure against him. For some reason he quarrelled bitterly in the House on 15 Jan. 1703 with the Tory Henry Fleming* and the two men had to be prevailed upon not to pursue their quarrel outside. The dispute may have arisen from a debate on Coningsby’s motion to add to a supply bill a clause to remove customs duty on imported linen yarn and thread from Ireland. Fleming, as a west-country Member, could well have taken part in the political conflicts over the Irish weaving industries. In the division of 13 Feb. 1703 regarding the Lords’ amendments to the bill for enlarging the time to take the oath of abjuration, Coningsby again differed from the Tories by voting for the amendments. But when he went over to Ireland in April 1703 it was to assist the new Tory viceroy, Ormond. Admittedly, his real purpose was to curry favour with the ‘duumvirs’. He wrote to Marlborough, ‘I hope I may be serviceable to her Majesty’s affairs in that kingdom, and thereby to show your Grace I will always endeavour to deserve that favour and protection I have received from you.’ To Robert Harley he declared he would follow advice given him by Harley’s father ‘when I came first into this country, not to forget I was an Englishman’. He stayed for the early stages of the Irish parliamentary session, supporting the Court interest there and suffering ‘ill usage’ from Ormond’s Whig opponents, before hastening back for the opening of the English session. Back at Westminster, he did what he could to solicit the passage of Irish bills through the Privy Council, and was an especially vehement advocate of the notorious ‘bill to prevent the further growth of popery’. His contribution to the 1703–4 session of the English Parliament was unusually small, with no tellerships, and only one private bill that he himself brought in on 5 Jan. 1704.22
The removal of the High Tory element from the administration in early 1704 made the atmosphere of government rather more congenial to Coningsby. He reappeared as a leading Court spokesman in the Commons in the 1704–5 session. Forecast as a probable opponent of the Tack, he was employed by Robert Harley to canvass Members, and not only voted but acted as a teller for the Court in the crucial division on 28 Nov. Privately he described the Tack as ‘a most desperate attempt of an angry squadron’. He was a teller against passing the place bill on 27 Jan. 1705, and brought in the bill for raising the militia on 1 Feb., before succumbing to ill-health – ‘a violent defluxion of his eye’ – and absenting himself from the House in March as a result. A supporter of the bill to promote the linen industry in Ireland, he had earlier taken the chair of the committee on a private bill on behalf of various Protestant Irish landowners, and had done his best to ease the passage through the Privy Council of legislation from the Irish parliament. He remained on good terms with the Duke of Ormond and advised on the conduct of the second parliamentary session in Ireland, in 1705. In England the general election of May 1705 saw him re-elected at the top of the poll in Leominster, apparently for once co-operating effectively with the Harleys in Herefordshire. Lists of the new Parliament classed him as a placeman and as ‘Low Church’. His own view of the prospects that the election result opened up was conveyed in a letter to the Duke of Marlborough. ‘This is such a Parliament’, he wrote,
as all that truly love the Queen and her government in our present circumstances would wish for. Neither party can pretend to govern the House, by which means it will naturally follow that the Queen’s servants may, with right management, be able not only to prevent the mischiefs designed by the angry Tories, but to lead the Whigs in carrying on the public business, and there is a very comfortable difference between having the Queen’s interest at the head of a party and being obliged to follow it.
This was precisely the political analysis being expounded by Robert Harley, though Coningsby saw the practical implications somewhat differently. He began the 1705–6 session by voting on 25 Oct. for the Court candidate as Speaker, and was a teller on 24 Nov. for the courtier Henry Killigrew* in the St. Albans election case. Grey Neville* recorded numerous speeches by him. On 4 Dec. he spoke on the bill to repeal the Alien Act and then argued against the ‘Hanover motion’ as ‘a disrespect’ to Queen Anne. He intervened three times on 8 Dec. over the Lords’ resolution condemning those who declared the Church of England to be ‘in danger’. Strongly supporting the resolution, he observed that ‘pulpits were the greatest danger to incite the people’, and that the only purpose of the occasional conformity bills had been to ‘garble elections’. Responding to remarks by Hon. Arthur Annesley*, he went on to justify the continuance of the regium donum, the annual pension paid to Presbyterian ministers in Ulster. Having acted to protect the lord treasurer from being exposed during a debate on the regency bill on 19 Dec., when the Tory firebrand Charles Caesar* spoke of the Jacobite contacts of a ‘certain lord’ and some cried for the peer to be named, Coningsby spoke several times to the bill in its later stages. Most notably he supported on 10 Jan. 1706 the clause that imposed the penalties of praemunire on anyone who ‘by preaching, teaching or advised speaking’ cast aspersions upon the legitimacy of the Queen’s rule; and on 12 Jan. he opposed the motion to insert clauses to safeguard the provisions of the Act of Settlement, in particular the ‘place clause’. On 21 Jan. the ‘place clause’ was debated at length, and three speeches of Coningsby are recorded, all of which were against it, chiefly because the contentions the clause provoked were delaying what was a vital measure. On 18 Feb. he voted, on the Court side, against the clause. In the following session he was the Member who, on 28 Jan. 1707, laid before the House the Articles of Union with Scotland. Later, on 11 Feb., he was nominated to the committee to prepare the bill of Union, and argued strongly for its acceptance. When a proposal was made to prevent the re-importation from Scotland after the Union of wine previously exported from England, he rounded on the Member concerned and barked out, ‘What? Are you mad? You will destroy the Union. You had as good throw it out of the window as move any such thing.’ Evidently as a favour to Shrewsbury, he supported the bill for preserving the salt springs at Droitwich, speaking on 6 Mar. to ‘expose’ the irregular proceedings of the petitioners against the bill. He was a teller on 10 Mar. for the bill for the better preservation of game. Otherwise his significant parliamentary activity concerned Irish business. It was reported to Archbishop King of Dublin in January 1707 that Coningsby was full of good intentions towards the Church of Ireland, and that he was of opinion a bill should be brought into the English Parliament ‘to quieten church livings’ there. On 18 Feb. Coningsby presented a measure to make more effectual the Acts for appropriating forfeited impropriations in Ireland to the building of churches and the augmentations of small vicarages. A week earlier he and Francis Annesley* had successfully moved for a private bill on Archbishop King’s behalf. Then on 27 Mar. Coningsby was a teller with Robert Molesworth* to enable the committee on the salt duties bill to receive a clause to explain ‘some doubts’ relating to the re-exportation to England of Portuguese and Spanish wines imported into Ireland. With a change of lord lieutenant in Ireland in 1707, and the appointment there of the Court Whig Lord Pembroke (Thomas Herbert†), Coningsby had seen the opportunity to set himself up as the ministry’s principal adviser on Irish affairs. He travelled to Dublin with Pembroke in the summer of 1707 and tried to act as a broker between the viceroy and the leading Irish politicians, though no one there really trusted him.23
The turn of political events in the winter of 1707–8 raised Coningsby to prominence in the Commons as one of that group of ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’, or as he himself put it ‘the moderate Whigs’, who worked to ‘carry on the public business . . . in opposition to the wild embroilments attempted by the Junto, and the open opposition given by the Jacobite faction’. Until the fall of Robert Harley in February 1708 the ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’ were allied to Harley’s faction of Court Tories, but always kept a distance from them. Coningsby in particular was regarded as ‘a mere creature of lord t[reasure]r, and what he said in the House of Commons was always looked upon as the sense of lord t[reasure]r’. His name appeared in a list of Court party managers sent to Harley in October 1707. A teller on 17 Nov. against giving leave for a bill to repeal the Game Act, Coningsby presented to the House on the following day an account of the pensions paid on the Irish establishment. In a committee on 4 Dec. he opposed the motion, put forward by the Squadrone and backed by the Junto, that j.p.s in Scotland be invested with the same powers as their counterparts in England. Coningsby moved an amendment, in the words ‘as far as was consistent with the twentieth article of the treaty, which is very express for preserving all heritable rights and jurisdictions as they were at the time of framing the treaty’. His argument was simply that the original motion contravened the Union. If the proposal was to be accepted in any form, he suggested it might be added to the bill to repeal the Scottish acts of security and anent peace and war. Subsequently he acted as a teller on 12 Dec. against entrusting the repeal bill to a committee of the whole. He was also a teller the same day on the Court side for an amendment to the land tax bill. When the political storm broke over the inquiry into the conduct of the war in Spain, Coningsby was to the fore. With another ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whig’, Robert Walpole II*, he served as a teller on 29 Jan. 1708 in favour of adjourning debate. Then on 18 and 23 Feb. it was Coningsby who reported the Queen’s answer to Commons’ addresses on the disparity between the number of troops paid for and the number actually present at the battle of Almanza. In the immediate aftermath of the Harleyites’ loss of office (for which, in later years, he unconvincingly claimed responsibility himself), he was highly active in support of the ministry. He acted as a teller on 22 Mar. against giving a second reading to the bill to prevent the importation of woollen and worsted yarn. However a bout of ill-health, apparently eye trouble again, kept him out of public notice for much of the remainder of the session. In the delicate political circumstances of the time it is not inconceivable that this outbreak was diplomatic in origin.24
Coningsby was still described as a Whig tout court in parliamentary lists compiled in early 1708, but he was now generally recognized as a Court Whig. Like other ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’, he was uneasy at his estrangement from the Junto lords, since it was increasingly likely that they would come to dominate the administration. Instinct for self-preservation led him to reopen lines of communication. In October 1708, for example, he and the 3rd Earl of Sunderland (Charles, Lord Spencer*) ‘dined . . . at Pontacks with their City friends’. There ‘they took Lille and raised six millions in a trice without the assistance of any but their own party’, as Coningsby ‘declared . . . in all the public places, adding that lord treasurer had promised to drop the Duke of Queensberry, and to surrender himself up entirely to the sage advices of the Junto’. More significantly, Coningsby tried to identify himself with the latest change of policy in Ireland, where Junto pressure brought about the replacement of Pembroke by Lord Wharton (Hon. Thomas*) in December 1708. Turning with the prevailing wind, Coningsby, who had once argued strongly against Wharton’s appointment, now submitted to the ministers a paper critical of Pembroke’s management, and sought to ingratiate himself with Pembroke’s successor, offering his services as an intermediary between Wharton and the Irish Whig politicians. As before, however, neither viceroy nor Irish ‘undertakers’ would trust him. Indeed, in the early stages of Wharton’s lord lieutenancy in the spring of 1709, Coningsby complained that he was disregarded, and he may even have been threatened with the loss of his paymastership. It was only when Wharton needed his good offices with the ‘duumvirs’ to prevent interference with Irish appointments or with Irish legislation that friendly relations were established, but this was never more than a cynical collusion of mutual vested interests. In a way that he cannot fully have intended, Coningsby had come to be dependent upon Godolphin and Marlborough, whom he had been cultivating for many years and more recently had been plying with advice on political strategy in England, the burden of which was to continue with ‘steady management’, not to ‘gratify’ the Whigs in their ‘designs’ and to lead ‘the party’ rather than being led by it. With other ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’ he kept close to Godolphin during the 1708–9 session. He opposed the Scottish treason trials bill, on the grounds that ‘no traitor could now forfeit either life or estate’, and moved an amendment ‘for attainting the Pretender in Scotland as he is already in England’. In the debate, probably on 10 Mar. 1709, over the attempted invasion of the preceding year he made an odd intervention. George Lockhart* reported:
I must observe what fell from . . . Lord Coningsby . . . who spoke last. Everybody knows he’s a person of great capacity, and so much confided in by the ministry that without doubt he must be thoroughly acquainted with the inclinations and temper of her Majesty’s subjects in all her dominions, and since his lordship was pleased to assert that there were ten times more disaffected persons in Ireland than Scotland, I am ready to believe it.
He evidently assisted the Court over the recruiting bill, and proved his party loyalties by supporting the naturalization of the Palatines and by opposing (Sir) Simon Harcourt I* in the bitterly contested election dispute at Abingdon, which led to ‘very high words’ with Robert Harley. During the summer he took part in various intrigues set on foot between Godolphin and Marlborough and individual Junto lords, with a view to dividing the Junto and thus holding them in check. He himself believed that ‘there was no confidence between any two of them but my Lord President [Somers] and my Lord Sunderland’. Later, in a letter to Marlborough, he recalled a meeting with Godolphin, the Duke and Duchess, at which
it was considered how the majority we then held in the House of Commons could be best maintained, considering the different views the leaders of the two sorts of Whigs which made the majority had at that time, and which I [?presumed] to [?affirm] from the observations I had made . . . to be so precarious that it was not possible it should through the continuance of that Parliament [?hold] unless some [?breach] were made upon the best sort of Tories, which, as it lessened . . . that party so by adding to those Whigs which had listed under your grace and my lord treasurer would have kept the Junto and their small party . . . in awe. But my lord treasurer replied such a method would create jealousy to the lords with whom we had then joined and there was no way but to go on in conjunction with them.
The appointment of Orford to the Admiralty commission in November 1709 reunited the Junto, however, and accelerated the drift of ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’ back to their ranks. Coningsby at this stage resurrected the notion of a ‘middle scheme’ in order to ‘recover this near-lost game’ and in some desperation urged Marlborough that ‘my lord treasurer must be prevailed upon not to prefer any of their [the Junto] wretched dependents preferable [sic] to the other Whigs that opposed them’. But in the absence of any such initiative, although he continued to give Godolphin his counsel, he was himself obliged to act in Parliament with the Junto Whigs. In the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell, the action which would certainly have wrecked any ‘middle scheme’, he secured for himself a leading part. On 13 Dec. he supported the motion to condemn Sacheverell’s sermons, and on the 14th, when the impeachment was moved, proposed calling in the doctor and his publisher. On 11 Jan. he told against a Tory motion to recommit the report of the committee for drawing up the articles. At the trial he was given the easiest article to speak to, as he himself admitted, somewhat ingenuously; that is to say, the third article, that Sacheverell had ‘falsely’ and ‘maliciously’ asserted the Church to be in danger under Queen Anne’s government. One Whig propagandist claimed that he had ‘discharged his part with skill and fidelity’, but evidently found his speech so unmemorable that none of it was quoted. A more acerbic commentator, biased against him, wrote that Coningsby
spoke so indifferently, and seemed to have taken so little pains, that some of his friends said he spoke like one that expected a change of affairs. He said the doctor’s answer was from beginning to end one false and malicious misrepresentation of everything, and that he endeavoured to draw a scheme of a church as tyrannical as his state.
During the trial Coningsby found himself once more the butt of an opponent’s wit, when ‘with great passion’ he declared in conversation that ‘“I was always against the father and will be against the son” (meaning the Pretender)’ only to be answered, ‘“Aye, my lord, and against the Holy Ghost too”’. Naturally, he was blacklisted as having voted for Sacheverell’s impeachment. Meanwhile, he had told on 15 Feb. 1710 in favour of a motion for an address that Marlborough be sent over to attend the peace negotiations. He also presented, on 18 Feb., a turnpike bill for his neighbouring county of Gloucester.25
The high political manoeuvres of the summer and autumn of 1710 saw Coningsby allying himself rather more closely with Marlborough, whom he may have regarded as indispensable to any new ministry, than with Godolphin, who appeared certain to fall victim to Robert Harley’s ministerial coup. His memoirs claim that at one point he had alerted Marlborough to an intrigue Godolphin had begun with the Tories, which would have sacrificed the captain-general, and that he subsequently acted the role of a messenger between the ‘duumvirs’. However, no part of this story is borne out by strictly contemporary evidence. As far as Harley was concerned, Coningsby was a marked man, despite, or perhaps because of, their old acquaintance. On 7 July 1710 he received notice of dismissal from his Irish offices. Godolphin expressed his sorrow for ‘poor Lord Coningsby, who has never done one single act since the Queen came to the crown, but with the greatest duty imaginable’, adding, ‘he seems to think some great lie has been told of him’. The Earl of Mar, on the other hand, noting that the vice-treasurership in particular was worth some £7,000 p.a., observed that Coningsby’s ‘character . . . was none of the best with all sides, everybody knowing him to be a knave’, and a similar judgment came from one of the Irish Whigs with whom he had frequently crossed swords in the past. It is not clear whether Coningsby was ever involved in any of the negotiations between Harley, Godolphin and several of the ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’, but if he did figure briefly in them his participation ended when, in an interview with the Queen, he allegedly
laid before her the inevitable dangers that must attend her making any . . . change in her ministry (till after a peace with France) to the credit of the nation; to herself, with regard to her civil list; and even to the safety of her person and government, and the whole Protestant interest of the world.
Her anger was predictable, and closed off Coningsby’s prospects for rehabilitation. To the dismay of Godolphin and many Whigs, he announced that he would not seek re-election in 1710. Several other Members who had also been among the managers of Dr Sacheverell’s impeachment reached the same decision, but although fear of a popular reaction against them on this score may have been an inhibiting factor, it is perhaps more significant that all were former ‘Lord Treasurer’s Whigs’ experiencing a common disillusionment with party politics. Coningsby, in particular, seems to have devoted the last four years of Anne’s reign to the improvement of his estate at Hampton Court, Herefordshire, in which he was able to invest substantially. He continued to cultivate the Marlboroughs, and even sought to resume his once cordial relations with Ormond, now reappointed Irish lord lieutenant. A letter to Ormond’s chief secretary in March 1711 urged the recipient to ‘let my lord duke know that I ever was to him a faithful servant’. To the Harleys, however, he remained bitterly antagonistic, opposing their interest in Herefordshire constituencies even though he was not standing himself. After the Hanoverian succession he reappeared on the national stage as one of the most vindictive critics of the outgoing Tory ministers, and especially of Robert Harley, now Earl of Oxford, in whose impeachment Coningsby was a prime mover. He referred to the Harleys as ‘the authors of all our miseries’. Returned again for Leominster as a Whig in the 1715 general election, he sat in the Commons for a little over a year before being raised to the British peerage.26
Coningsby’s later years were darkened by the failure of his various vendettas and by a plethora of troublesome lawsuits. He even spent some time in the Tower in 1720–1 for ‘reflections’ made upon the lord chancellor in connexion with litigation over the manor of Marden in Herefordshire, where he had convinced himself that his rights as lord had been infringed by the copyhold tenants. In his own justification he collected and published a set of documents concerning the history of the manor, made up into a large, disorganized and tedious volume. His political utterances, ever more violently Whiggish, were on occasion so wild as to suggest a degeneration in his mental powers, an impression that his vain resolve to court the widowed Duchess of Marlborough does not do a great deal to dispel, for all her vast riches. Coningsby died at Hampton Court on 1 May 1729, and was buried at the nearby church of Hope-under-Dinsmore. Of his three titles, the Irish peerage was inherited by a grandson of his first marriage; the British barony, from which the descendants of his first wife had been debarred, and which was confined to the male heirs of subsequent unions, became extinct; but the earldom went, through a special remainder, to his elder daughter by his second wife, who had already been created Viscountess Coningsby in her own right, and now succeeded him as Countess of Coningsby.27
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. PRO NI, De Ros mss D638/55/11, Henry Boyle to Coningsby, 11 Aug. 1711; C. J. Robinson, Mansions and Manors of Herefs. 148–9.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. ix. 110, 684; xxv. 321; xxix. 161; Liber Munerum Publicorum Hiberniae ed. Lascelles, i(2), p. 47; A. B. Beaven’s list of Irish PCs, Hist. of Parl.; SP 63/362/10, 69; Japikse, Correspondentie, ii. 55; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1697–1702, pp. 550–1.
- 3. Arch. Camb. (ser. 3), iii. 189.
- 4. CJ, xii. 508; A. Savidge, Foundation and Early Years of Q. Anne’s Bounty, 124.
- 5. CJ, xi. 652, 654–5.
- 6. Add. 47128, f. 53; Robinson, 147.
- 7. Add. 70252, James Powle to Robert Harley*, 23 Feb. 1689[–90]; 70064, Coningsby to Sir Edward Harley, 9 Mar., 7 Nov. 1690, Sir Edward Harley to Coningsby, 11 Dec. 1690; 70233, same to Robert Harley, 18 Nov. 1690; HMC Portland, iii. 443, 446; v. 645.
- 8. Bodl. Rawl. A.279, ff. 82, 88; Grey, x. 57, 141; Bull IHR, lii. 43.
- 9. Add. 70270, Robert to Elizabeth Harley, 29 May 1690; 30149, passim; Macaulay, Hist. Eng. iv. 1876, 2068–9; Trinity, Dublin, Clarke mss 749/13/1266, William Robinson to George Clarke*, 17 Oct. 1691; Trinity, Dublin, Lyons (King) coll. 2008a/190, Bp. King to James Bonnell, 4 Dec. 1691; S. B. Baxter, Wm. III, 277–8; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 299b, Coningsby and Sydney to Portland, 27 Sept. 1690; De Ros mss D638/6/8, 14, Ranelagh to Coningsby, 27 Oct. 1690, 17 Sept. 1692; D638/11, Ld. Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) to lds. justices [I], 25 Nov. 1690–30 July 1692; D638/12, Ld. Athlone to same, 2 Dec. 1690–20 Oct. 1692; D638/14, Sydney to same, 24 Jan. 1691–13 Dec. 1692; Bodl. Carte 130, f. 324; CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 269–70; 1695, p. 167; J. G. Simms, Jacobite Ire. 188–9, 193, 212–14; J. G. Simms, Williamite Confiscation in Ire. 56, 58; Luttrell, Brief Relation, ii. 381; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 46, 52.
- 10. CSP Dom. 1695, pp. 210, 220; HMC Leyborne-Popham, 280–1; Penal Era and Golden Age ed. Bartlett and Hayton, 10–23; Luttrell, ii. 617–18; Grey, x. 251–2, 304; Luttrell Diary, 237, 248, 254, 260, 268, 282, 289, 317, 393, 401, 406, 414; Add. 70017, ff. 5, 22; 70114, Paul Foley I* to Sir Edward Harley, 10 Jan. 1692[–3]; 70235, Sir Edward to Robert Harley, 14 Jan. 1692[–3]; 70126, Ferdinando Gorges to Sir Edward Harley, 17 Jan. 1692[–3]; Burnet, Supp. ed. Foxcroft, 352; Hatton Corresp. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xxiii), 187–8; Bodl. Tanner 25, f. 7.
- 11. HMC Portland, iii. 476, 482, 511, 534, 539, 542; viii. 35, 37; De Ros mss D638/13/112, John Pulteney* to Coningsby, 13 Feb. 1692; D638/18/11, [?Francis Gwyn*] to same, 24 June 1693; D638/27/1, John Edgworth to same, [c.Aug. 1693]; Luttrell Diary, 237, 439–40, 446; Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 2385, notes on debate, 23 Nov. ; Penal Era and Golden Age, 23–27; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 111; HMC 7th Rep. 220; Macaulay, iv. 2033; Gallienus Redivivus . . . (1695), pp. 14–16; Huntington Lib. Ellesmere mss EL9918, 9985; Carte 130, f. 345; Ranke, vi. 214; Tanner 25, ff. 33, 58; Egerton 2540, f. 56; EHR, lxxi. 583; Luttrell, iii. 121, 123, 153, 164; Add. 70064, 70264, 70278, drafts of answer by Bellomont and Hamilton to PC, [17 Aug. 1693]; 70017, ff. 149, 157; CSP Dom. 1693, p. 295.
- 12. De Ros mss D638/18/14, Porter to Coningsby, 22 Aug. 1693; D638/27/3, John Edgworth to same, 2 June ; Grey, x. 364–5, 368; Add. 17677 OO, f. 160; Nat. Archs. Ire. Wyche mss 1/103, Sir William Russell† to Sir Cyril Wyche*, 23 Jan. 1693[–4]; Luttrell, iii. 279, 310; CSP Dom. 1694–5, pp. 115, 134.
- 13. EHR, lxxviii. 102; Horwitz, 200; CSP Dom. 1694–5, pp. 307, 310, 362; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 145–6, 153; Japikse, ii. 44; HMC Portland, iii. 557.
- 14. Add. 70017, f. 337; Ranke, vi. 249; HMC Portland, iii. 559; Carte 76, f. 531; 130, f. 355; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 996, 1031–2, 1102–3.
- 15. Add. 70118, Edward to Sir Edward Harley, 19 Jan. 1693[–4]; 70017, f. 234; 70257, Henry Seward to Robert Harley, 31 Dec. 1695; 70235, Sir Edward Harley to same, 18 June 1694; 70018, f. 35; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 1 Oct. 1695; Carte 239, f. 71; 130, f. 359; 79, f. 663; Luttrell, iii. 532; CSP Dom. 1696, pp. 79, 182; Acct. of Procs. in House of Commons, in Relation to Recoining . . . (1696), p. 9; HMC Hastings, ii. 253; Shrewsbury Corresp. 117; HMC Buccleuch, ii. 229, 235, 361; Portland (Bentinck) mss PwA 2522, Portland to the King, 29 May 1696; PwA 240, 246, 252, Capell to Portland, 27 May, 28 Sept., 6 Nov. 1695; HMC Portland, iii. 569–70; Wyche mss 1/136, bp. of Kildare to Wyche, 28 Sept. 1695; HMC Downshire, i. 574; De Ros mss D638/18/18, 39, 41–42, 48, 52, 54, 56–57, Porter to Coningsby, 15 Jan., 17, 27 Feb., 11 Mar., 15 May, 8, 24 Oct., 1, 9 Nov. 1695; Japikse, ii. 49, 55; Surr. RO (Guildford), Midleton mss 1248/1, ff. 274, 278–9, Alan to St. John Brodrick, 21 Sept., 17 Dec. 1695.
- 16. BN, Renaudot mss NAF 7487, f. 337; Add. 70113, Coningsby to Sir Edward Harley, 22 Sept. 1696; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 20–21, 49, 64, 110; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/13, 24, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 29 Oct., 19 Nov. 1696; Macaulay, vi. 2662; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 1020, 1052; CSP Dom. 1697, p. 464; 1698, p. 207; 7th Duke of Manchester, Court and Soc. Eliz. to Anne, ii. 75; Devonshire mss at Chatsworth House, 135/0, Coningsby to his cousin, 6 July 1713; HMC Hastings, ii. 288; De Ros mss D638/6/19, Ranelagh to Coningsby, 28 Dec. 1699; Cal. Treas. Bks. xii. 7, 85, 95–96, 111–12.
- 17. CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 138, 471; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, i. 237–8; Bodl. Shelburne mss mic. Henry Petty to James Waller, 9 June 1697; De Ros mss D638/1/10, 14–16, 19–22, John Hely to Coningsby, 19 Sept. 1696, 2, 28 Aug., 6 Sept., 23 Oct., 1 Dec. 1697, 26 Mar., 7 June 1698; D638/30/6, Sir Thomas Southwell to same, 22 Oct. 1697; D638/18/86–87, Porter to same, 20 Oct. 1696, n.d.; D638/35/1–2, Winchester to same, 6, 13 Nov. 1697; D638/137/12, Ld. Drogheda to same, 11 Oct. 1697; Lyons (King) coll. 1999/547, Ld. Clifford (Charles Boyle I*) to Bp. King, 30 Oct. 1697; Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/155, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 21 Oct. 1697; Add. 57861, f. 41.
- 18. Montagu (Boughton) mss 46/156, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 23 Oct. 1697; Horwitz, 208, 226; CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 501, 506; 1698, pp. 134–5, 193, 195, 207, 258; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, ii. 9, 143; Carte 130, f. 389; Add. 70083, Jacob [?Rouffiona] to Sir Edward Harley, 9 Aug. 169[–]; 51324, ff. 50, 53, 57–59; Luttrell, iv. 430; Post Boy, 8–11 Oct. 1698; Shrewsbury Corresp. 557–8.
- 19. Add. 70114, Thomas Foley II* to Sir Edward Harley, 16 July 1698; HMC Downshire, i. 743; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 24, f. 331; Cam. Misc. xxix. 367, 370, 376, 379, 381, 384, 390, 393, 398; Shrewsbury Corresp. 573; De Ros mss D638/33/1, Ld. Albemarle to Coningsby, [Jan. 1699]; HMC Lonsdale, 111; Carte 130, f. 399; Cumbria RO (Carlisle), Lonsdale mss D/Lons/W2/2/2, James* to Sir John Lowther, 2nd Bt. I*, 15 Apr. 1699; Irish Econ. and Soc. Hist. vii. 41–42.
- 20. Boyer, Wm. III, iii. 420, 426, 428; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 46, 49, 51–52; Horwitz, 262; Add. 30000 C, f. 283; 30000 D, ff. 19, 69, 112, 128–9, 198; 17677 UU, f. 209; Montagu (Boughton) mss 48/19, 27, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 13 Jan., 1 Feb. 1699–1700; Cocks Diary, 45; Baxter, 376.
- 21. Archaeologia, xxxviii. 5; Add. 57861, ff. 53, 59; 70019, ff. 259, 302, 309; 70020, ff. 35–36; 70064, Robert Harley to Coningsby, 26 Dec. 1700; Horwitz, 278; De Ros mss D638/3/2, Rochester to Coningsby, 19 Dec. 1700; L. K. J. Glassey, Appt. JPs, 139; Thynne pprs. 25, ff. 29, 55, 58; 26, ff. 287–9; Cocks Diary, 101–2, 110, 140, 164, 220, 277; State Pprs. ed. Hardwicke, ii. 458.
- 22. Archaeologia, 5–6; Add. 61363, ff. 49–50, 157–8; 57861, f. 75; 21553, ff. 63–64; 38847, f. 190; HMC Portland, iv. 49, 69, 71, 75, 85; Liverpool RO, Norris mss NOR1/214, Thomas Johnson* to Richard Norris*, 16 Jan. 1702[–3]; HMC Ormonde, n.s. viii. 129–30; J. G. Simms, War and Pol. in Ire. ed. Hayton and O’Brien, 270–1.
- 23. Bull. IHR, xxxiv. 96; xxxvii. 31; HMC Ormonde, i. 61; n.s. viii. 122, 135–6, 138, 148, 151; De Ros mss D638/48/2, Ormond to Coningsby, 24 Nov. 1704; Add. 21553, f. 65; 70221, Sir Herbert Croft, 1st Bt., to Robert Harley, 16 Feb. 1704[–5]; 70064, Coningsby to [?Edward Harley], 1 July 1706; 61634, ff. 40–41; 57861, f. 92; 61635, ff. 151–2; Cam. Misc. xxiii. 40–41, 44–45, 48, 51–52, 58, 61, 64, 69, 74, 77, 79, 81; Norris mss NOR2/453, Thomas Johnson to [?Richard Norris], 27 Feb. 1706[–7]; Montagu (Boughton) mss 77/59, 80, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 6 Mar. 1706[–7], M. Talbot to same, 11 Feb. 1706–7; Lyons (King) coll. 2002/1238, 1241, Francis Annesley to Abp. King, 11 Jan., 11 Feb. 1706[–7]; Hayton thesis, 153–4; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. ii. 251–2; HMC Portland, iv. 452; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, p. 525.
- 24. Archaeologia, 7–8; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 228–9, 309–10; Speck thesis, 165, 187, 225; Add. 57862, f. 45; 70334–8, list of names, 26 Oct. 1707; P. W. J. Riley, Eng. Ministers and Scot. 92–93; Vernon–Shrewsbury Letters, iii. 295; HMC Mar and Kellie, 424; Huntington Lib. Stowe mss 58(2), p. 243; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 994–5.
- 25. HMC Portland, iv. 508, 518, 533; De Ros mss D638/147, notes by Coningsby ; T1135/11, [Coningsby] to [Ld. Wharton], 21 May 1709; Hayton thesis, 153–4; Add. 57861, ff. 83, 100, 107–8, 110, 114, 117–18, 133; 57862, ff. 39–40, 45, 47–48, 52–57; 61367, ff. 44–45; 70420, Dyer’s newsletters 8 Mar., 7 Apr. 1709; 61366, ff. 145, 187; Wentworth Pprs. 78; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. 994–5, 1116–17, 1260, 1417; Nicolson Diaries ed. Jones and Holmes, 496; Lockhart Pprs. i. 502; Bull. IHR, lv. 206–14; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. ii. 389–90; Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 190; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 89, 91, 147, 253; HMC Lords, n.s. viii. 341; Impartial View, 185; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn mss, ‘Acct. of Trial of Dr Sacheverell’ (4 Mar. 1710).
- 26. Archaeologia, 12–18; De Ros mss D638/63, Ld. Dartmouth to Coningsby, 7 July 1710; Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. ii. 1563; HMC Mar and Kellie, 484; Midleton mss, Lawrence Clayton to Thomas Brodrick, 12 Sept. 1710; Add. 57861, ff. 146–7; 70084, Coningsby to bailiff of Leominster, 11 Dec. 1714; 70147, Martha Hutchins to Abigail Harley, ; 61494, f. 132; Stowe mss 57(4), p. 161; Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 253; Robinson, 147; Duchess of Marlborough Corresp. ii. 85; HMC Ormonde, n.s. viii. 330; HMC Portland, iv. 607; Addison Letters, 321–2, 340.
- 27. Manor of Marden (1722–7); Coxe, Marlborough (1848), iii. 428.