CONINGSBY, Thomas, 1st Baron Coningsby [I] (1656-1729), of Hampton Court, nr. Leominster, Herefs.
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Family and Education
b. 1656, o.s. of Humphrey Coningsby, M.P., of Hampton Court by Lettice, da. of Sir Arthur Loftus of Rathfarnham, co. Dublin, sis. of Adam Loftus, M.P. [I], 1st Visct. Lisburne [I]. educ. L. Inn 1671. m. (1) lic. 18 Feb. 1675, Barbara (div. Nov. 1697), da. of Ferdinando Gorges of Eye, Herefs., 4s. 3da.; (2) Apr. 1698, Lady Frances Jones, da. and coh. of Richard Jones, M.P., 1st Earl of Ranelagh [I], 1s. d.v.p. 2da. suc. fa. as a minor 1675. cr. Baron Coningsby of Clanbrassil [I] 7 Apr. 1692; Baron Coningsby 18 June 1716; Earl of Coningsby 30 Apr. 1719.
Commr. of appeals in the excise [I] 1689-90; jt. paymaster gen. [I] 1690-8; ld. justice [I] 1690-2; vice-treasurer [I] 1692-1710; P.C. [I] 1693; P.C. 13 Apr. 1693-7 Nov. 1724.
High steward, Hereford 1695-d.; ld. lt. Herefs. and Rad. 1714-21.
Soon after coming of age Coningsby was returned on his own interest for Leominster, which he continued to represent as a Whig in every Parliament for the next thirty years. Appointed lord lieutenant of Herefordshire and Radnorshire at George I’s accession, he set himself to destroy the political influence of the Harley family, with whom he had an hereditary feud. He was one of the managers of Oxford’s impeachment, which he moved in the following terms:
The worthy chairman of the committee [Walpole] has impeached the hand [Bolingbroke], but I impeach the head; he has impeached the clerk, and I the justice; he has impeached the scholar, and I the master.
In 1716 he spoke for the septennial bill. Created an English peer at the end of the session, he was raised to an earldom in 1719, soon afterwards writing to Sunderland from Herefordshire:
Ever since I came down my house has been a fair and for six days of the seven I have not a moment to myself, but I begrudge neither my trouble, my time, nor expense I am at ... Since God has enabled me with the assistance I have had from the Government, my Lord Chancellor, and the Duke of Newcastle to recover Radnorshire entirely and this county in great measure out of the hands of my Lord Oxford, the worst of peers, the Bishop of Hereford, the worst of Bishops, and Baron Price [father of Uvedale Price], the worst of judges, and this for the service of the best of Kings and the best of administrations.1
He was in fact engaged in a series of unsuccessful lawsuits with his neighbours, the Leominster corporation, and the Crown, arising from the ill-founded views which he had formed, after extensive historical researches, as to his rights as lord of the manors of Marden and Leominster.2 Maddened by his reverses in the courts he published a pamphlet reflecting on the lord chancellor, for which he was committed to the Tower for six months in 1721. On his release he attacked the Government and the lord chancellor in the House of Lords in terms which caused Lord Cowper to observe that ‘he should have more regard to the chancellor, because he might perhaps come some time under his direction’,3 presumably as a lunatic. Turned out of his lord lieutenancies, he continued to prosecute his feuds, distraining cattle, imprisoning bailiffs, and even threatening to hang the sheriff of Herefordshire. In 1724 the Leominster corporation requested the Duke of Chandos to present a petition to the Privy Council ‘to represent the grievances of the borough from the usurped power of the Right Hon. Thomas Earl Coningsby’.4 The bishop of Hereford also wrote to Chandos, 27 July 1724, that ‘Lord Coningsby ... goes on in oppressing the county and every week produces some new act of tyranny and injustice’.5 Chandos duly brought these complaints before the Privy Council, where they were considered on 7 Nov. 1724, with the result that Coningsby was struck off the Privy Council and out of the commission of the peace. This seems to have put an end to his activities.
He died 1 May 1729.