HIPPISLEY, John Coxe (?1747-1825), of Warfield Grove, Berks.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1790 - 1796
1802 - 1818

Family and Education

b. ?1747, 1st s. of William Hippisley of Yatton, Som. by Anne, da. and coh. of Robert Webb of Cromhall Court, Glos. educ. Bristol g.s.; Hertford, Oxf. 3 Feb. 1764, aged 16; I. Temple 1766, called 1771. m. (1) 1 Feb. 1780, at Rome, Margaret (d. 24 Sept. 1799), da. of Sir John Stuart, 3rd Bt., of Allanbank, Berwick, 1s. 3da.; (2) 16 Feb. 1801, Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Horner of Mells Park, Som., wid. of Henry Hippisley Coxe* of Ston Easton, Som. cr. Bt. 30 Apr. 1796.

Offices Held

Writer E.I. Co. (Madras) 1782, factor 1783; paymaster, Tanjore 1786-7.

Recorder, Sudbury 1789; sheriff, Berks. 1800-1; bencher I. Temple 1803, treasurer 1816.

Dir. British Fire Office 1805, Westminster Life Insurance 1805.


Hippisley once drew up a list of members of his family who had been in Parliament. His own great wish was for public recognition. He did not at first rule out notoriety. As a young barrister he carried on a laborious liaison dangereuse in his chambers with Countess Percy and looked forward to being cited as co-respondent in order to become Lord Bute’s son-in-law; but ‘his Cleopatra’ was ‘everybody’s Cleopatra’ and her husband did not cite him. He next proceeded to Rome, where he acted as cicerone to visiting noblemen and as a messenger to the English government. There he married a Stuart and set out in 1781 with Lord North’s blessing to India in the Company service. He made a quick fortune (over £100,000) and on his return to England, with no electoral interest of his own, approached his friend William Windham* for a seat in Parliament. Windham proposed Sudbury, but complained of Hippisley, 15 Mar. 1789,

Instead of the daring spirit of the East in forming his projects and the activity and handiness of the bar in carrying them into execution, he looks at expense with the terrors of a trader and seems as helpless in the conduct of the business as a country gentleman.

He was nevertheless chosen first recorder and then Member in 1790, commended by Sir James Marriott* to the electors as having acquired ‘a very large property in the East Indies without blemish, active and intelligent ... very capable to serve you’. He spent £6,000 on the contest. He had made a virtue of declining an opening for his native Bristol, being committed to Sudbury.1

Hippisley at once drew attention to himself in the House as an opposition spokesman on India. He got off to a good start with notice of a motion critical of the war against Tipu, 17 Dec. 1790. He went on before the year was out to secure information calculated to prove his claim that the war was unnecessary. On 11 Jan. 1791 he joined the Whig Club. On 28 Feb. he was proceeding to cite statutory chapter and verse against a programme of expansion in India, when he suddenly announced that from indisposition he must hand his case over to Philip Francis*; and on 2 Mar., in the same plight, he induced Michael Angelo Taylor* to read to the House a statement of his views on India, a step that was later recalled as a procedural precedent. He was well enough by 21 Apr. to press for more information on the war in India and on 24 May was an advocate of peace. He went on to harass government about the arrears in pay of the East India Company’s military forces, until he obtained satisfaction on 6 June. His only speech not on India that session was a criticism of the Sierra Leone charter bill—he had been obliged to put in there on his return from India three years before and he saw no future for the settlement. He voted against Pitt’s Russian policy, 12 Apr. 1791, 1 Mar. 1792, and was listed favourable to repeal of the Test Act in Scotland in 1791. On 3 and 9 Feb. 1792 he joined Thomas Maitland* in pressing for more information on Lord Cornwallis’s alliances in the current war and on 28 Mar. claimed that he was satisfied that Cornwallis had encouraged the aggression of the Rajah of Travancore against Tipu. (Cornwallis was irate on hearing of Hippisley’s allegations against his policy and insinuated that he had made his fortune in India with more speed than honesty.) After a last bid for Indian news on 5 Apr. 1792, Hippisley disappeared from the Westminster scene for over three years. He was in any case unwilling ‘to be known only as an Indian’ and invested not only in East India Company stock, but also in a Berkshire estate.2

His bronchial complaint sent him back to Rome, where his sister had married an Italian nobleman. There he became an admirer of Pope Pius VI, whose quest for a holy alliance against revolutionary France was confided to him. He encouraged Cardinal Erskine’s visit to England to this end and subsequently negotiated the supply of provisions for the English forces in the Roman territory. He soon felt the lack of an official position and in a style ‘like a job at the India House’ (Windham’s phrase) bombarded friends and ministers in England with requests for one in the autumn of 1793. As soon as Windham had informed him of his decision to collaborate with Pitt’s administration, Hippisley produced his credentials to do the same. It was he who, in the chair of the Whig Club, 7 June 1791, had thwarted a bid to unite with the Revolution Society to celebrate the fall of the Bastille on 14 July. It was he who ‘with some difficulty’ had extracted a loyal address from the corporation of Sudbury in response to the royal proclamation against sedition in 1792. In June of the same year he wrote to Dundas to urge the prosecution of seditious publications by magistrates, a proposal that was adopted. In December 1792 he had attended the trial of the King of France in Paris. Had he been in England, he must also have parted company with Fox. Now that Windham was tipped for high office, the least he could expect was a diplomatic station in Rome: his services in India and Italy were fit to be proclaimed in both houses of Parliament. Sir Gilbert Elliot, to whom the lord chancellor read one of these memorials, commented:

It is quite in Hippisley’s manner—very laborious and industrious, and meddling and intriguing and every line meant for a purpose of his own or some friend or other—but it contains some matter that may be useful. He has made himself a sort of minister at Rome and corresponds with all the generals and admirals, and with the cabinet at home, and the Prince of Wales, etc. etc.

Elliot was about to proceed to Toulon, where he found Hippisley’s correspondence a ‘perpetual snare’. Lord Grenville, at the Foreign Office, complained that Hippisley had exceeded his brief; Edmund Burke* reproached him for misleading the Pope into supposing his Irish flock disaffected. Nevertheless Hippisley added a baronetcy to his pleas for official recognition from August 1794 to give him more weight. His assistance to French refugees from Toulon strengthened his claims.3

On 14 Mar. 1795 Hippisley penned an apologia to his best friend on the corporation at Sudbury. His illness had driven him abroad and he could not have attended Parliament had he remained at home, but he had distributed samples of Sudbury wool in Italy, mindful of the plight of that trade. He had derived no profit, and no recognition for his services. He was a convert to the cause of Catholic relief. He intended to offer himself for re-election. That summer he returned home ‘ill-humoured, and wrong-headed’. Sylvester Douglas* was not surprised:

But alas I fear an intriguer by nature educated in St. James’s Street, polished in Italy, practised for years in the East Indies and finished in Rome, is not a plant likely to thrive in this political climate.

On 3 Dec. 1795 he appeared in the House to challenge his colleague’s petition from Sudbury against the government’s coercive measures. As the dissolution approached, it was the Duke of Portland who commended him to the King for a baronetcy, as Pitt would not do it. He had suggested to the duke that it would ‘cement’ his interest in Sudbury, but when he obtained it, it availed him nothing there. His former sponsor, Sir James Marriott, to his great indignation snatched his seat from him. He did not contest what he could not condone.4

‘That busy man Sir John Hippisley’, as the King called him, was next entrusted with the negotiation of the Princess Royal’s marriage to the hereditary prince of Württemberg. He succeeded, becoming a trustee of the marriage settlement and the bridegroom’s mentor. The King’s next reference to him was as ‘the grand intriguer’. He dabbled in other affairs of state: Pitt’s tax proposals, the royal pension for the last of the Stuarts in exile, the plight of Switzerland, Buonaparte’s threat to India and the Levantine trade (as a member of the Levant Company’s governing committee). By November 1800, having for a year past recommended Irish Catholic relief to Pitt and Castlereagh, for which he received the thanks of the Irish Catholic bishops, he ventured to apply for an Irish peerage. His second marriage a few months later, ‘the union of two respectable incomes’, seemed to him to make his claim irresistible. He was no longer at a loss for a seat. The other leading interest having lapsed he was now sure of re-election at Sudbury; might come in for Bristol, which he had twice declined; or perhaps, in future, look to the county of Somerset, though he contradicted reports that he might do so at the next election.5

Hippisley was returned unopposed for Sudbury in 1802. On 5 July he wrote to the Prince of Wales promising him support on parliamentary questions affecting his financial plight, but he was not in the division of 4 Mar. 1803. He remained attached to Windham, but disliked his allies the Grenvilles and, apart from an election committee report, did not utter in debate until 1805. Canning called him a ‘straggler’ when he voted in the minority for Patten’s censure motion on 3 June 1803. On 25 Jan. 1804 he wrote to Pitt to warn him that the country was ill-prepared against a French invasion and, listed ‘Windham’, he subsequently voted in opposition to Addington on Wrottesley’s Irish motion, 7 Mar., on Pitt’s naval motion, 15 Mar., and on the defence questions of 16, 23 and 25 Apr. 1804. On Pitt’s return to power, listed ‘Grenville’ he voted against the additional force bill. In September 1804 he was at first listed ‘Fox and Grenville’, then among ‘the persons in opposition not quite certain’. Windham enlisted him to vote against war with Spain, 12 Feb. 1805, and he was also in the minorities of 15 and 21 Feb. and 6 Mar. On 25 Apr. 1805, sitting under the gallery, he informed the House that he had hitherto abstained on Melville’s question from ‘motives of personal delicacy’, but had to point out a conflict in the evidence, which, if corrected, favoured Melville. He took no further part on that question, though he was still listed as ‘Opposition’ in July. He had meantime been preoccupied with the Irish petition for Catholic relief, which he supported, 14 May 1805, after arranging consultations between the Irish hierarchy and the leading supporters of their cause. He proposed a royal veto on the nomination of Catholic bishops as a security. In the following year he characteristically followed up the publication of his speech in Observations on the Roman Catholics of Ireland by Additional observations.6

As soon as the Grenville ministry was mooted on Pitt’s death, Hippisley appealed to Windham to revive his claims to an Irish peerage, pointing out that he had an income of £8,000 and his son-in-law one of £15,000. On 13 Feb. 1806 Windham commended him to Grenville for office as his loyal friend

who has great capacities of making himself useful, and has on various occasions been very useful; to which might be added, who is not without means of making himself prejudicial, if not to me personally, yet to a ministry in these times.

He admitted that Hippisley had ‘made himself sometimes little by an over-solicitude to make himself great’. Grenville would not hear of a peerage, nor was any office other than a seat at the Board of Trade indicated until April, when he was ready to go to the Cape as governor if Tierney refused it. Tierney did so, but Hippisley was not chosen, despite his wife’s acquiescence in the scheme. Windham urged Grenville that Hippisley would do ‘better than most persons’, but his main consideration was that he must do something for him: Hippisley was prepared to trade his seat in Parliament for Windham’s benefit. Grenville noted that even the report of Hippisley’s proceeding to the Cape had raised eyebrows; as to his being made a privy councillor, he could not bring himself to propose to the King an appointment so ‘totally unprecedented’ and ‘so very inconvenient to his service’. It was settled that, if Lord Auckland approved, Hippisley should become a member of the Board of Trade merely; but he did not. When Lord Minto proceeded to India in February 1807, he pressed his services on him. He played no part in the House while the ministry lasted, contenting himself with a vote for Brand’s motion against their successors, 9 Apr. 1807. He cautiously justified his attitude to Catholic relief to his constituents’ at the ensuing election and remained at the head of the poll.7

Hippisley voted against the address, 26 June 1807, but the opposition could not count on his attendance. He opposed the ministry’s military plan, 14 Mar., and failed to secure the exemption of theological students from the provisions of the local militia bill, 18 May 1808. He opposed the pension arrangements for the Scots barons of the Exchequer, 4 May. He showed his sympathy for Catholic claims, but on 25 May had difficulty in securing a hearing, when he lectured the House in favour of the Irish Catholic petition. He was dissatisfied with Ponsonby, the Whig leader’s handling of the question. He was deeply immersed in a comparative study of relations between church and state in other countries with Catholic populations. His only known vote in the session of 1809, when his daughter’s illness detained him at Bath, was for inquiry into charges of ministerial corruption, 25 Apr. At that time Windham complained of Hippisley’s working up a ‘new dreadful charge’ against his former protégé Woodford, ‘which his restless and prying curiosity had poked out, and which his malice will propagate’.8

Hippisley voted against the address, 23 Jan. 1810, was absent on the 26th and did not join opposition on the Scheldt inquiry until 5 and 30 Mar.; but they listed him among their ‘thick and thin’ supporters. On 18 May he seconded Grattan’s motion for a committee on the Catholic claims in an exhaustive speech, intended for publication, which indicated the surviving obstacles: the reconciliation of Catholic doctrine with adequate securities against Papal interference and the role of the King in the appointment of Catholic bishops. Joseph Jekyll* reported that ‘the House coughed him down five times in vain, and the catarrh lasted two hours’. He joined opposition on the adjournment and Regency questions of 29 Nov. 1810 and 21 Jan. 1811 after a month’s leave. He and Lord Grey presented petitions from the English Catholics and he supported freedom of worship for Catholic militiamen in England, 5 May 1811. On 31 May he expressed his reservations about Grattan’s renewed motion for a committee on Catholic relief. He deprecated haste and urged a select committee to prepare the removal of ‘the prejudices and ignorance of the masses’. (This was the basis of his future divergence from friends of relief.) His immense knowledge of Catholic history led to reports that he was a crypto-Catholic, as he found when he visited his constituency on the rumour of a dissolution in the autumn of 1811. Had the Whigs returned to power, he would still have wished for a privy councillorship; but, Windham being dead, it was to Minto in India that he confided his hopes, only to go unanswered.9 His first known vote in the session of 1812 was for Turton’s motion, 27 Feb., and he voted against the orders in council on 3 Mar. On 23 Apr. he supported Grattan’s motion for Catholic relief against Patrick Duigenan* and voted for it next day; but it was clear that he would not support concessions without securities. On 22 June he supported Canning’s motion on the same subject. He had voted for a more efficient administration on 21 May.

After Hippisley’s re-election in 1812, a Whig agent hinted to Lord Grey that the party would benefit by having Windham’s nephew come in for Sudbury to give them ‘certain support’, rather than ‘the chance of Sir John’s on any other question than the Catholic, for you must recollect that was the only question on which he voted with us throughout the last session’. This statement was not quite true and, ironically, in the ensuing session Hippisley’s differences with the Whigs on the Catholic question came out into the open. He formally supported Grattan’s motion on 26 Feb. 1813, but on 9 Mar., in committee, explained that he wished for a select committee of investigation as a prerequisite for legislation. On 30 Apr., on the first reading of the relief bill, he called for such a committee and for the deferment of the bill till next session. Having given notice, and armed with ‘a trunk full of papers’, he moved for the committee on 11 May, taking precedence over Grattan’s motion for the second reading of the relief bill. Canning ‘breaking a fly upon the wheel’ replied, ‘full of rough jokes against Hippisley that left the House in a roar of laughter against that mountebank for a full hour’. His motion, supported almost entirely by anti-Catholics, was defeated by 235 votes to 187. Undaunted, before Grattan moved the second reading two days later, he called for further information on Catholic securities; but he was shouted down when he attempted to speak in the ensuing debate. Wilberforce reproached him for frittering away the bill and the Whigs labelled him a renegade. Lord Melgund informed his father:

Hippisley, after having represented the Pope for so long in this country, is going to do everything in his power to mar the success of the measure because it is not introduced in the precise manner which suits his taste.

But he soldiered on, justifying his lonely stance on 17 May and abstaining deliberately on 24 May when the bill was defeated on its first clause. He supported the clause, but not ‘as it stood in the bill’, which he added ‘had been carried by physical force, not by discussion’. On 2 July he gave notice of his intention to try for a select committee again next session. Instead he moved for documents illustrating the power of the Jesuits, 17, 24 May 1814, and rejoiced in the suppression of the Irish Catholic board, 8 June. On 21 Nov. 1814, moving for further information, he drew attention to the anomaly of Catholic marriages, which required legitimization: but Catholic opinion had turned against him. Just as he had objected to Grattan’s petition from the Irish Catholics in 1814, he objected to Parnell’s in 1815. He explained, 30 May, that he would abstain on Parnell’s relief motion, still wishing for a select committee. On 21 May 1816 and 9 May 1817 for the same reason he actually voted against Grattan’s motions, having on 28 May 1816 secured the support of Peel and Castlereagh for his motion for information to be presented to a select committee on Catholic securities in other countries, as a basis for ‘some rational plan of legislation’. Presenting the committee’s report on 25 June, he met objections that it would involve aping the legislation of other countries by reference to the mixed origins of English law. On 29 Nov. 1816 he wrote to the Speaker, who had thought his select committee would be ‘useful’, ‘but at 70 years of age it is time to say my nunc dimittis’. He admitted that he was out on a limb on the Catholic question.10

Hippisley’s isolation on this issue and the pretence of interest shown by members of the government had affected his political line. Apart from a vote against altering the Corn Laws, 16 May 1814, he never voted with opposition in that Parliament, though he was still meeting with them occasionally. On 13 Mar. 1816 he quibbled at the opposition offered to the property tax. On 5 Apr. 1816 and 10 Mar. 1817 he called for a higher government grant-in-aid to the volunteers. On 10 Mar. 1817 he approved the penalties fixed by the seditious meetings bill and stated four days later that he attributed a recent riot in Somerset to a Jacobin clique, not to popular distress. His last speech, 7 July 1817, was in defence of the curriculum of the Catholic seminary at Maynooth and in it he anticipated revisiting Italy, ‘unaccredited and unpaid’. He had in the previous November offered, in an ingratiating letter to the Prince Regent, to go on a garter mission to Württemberg. He went to Rome and from there dismissed his constituents’ before the dissolution of 1818, lamenting their difference over the Catholic question. He died 3 May 1825, having latterly turned his attention to prison discipline.11 Joseph Jekyll summed him up as ‘Sir John Coxe Hippisley MP FRS SAS XYZ etc.’.

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Add. 37848, ff. 7, 75; 37849, f. 249; Glenbervie Diaries, ii. 361; Ld. Pembroke, Henry, George and Elizabeth, 318, 373, 424; NLS mss 11137, f. 2; 11143, ff. 166, 167-74.
  • 2. NLS mss 11048, f. 23; Parl. Deb. xxv. 281; Kent AO, Cornwallis mss C1, Cornwallis to bp. of Lichfield, 20 Aug. 1791; Add. 37848, f. 72.
  • 3. Add. 37844, f. 11; 37848, ff. 55, 71, 78, 84, 321; 37849, ff. 1, 8, 97, 133; 37852, ff. 222, 224; Kent AO, Stanhope mss 731/9, Windham to Pitt, 11 Oct. 1793; Burke Corresp. vii. 439, 482, 488; NLS mss 11160, f. 12; HMC Fortescue, iii. 12; Windham Pprs. i. 161.
  • 4. NLS mss 11130, f. 49; Oracle, 7 Sept. 1795; Add. 37845, f. 71; 37849, ff. 101, 156; PRO 30/8/145, f. 84; Morning Chron. 27 May 1796.
  • 5. HMC Fortescue, iii. 265, 299; iv. 486; vii. 74, 254; Pole Carew mss CC/K/27, Hippisley to Pole Carew, Wed.; PRO 30/8/145, ff. 87, 93; Add. 37849, ff. 234, 245, 251, 255; The Times, 16 Dec. 1801; Ipswich Jnl. 12 June 1802.
  • 6. Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1658; PRO 30/8/145, f. 97; Add. 37849, f. 261; HMC Fortescue, vii. 254, 264.
  • 7. Add. 37847, f. 179; 37849, ff. 286, 288; HMC Fortescue, viii. 30, 93, 119, 120, 140; Windham Pprs. ii. 306; NLS mss 11061, ff. 1, 17; 11147, f. 50; Bury Post, 13 May 1807.
  • 8. HMC Fortescue, ix. 160, 166, 168, 256; Whitbread mss W1/4276; Windham Pprs. ii. 343; Windham Diary, 491.
  • 9. Fortescue mss, Fremantle to Grenville, ½ past 1 [27 Jan.]; Dorset RO, Bond mss D367, Jekyll to Bond, 23 May [1810]; Grey mss, Hippisley to Grey, 1809-11, passim; Add. 38247, f. 134; NLS mss 11088, f. 43.
  • 10. Grey mss, Goodwin to Grey, 19 Dec. 1812; HMC Fortescue, x. 338; Horner mss 5, f. 299; Add. 45038, f. 135; NLS mss 11088, f. 297; Colchester, ii. 443, 444, 445, 544, 545, 573, 576, 578, 583, 591; Whitbread mss W1/4389, 4393.
  • 11. Colchester, ii. 544; Geo. IV Letters, ii. 670; The Late Elections (1818), 323-5; Gent. Mag. (1825), i. 643; Bond mss, Jekyll to Bond, 24 Oct. 1811.