CONINGSBY, Thomas (1657-1729), of 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 [I]. educ. L. Inn, entered 1671. m. (1) lic. 18 Feb. 1675, Barbara (div. 1697), da. of Ferdinando Gorges, merchant, of Barbados and Eye Manor, Herefs., 3s. d.v.p. 3da.; (2) Apr. 1698, Lady Frances Jones, 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 18 June 1716, Earl of Coningsby 30 Apr. 1719.1
Commr. for assessment, Herefs. 1677-80, Herefs. and Leominster 1689-90; j.p. Herefs. 1678-c.81, 1687-July 1688, Oct. 1688-1721, dep. lt. 1689-1714, capt. of militia 1689-?90; 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. 1714-21.2
Commr. for excise appeals [I] 1689-90; jt. paymaster-gen. [I] 1690-8; one of the lds. justices [I] 1690-2; v.-treas. [I] 1692-1710; PC [I] 1693-?1724; PC 13 Apr. 1693-7 Nov. 1724.
Coningsby’s ancestors had been landholders in the West Midlands since the reign of Edward I. Sir Humphrey Coningsby, a judge, bought Hampton Court, four miles from Leominster, about 1510, and between the accession of Elizabeth I and the Civil War his descendants were seven times elected for the county. Coningsby’s grandfather, Fitzwilliam Coningsby, was expelled from the Long Parliament as a monopolist; he was replaced in the House by Humphrey Coningsby, who was likewise soon disabled as a Royalist. The estate valued at £4,000 p.a. was heavily mortgaged; Coningsby described his grandfather as ‘a man of great extravagancy and expense, as well as beyond description negligent in the management of his affairs’. Their fine was set at £4,000 on a declared rental of just over £800 p.a., but much of it was seemingly never paid. When Fitzwilliam Coningsby stood for Leominster in 1661 he was denied the poll because he was in prison for debt; he was not on good terms with his eldest son, from whom he alienated whatever he could, including the furniture and the title-deeds. Coningsby’s mother escaped from her husband’s creditors for a time by obtaining a post at Court, but by 1675 she was a prisoner in the King’s Bench, and her steward, without her knowledge or consent, arranged the marriage of Coningsby, who was only just turned 17, with the daughter of Ferdinando Gorges, a notorious slaver called the ‘King of the Blacks’. The marriage to a woman equally lacking in sense and breeding turned out quite as badly as might have been expected, though the financial acumen of Coningsby’s father-in-law soon pulled the estate round. A local historian describes Coningsby as ‘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.’3
Coningsby was first returned for Leominster at the second general election of 1679 in place of James Pytts who had voted against exclusion. Henceforward he was to be invariably elected ‘whether absent or present, without trouble or expense’. When he left for Westminster, Gorges, who was a cousin of Shaftesbury, urged him ‘to write to him all the proceedings of Parliament ... to encourage the people to choose him again, seeing him stand up for the good of the subject so much, and advising the mobile of that corporation every post’. An active Member, he was named to ten committees in the second Exclusion Parliament, of which the most important was to prepare an address insisting on exclusion, but he did not speak. He was duly reelected to the Oxford Parliament, which he ‘very nobly attended with good horses and men’, according to his brother-in-law. He was appointed to the committee of elections and privileges, and secured an unexpected success with his maiden speech, when he proposed that the hapless Secretary Jenkins should carry Fitzharris’s impeachment to the Lords. Writing to Gorges, he complained that ‘instead of sitting like a free Parliament, he thought they sat more like a company of slaves in a garrison. ... The King’s guards were the greatest grievance of the nation.’ At a meeting in the lodgings of John Scudamore, Lord Scudamore, Shaftesbury is said to have offered Coningsby a captaincy in a revolutionary army. As the most moderate of the Herefordshire Whigs, Coningsby and Scudamore were on excellent terms until Mrs Coningsby discovered—through the keyhole—an intrigue between her husband and Lady Scudamore. The humiliating outcome was the elopement of the guilty pair, followed by the forced surrender of the lady to her husband’s servants at pistol-point. The Tories were naturally delighted: ‘these two were Parliament men in the last two Parliaments ... and both great sticklers for the sober or godly party and the good old cause’. However, Gorges managed to patch up the marriage. The local Whig leader (Sir) Edward Harley sent Coningsby a letter ‘much more like a fatherly than a friendly advice’, to which he replied that his constituents’ support was unshaken, with the unspoken implication that the second seat might be available for Harley’s son Robert.4
Coningsby remained under suspicion of holding Whig cabals at his home, attended by John Birch and John Dutton Colt. Laurence Hyde advised him not to stand in 1685 unless with the approval of the Duke of Beaufort (Henry Somerset). Nevertheless he was re-elected. In James II’s Parliament he was named to two unimportant committees, and a speech sometimes attributed to him was probably delivered by Thomas Christie. He was restored to the commission of the peace in 1687, but he returned negative answers in 1688 on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws, and was again removed.5
In the Convention, Coningsby was again an active Member, serving on 47 committees, acting as teller in eight divisions and making eight recorded speeches. According to Ailesbury’s list he voted to agree with the Lords that the throne was not vacant, and he took part in the inquiry into the authors and advisers of grievances ordered on 5 Mar. 1689. He was appointed to the committee for the Wye and Lugg navigation, and with Paul Foley acted as teller against adjourning the debate. He showed a keen interest in Irish affairs, being appointed to the committees to inquire into the delays over the relief of Londonderry and to consider raising money from the forfeited estates of Irish Jacobites. He took part in preparing the bill of attainder, but was against mass exceptions to the bill of indemnity. ‘This is lumping indeed!’ he exclaimed. He acted as teller with Sir Patience Ward on an amendment to the bill for restoring corporations on 23 July, and Sir Edward Harley wrote with evident relief: ‘Mr Coningsby carried himself very worthily’. Harley was probably less satisfied with Coningsby in the second session. His concern with Ireland continued; he was appointed to the committee for the relief of refugees, but he acted as teller for adjourning the debate on Commissary Shales on 26 Nov., and commended the modesty of George Churchill in the sums he took for convoys. He was teller for adjourning the debate on the bill for restoring corporations on 2 Jan. 1690, and probably voted against the disabling clause. A few days later he told the House: ‘Surrenderers were the scaffolds, and regulators were the builders: will you leave them out?’6
Coningsby remained a firm Whig, nevertheless. He was in high favour with William III after bandaging the latter’s wound at the battle of the Boyne. His last years were darkened by domestic bereavement, unsuccessful litigation and political reverses. He died on 1 May 1729, and his grandson, the last of the family, survived him by only a few months.
Ref Volumes: 1660-1690
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. St. Paul’s Covent Garden (Harl. Soc. Reg. xxxiii), 9; C. J. Robinson, Mansions and Manors of Herefs. 146-8; L. Inn Reg. i. 311.
- 2. Symonds’s Diary (Cam. Soc. lxxiv), 195; BL Loan 29/74, letter to Sir Edward Harley, 28 Sept. 1689; CSP Dom. 1689-90, p. 455; Arch. Camb. (ser. 3), iii. 189.
- 3. Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxviii), 130; Cal. Comm. Comp. 2064-71; Keeler, Long Parl. 139-40; CJ, viii. 392; CSP Dom. Add. 1660-85, p. 319; G. F. Townsend, Leominster, 157, 171; T. Coningsby, Manor of Marden, i. 261-3, 327, 407, 411, 467, 480; C5/51/9.
- 4. CSP Dom. 1680-1, p. 225; 1682, pp. 290-1, 506; Add. 5822, f. 122; BL Loan 29/183, f. 96v, Sir Edward Harley to Robert Harley, 19 Aug. 1681, f. 100, Coningsby to Sir Edward Harley, 27 Aug. 1681.
- 5. CSP Dom. 1682, p. 292; N. Ireland PRO, Duros mss, DOD 638/3(1); Grey, viii. 365-6.
- 6. CJ, x. 205; BL Loan 29/140, Sir Edward to Robert Harley, 23 July 1689; Grey, ix. 379, 432, 522.