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

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1679
Oct. 1679
17 Jan. 1690
Feb. 1701
Dec. 1701

Family and Education

bap. 19 July 1634, 1st s. of William Coward of Wells and East Pennard, Som. by Catherine, da. of John Dodington of Dodington, Som. educ. Lyons Inn; L. Inn 1655, called 1662. m. (1) by 1666, Bridget (d. 22 Mar. 1682), da. of Sir Thomas Hall of Bradford-on-Avon, Wilts., 1s. 1da.; (2) Lady Philippa Annesley, da. of Arthur Annesley, 1st Earl of Anglesey, wid. of Charles, 3rd Baron Mohun of Okehampton, 1s. suc. fa. 1664.1

Offices Held

Commr. for excise appeals Oct. 1660-79; serjeant-at-law 1692-d.2

Dep. recorder, Wells 1663, recorder by 1670-83, Aug.-Oct. 1688, 1689-d.; commr. for assessment, Som. 1664-80, 1689-90, Wells 1679-80, 1690; bencher, L. Inn 1680, treas. 1689-90, j.p. Som. Feb. 1688-d., chairman of quarter sessions, Apr. 1688, dep. lt. 1691-d.3


Coward came from a family which had risen rapidly in the social scale after acquiring property in Wells by marriage, and entered their pedigree at the heralds’ visitation of 1623. His father married the sister of Sir Francis Dodington, a prominent Cavalier commander, and his uncle, a militia officer, had to compound for delinquency in attending the King at Exeter. At the Restoration Coward, a lawyer, was nominated a commissioner of excise appeals in trust for Dodington, who had become a Roman Catholic, and the commissioners for corporations appointed him deputy to the 2nd Lord Poulett as recorder of Wells. His father died in office as mayor of the city in the following year. Coward was returned for Wells to the three Exclusion Parliaments, the first of his family to sit. Marked ‘doubtful’ on Shaftesbury’s list, he was appointed to the committee of elections and privileges in 1679 and voted for exclusion, but left no other trace on the records of these Parliaments. His ‘subtle and canting insinuations’ prevailed on ‘the factious party’ in Wells to authorize the sale of the corporation lands to finance the defence of their charter. He lost his office in 1683, and did not stand in 1685.4

Although a firm Anglican, Coward became a Whig collaborator in the later years of James II, and was included among the dissenters and Roman Catholics recommended for the commission of the peace in 1687. At the quarter sessions of April 1688 he ‘gave a charge to the grand jury second to none but Cicero himself’. He was approved as court candidate for Wells, but probably did not stand at the general election of 1689. On the suicide of Thomas Wyndham II, Coward succeeded him both as recorder and as MP for Wells. But he is unlikely to have taken his seat in the Convention, and was defeated at the general election in the following month. After regaining his seat in 1695 he sat till his death as a Tory, though he signed the Association in 1696. He died on 8 Apr. 1705, and was buried in St. Cuthbert’s, where his memorial inscription describes him as a most learned and esteemed lawyer and a vindicator of the Anglican Church in Parliament. His son sat for Wells as a Whig from 1708 to 1710 and again for a few weeks in 1716.5

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Author: Irene Cassidy


  • 1. A. J. Jewers, Wells Cathedral, 132-4, Sir T. Phillipps, Vis. Som. 56; PCC 133 Gee.
  • 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 75; v. 1263; CSP Dom. 1691-2, p. 247.
  • 3. Wells corp. mss., T. Serel, Roll of Recorders; act bk. 1662-5, f. 33; CSP Dom. 1670, p. 165; 1687-9, pp. 192, 252; 1690-1, p. 358; Som. RO, Q/JC99 et seq.
  • 4. Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. xi), 30; Cal. Comm. Comp. 1234; CSP Dom. 1670, p. 272; 1682, p. 544.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1687-9, pp. 191-2; Collinson, Som. iii. 407.