Henry Coventry

Last updated

Memorial to Henry Coventry in the church at Croome Court At Croome Park 2022 067.jpg
Memorial to Henry Coventry in the church at Croome Court

Henry Coventry (1619–1686), styled "The Honourable" from 1628, was an English politician who was Secretary of State for the Northern Department between 1672 and 1674 and the Southern Department between 1674 and 1680.


Origins and education

Coventry was the third son by the second marriage of Thomas Coventry, 1st Baron Coventry to Elizabeth Aldersley; he was the brother of Sir William Coventry, uncle of the Marquess of Halifax, uncle of Sir John Coventry, and brother-in-law of Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury. He matriculated from Queen's College, Oxford in 1632 aged 14, and graduated the following year. Within a year, he was a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and he remained one until 1648. He graduated in both arts and law. He may have become Chancellor of the diocese of Llandaff as early as 1638. In 1640, he obtained leave to travel, and was abroad until just before the Restoration. He was thus absent from England during the English Civil Wars.


By 1654, he was a captain in the Dutch army, but in contact with Charles II in his exile. During part of his time abroad, he was employed as a royalist agent in Germany and Denmark, in company with Lord Wentworth, until the partnership was dissolved by a violent quarrel, leading apparently to a duel. The reports of his whereabouts at this date are very confused; Henry, his elder brother Francis, and his younger brother, William, being all attached to the exiled court and all commonly spoken of as Coventry. Before the Restoration Francis had ceased to take any active part in public affairs, and William had devoted himself more especially to the service of the Duke of York, whose secretary he continued to be while the duke held the office of Lord High Admiral.

In 1660, he returned to England with letters for Presbyterian leaders including Sir Anthony Ashley-Cooper, who had been married to Henry's sister Margaret. At the same time, he enjoyed the patronage of Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, and remained a faithful friend of Clarendon to the end. [1] In 1661, Henry became Member of Parliament (MP) for Droitwich. He remained in the service of the crown, holding the position of Groom of the Bedchamber from 1662 to 1672, and in September 1664, he was sent as ambassador to Sweden, where he remained for the next two years, "accustoming himself to the northern ways of entertainment, and this grew upon him with age". In 1667, he was sent, jointly with Lord Holles, as plenipotentiary to negotiate the Treaty of Breda, which, after the disgraceful summer, was finally concluded at Breda.

Fall of Clarendon

During the negotiations at Breda, he found time to write a heartfelt letter of condolence to his old friend Lord Clarendon on the death of his wife Frances Hyde. Unlike his brother, William, Henry opposed Clarendon's impeachment and banishment, and his eloquent speeches in the House of Commons in Clarendon's defence enhanced his reputation. When the King, who was determined that Clarendon must fall, expressed his displeasure at his known wishes in the matter being defied, Henry with his usual frankness replied that if he could not speak his mind in Parliament, he had best not go there at all. To the King's credit, despite their disagreements, he was later willing to raise Henry to high office,

Coventry's loyalty as a friend would be further demonstrated by his attitude to Clarendon in exile: he cancelled the prohibition on visits by his children to Clarendon in his French exile and may have been working towards Clarendon's eventual return from exile when Clarendon died in 1674. Coventry then organised Clarendon's private funeral in Westminster Abbey. [2]

Secretary of State

In 1671 he was again sent on an embassy to Sweden, and in 1672 he was appointed Secretary of State for the Northern Department, transferring to the Southern Department in 1674. In this office, he continued till 1680, when his health, shattered by frequent attacks of gout, compelled him to retire from public life. [3] He was a capable administrator, who built up an efficient intelligence service: even the most minor complaints against the Crown, such as the "curse on the King for his bad example to other husbands", uttered by the wife of the town gaoler in Newcastle upon Tyne, came to his attention.

Popish Plot

During the Popish Plot, while the nerve of his colleague, Joseph Williamson, cracked under the strain, Coventry generally maintained his composure, but he was concerned at the public hysteria: "the nation and the city are in as great a consternation as can be imagined". [4] His cynical, sceptical nature, like Charles II's, disinclined him, at least in the early stages, to believe in the Plot, and he was particularly wary of the notorious informer William Bedloe. Like most rational people at the time, he came to believe that there had been a plot of some sort, although he regarded much of the evidence as suspect. During the Exclusion Crisis, he was one of the first to warn that any attempt to bar the Duke of York from the succession might lead to civil war: "if that Prince go into another place, it must cost you a standing army to bring him back". [5]


According to Gilbert Burnet, "he was a man of wit and heat, of spirit and candour. He never gave bad advices; but when the king followed the ill advices which others gave, he thought himself bound to excuse if not to justify them. For this the Duke of York commended him much. He said in that he was a pattern to all good subjects, since he defended all the king's counsels in public, even when he had blamed them most in private with the king himself".

He had "an unclouded reputation" for honesty: it is to his credit that after holding public office for nearly 20 years he had not accumulated any large fortune; though no doubt in easy circumstances, he wrote of himself as feeling straitened by the loss of his official salary on 31 December 1680.

Writing to Sir Robert Carr on 12 September 1676 and regretting his inability to fulfil some promise relative to a vacant post, he said: "Promises are like marriages; what we tie with our tongues we cannot untie with our teeth. I have been discreet enough as to the last, but frequently a fool as to the first." Clarendon, grateful for Henry's loyalty to him at the lowest point of his career, called him "a much wiser man" than his brother, William, whom Clarendon never forgave for what he saw as William's betrayal of him in 1667.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Charles II of England</span> British monarch from 1660 to 1685

Charles II was King of Scotland from 1649 until 1651, and King of England, Scotland and Ireland from the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy until his death in 1685.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham</span> 17th-century English statesman and poet

George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, 20th Baron de Ros, was an English statesman and poet.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon</span> English politician and historian (1609–1674)

Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, was an English statesman, lawyer, diplomat and historian who served as chief advisor to Charles I during the First English Civil War, and Lord Chancellor to Charles II from 1660 to 1667.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury</span> English politician and founder of the Whig party (1621-1683)

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury PC FRS was a prominent English politician during the Interregnum and the reign of King Charles II. A founder of the Whig party, he was also the patron of John Locke.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henry Somerset, 1st Duke of Beaufort</span> Welsh politician

Henry Somerset, 1st Duke of Beaufort, KG, PC was a Welsh politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1654 and 1667, when he succeeded his father as 3rd Marquess of Worcester. He was styled Lord Herbert from 1644 until 3 April 1667. The Dukedom of Beaufort was bestowed upon him by King Charles II in 1682.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Joseph Williamson (English politician)</span> English civil servant, diplomat and politician

Sir Joseph Williamson, PRS was an English civil servant, diplomat and politician who sat in the House of Commons of England variously between 1665 and 1701 and in the Irish House of Commons between 1692 and 1699. He was Secretary of State for the Northern Department from 1674 to 1679.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roger North (biographer)</span> 17th and 18th-century English lawyer and biographer

Roger North, KC was an English lawyer, biographer, and amateur musician.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Popish Plot</span> Fictitious conspiracy causing anti-Catholic hysteria, affecting England, Scotland and Ireland

The Popish Plot was a fictitious conspiracy invented by Titus Oates that between 1678 and 1681 gripped the Kingdoms of England and Scotland in anti-Catholic hysteria. Oates alleged that there was an extensive Catholic conspiracy to assassinate Charles II, accusations that led to the executions of at least 22 men and precipitated the Exclusion Bill Crisis. Eventually, Oates's intricate web of accusations fell apart, leading to his arrest and conviction for perjury.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cabal ministry</span> Government of England (17th century)

The Cabal ministry or the CABAL refers to a group of high councillors of King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland from 1668 to c. 1674.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Coventry</span> 17th-century English statesman

Sir William Coventry was an English statesman.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Bedloe</span> English fraudster and Popish Plot informer

William Bedloe was an English fraudster and Popish Plot informer.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henry Howard, 7th Duke of Norfolk</span>

Henry Howard, 7th Duke of Norfolk, KG PC FRS Earl Marshal was an English nobleman, politician, and soldier. He was the son of Henry Howard, 6th Duke of Norfolk, and Lady Anne Somerset, daughter of Edward Somerset, 2nd Marquess of Worcester, and Elizabeth Dormer. He was summoned to the House of Lords in his own right as Baron Mowbray in 1678. His unhappy marriage was a subject of much gossip, and ended in divorce.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon</span> English aristocrat and politician

Henry Hyde, 2nd Earl of Clarendon, PC was an English aristocrat and politician. He held high office at the beginning of the reign of his brother-in-law, King James II.

Peter Talbot was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin from 1669 to his death in prison. He was a victim of the Popish Plot.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Herbert, 1st Marquess of Powis</span> English noble, Jacobite

William Herbert, 1st Marquess of Powis, PC KG (1626 – 2 June 1696) was an English nobleman, best remembered for his suffering during the Popish Plot. He succeeded his father as 3rd Baron Powis in 1667 and was created Earl of Powis in 1674 by King Charles II and Viscount Montgomery, of the Town of Montgomery, and Marquess of Powis in 1687 by King James II, having been appointed to the Privy Council in 1686.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">William Howard, 1st Viscount Stafford</span>

William Howard, 1st Viscount Stafford, FRS was the youngest son of Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel, and his wife, the former Alethea Talbot. A Fellow of the Royal Society from 1665, he was a Royalist supporter before being falsely implicated by Titus Oates in the later discredited "Popish Plot", and executed for treason. He was beatified as a Catholic martyr by Pope Pius XI in 1929.

William Harbord, of Grafton Park, was an English diplomat and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1661 and 1690.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sir Thomas Gascoigne, 2nd Baronet</span> English Baronet

Sir Thomas Gascoigne, 2nd Baronet (1596–1686) was an English Baronet, a prominent member of the Gascoigne family and a survivor of the Popish Plot, or as it was locally known "the Barnbow Plot".

Sir William Davys was an Irish barrister and judge who held the offices of Recorder of Dublin, Prime Serjeant and Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. He was suspected of Roman Catholic sympathies and was threatened with removal from the bench as a result, but he succeeded in retaining office until his death, due largely to his influential family connections.


  1. Ollard, Richard Clarendon and his Friends Macmillans 1987 p. 235
  2. Ollard p. 346
  3. Kenyon, J.P. Robert Spencer, 1st Earl of Sunderland Longmans Green and Co. 1958 p. 23
  4. Kenyon, J.P. The Popish Plot Phoenix Press Reissue 2000 p. 155
  5. Kenyon p. 105


Parliament of England
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Droitwich
With: Samuel Sandys II 1661–1681
Samuel Sandys I 1681–1685
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
British ambassador to Sweden
Succeeded by
Preceded by
British ambassador to Sweden
Succeeded by
Preceded by Secretary of State for the Northern Department
Succeeded by
Preceded by Secretary of State for the Southern Department
Succeeded by