1902 Encyclopedia > Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury
English politician
(1621-83)




ANTHONY ASHLEY COOPER, FIRST EARL OF SHAFTESBURY (1621-1683), was the son of Sir John Cooper of Rockbourne in Hampshire, and of Anne, the only child of Sir Anthony Ashley, Bart., and was born at Wimborne St Giles, Dorset, on July 22, 1621. His parents died before he was ten years of age, and he inherited extensive estates in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorsetshire, and Somersetshire, much reduced, however, by litigation in Chancery. He lived for some time with Sir Daniel Norton, one of his trustees, at South wick, and upon his death in 1635 with Mr Tooker, an uncle by marriage, at Salisbury. In 1637 he went as a gentleman-commoner to Exeter College, Oxford, where he remained about a year. No record of his studies is to be found, but he has left an amusing account of his part in the wilder doings of the university life of that day, in which, in spite of his small stature, he was recog-nized by his fellows as their leader. At the age of eighteen, on February 25, 1639, he married Margaret, daughter of Lord Coventry, with whom he and his wife lived at Durham House in the Strand, and at Canonbury House in Isling-ton. In March 1640, though still a minor, he was elected for Tewkesbury, and sat in the parliament which met on April 13, but appears to have taken no active part in its proceedings. In 1640 Lord Coventry died, and Cooper then lived with his brother-in-law at Dorchester House in Covent Garden. For the Long Parliament, which met on November 3, 1640, he was elected for Downton in Wilt-shire, but the return was disputed, and he did not take his seat,—his election not being declared valid until the last days of the Bump. He was present as a spectator at the setting up of the king's standard at Nottingham on August 25, 1642; and in 1643 he appeared openly on Charles's side in Dorsetshire, where he raised at his own expense a regiment of foot and a troop of horse of both of which he took the command. He was also appointed governor of Weymouth, sheriff of Dorsetshire for the king, and president of the king's council of war in the county. In the beginning of January 1644, however, for reasons which are variously reported by himself and Clarendon, he resigned his governorship and commissions and went over to the Parliament. He appeared on March 6 before the standing committee of the two Houses to explain his conduct, when he stated that he had come over because he saw danger to the Protestant religion in the king's service, and expressed his willingness to take the Covenant. In July 1644 he went to Dorsetshire on military service, and on August 3 received a commission as field-marshal general. He assisted at the taking of Wareham, and shortly after-wards compounded for his estates by a fine of £500 from which, however, he was afterwards relieved by Cromwell. On October 25 he was made commander-in-chief in Dorsetshire, and in November he took by storm Abbotsbury, the house of Sir John Strangways,—an affair in which he appears to have shown considerable personal gallantry. In December he relieved Taunton. His military service terminated at the time of the Self-denying Ordinance in 1645: he had associated himself with the Presbyterian faction, and naturally enough was not included in the New Model. For the next seven or eight years he lived in comparative privacy. He was high sheriff of Wiltshire during 1647, and displayed much vigour in this office. Upon the execution of Charles, Cooper took the Engagement, and was a commissioner to administer it in Dorset-shire. On April 25, 1650, he married Lady Frances Cecil, sister of the earl of Essex, his jrst wife having died in the previous year leaving no family. In 1651 a son was born to him, who died in childhood, and on January 16, 1652, another son, named after himself, who was his heir. On January 17 he was named on the commission for law reform, of which Hale was the chief; and on March 17, 1653, he was pardoned of all delinquency, and thus at last made capable of sitting in parliament. He sat for Wiltshire in the Barebones parliament, of which he was a leading member, and where he zealously and prudently supported Cromwell's views against the extreme section. He was at once appointed on the council of thirty. On the resignation of this parliament he became a member of the council of state named in the " Instrument." In the first parliament elected under this "Instrument" he sat for Wiltshire, having been elected also for Poole and Tewkesbury, and was one of the commissioners for the ejection of unworthy ministers. After December 28, 1654, for reasons which it is impossible to ascertain with clear-ness, he left the privy council, and henceforward is found with the Presbyterians and Republicans, in opposition to Cromwell. His second wife had died during this year; in 1656 he married a third, who survived him, Margaret, daughter of Lord Spencer, niece of the earl of Southampton, and sister of the earl of Sunderland, who died at Newbury. By his three marriages he was thus connected with many of the leading politicians of Charles II.'s reign.





Cooper was again elected for Wiltshire for the parliament of 1656, but Cromwell refused to allow him, with many others of his opponents, to sit. He signed a letter of complaint, with sixty-five excluded members, to the speaker, as also a "Remonstrance" addressed to the people. In the parliament which met on January 20, 1658, he took his seat, and was active in opposition to the new constitution of the two Houses. He was also a leader of the opposition in Richard Cromwell's parliament, especially on the matter of the limitation of the power of the Protector, and against the House of Lords. He was throughout these debates celebrated for the "nervous and subtle oratory" which made him so formidable in after lays : he had "his tongue well hung, and words at will."

Upon the replacing of the Rump by the army, after the breaking up of Richard's parliament, Cooper endeavoured unsuccessfully to take his seat on the ground of his former disputed election for Downton. He was, however, elected on the council of state, and was the only Presbyterian in it; he was at once accused by Scot, along with Whitelocke, of corresponding with Hyde. This he solemnly denied. After the rising in Cheshire Cooper was arrested in Dorsetshire on a charge of correspondence with its leader Booth, but on the matter being investigated by the council he was unanimously acquitted. In the disputes between Lambert at the head of the military party and the Rump in union with the council of state, he supported the latter, and upon the temporary supremacy of Lambert's party worked indefatigably to restore the Rump. With Monk's commissioners he, with Haselrig, had a fruitless conference, but he assured Monk of his co-operation, and joined with eight others of the overthrown council of state in naming him commander-in-chief of the forces of Eng-land and Scotland. He was instrumental in securing the Tower for the Barliament, and in obtaining the adhesion of Admiral Lawson and the fleet. Upon the restoration of the Parliament on December 26 Cooper was one of the commissioners to command the army, and on January 2 was made one of the new council of state. On January 7 he took his seat on his election for Downton in 1640, and was made colonel of Fleetwood's regiment of horse. He speedily secured the admission of the secluded members, having meanwhile been in continual communication with Monk, was again one of the fresh council of state, con-sisting entirely of friends of the Restoration, and accepted from Monk a commission to be governor of the Isle of Wight and captain of a company of foot. He now steadily pursued the design of the Restoration, but without holding any private correspondence with the king, and only on terms similar to those proposed in 1648 to Charles I. at the Isle of Wight. In the Convention Parliament he sat for Wiltshire. Monk cut short these deliberations and forced on the Restoration without condition. Cooper was one of the twelve commissioners who went to Charles at Breda to invite him to return. On his journey he was upset from his carriage, and the accident caused an internal abscess which was never cured.

Cooper was at once placed on the privy council, receiving also a formal pardon for former delinquencies. His first duty was to examine the Anabaptist prisoners in the Tower. In the prolonged discussions regarding the Bill of Indemnity he was instrumental in saving the life of Haselrig, and opposed the clause compelling all officers who had served under Cromwell to refund their salaries, he himself never having had any. He showed indeed none of the grasping and avaricious temper so common among the politicians of the time. He was one of the commissioners for conducting the trials of the regicides, but was himself vehemently "fallen upon" by Prynne for having acted with Cromwell. He was named on the council of plantations and on that of trade. In the debate abolishing the court of wards he spoke, like most landed proprietors, in favour of laying the burden on the excise instead of on the land, and on the question of the restoration of the bishops carried in the interests of the court an adjournment of the debate lor three months. At the coronation in April 1661 Cooper had been made a peer, as Baron Ashley of Wimborne St Giles, in express recognition of his services at the Restoration ; and on the meeting of the new parliament in May he was appointed chancellor of the exchequer and under-treasurer, aided no doubt by his connexion with Southampton. He vehemently opposed the persecuting Acts now passed,— the Corporation Act, the Uniformity Bill, against which he is said to have spoken three hundred times, and the Militia Act. He is stated also to have influenced the king in issuing his dispensing declara-tion of December 26, 1662, and he zealously supported a bill introduced for the purpose of confirming the declaration, rising thereby in favour and influence with Charles. He was himself the author of a treatise on tolerance. He was now recognized as one of the chief opponents of Clarendon and the High Anglican policy. On the break-ing out of the Dutch War in 1664 he was made treasurer of the prizes, being accountable to the king alone for all sums received or spent. He was also one of the grantees of the province of Carolina and took a leading part in its management; it was at his request that Locke in 1669 drew up a constitution for the new colony. In September 1665 the king unexpectedly paid him a visit at Wimborne. He opposed unsuccessfully the appropriation proviso introduced into the supply bill as hindering the due administration of finance, and this opposition seems to have brought about a reconciliation with Clarendon. In 1668, however, he supported a bill to appoint commissioners to examine the accounts of the Dutch War, though in the previous year he had opposed it. In accordance with his former action on all questions of religious toleration he strongly opposed the shameful Five Mile Act of 1665. In 1667 he eagerly supported the bill for prohibiting the importation of Irish cattle on the ground that it would lead to a great fall of rents in England. Ashley was himself a large landowner, and moreover was opposed to Ormonde who would have greatly benefited by the importation. In all other questions of this kind he shows himself far in advance of the economic fallacies of the day. His action led to an altercation with Ossory, the son of Ormonde, in which Ossory used language for which he was compelled to apologize. On the death of Southampton, Ashley was placed on the commission of the treasury, Clifford and William Coventry being his principal colleagues. He appears to have taken no part in the attempt to impeach Clarendon on a general charge of treason.

The new administration was headed by Buckingham, in whose toleration and comprehension principles Ashley shared to the full. A most able paper written by him to the king in support of these principles, on the ground especially of their advantage to trade, has been preserved. He excepts, however, from toleration Roman Catholics and Fifth Monarchy men. His attention to all trade questions was close and constant; he was a member of the council of trade and idantations appointed in 1670, and was its president from 1672 to 1676. The difficulty of the succession also occupied him, and he co-operated thus early in the design of legitimizing Monmouth as a rival to James. In the intrigues wdiich led to the infamous treaty of Dover he had no part. That treaty contained a clause by which Charles was bound to declare himself a Catholic, and with the knowledge of this Ashley, as a staunch Protestant, could not be trusted. In order to blind him and the other Protestant members of the Cabal a sham treaty was arranged in which this clause did not appear, and it was not until a considerable while afterwards that he found out that he had been duped. Under this misunderstanding he signed the sham Dover treaty on December 31, 1670. This treaty, however, was carefully kept from public knowledge, and Ashley did not hesitate to help Charles to hoodwink parliament by signing a similar treaty on February 2, 1672, which was then laid before them as the only one in existence. This is one of the proved dishonourable actions of his life. His approval of the attempt of the Lords to alter a money bill led to the loss of the supply to Charles and to the consequent displeasure of the king. His support of the Lord Boos Act, ascribed generally to his desire to ingratiate himself with Charles, was no doubt clue in part to the fact that his son had married Lord Roos's sister. It is, too, necessary to notice that, so far from advising the "Stop of the Exchequer," he actively opposed this bad measure; the reasons which he left with the king for his opposition are extant. The responsibility rests with Clifford alone. In the other great measure of the Cabal ministry, Charles's Declaration of Indulgence, he cordially concurred. He was now rewarded by being made Earl of Shaftesbury and Baron Cooper of Pawlett by a patent dated April 23, 1672. It is stated too that he was offered, but refused, the lord treasurership. On November 17, 1672, however, he became lord chancellor, Bridgman having been compelled te resign the seat. Af chancellor he issued writs for the election of thirty-six new members to fill vacancies caused during the long recess; this, though grounded upon precedent, was certainly open to the gravest suspicion as an attempt to fortify Charles, and was vehemently attacked by an angry House of Commons which met on February -1, 1673. The writs were cancelled, and the principle was established that the issuing of writs rested with the House itself. It was at the opening of parliament that Shaftesbury made his celebrated "delenda est Carthago" speech against Holland, in which he urged the Second Dutch War, on the ground of the necessity of destroying so formidable a commercial rival to England, excused the Stop of the Exchequer which he had opposed, and vindicated the Declaration of Indulgence. On March 8 he announced to parliament that the declaration had been cancelled, though lie did his best to induce Charles to remain firm. For affixing the great seal to this declaration he was threatened with impeachment by the Commons. The Test Act was now brought forward, and Shaftesbury, who appears to have heard how he had been duped in 1670, warmly sup-ported it, with the object probably of thereby getting rid of Clifford. He now began to be regarded as the chief upholder of Protestantism in the ministry; he rapidly lost favour with Charles, and on Sunday, September 9, 1673, was dismissed from the chancellorship. Among the reasons for this dismissal is probably the undoubted fact that he opposed reckless grants to the king's mistresses. He has been accused of much vanity and ostentation in his office, but his reputation for ability and integrity as a judge was high even with his enemies.





Charles soon regretted the loss of Shaftesbury, and endeavoured, as did also Louis, to induce him to return, but in vain. He preferred now to become the great popular leader against all the measures of the court, and may be regarded as the intellectual chief of the opposition. At the meeting of parliament on January 8, 1674, he carried a motion for a proclamation banishing Catholics to a distance of ten miles from London. During the whole session he organized and directed the opposition in their attacks on the king's ministers. On May 19 he was dismissed the privy council and ordered to leave London. He hereupon retired to Wimborne, from whence he urged upon his parliamentary followers the necessity of securing a new parliament. He was in the House of Lords, however, in 1675, when Danby brought forward his famous Non-resisting Test Bill, and headed the opposi-tion which was carried on for seventeen days, distinguishing himself, says Burnet, more in this session than ever he had done before. The bill was finally shelved, a prorogation having taken place in consequence of a quarrel between the two Houses, supposed to have been purposely got up by Shaftesbury, in which he vigorously supported the right of the Lords to hear appeal cases, even where the defendant was a member of the Lower House. Parliament was prorogued for fifteen months until February 15, 1677, and it was determined by the opposition to attack its existence on the ground that a prorogation for more than a year was illegal. In this matter the opposition were clearly in the wrong, and by attacking the parliament discredited themselves. The immediate result was that Shaftesbury, Buckingham, Wharton, and Salisbury were sent to the Tower. In June Shaftesbury applied for a writ of habeas corpus, but could get no release until February 26, 1678, after his letter and three petitions to the king. Being brought before the bar of the House of Lords he at length made a complete submission as to his conduct in declaring parliament dissolved by the prorogation, and in violating the Lords' privileges by bringing a habeas corpus in the King's Bench.

The breaking out of the Popish Terror in 1678 marks the worst part of Shaftesbury's career. That so clear-headed a man could have really credited the extravagant lies of Oates and the other perjurers is beyond belief; and the manner in which by incessant agitation he excited the most baseless alarms, and encouraged the wildest excesses of fanatic cruelty, for nothing but party advantage, is utterly without excuse. On November 2 he opened the great attack by proposing an address declaring the necessity for the king's dismissing James from his council. Under his advice the opposition now made an alliance with Louis whereby the French king promised to help them to ruin Danby on condition that they would compel Charles, by stopping the supplies, to make peace with France, doing thus a grave injury to Protestantism abroad for the sake of a temporary party advantage at home. Upon the refusal in November of the Lords to concur in the address of the Commons requesting the removal of the queen from court, he joined in a protest against the refusal, and was foremost in all the violent acts of the session. He urged on the bill by which Catholics were prohibited from sitting in either House of Parliament, and was bitter in his expressions of disappointment when the Commons passed a proviso excepting James, against whom the bill was especially aimed, from its operation. A new parliament met on March 6, 1679. Shaftesbury had meanwhile ineffectually warned the king that unless he followed his advice there would be no peace with the people. On March 25 he made a striking speech upon the state of the nation, especially upon the dangers to Protestantism and the misgovernment of Scotland and Ireland. He was, too, suspected of doing all in his power to bring about a revolt in Scotland. By the advice of Temple, Charles now tried the experiment of forming a new privy council in which the chief members of the opposition were included, and Shaftesbury was made president, with a salary of £64000, being also a member of the committee for foreign affairs. He did not, however, in any way change either his opinions or his action. He vigorously opposed the compelling of Protestant Nonconformists to take the, oath required of Roman Catholics. That indeed, as Banke says, which makes him memorable in English history is that he opposed the establishment of an Anglican and Royalist organization with decisive success. The question of the succession was now again prominent, and Shaftesbury, in opposition to Halifax, committed the error, which really brought about his fall, of putting forward Monmouth as his nominee, thus alienating a large number of his supporters; he encouraged, too, the belief that this was agreeable to the king. He pressed on the Exclusion Bill with all his power, and, when that and the inquiry into the payments for secret service and the trial of the five peers, for which too he had been eager, were brought to an end by a sudden prorogation, he is reported to have declared aloud that he would have the heads of those who were the king's advisers to this course. Before the prorogation, however, he saw the invaluable Act of Habeas Corpus, which he had carried through parliament, receive the royal assent. In pursuance of his patronage of Monmouth, Shaftesbury now secured for him the command of the army sent to suppress the insurrection in Scotland, which he is supposed to have fomented. In October 1679, the circumstances which led Charles to desire to conciliate the opposition having ceased, Shaftesbury was dismissed from his presidency and from the privy council; when applied to by Sunderland to return to office he made as conditions the divorce of the queen and the exclusion of James. With nine other peers he presented a petition to the king in November, praying for the meeting of parliament, of which Charles took no notice. In April, upon the king's declaration that he was resolved to send for James from Scotland, Shaftesbury strongly advised the popular leaders at once to leave the council, and they followed his advice. In March we find him unscrupulously eager in the prosecution of the alleged Irish Catholic plot. Upon the king's illness in May he held frequent meetings of Monmouth's friends at his house to consider how best to act for the security of the Protestant religion. On June 26, accompanied by fourteen others, he presented to the grand jury of Westminster an indictment of the duke of York as a Popish recusant. In the middle of September he was seriously ill. On November 15 the Exclusion Bill, having passed the Commons, was brought up to the Lords, and an historic debate took place, in which Halifax and Shaftesbury were the leaders on opposite sides. The bill was thrown out, and Shaftesbury signed the protest against its rejection. The next day he urged upon the House the divorce of the queen. On December 7, to his lasting dishonour, he voted for the condemnation of Lord Stafford. On the 23d he again spoke vehemently for exclusion, and his speech was immediately printed. All opposition was, however, checked by the dissolution on January 18. A new parliament was called to meet at Oxford, to avoid the influences of the city of London, where Shaftesbury had taken the greatest pains to make himself popular. Shaftesbury, with fifteen other peers, at once petitioned the king that it might as usual be held in the capital. He prepared, too, instructions to be handed by constituencies to their members upon election, in which exclusion, disbanding, the limitation of the prerogative in proroguing and dissolving parliament, and security against Popery and arbitrary power were insisted on. At this parliament, which lasted but a few days, he again made a personal appeal to Charles, which was curtly rejected, to permit the legitimizing of Monmouth. The king's advisers now urged him to arrest Shaftesbury; he was seized on July 2, 1681, and committed to the Tower, the judges refusing his petition to be tried or admitted to bail. This refusal was twice repeated in September and October, the court hoping to obtain evidence sufficient to ensure his ruin. In October he wrote offering to retire to Carolina if he were released. On November 24 he was indicted for high treason at the Old Bailey, the chief ground being a paper of association for the defence of the Protestant religion, which, though among his papers, was not in his handwriting; but the grand jury ignored the bill. He was released on bail on December 1. In 1682, however, Charles secured the appointment of Tory sheriffs for London; and, as the juries were chosen by the sheriffs, Shaftesbury felt that he was no longer safe from the vengeance of the court. Failing health and the disappointment of his political plans led him now into violent courses. He appears to have entered into consultation of a treasonable kind with Monmouth and others; he himself had, he declared, ten thousand brisk boys in London ready to rise at his bidding. For some weeks he was concealed in the city and in Wapping; but, finding the schemes for a rising hang fire, he determined to flee. He went to Harwich, disguised as a Presbyterian minister, and after a week's delay, during which he was in imminent risk of discovery, if indeed, as is very probable, his escape was not winked at by the Government, he sailed to Holland on November 28, 1682, and reached Amsterdam in the beginning of December. Here he was welcomed with the jest, referring to his famous speech against the Dutch, " nondum deleta Carthago." He was made a citizen of Amster-dam, but died there of gout in the stomach on January 21, 1683. His body was sent in February to Poole, in Dorset, and was buried at Wimborne St Giles.

Few politicians have been the mark of such unsparing abuse as Shaftesbury. Dryden, while compelled to honour him as an upright judge, overwhelmed his memory with scathing, if venal, satire ; and Dryden's satire has been accepted as truth by later historians, Macaulay in especial has exerted all his art, though in flagrant contradiction of probability and fact, to deepen still further the shade which rests upon his reputation. Mr Christie, on the other hand, in possession of later sources of information, and with more honest purpose, has done much to rehabilitate him. Occasionally, however, he appears to hold a brief for the defence, and, though his picture is comparatively a true one, should be read witli caution. Finally, in his monograph in the series of " English Worthies," Mr H. D. Traill professes to hold the scales equally. He makes an interesting addition to our conception of Shaftesbury's place in English politics, by insisting on his position as the first great party leader in the modern sense, and as the founder of modern parliamentary oratory. In other respects his book is derived almost entirely from Christie. Much of Shaftesbury's career, increasingly so as it came near its close, is incapable of defence ; but it has escaped his critics that his life up to the Restoration, apparently full of inconsistencies, was evidently guided by one leading principle, the determination to uphold the supremacy of parliament, a principle which, however obscured by self-interest, appears also to have underlain his whole political career. He was, too, ever the friend of religious freedom and of an enlightened policy in all trade questions. And, above all, it should not be forgotten, in justice to Shaftesbury's memory, that "during his long political career, in an age of general corruption, he was ever incorrupt, and never grasped either money or land. In the days of the Commonwealth he never obtained or sought grants of forfeited estates. In the days of the restored monarchy he never profited by the king's favour for aught beyond the legal emoluments of office, and in office or out of office spurned all and many offers of bribes from the French king." (O. A.)



The above article was written by: Osmund Airy.



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