Coventry, Thomas

, lord keeper of the great seal of England in the reign of king Charles I. was son of Thomas Coventry, one of the justices of the court of common pleas. He was born at Croome d’Abitot in Worcestershire in 1573; and at fourteen years of age became a gentleman commoner in Baliol college in the university of Oxford; where, having continued about three years, he was removed to the Inner Temple in order to pursue his father’s steps in the study of the common law. In 1616 he was chosen autumn reader of that society; on the 17th of November the same year appointed recorder of the city of London; and on the 14th of March following, solicitorgeneral, and received the honour of knighthood two days after at Theobalds. January 14th, 1620-1, he was made attorney-general; and thence advanced to the office of lord keeper of tue great seal of England by king Charles I. on the 1st of November, 1625; and on the 10th of April, 1628, dignified with the degree of a baron of this realm, by the title of lord Coventry, of Aylesborough in the county of Worcester.

He died at Durham-house in the Strand on the 14th of January, 1639-40, and was interred in the church of Croome d’Abitot on the 1st of March following, after he had continued in his post of lord-keeper with an universal reputation for his exact administration of justice, for the space of about sixteen years; which was another important circumstance of his felicity, that great office being of a tenure so precarious, that no man had died in it before for near the space of forty years; nor had his successors for some time after him much better fortune. And he | himself had made use of all his strength to preserve him-­self from falling by two attacks; the one hy the earl Portland, lord high treasurer of England; the other by the marquis of Hamilton, who had the greatest power over the affections of the king of any man of that time. Whitelocke indeed tells us, that he was of “no transcendant parts or fame;” and sir Anthony Weldon, an author, whose very manner of writing weakens the authority of whatever he advances, asserts, that if his actions had been scanned by a parliament, he had been found as foul a man as ever lived. But our other historians represent him in a much more advantageous light. Mr. Lloyd observes, that he had a venerable aspect, but was neither haughty nor ostentatious; that in the administration of justice, he escaped even the least reproach or suspicion; that he served the king most faithfully; and the more faithfully, because he was a zealous opposer of all counsels which were prejudicial to his majesty, and highly disliked those persons who laboured to stretch the prerogative. But lord Clarendon’s character of him seems entitled to higher respect, not only as a faithful portrait, but a useful lesson. “He was,” says that noble writer, " a man of wonderful gravity and wisdom and not only understood the whole science and mystery of the law, at least equally with any man who had ever sat in his post, but had likewise a clear conception of the whole policy of the government both of church and state; which, by the unskilfulness of some well-meaning men, jostled each other too much. He knew the temper, disposition, and genius of the kingdom most exactly; saw their spirits grow every day more sturdy, inquisitive, and impatient; and therefore naturally abhorred all innovations, which he foresaw would produce ruinous effects. Yet many, who stood at a distance, thought he was not active and stout enough in opposing those innovations. For though by his place he presided in all public councils, and was most sharp-sighted in the consequence of things, yet he was seldom known to speak in matters of state, which he well knew were, for the most part, concluded before they were brought to that public agitation; never in foreign affairs, which the vigour of his judgment could well have comprehended; rior indeed freely in any thing, but what immediately and plainly concerned the justice of the kingdom; and in that, as much as he could, he procured references to the judges. | Though in his nature he had not only a firm gravity, but a severity, and even some moroseness; yet it was so happily tempered, and his courtesy and affability towards all men so transcendent, and so much without affectation, that it marvellously recommended him to men of all degrees; and he was looked upon as an excellent courtier, without receding from the natural simplicity of his own manners. He had in the plain way of speaking and delivery, without much ornament of elocution, a strange power of making himself believed (the only justifiable design of eloquence) so that though he used very frankly to deny, and would never suffer any man to depart from him with an opinion that he was inclined to gratify, when in truth he was not; holding that dissimulation to be the worst of lying: yet the manner of it was so gentle and obliging, and his condescension such, to inform the persons whom he could not satisfy, that few departed from him with illwill and ill-wishes.

But then this happy temper, and those good faculties, rather preserved him from having many enemies, and supplied him with some well-wishers, than furnished him with any fast and unshaken friends, who are always procured in courts by more ardour and more vehement professions and applications than he would suffer himself to be entangled with: so that h,e was a man rather exceedingly liked, than passionately loved; insomuch that it never appeared that he had any one friend in the court of quality enough to prevent or divert any disadvantage he might be exposed to. And therefore it is no wonder, nor to be imputed to him, that he retired within himself as much as he could; and stood upon his defence, without making desperate sallies against growing mischiefs; which, he knew well, he had no power to hinder, and which might probably begin in his own ruin. To conclude, his security consisted very much in his having but little credit with the king; and he died in a season the most opportune in which a wise man would have prayed to have finished his course, and which, in truth, crowned his other signal prosperity in the world.

Wood says the lord keeper Coventry has extant “An Answer to the Petition against Recusants,” and “Perfect and exact directions to all those that desire to know the true and just Fees of all the offices belonging to the court of Common Pleas, Chancery, &c.” Lond. 8vo. Wood has also recorded nine different speeches by his lordship | in 1625, 1626, 1627, and 1628. Others occur among the Harleian Mss. In No. 2207 are “Ordinances made by the lord-keeper Coventry (with the advice and assistance of sir Julius Cæsar, &c.) for the redresse of sundry errours, defaults, and abuses in the High Courte of Chancerye;” and in No. 2305 is what bears the title of “The lord-keeper’s Paraphrase of the king’s speech, Mar. 17, 1627,” but it seems rather to be the chancellor’s address on the first day of meeting of a new parliament, before the house of commons has elected a speaker. 1

1 Collina’s Peerage. Birch’s Lives.* —Ath. Ox. vol. I. Lloyd’s State Worthies, Fuller’s Worthies, Park’s Royal and Noble Authors.