COWPER, Spencer (c.1670-1728), of Hertingfordbury Park, Herts. and Lincoln's Inn.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1 Dec. 1705 - 1710
1715 - 1727

Family and Education

b. c.1670, 4th s. of Sir William Cowper, 2nd Bt. M.P., of Ratling Court, Kent by Sarah, da. of Samuel Holled, London merchant; bro. of Lord Chancellor Cowper. educ. Westminster, under Busby; Christ’s, Camb. 1686; M. Temple 1687, called 1693, bencher 1719; transf. to L. Inn 1713, bencher 1715. m. (1) 4 Feb. 1688, Pennington (d. 17 Nov. 1727), da. of John Goodere, 4s. 1da.; (2) 25 July 1728, Theodora, wid. of John Stepney, s.p.

Offices Held

Attorney-gen. to Prince of Wales 1714-27; K.C. 1715; c.j. Chester 1717-27; attorney-gen. to duchy of Lancaster and justice of common pleas 1727-d.; serjeant-at-law 1727.


A member of the leading Whig family at Hertford, Spencer Cowper is remembered for the cause célèbre at the Hertford assizes in 1699, when he was tried and acquitted on the charge of murdering a Quaker girl.1 Though there was no doubt as to his innocence, the affair so damaged the Cowper interest that it was many years before one of the family ventured to stand for Hertford again. After a brief spell in Parliament under Anne, Cowper was returned for Truro in 1715. He was a member of the secret committee of inquiry into the conduct of the late Queen’s ministers, and a manager of the trial of the rebel, Lord Wintoun, in March 1716,2 voting for the septennial bill the following April. After his brother’s dismissal from the lord chancellorship in April 1718, he went into opposition, speaking against the Address in November 1718, when he was described as one of the members of the Prince’s party most troublesome to the Administration.3 He voted for the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts in January 1719, but against the peerage bill in December of that year. In a debate on the South Sea Company in December 1720 he ‘said he deemed the directors to be bankrupts, and that in the eye of the law they were so, or if not, they ought to be declared so by the Parliament’;4 in January 1721 he supported a bill restraining them from leaving the kingdom; and in March of that year he seconded a motion that the part of the inquiry concerning Sunderland should be proceeded with without delay.5 On 16 Oct. 1722 he opposed the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act for one year, moving unsuccessfully that it might be limited to six months.

On the accession of George II Cowper was appointed attorney-general to the duchy of Lancaster and judge of the common pleas. He died 10 Dec. 1728, and was buried at Hertingfordbury, where a monument by Roubiliac was erected to his memory. He was the grandfather of William Cowper, the poet.

Ref Volumes: 1715-1754

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Macaulay, Hist. England (1858-61), v. 236-9.
  • 2. Howell's State Trials, xv. 806 seq.
  • 3. HMC Stuart, vii. 569.
  • 4. HMC Portland, v. 608.
  • 5. Stuart mss 53/15.