Coventry, Henry (1619-1686) (DNB00)

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COVENTRY, HENRY (1619–1686), secretary of state, the third son by the second marriage of Thomas, first lord Coventry [q. v.], brother of Sir William Coventry [q. v.], uncle of Sir John Coventry [q. v.], and brother-in-law of Anthony Ashley Cooper, first earl of Shaftesbury [q. v.], after studying at All Souls College, Oxford, graduated in both arts and law. In the civil wars he adhered to the king's party, and accompanied Charles II in his exile, during part of which time he was employed as royalist agent in Germany and Denmark, in company with Lord Wentworth, until the concert was dissolved by a violent quarrel, leading apparently to a duel (Calendar of Clarendon State Papers, ii. 332; 6 April 1654). The notices of him 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 Mr. 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 (Pepys's Diary). Henry remained in the service of the crown, and in Sept. 1664 went as ambassador to Sweden, where he remained for two years, ‘accustoming himself to the northern ways of entertainment, and this grew upon him with age’ (Burnet, Hist. of his own Time, Oxford, 1823, i. 531). In 1667 he was sent, jointly with Lord Holles, as plenipotentiary to negotiate the treaty of peace with the Dutch, which, after the disgraceful summer, was finally concluded at Breda. In 1671 he was again sent on an embassy to Sweden, and on his return was appointed secretary of state. In this office he continued till 1680, when his health, which was shattered by frequent attacks of gout, compelled him to retire from public life. According to 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’ (ib. loc. cit.) It is to his credit that after holding public office for nearly twenty years he had not accumulated any large fortune; and though no doubt in easy circumstances, he wrote of himself as feeling straitened by the loss of his official salary on 31 Dec. 1680. He died in London on 7 Dec. 1686. He was never married. Writing to Sir Robert Carr on 12 Sept. 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.’

[Collins's Peerage (5th ed. 1779), iv. 163; Clarendon State Papers, and Calendar of Clarendon State Papers (see Index); Calendars of State Papers (Domestic), 1660–7; British Museum, Add. MS. 25125: this is a collection of private letters, including several to Francis Coventry, which give some curious hints as to his peculiar troubles both in his money matters and in his family.]

J. K. L.