Cowper, Spencer (1669-1728) (DNB00)

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COWPER, SPENCER (1669–1728), judge, was the younger brother of William Cowper the chancellor [q. v.] He was born in 1669, educated at Westminster, called to the bar, and in 1690 made controller of the Bridge House estates, with a residence at the Bridge House, St. Olave's. He went the home circuit and was acquainted with a quaker family at Hertford, named Stout, who had been supporters of his father and brother at elections. The daughter, Sarah Stout, fell in love with him, though he was already married, and became melancholy upon his avoiding her company. At the spring assizes in 1699 he was at her house in the evening, having to pay her the interest on a mortgage. He returned to his own lodgings, and next morning she was found dead in the river. Cowper, with three lawyers who had spent that night at Hertford and gossiped about Sarah Stout, were accused of murdering her. They were tried before Baron Hassell on 16 July 1699. There was absolutely no direct evidence: the pro- secution relying chiefly upon the argument that, as the body had floated, the girl must have been put into the water after death, and therefore had not drowned herself. To meet this assumption evidence was given by the famous physicians Garth, Hans Sloane, and William Cowper (no relation to the defendant). The judge was singularly feeble, but the defendants were acquitted. Their innocence is beyond a doubt, as was admitted by impartial people at the time (Luttrell, iv. 518, 539). The prosecutions were said to be suggested by a double motive. The tories of Hertford wished to hang a member of an eminent whig family, and the quakers to clear their body of the reproach of suicide. Pamphlets were published on both sides, and an attempt was made to carry on the case by an appeal of murder. The judges, however, refused the writ, considering (besides various technical reasons) that the prosecution was malicious.

Cowper represented Beeralston in the parliaments of 1705 and 1708. He was one of the managers of the impeachment of Sacheverell, and lost his seat in the reaction which followed. In 1715, when he was made a king's counsel, he was elected member for Truro; in 1714 he had become attorney-general to the Prince of Wales, and in 1717 chief justice of Chester. On 24 Oct. 1727 he was promoted to the office of judge of the common pleas. He died 10 Dec. 1728. He was buried at Hertingfordbury, where there is a monument to him by Roubillac.

Cowper was the grandfather of William Cowper the poet, in whose life several of this judge's descendants are mentioned. By his first wife, Pennington Goodere, Spencer Cowper had three sons and a daughter. William, the eldest son, was clerk of the parliaments, and died 14 Feb. 1740, when the patent of his office passed to his eldest son, William, of Hertingfordbury, who is mentioned in the poet's life as ‘Major Cowper,’ and who died in 1769. Spencer, the second son of the clerk of the parliaments and brother of Major Cowper, was in the guards, commanded a brigade in the American war, became lieutenant-governor of Tynemouth, and died at Ham, Surrey, 13 March 1797 (Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. xi. 248). He is mentioned in the poet's life as ‘General Cowper.’ The judge's second son John, was the poet's father. His third son, Ashley, was barrister, clerk of the parliaments, and died 1788. The profits of his ‘very lucrative office’ were not his but his nephew's, General Cowper (Southey's Cowper, vi. 259). Ashley Cowper had three daughters: Harriet (d. 15 Jan. 1807), married to Sir Thomas Hesketh (d. March 1778); Elizabeth Charlotte, married to Sir Archer Croft; and Theodora Jane, the poet's first love, who died in 1824. The judge's daughter, Judith, married Colonel Martin Madan, M.P., and by him was mother of Martin Madan, author of ‘Thelyphthora,’ of Spencer Madan, bishop of Peterborough, and of a daughter, who married her cousin Major (William) Cowper, and died 15 Oct. 1797 in her seventy-first year. Some of Mrs. Madan's poems will be found in ‘Poems by Eminent Ladies’ (1755), ii. 137–44.

[Foss's Judges, viii. 114–20; Burke's Peerage (1883), 327; Cobbett's State Trials, xiii. 1106–1250, where are printed several pamphlets relating to the trials; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. i. 91, 191, 214, 275, 354, 438; Macaulay's History, v. 236–39; Blackwood's Mag. for July 1861; article reprinted in Paget's Puzzles and Paradoxes.]

L. S.