Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Coventry, John (d.1682)

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1355587Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 12 — Coventry, John (d.1682)1887Henry Morse Stephens

COVENTRY, Sir JOHN (d. 1682), M.P. for Weymouth, was son of John Coventry, second son of Lord-keeper Thomas Coventry [q. v.] His mother belonged to a Somerset family named Colles. His father is described by his friend and brother-in-law the first Earl of Shaftesbury as ‘every way an extraordinary person,’ who ruined his great mental gifts by drink. The father John was first elected to the Long parliament for Evesham in 1640, and as a zealous cavalier was disabled from sitting in the House of Commons in 1645. The son John served in the royalist army, and his attachment to the crown was so well known that he was made a knight of the Bath on the coronation of Charles II in 1661. He was elected M.P. for Weymouth on 25 Jan. 1667, and though his uncles Henry and William were both in office, he at once went into opposition. In 1670 the opponents of the government proposed in parliament to levy a tax on playhouses, and in the course of the debate Coventry asked ‘whether did the king's pleasure lie among the men or the women that acted?’ The allusion was obviously intended to apply to Nell Gwyn and Moll Davies. The king's friends expressed great indignation and prepared to avenge the insult. On 21 Dec., while on his way home to his house in Suffolk Street, Coventry was taken out of his carriage by a band of ruffians, headed by Sir T. Sandys, and his nose slit to the bone. This deed caused the greatest excitement in the House of Commons, and a special act was passed (22 & 23 Car. II, c. 1) declaring nose-slitting or other mutilation of the person to be felony without benefit of clergy. Coventry's assailants were never captured. The act was known as the Coventry Act. Coventry was re-elected for Weymouth in 1678, 1679, and 1681, but made no mark in politics. He died in 1682.

[Burke's Peerage; Pepys's Diary, ed. Braybrooke; Hallam's Constitutional History of England; Burnet's History of his own Time; Reresby's Diary; Shaftesbury Papers, ed. Christie.]

H. M. S.