William Coventry 1627-1686

From Book Owners Online

Sir William COVENTRY 1627-1686

Biographical Note

William and Henry Coventry, whose libraries were sold together, were the 5th and 4th sons of Thomas Coventry, 1st Baron Coventry. He matriculated at Queen’s College, Oxford in 1642, but did not graduate (he was awarded a DCL in 1663). He fought for the royalist side in the Civil War and spent some time with the English court in exile, but for most of the 1650s he resided in England. After the Restoration he became private secretary to James, Duke of York, and MP for Great Yarmouth; he was appointed a commissioner of the Navy in 1662, was involved in the Battle of Lowestoft, and was knighted in 1665. He was an effective parliamentarian but his opposition to Clarendon, whose downfall he supported, led to enmities. He was briefly imprisoned in 1669, after which he abandoned court and government business but remained active in the House of Commons, where he retained a respected reputation.


The libraries of both brothers were sold together by auction in London, by William Cooper, 9.5.1687. The layout of the sale catalogue, with two sequences by format and subject, suggests that the two were catalogued and presented discretely. Assuming that the order in the catalogue follows that of the titlepage, Sir William’s collection comprised 1231 lots, and Henry’s 859. These were broken down as follows: Sir William, Latin books 274; French, Italian and other continental languages 489; English 468 (plus a quantity of bound and unbound pamphlets). Henry, Latin books 249, French, Italian etc 204, English 406. The catalogue claimed that “these books are in very good condition as to their binding, being most of them curiously bound and gilt back, and many of the books of maps in colours”.

Characteristic Markings

None of these books have been identified.


  • Alston, R. C., Inventory of sale catalogues ... 1676-1800, St Philip, 2010.
  • A catalogue of books, of the several libraries of … Sir William Coventry, and … Henry Coventry, London, 1687, ESTC r16392.
  • Lee, Sidney, and Sean Kelsey. '"Coventry, Sir William (bap. 1627, d. 1686), politician."' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • McKitterick, D., Cambridge University Library: a history, vol. 2, Cambridge, 1986, 116.