John Cope: British Army general (1690 - 1760) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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John Cope
British Army general

John Cope

John Cope
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro British Army general
Was Military officer Politician Soldier Officer
From Great Britain United Kingdom
Field Military Politics
Gender male
Birth 1690, London Borough of Camden, United Kingdom
Death 1760, London, UK (aged 70 years)
Children: unknown daughter Cope
The details (from wikipedia)


Sir John (or Jonathan) Cope (1688–1760) was a British general and Member of Parliament in the first half of the 18th century.

He served in the wars of the Spanish and Austrian Successions and was a Member of Parliament for the Whig Party, representing Queenborough (1722-1727), Liskeard (1727-1734) and Orford (1738-1741).

He fought at the Allied victory of Dettingen in June 1743 during the War of the Austrian Succession and subsequently made Knight Companion of the Bath and military commander in Scotland.

In September 1745, he was defeated at Prestonpans, the first significant battle of the Jacobite rising of 1745. Although exonerated by a court-martial in 1746, this ended his career as a field officer; in 1751, he was appointed governor of the Limerick garrison and deputy to Viscount Molesworth, commander of the army in Ireland. He died in London on 28 July 1760.


St Giles, Camden, where Cope was baptised on 7 July 1688

For someone who held high rank, Cope's background is unusually obscure and for many years biographies referred to his parentage as unknown.

His father was Henry Cope (1645-ca 1724), a captain in the Foot Guards who resigned his commission in April 1688, shortly before marrying Dorothy Waller, widow of a Customs officer. While Cope's date of birth is often given as 1690, parish records show he was baptised on 7 July 1688 at St Giles in Camden; he had two siblings, Mary (1679-1758) and a brother Henry, who died young.

The senior branch of the family were the Cope baronets of Hanwell, with other branches in different parts of England and Ireland. His grandfather William (1612-1691) was a younger son who fought for Parliament in the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, married his brother's widow and purchased an estate in Icomb, Gloucestershire in 1654.

William allegedly disapproved of his son's marriage and on his death in 1691, Henry was only given a lifetime interest in Icomb. When he died circa 1724, it passed to his sister Elizabeth (1647-1731), then to his niece Elizabeth (1682-1747) and her family, effectively disinheriting his son.

Cope's cousin, another Sir John Cope (1673-1749), suffered the same fate because his uncle disapproved of his younger brother's marriage. This did not prevent both cousins from having extremely successful careers; Sir John was appointed a director of the Bank of England in 1706, sat as an MP from 1708 to 1741 and succeeded his father as baronet.

In December 1712, Cope married Jane Duncombe, reportedly sister of Baron Feversham (1695-1763), himself heir to Sir Charles Duncombe (1648-1711), one of the richest men in Britain. However, she is not mentioned in Feversham's own biography and she may not have been the mother of his son James, who was born in 1709, three years before their marriage. James later served as commercial consul in Hamburg and was briefly an MP before dying unmarried in 1756, four years before his father.

While Jane's date of death is unrecorded, in August 1736 Cope remarried, his second wife being an Elizabeth Waple, of whom little is known. In July 1758, he wrote to Sir Robert Wilmot (1708-1772), referring to the 'malice and abuse' of his relatives and asking him to act as trustee for his two children by a 'Mrs Metcalf,' John and Elizabeth. If they died childless, Cope proposed leaving his property to Sir Robert's son, thus ensuring his family would not benefit.

John Metcalf (ca 1746-1771) was educated at Eton, quickly spent the £3,000 left him by his father, ran into debt and in 1771 committed suicide in Edinburgh. In 1775, his sister Elizabeth became the second wife of Sir Alexander Leith (1741-1780) but his biography describes her only as 'a daughter of Sir John Cope,' while their two sons do not appear in the record.


Educated at Westminster School, in 1706 he joined the household of Thomas Wentworth, Lord Raby (1672-1739), British ambassador to Prussia. Raby was also Colonel of the Royal Regiment of Dragoons, then campaigning in Spain as part of the War of the Spanish Succession, and in 1707 Cope became a cornet in his regiment.

Although the commission purchase system meant money was important for a successful military career, it also required connections, since transfers had to be approved. Cope clearly had the ability to attract notice; in 1707, the Earl of Galway, then commander in Spain, agreed to find him 'a better position.' Subsequently appointed as an aide-de-camp to Galway's replacement James Stanhope, he took part in the 1708 capture of Minorca and the Battle of Almenara in 1710.

In August 1714, George I succeeded Queen Anne and the Whigs formed the new government, with Stanhope as its dominant figure. In 1715, Cope was commissioned as captain in the 2nd Foot Guards, equivalent to a regular army rank of lieutenant-colonel, then the 1st Troop of Horse Grenadier Guards in 1720. Both units were normally based in London, the Horse Guards having served there continuously since 1691, and provided security for the monarch and government. This gave officers regular contact with highly influential people, while being in London made it easier to combine political and military careers.

After Stanhope died in 1721, Sir Robert Walpole replaced him as chief minister and in the 1722 election, Cope was elected Member of Parliament or MP for the Whig-controlled constituency of Queenborough. While relatives like Edward Cope Hopton (1708-1754) were Tory MPs, Cope, his former brother-in-law Feversham, cousin Sir John and his son Monoux Cope (1696-1763) were reliable government supporters. In 1727, he was returned as MP for Liskeard and although defeated at Orford in 1734, he was returned unopposed in a 1735 bye-election. As Walpole's influence weakened, many Whigs did not contest the 1741 election, including Cope and Sir John.

His military career continued to progress; in 1730, he became Colonel of the 39th Foot, then successively the 5th Foot, the 9th Dragoons and finally the 7th Dragoons in 1741. He served in Flanders during the War of the Austrian Succession and was promoted Lieutenant-General in February 1743. He led a cavalry brigade at Dettingen in June, where George II became the last ruling British monarch to command troops in battle. In the aftermath of victory, Cope was made a Knight of the Bath and in December 1743, appointed Commander of military forces in Scotland.

1745 Rising

Battle of Prestonpans; Cope's army originally faced south with a marshy area in front (marked in blue), then pivoted to the east

Charles Stuart landed on Eriskay on 23 July 1745, although this was only confirmed in early August. Cope had 3,000–4,000 troops available, many of them inexperienced recruits, but his main handicap was poor advice, particularly from Tweeddale, the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Once the landing was confirmed, Cope left his cavalry at Stirling under Thomas Fowke and taking his infantry, marched on Corrieyairack Pass, the primary access point between the Western Highlands and the Lowlands. He found the Jacobites already in possession and after conferring with his officers, withdrew to Inverness on 26 August; however, this left Edinburgh exposed and the Jacobites advanced on it using the newly constructed military road network.

Hearing this, Cope loaded his troops onto ships at Aberdeen in an attempt to reach the Scottish capital first and they began disembarking at Dunbar on 17 September, only to find Charles had entered the city earlier the same day. Joined by Fowke and the cavalry, Cope advanced towards Edinburgh, feeling he had sufficient resources to deal with a Jacobite army numbering around 2,000.

While his assessment was correct, his army's effectiveness was undermined by inexperience and the poor quality of several senior officers. Ironically given future depictions of the battle, James Gardiner was described as a 'nervous wreck;' on 16 September, his Regiment of dragoons had fled in panic from a small party of Highlanders in the so-called 'Coltbridge Canter.'

Cope's infantry commander at Prestonpans, Peregrine Lascelles(1685-1772)

The two armies made contact on the afternoon of 20 September; Cope's forces faced south, with a marshy area immediately in front and park walls protecting their right (see Map). The 1746 court-martial agreed the ground was well chosen and the disposition of his troops appropriate. During the night the Jacobites moved onto his left flank and Cope wheeled his army to face east (see Map); his dragoons panicked and fled, exposing the infantry in the centre. Attacked on three sides, they were over-run in less than 15 minutes, with their retreat blocked by the park walls to their rear; government losses were 300 to 500 killed or wounded and 500 to 600 taken prisoner.

Unable to rally his troops, Cope left the field with his artillery commander, Colonel Whitefoord, while his infantry commander Lascelles fought his way out. Joined by Fowke and the dragoons, they reached Berwick-upon-Tweed the next day with some 450 survivors. Several hours after the battle, Cope wrote to Tweeddale; I cannot reproach myself; the manner in which the enemy came on was quicker than can be described...and the cause of our men taking on a destructive panic...

He was temporarily replaced as commander in Scotland by Roger Handasyd, then Henry Hawley, his deputy at Dettingen, who was also over-run by the Highland charge at Falkirk Muir in January 1746. Cope had retained his ability to make friends in high places and by publicly meeting with him, George II indicated his support for him. He, Fowke and Lascelles were tried by a court-martial in 1746 and all three exonerated, the Court deciding defeat was due to the 'shameful conduct of the private soldiers.'

Both Lascelles and Fowke continued their careers; in 1756, Fowke was court-martialled a second time for his role in the loss of Minorca, which led to the execution of Admiral Byng. Fowke was dismissed but the verdict was widely regarded as unjust and he was reinstated in 1761. Cope never held field command again, although a modern historian summarised the Report's findings as follows:

The Report of the Board's proceedings was published in 1749. Anyone who scrutinizes it closely can only conclude that the Board was correct. What emerges from the pages is not, perhaps, the portrait of a military genius but one of an able, energetic and conscientious officer who weighed his options carefully and who anticipated - with almost obsessive attention to detail - every eventuality except the one which he could not have provided for in any case: that his men would panic and flee.


Cope suffered from severe gout, a common illness at the time. While his post in Ireland did not require residence, he seems to have accepted both retirement and the end of his career. In a letter of 19 July 1753 to Fowke, he refers to his unpopularity by saying 'I am just as desirous not to be employed, as those who could employ me are unwilling to do it, so in that we are perfectly agreed.' In another dated 8 July 1755, he mentions staying in Bath, whose spa waters were a favourite remedy for invalids.

Modern views of Cope's role in the defeat are largely derived from third party accounts, none of whom were present and each having a specific objective. In his 1747 book Life of Colonel Gardiner, the nonconformist minister Philip Doddridge turned evangelical convert Gardiner into a Christian hero, largely by ridiculing Cope; this remains an enduring myth.

Sir Walter Scott's 1817 novel 'Waverley' also features Gardiner, his heroic death helping to convince the English Jacobite hero that the future lies with the Union, not the Stuarts. The often quoted and inaccurate quip by Lord Mark Kerr that Cope brought news of his own defeat appears to have been another embellishment by Scott.

The best-known legacy was provided by Alan Skirving, a local farmer who visited the battlefield later that afternoon where he was, by his own account, mugged by the victors. He wrote two songs, "Tranent Muir" and the better known "Hey, Johnnie Cope, Are Ye Waking Yet?", a tune that still features in Scottish folk music and bagpipe recitals.


  • Blaikie (ed), Walter Biggar (1916). Publications of the Scottish History Society (Volume Ser. 2, Vol. 2 (March, 1916) 1737-1746). Scottish History Society.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Brumwell, Stephen (2004). Cope, Sir John [Jonathan] (1690–1760) (2009 ed.). Oxford DNB. ISBN 978-0199562442.
  • Bullock, H (1952). "1058. The Mystery of Sir John Cope". Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. 30 (24).
  • Burton, I.F., Newman, A.N. (1963). "Sir John Cope: Promotion in the Eighteenth-Century Army". The English Historical Review. 78 (309).
  • Cadell, Sir Robert (1898). Sir John Cope and the Rebellion of 1745. William Blackwood & Sons.
  • Charles, George (1817). History of the transactions in Scotland, in the years 1715-16 & 1745-1746; Volume II. Gilchrist & Heriot.
  • Cook, Faith (December 2015). "The surprising story of Colonel James Gardiner (1688-1745)". The Evangelical Times. Retrieved 7 March 2019.
  • Cope, EE (1935). "The Mystery of Sir John Cope". Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. 14 (55).
  • Corsar, Kenneth Charles (1941). "The Canter of Coltbridge; 16th September 1745". Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research. 20 (78).
  • Dalton, Charles (1904). English army lists and commission registers, 1661-1714 Volume V. Eyre and Spottiswood.
  • Lord Elcho, David (author), Charteris, Edward Evan (ed) (1907). A short account of the affairs of Scotland : in the years 1744, 1745, 1746. David Douglas, Edinburgh.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Margulies, Martin B (June 2002). "Unlucky or incompetent? History's verdict on General Sir John Cope". History of Scotland. 2 (3).
  • Namier, Lewis (ed), Brooke, John (ed) (1964). COPE, John (1690 to 1760) in The House of Commons, 1715-1790. HMSO.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Royle, Trevor (2016). Culloden; Scotland's Last Battle and the Forging of the British Empire. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-1408704011.
  • Sedgwick (ed), Romney (1970). COPE, Sir John (1673-1749), of Bramshill, Hants; in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754. HMSO. ISBN 978-0118800983.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Tomasson, Katherine, Buist, Francis (1978). Battles of the Forty-five. HarperCollins Distribution Services. ISBN 978-0713407693.
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Philip Jennings
Thomas King
Member of Parliament for Queenborough
Succeeded by
Sprig Manesty
John Crowley
Preceded by
Thomas Clutterbuck
John Lansdell
Member of Parliament for Liskeard
Succeeded by
Richard Eliot
George Dennis
Preceded by
Richard Powys
Lewis Barlow
Member of Parliament for Orford
Succeeded by
Lord Glenorchy
Henry Bilson-Legge
Military offices
Preceded by
William Newton
Colonel, 39th Foot, later Dorsetshire Regiment
Succeeded by
Thomas Wentworth
Preceded by
Thomas Pearce
Colonel, 5th Foot, later Royal Northumberland Fusiliers
Succeeded by
Alexander Irwin
Preceded by
The Viscount Molesworth
Colonel, 9th Dragoons, later 9th Lancers
Succeeded by
John Brown
Preceded by
Hon. William Kerr
Colonel, 7th Dragoons, later 7th Hussars
Succeeded by
John Mostyn
Preceded by
George Wade
Commander-in-Chief, Scotland
Succeeded by
Roger Handasyd
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 23 Mar 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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