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Copley, Anthony (b. 1567, d. in or after 1609), writer and conspirator, was the third son of and his wife, Catherine Luttrell (d. in or after 1590). was his younger brother. When his father went abroad, he remained in England. In 1582, however, ‘being a yonge student of Furneval's Inne under the charge of a kinsman … Mr T[homas] Southwell, who is now himselfe beyond sea, him unwitting, I stole away’ (BL, Lansdowne MSS, vol. 66, no. 47). He joined his parents in Rouen, where he stayed for two years. A kinsman, the Jesuit Robert Southwell, procured him a pension of £10 from Pope Gregory XIII, and he was sent to Rome. There he spent two years until, in 1585, Gregory died and the pension was not renewed. Copley returned to Flanders, where Hugh Owen obtained him a pension of 20 crowns from the duke of Parma. As he admitted on his return to England in 1590, ‘since that time till now … I have served the king of Spaine in his warres in Flanders’ (ibid.). Copley was arrested shortly after his arrival in England, and it was from prison, on 6 January 1591, that he wrote this to William Waad, clerk of the privy council. In the same letter he sought the queen's pardon and employment, swearing loyalty ‘to my prince and country’ (ibid.). He proved his loyalty in a series of letters detailing the whereabouts and activities of English Catholic fugitives and the unscrupulous, harsh conduct of his former patron, Parma. In a dramatic role reversal the former Spanish pensioner besought God to favour queen and kingdom against Philip II, who ‘sware … he would utterly ruine her Majestie and Ingland’ (ibid., nos. 25, 47).

During the 1590s Copley, who was entitled to a £30 annuity by his father's will, married and lived with his wife at Roughay, Horsham parish, in Surrey; by 1604 they had children. Here, according to Richard Topcliffe's report to the queen, on 26 June 1592, he early manifested his volatility and unreliability:
Anto[ny] Coplaye, the most desperayte yowthe that lyvethe … Bee most familiare with [Robert] Southewell. Coplay did shoote at a gentilman the Last summer, and killed an Oxe with a muskett and in Horsham Churche threwe his dagger at the parishe Clarke … There lyvethe not the lyke I think in England for sudden attemptes. (BL, Lansdowne MSS, vol. 72, no. 39)
He also remained under suspicion ‘because he doth avouch himself to be a papist’ (APC, 22.168). In December 1591 he was committed a close prisoner to the Fleet prison and questioned about certain speeches to which he had confessed.

Despite such suspicions, during Elizabeth's reign Copley was a moderate Catholic loyalist, hostile to the Jesuits and in search of toleration. In 1595 and again (this time without his name but with many ‘late, true, and wittie accidents’) in 1614 appeared Wits, Fittes and Fancies Fronted and Entermedled with Presidentes of Honour and Wisdom. This piece of prose consisted of jests, tales, and sayings mostly translated from a Spanish work, La floretta spagnola. The 1595 edition included Love's Owl, a poetic dialogue between ‘Love and an Olde Man’, and in the following year he published a poem entitled A Fig for Fortune. Both works were of little artistic merit but politically revealing about Copley's position. He dedicated the latter to another loyalist Catholic, Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague, and, at the same time, this ‘Elizian out-cast of Fortune’ sang the praises of his protestant ‘soveraigne Ladie Eliza’ (A Fig for Fortune, sigs. A4–A4v). This ‘versified allegory … is a barely concealed plea for Catholic toleration, couched in terms of hyperbolic praise, with an argument at once elaborate and transparent’ (Shell, 134). Then, in 1601, he took the side of secular priests in their controversy with the Jesuits. In particular Copley supported one of them, his friend William Watson, who had already appeared in print, with his pamphlet An answere to a letter of a Jesuited gentleman, by his cosin, Maister A.C., concerning the appeale [against the archpriest George Blackwell], state, Jesuits. In it Copley identified ‘Jesuitisme and Spaine’ and defended the ‘Seminarie-Bees’ of ‘our English hive’. Next year appeared Another Letter of Mr. A. C. to his Disjesuited Kinseman Concerning the Appeale, State, Jesuits. This was followed by a Letter of his apologeticall for himself against the calumnies contained against him in a certain Jesuiticall libel intituled ‘A manifestation of folly and bad spirit’. There is, however, no record of the publication of his promised ‘forthcoming Manifestation of the Jesuit's Commonwealth’.

In 1603 Copley became involved with Watson and others in the Bye plot. Its purpose was to seize the new king, James I, and compel him to grant toleration to the Catholics. Implementation of the plan on 24 June was frustrated by lack of Catholic armed support due, Copley claimed, to the Jesuits, who also informed the government. On 2 July a proclamation denounced the ‘wicked purpose’ of ‘so ungracious and traiterous a minde’ and ordered Copley's arrest. When his sister refused to harbour him he surrendered and made, in the bishop of London's words, ‘so ample and full’ confession (Salisbury MSS, 15.187). At the conspirators' trial at Winchester, on 15 November 1603, it was variously reported that ‘Copley did deal more ingenuously’ than the rest (Kempe, 375) and that he was ‘a man of a whining speech, but a shrewd invention and resolution’ (State trials, 2.64). His confession, also used against Sir Walter Ralegh at his trial, helped to secure the conviction of most of the Bye conspirators who were duly sentenced to death. Copley was pardoned, possibly because he provided further information. He was, however, banished from the realm. On 6 July 1604 he bade farewell to Robert Cecil, to whom he felt bound ‘for his life and goods’. He added that ‘The little he has of his own is necessarily left to his wife and children’ (Salisbury MSS, 16.165). When Copley went into exile, he journeyed to Jerusalem with Ambrose Vaux. He was later in Brussels (1605), the English College at Rome (January–April 1606 or 1607), and The Hague (1608). He was still alive in 1609. It is not known if his wife or any of his children survived him.

Michael A. R. Graves


Calendar of the manuscripts of the most hon. the marquis of Salisbury, 24 vols., HMC, 9 (1883–1976), vols. 15–17, 20 · J. Strype, Annals of the Reformation and establishment of religion … during Queen Elizabeth's happy reign, new edn, 4 (1824), vol. 4 · State trials, vol. 2 · Lansdowne MSS, BL, vols. 63, 64, 66, 72 · A. C. [A. Copley], An answere to a letter of a Jesuited gentleman, by his cosin (1601) · A. Copley, A fig for fortune (1596) · A. Copley, Wits, fittes and fancies: also ‘Love's owle’, an ideal conceited dialogue (1595); rev. edn, Newly corrected and augmented, with many wittie accidents (1614) · Proclamation ordering the arrest of Anthony Copley for conspiring against the king (2 July 1603) · ‘Waad, William’, DNB · ‘Watson, William’, DNB · Dodd's Church history of England, ed. M. A. Tierney, 5 vols. (1839–43), vol. 4 · DNB · K. C. Dorsey, The life of Father Thomas Copley: a founder of Maryland (1885) · Letters of Sir Thomas Copley … to Queen Elizabeth and her ministers, ed. R. C. Christie, Roxburghe Club, [130] (1897) · A. J. Kempe, ed., The Loseley manuscripts (1836) · A. Shell, Catholicism, controversy, and the English literary imagination, 1558–1660 (1999)


BL, Lansdowne MS