Cooper was born on 22 July 1621 in the county of Dorset. He suffered from the death of both his parents at a young age, and was educated by Puritan tutors, before entering Exeter College, Oxford. He married Margaret, the daughter of Lord Coventry, when only 18, but she died young. Cooper was admitted into Lincoln’s Inn, and subsequently was elected to the Short Parliament for the borough of Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, where his family owned land. When he was elected to the Long Parliament for Poole in his native Dorset, his appointment was blocked by Denzil Holles, an important politician at the time.
At the start of the Civil War, Cooper supported the King but then changed sides, and eventually joined Cromwell’s Council of State. He married for a second time in 1650, to Lady Francis Cecil. Falling out with Cromwell, he left the Council of State in 1655, and later returned to the royalist cause, supporting the Restoration of Charles II. Thereafter, he served on the commission that tried the Regicides, was created Baron Ashley, and was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1663, he was one of eight Lords Proprietors given title to a huge tract of land in North America, which eventually became the Province of Carolina.
After the fall of Lord Clarendon in 1667, Cooper became a prominent member of the Cabal, a group of high councillors who held power under the rule of Charles II, and then, in 1672, was appointed Lord Chancellor. He was created Earl of Shaftesbury and Baron Cooper of Pawlett, and took on a further appointment as First Lord of Trade. Because of his opposition to the succession of the Duke of York, Shaftesbury fell from favour, and became a leader of the radical Whigs. He was charged with high treason, but then, when the charges were dismissed, he fled to the Netherlands, fearing he might be charged again, and died there in 1683.
Wikipedia has an extensive biography of Cooper, and even more details can be gleaned from A Life of Anthony Ashley Cooper, first Earl of Shaftesbury, 1621-1683 by W D Christie published by Macmillan and Co in 1871 and freely available at Internet Archive.
For a few years, as a young man, Cooper kept a diary. Christie describes it as ‘the most meagre and prosaic of diaries’ but, nevertheless, refers to it in his biography, and even includes a full text in one of the appendices. It is worth noting that Cooper appears often in Samuel Pepys’s diary, and that on Phil Gyford’s website there is a list of all Pepys’s references to Cooper.
The following text is Christie’s narrative on Cooper’s diary, and includes many extracts.
‘Some passages of his Diary extending from January 1, 1646, to July 10, 1650, are here selected, which have interest in connexion with his life and character, or with the habits of the time.
On February 5, 1646, Cooper records a surgical operation: “I had a nerve and vein cut by Gell and two more, for which I was forced to keep my chamber twelve days.” On February 12, “I had another nerve and vein cut.”
On April 1, 1646, he mentions that two Dorsetshire boys of his neighbourhood, fifteen years old each, bound themselves to him for seven years for his plantation in Barbadoes, to receive 5l. each at the end of the time. The Dorsetshire quarter sessions were held on the seventh and eighth of April, “this time kept at Dorchester, and not at Sherborne, for security.” The magistrates did bloody work: “Nine hanged; only three burnt in the hand,” is Cooper’s summary of their deeds.
A few days after, the Dorsetshire Committee, of which Cooper was one, “sat in the Shire Hall, at Dorchester, by the ordinance for punishing pressed soldiers that ran away on the 15th of January last, when three were condemned to die, two to run the gantelope [guantlet], two to be tied neck and heels and one to stand with a rope about his neck.”
On July 27, there is an entry of a domestic incident: “My wife miscarried of a boy; she had gone twenty weeks. Her brother John in jest threw her against a bedstaff, which hurt her so that it caused this.”
In August he attended the assizes at Salisbury and Dorchester, being, he says, in the commission of oyer and terminer for the whole circuit. The judges were Mr Justice Kolle and Serjeant Godbolt. On August 10, the assizes began at Salisbury, and Cooper took the oaths as a justice of the peace for Wiltshire.
“August 11: Sir John Danvers came and sat with us. Seven condemned to die; four for horse-stealing, two for robbery, one for killing his wife, he broke her neck with his hands; it was proved that, he touching her body the day after, her nose bled fresh; four burnt in the hand, one for felony, three for manslaughter; the same sign followed one of them of the corpse bleeding.”
“August 12. I and the Sheriff of Wilts begged the life of one Prichett, one of those seven condemned, because he had been a Parliament soldier. I waited on the judges to Dorchester.”
At Dorchester the assizes terminated on the fourteenth: “Five condemned to die, two women for murdering their children, one of them a married woman; one for murder, one for robbery, one for horse-stealing: three burnt in the hand, one for manslaughter, two for felony. Chibbett condemned for horse-stealing. The Justices begged his reprieve, he having been a faithful soldier to the State.”
A few days after, on the seventeenth, he went Bryanston bowling-green, where he “bowled all day.”
On October 1 he mentions: “I went to Shaftesbury to the council of war for Massey’s brigade, and got them removed out of Dorset.” The Parliament had ordered that this brigade should be disbanded.
In December, he enters: “I was by both Houses of Parliament made High Sheriff of the county of Wilts. I was by ordinance of Parliament made one of the committee for Dorset and Wilts, for Sir Thomas Fairfax his army’s contribution.”
In March of next year, 1647, he attended the judges as sheriff, at the Wiltshire assizes: “March 13: The judges came into Salisbury, Justice Roles and Serjeant Godbolt. They went hence the 17th day. I had sixty men in liveries, and kept an ordinary for all gentlemen at Lawes his, four shillings and two shillings for blew men. I paid for all. There were sixteen condemned to die, whereof fourteen suffered. George Philips condemned for stealing a horse; I got his reprieve, and another for the like offence was reprieved by the judge. Three more were burnt in the hand, then condemned.”
On March 29, he and his wife had another disappointment: “My wife miscarried of a child she was eleven weeks gone with.”
During this month of March, Cooper adds, “ I raised the country twice, and beat out the soldiers designed for Ireland who quartered on the county without order, and committed many robberies.” These were very likely soldiers of the disbanded Massey’s brigade, of whom Ludlow says that many gave trouble in Wiltshire, and ultimately enlisted themselves to serve against the rebels in Ireland, the Parliament having sent instructions and officers for that purpose.
In June he took his wife to Bath, where she stayed five weeks. “June 15: We came to Bath, where my wife made use of the Cross bath, for to strengthen her against miscarriage.”
The August Wiltshire assizes began at Salisbury on the fourteenth and ended on the eighteenth. The judges this time were Godbolt, now a Judge of the Common Pleas, and Serjeant Wild, afterwards Chief Baron. “Four condemned to die: one for a robbery, two for horse-stealing, one for murder. Luke, that was for the robbery, I got his reprieve.” Cooper adds, “I kept my ordinary at the Angel, four shillings for the gentlemen, two for their men, and a cellar.”
On November 12, there is a curious entry of a speculation: “The little ship called the ‘Rose’ wherein I have a quarter part, which went to Guinea, came to town this term (blessed be God!). She has been out about a year, and we shall but make our money.”
On the twenty-ninth: “My wife was delivered at seven o’clock in the evening of a dead maid child; she was within a fortnight of her time.”
For the first half of the year 1648, Cooper had attacks of ague. On February 14 he enters in his Diary, “I fell sick of a tertian ague, whereof I had but five fits, through the mercy of the Lord.” This ague prevented his sitting with the judges at the assizes in March. He had ceased to be Sheriff of Wiltshire, having received his writ of discharge on February 11 from his uncle Tooker, who succeeded him. Again, on April 29, there is an entry: “I fell sick of a tertian ague, whereof I had but two fits, through the mercy of the Lord.”
In July he was made a commissioner of the ordinance of Parliament for a rate for Ireland for Dorsetshire, and also, by ordinance of Parliament, was made one of the commissioners for the militia in Dorsetshire.
The ordinance for the trial of Charles the First was passed by the House of Commons on the sixth of January, 1649. The trial began on the twentieth; on the twenty-seventh sentence was passed, and on the thirtieth the King was executed. Even this great event elicits no mention in Cooper’s Diary. He was travelling at the time, and he merely notes his movements. On the twenty-ninth, the day before the execution, he left his house at Wimborne St Giles to go to London, and on the thirtieth he travelled from Andover to Bagshot. The entries in the Diary are these: “January 29: I began my journey to London, and went to Andover, 30: I went to Bagshot. 31: I came to London, and lodged at Mr Guidott’s, in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.” This is all.
In the next month he records: “I was made by the States a justice of peace of quorum for the counties of Wilts and Dorset, and of oyer and terminer for the western circuit.”
In July 1649, a heavy domestic calamity befell him, the sudden death of his wife: “July 10: My wife, just as she was sitting down to supper, fell suddenly into an apoplectical convulsion fit. She recovered that fit after some time, and spoke and kissed me, and complained only in the head, but fell again in a quarter of an hour, and then never came to speak again, but continued in fits and slumbers until next day. At noon she died; she was with child the fourth time, and within six weeks of her time.”
She had had no child born alive. They had been married nine years and a half. Cooper’s glowing and touching eulogium of his wife, which here follows in the Diary, has been already quoted.
[The diary itself has a little more for this date, July 10, which has the longest in the entire diary: “She was a lovely, beautiful, fair woman, a religious, devout Christian, of admirable wit and wisdom, beyond any I ever knew, yet the most sweet, affectionate, and observant wife in the world. Chaste, without a suspicion of the most envious, to the highest assurance of her husband; of a most noble and bountiful mind, yet very provident in the least things; exceeding all in anything she undertook, housewifery, preserving, works with the needle, cookery, so that her WISH and judgment were expressed in all things; free from any pride or frowardness, she was in discourse and counsel far beyond any woman.”]
In little more than nine months Cooper was again married. One of the last entries in his Diary records his marriage, on April 25, 1650, with the Lady Frances Cecil, sister of the Earl of Exeter, a royalist nobleman.
A few days before this marriage, on April 19, Cooper entered in his Diary: “I laid the first stone of my house at St. Giles’s.”
After the execution of Charles the First, Cooper continued obedient to the existing supreme authority, acted as a magistrate, took the engagement to be faithful to the new Commonwealth without King or House of Lords, and acted as a commissioner to administer the engagement in Dorsetshire. He mentions in the Diary that he was sworn as a magistrate for the counties of Wilts and Dorset, and acted for the first time since the King’s death, on August 16, 1649, about a month after the loss of his first wife. He subscribed the engagement, with a number of his brother magistrates, at Salisbury quarter sessions, on January 17, 1650. On January 29 he sat at Blandford, on a commission from the Council of State, to give the engagement. On the thirty-first he started for London, where he arrived on the second of February, and he there received a new commission to himself and others for giving the engage- ment in Dorsetshire.
The Diary ends abruptly on July 10, 1650. In the following year Cooper’s wife bore him a son, who was christened Cecil, and who died in childhood. On the sixteenth of January, 1652, was born another son, Anthony Ashley, who lived to inherit his father’s possessions and titles, and transmitted them to a son of his own . . .’
And, in time, there would be a seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, another diarist - see The Diary Junction, and The Diary Review’s article, My birthday again - and a twelfth Earl, Nicholas Ashley-Cooper. The latter inherited the title in 2005 when his elder brother, the eleventh earl, died of a heart attack in New York, where Nicholas was then working as a disc jockey - see Wikipedia for more.