23 June 2020
The many claimants to
the Cox title in Co Cork:
fact, fantasy or fiction?
In recent weeks I have written about impoverished and eccentric baronets, claimants to peerages, baronets whose claims to family titles were bogus, the peculiar titles claimed by clergy, from baronet to count and Irish chieftain, and the tangled trees of the Wolseley, Fitzgibbon and Dillon families.
On of the most curious claims was made by the Revd George William Cox (1827-1902), an Anglican priest, classical scholar and historian who assumed the title of baronet first given to the Cox family of Dunmanway, Co Cork, in 1706.
Was George William Cox deceiving himself, was he deceived by his uncle and father, was he trying to deceive polite society, or was he a real baronet? And why did and the many other claimants to this Irish title fail to convince the legal authorities?
The first holder of the title was Sir Richard Cox (1650-1733), an Irish lawyer and judge, was born in Bandon, Co Cork, Ireland. He was a direct descendant of Richard Cox, Bishop of Ely (1559-1581) and Chancellor of Oxford (1547-1552), who died in 1581. The Cox family arrived in Ireland from Wiltshire in about 1600, and they were dispossessed during the Irish Rebellion of 1641.
Richard Cox, the future judge, was orphaned by the age of three, and was raised in Co Cork by his maternal grandparents and his uncle John Bird. He went to school in Clonakilty, and then by his own account spent ‘three years idling’ before going to England to study law.
He was apprenticed in the manorial courts of the Earl of Cork, built up a lucrative legal practice, became Recorder of Kinsale, and acquired an estate at Clonakilty ca 1687. But he lost his post in Kinsale when James II became king and moved to Bristol, where he practiced as a barrister. There he got to know the Irish-born diplomat Sir Robert Southwell (1635-1702), kinsman of Sir Thomas Southwell of Rathkeale, Co Limerick, who introduced him to the Duke of Ormonde, who became his patron.
Cox returned to Ireland, and after the Battle of the Boyne he was knighted by William III in 1692 and became a baronet in 1706. He became Recorder of Waterford, second justice of the Court of Common Pleas, military governor of Cork, and a member of the Privy Council of Ireland.
But Cox was dismissed from the Privy Council in 1695 for denouncing the failures to honour the terms of the Treaty of Limerick and respecting offers made to the defeated Jacobites. It was a temporary setback, and in 1701 he became Chief Justice of the Common Pleas (1701-1703), he was reappointed to the Privy Council, and became Lord Chancellor of Ireland (1703-1707) and then Lord Chief Justice of the Queen’s Bench (1711-1714). He escaped impeachment when his great patron Ormonde defected to the Jacobite cause in 1715 and fled to France.
He spent of his later years to improving the town of Dunmanway. He obtained a royal charter to hold fairs and market days in the town, and did much to encourage the local flax industry.
He lived 20 years in retirement before his death, from apoplexy, in the Great Hall of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham on 3 May 1733.
Cox and his wife Mary Bourne had numerous children. He mentions 21, although only 15 can be identified with certainty. Some of these children died in infancy, and of those who reached adulthood, the eldest son, also Richard, predeceased his father.
A younger son, Michael Cox (1691-1779), was Rector of Callan, Bishop of Ossory (1743-1754) and Archbishop of Cashel (1754-1779). He is remembered for building Castletown Cox, a magnificent Palladian mansion near Carrick-on-Suir.
When Cox died in 1733, his title and his Dunmanway estates were inherited as second baronet by his grandson Sir Richard Cox (1702-1766). He was a son of Richard Cox, a former MP for Tallaght, who married Catherine Evans of Bulgaden Hall, near Kilmallock, Co Limerick, sister of George Evans, 1st Lord Carberry.
This Sir Richard Cox was educated at Oxford University, and was Sheriff of Cork City in 1742. His son and successor, the Ven Sir Michael Cox (1730-1772), was Archdeacon of Cashel (1767-1772) while his uncle was the Archbishop of Cashel.
Archdeacon Michael Cox was educated at Trinity College Dublin and married the widowed Elizabeth Arthur from Limerick, daughter of Hugh Massy, 1st Baron Massy.
Archdeacon Cox was the father of Sir Richard Cox, the 4th Baronet. He married Mary O’Brien, a great-granddaughter of William O’Brien, 3rd Earl of Inchiquin. He died on 17 September 1783 when he drowned accidentally in Dunmanway. His widow remarried William Saurin, the Attorney General for Ireland, and died in 1840.
The title was eventually claimed by Archbishop Cox’s descendants. Sir Richard Cox, the eighth baronet and sheriff of Kilkenny, was a great-grandson of Archbishop Cox.
Following his death in 1838, however, the later history of this title is obscure, and difficult to trace because of tangled family trees. In not one instance did the title descend to an eldest son, and in only two instances – the third and fourth baronets – did it ever descend to a son at all. In all other cases, the title descended to brothers or cousins.
The ninth baronet, Sir Francis Cox (1769-1856), was succeeded by his nephew, Sir Ralph Hawtrey Cox (1808-1872), the son of the Revd Richard Cox, said to be the Rector of Caherconlish, Co Limerick, although he is not listed in the diocesan clergy succession lists. Sir Ralph was born in Caherconlish, lived in Borrisokane, and died in Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire).
The eleventh baronet, Sir Michael Francis Hawtrey Cox (1810-1872), was young when he fell from a horse, and it was said he was ‘out of his mind’ for the rest of his life. He succeeded to the title on 12 April 1872 but died in Kilkenny two months later, on 15 June 1872.
The twelfth baronet, Sir Francis Hawtrey Cox (1816-1873), enjoyed the title for just over a year. When he died on 17 April 1873, there were questions about his brother William Saurin Cox: was he, perhaps. an elder brother rather than a younger brother? Was he still alive? Did he become the 13th baronet? Did he have a son who might inherit the title?
The Ulster Office of Arms, the Irish genealogical authority based in Dublin Castle, regarded the title as extinct from 1873. But there was another claimant to the title: Colonel Edmund Cox in Canada claimed he was the 14th baronet, while Lieutenant-General John Hamilton Cox CB, the son of Major-General William Cox, and claimed he was a first cousin of Sir Francis Hawtrey Cox and the 13th baronet.
Colonel Edmund Cox, a former officer in the Royal Irish Fusiliers, was living in Canada. He claimed William Saurin Cox had survived, had succeeded to the title, and that the title then devolved on him in 1873, although he only started using it 1876, and died a year later in 1877.
When he died, his claims passed to his nephew, the Revd George William Cox, who became the most persistent of these claimants or soi-disant baronets.
The Revd George William Cox was born at Benares on 10 January 1827, the eldest of six children of Captain George Hamilton Cox (died 1841), of the East India Company. A younger brother, Colonel Edmund Henry Cox, fired the first shot against Sevastopol in the Crimean war.
George was sent to England at the age of nine in 1836, and was admitted to Rugby in 1842 under Archibald Tait, later Archbishop of Canterbury. He then studied classics in Trinity College Oxford, graduating BA and proceeding MA in 1859.
At first, Cox was sympathetic to the Oxford Movement, and in 1850 he was ordained by Bishop Samuel Wilberforce of Oxford. He was a curate at Salcombe Regis, and in 1851 became the English chaplain in Gibraltar. However, Bishop George Tomlinson of Gibraltar, did not approve of his High Church views, and Cox left for South Africa with John William Colenso, who became Bishop of Natal in 1853.
On his return to England in 1854, Cox became curate of Saint Paul’s, Exeter, then spent a year (1859-1860) he as a teacher at Cheltenham (1859-1860). Meanwhile, his religious principles completely changed, largely under the influence of historical study. In January 1858, he published a paper in the Edinburgh Review on Milman’s History of Latin Christianity that illustrates the development of his views on Broad Church lines.
Cox supported Colenso’s views on biblical criticism and his struggle over his episcopal status in South Africa. He defended Colenso in a long correspondence with FD Maurice, and warmly supported Colenso when he was back in England (1863-1865).
When Colonel Edmund Cox died in 1877, Cox claimed to succeed him in the title of baronet in the Cox family of Dunmanway, and started using the titular prefix, calling himself Sir George William Cox.
Cox was appointed Vicar of Bekesbourne by Archbishop Tait of Canterbury, in 1880, and from 1881 to 1897, he was rector of the crown living of Scrayingham, Yorkshire. He was chosen as Bishop of Natal in 1886 by Colenso’s followers, but was refused consecration by Archbishop Benson refused to consecrate him because his election was unacceptable to the high church party.
Cox’s friendship with Colenso provided material for The Life of Bishop John William Colenso, DD, Bishop of Natal, which he published as Sir GW Cox in 1888. That year, he also published a short vindication of Colenso’s views in The Church of England and the Teaching of Bishop Colenso.
He received a civil list pension of £120 in 1896, and died at Ivy House, Walmer, on 9 February 1902. His ashes were buried after cremation at Long Cross, Chertsey. Cox married Emily Maria Stirling in 1850. They were the parents of five sons and two daughters.
Cox’s other works includes studies of mythology, and histories of the Greeks and Persians, the Crusades, British India, and a book of ‘family prayer’ based on Jeremy Taylor and other 17th century divines. But many of his works were popular in character, and the most important, the History of Greece, is now regarded as having little value.
However, his two-volume biography is the most valuable source for the life of Colenso and includes a large number of letters from the bishop that it contains. A new edition was published by the Cambridge University Press in 2011.
When George William Cox died in 1902, his eldest surviving son, Edmund Charles Cox, was the district superintendent of police at Poona. He too claimed the right to the title of baronet and petitioned the committee of the Privy Council for recognition as the next Dunmanway baronet.
However, his petition was opposed by Major John Hawtrey Reginald Cox, who claimed not only that he was the rightful baronet, but that he was in fact descended from the eldest son of the first baronet’s third wife.
The petition by Edmund Charles Cox to the title was disallowed by the Privy Council on 9 November 1911, and attention now turned to the claims of Major John Hawtrey Reginald Cox, published in five volumes as Claim of JHR Cox to the Baronetcy of Cox of Dunmanway, Co Cork (London, 1912-1914).
Major John Hawtrey Reginald Cox of the 13th Middlesex Regiment was born in Co Laois, a son of General John Hamilton Cox who died in 1887.
His claims to the title were examined in detail in The Weekly Irish Times on 13 March 1915 after his petition was rejected by the Privy Council on Baronetcies.
Major Cox had presented his claim in November 1912 to the Ulster King-of-Arms, who in turn passed it to the Home Secretary, asking him to pace his name on the official roll of baronets. The petition was then referred to the Privy Council on 21 September 1914.
Major Cox pointed out that when the seventh baronet, Sir George Matthias Cox, died in 1838, the elder line of the first baronet died out. But, he argued, the title had ‘descended in error’ to the male descendants Archbishop Michael Cox, Archbishop of Cashel, until the death of Francis Hawtrey Cox in 1873.
Major Cox now claimed that he his great grandfather, John Cox, was a son of Richard Cox, the eldest son of Sir Richard Cox, the first baronet, and his third wife Elinor Jeffreys. He argued that the title should have descended to John Cox’s eldest son, Thomas Cox, in 1838, and then to his brother, General William Cox, in 1853, and afterwards to William’s son, Major-General John Cox, CB in 1857, instead of to the descendants of the Archbishop Michael Cox.
He claimed General William Cox never claimed the title, but allowed Richard Cox, of Castletown, to assume the title as the eighth baronet, as he was the son of the general’s guardian and ‘greatest friend,’ Michael Cox, who had brought him up at Castletown.
These were extraordinary claims, and the Ulster Office seems to have wondered why General John Cox made no objection to Dr Michael or Captain Francis Hawtrey, his first cousins, assuming the title.
Major Cox failed to prove the legitimacy of William Cox, and could not produce the marriage certificate of William Cox’s parents. He said they married at a date before marriage registers existed, but he could not say when or where they married.
‘In the end,’ The Weekly Irish Times, reported, all of the petitioner’s arguments were in vain.’ The committee of the Privy Council agreed ‘that the name of the petitioner ought not to be entered on the official roll of the baronetcies.’
The first baronet fathered 21 children, and at least 15 of them survived. Undoubtedly, he has many male descendants who are still living today. But the tangled family trees, woven by the many claimants to the title over 100 to 150 years ago, make it unlikely that any successful claimant is ever going to emerge again.