The Copleys were a wealthy Yorkshire family boasting military officers, Members of Parliament and a lineage dating back to the Norman invasion. Lionel Copley (1607-75) served as a colonel with the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. Evidence suggests that Copley was an erratic, autocratic and often brutal figure who was both feared and despised by his neighbours.
In 1664 Copley was accused of cruelly mistreating a local artisan who failed to show him due respect:
“At Rotherham on the 25th of September 1664 [he] beat Richard Firth, put a bridle into his mouth, got on his back and rode him about for half an hour, kicking him to make him move.”
Copley’s son, also named Lionel, seems to have inherited his violent streak. The junior Lionel Copley was commissioned in the Foot Guards and in 1681 was appointed lieutenant-governor of Hull. Copley ruled Hull with an iron fist, dispensing corporal punishment, confiscating private property and seizing and opening personal mail. When the deputy-postmaster of Hull complained, Hull had him arrested and hog-tied:
“…neck and heels, with extreme violence that the blood gushed out of his nose and mouth, and kept him in that intolerable posture for two hours and a half, till [he] was utterly deprived of sense and put in extreme hazard of his life, and remains to this day miserably crippled, disabled in his limbs and impaired in his sight.”
Copley’s behaviour in Hull triggered so much protest that he was shipped off to the American colonies, where he served as the royal governor of Maryland (1692-93).