Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Copley, Godfrey

COPLEY, Sir GODFREY (d. 1709), founder of the Copley medal, was son of Sir Godfrey Copley of Sprotborough, Yorkshire, who was made a baronet 17 June 1661, and was M.P. for Aldborough in 1678 and 1681. Copley became second baronet on his father's death about 1684. Of his early life nothing is known. He was elected M.P. for Thirsk in every parliament between 1695 and his death. He took no active part in the debates, but in 1697 resisted the attempt to convict Sir John Fenwick of treason on the evidence of one witness; was a commissioner of public accounts in 1701; and in April 1704 became controller of the accounts of the army. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1691, and displayed great interest in its proceedings; aided his friend, Sir Hans Sloane, in forming his scientific collections, and himself brought together a valuable collection of prints and mathematical instruments. He died at his London house in Red Lion Square ‘of a quinsey,’ and was buried at Sprotborough. He married, first, Catherine, daughter of John Purcell of Nantriba, Montgomeryshire; and secondly, in 1700, Gertrude, daughter of Sir John Carew of Antony, Cornwall. The latter survived him, and remarried in 1716 Sir Coppleston Warwick Bampfield. Copley left an only daughter, Catherine, who became the wife of Joseph Moyle, in favour of whose descendants the Copley baronetcy was revived in 1778. The Moyles assumed the name of Copley in 1768. Copley's portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller was engraved in mezzotint in 1692.

By his will, dated 14 Oct. 1704, and proved 11 April 1709, Copley bequeathed to Sir Hans Sloane and Abraham Hill ‘one hundred pounds in trust for the Royal Society of London for improving natural knowledge, to be laid out in experiments or otherwise for the benefit thereof as they shall direct and appoint.’ No award was made till 1731, when in that and the following year Stephen Gray received the prize for new electrical experiments; J. T. Desaguliers was the next recipient in 1734. On 10 Nov. 1736 the Royal Society resolved to convert the bequest into a gold medal, to be awarded annually. J. T. Desaguliers was the first winner of the Copley medal in 1736, and it has been awarded annually since that date.

[Noble's Biog. Hist. Continuation of Granger, i. 201–2; Burke's Extinct Baronetage; Luttrell's Relation, iv. v. vi.; Weld's Hist. of the Royal Society, i. 384–6, ii. 566; T. Thomson's Hist. of Royal Society; Nichols's Lit. Illustr. i. 478, iv. 74–6, where several letters from Copley to his friend Thomas Kirk are printed.]

S. L. L.