Charles Pepys, 1st Earl of Cottenham

IntroBritish politician (1781-1851)
Was Judge 
From United Kingdom 
Great Britain 
Type Law 
Birth 29 April 1781 
, London, UK
Death 29 April 1851 
, Lucca, Italy
(aged 70 years)
Star signTaurus
Politics Whigs
Mother: Elizabeth Dowdeswell 
Father: Sir William Pepys, 1st Baronet 
Spouse: Caroline Elizabeth Wingfield-Baker 
Children: Lady Charlotte Maria Pepys 
William Pepys, 3rd Earl of Cottenham 
Lady Caroline Pepys 
Lady Elizabeth Theresa Pepys 
Charles Pepys, 2nd Earl of Cottenham 
Henry Leslie Pepys 
George Pepys 
Lady Evelyn Pepys 
Walter Courtenay Pepys 
Trinity College

Charles Christopher Pepys, 1st Earl of Cottenham, PC, QC (/ˈpɛpɪs/; 29 April 1781 – 29 April 1851) was an English lawyer, judge and politician. He was twice Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.

Background and education

Cottenham was born in London, the second son of Sir William Pepys, 1st Baronet, a master in chancery, who was descended from John Pepys, of Cottenham, Cambridgeshire, a great-uncle of Samuel Pepys the diarist. Educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge, Pepys was called to the bar of Lincoln’s Inn in 1804.

Legal and political career

Practising at the Chancery bar, Cottenham’s progress was slow, and it was not till twenty-two years after his call that he was made a King’s Counsel. He sat in Parliament successively for Higham Ferrers and Malton, was appointed Solicitor General in 1834, and in the same year became Master of the Rolls. On the formation of Lord Melbourne’s second administration in April 1835, the great seal was for a time in commission, but eventually Cottenham, who had been one of the commissioners, was appointed Lord Chancellor (January 1836) and was at the same time elevated to the peerage as Baron Cottenham, of Cottenham in the County of Cambridge. He held office until the defeat of the ministry in August 1841.

In February 1841, at the time of the trial of Lord Cardigan for attempted murder, Cottenham claimed ill health, leaving the task of presiding as Lord High Steward to the Lord Chief Justice of the Queen’s Bench, Lord Denman. In 1846 he again became Lord Chancellor in Lord John Russell’s administration. His health, however, had been gradually failing and he resigned in 1850. Shortly before his retirement, he was created Viscount Crowhurst, of Crowhurst in the County of Surrey, and Earl of Cottenham, of Cottenham in the County of Cambridge. He lived at Prospect Place, Wimbledon, from 1831 to 1851. He had succeeded his elder brother as third Baronet in 1845. In 1849 he also succeeded a cousin as fourth Baronet of Juniper Hill.


Lord Cottenham married Caroline Elizabeth, daughter of William Wingfield-Baker, in 1821. They had five sons and three daughters. He died at Pietra Santa, Lucca, in the Italian Grand Duchy of Tuscany, in April 1851, aged 70, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Charles. Lady Cottenham died in April 1868, aged 66. Cottenham’s niece Emily Pepys (1833–1887), daughter of Henry Pepys, Bishop of Worcester, was a child diarist.