Cope, Sir Alfred William (‘Andy’) (1877–1954), civil servant, was born 14 January 1877 in Kennington, south London, eldest son among eleven children of Alfred Cope, bottle merchant, and Margaret Elizabeth Cope (née Dallimore). Probably educated locally, he entered the British civil service as a boy clerk in the department of customs and excise, joining its detective branch in 1896. Promoted rapidly, he was made a preventive inspector in 1908 and head of the department some time later. He was appointed (1919) second secretary in the ministry of pensions, where he worked with John Leydon (qv); his immediate superior was Sir Matthew Nathan (qv) and the parliamentary secretary was James Craig (qv). With a reputation for courage, initiative, and administrative ability, Cope went to Ireland in May 1920 as part of Sir Warren Fisher's team investigating the workings of Dublin Castle. Their report was damning, and he was duly appointed as one of two new assistant under-secretaries, and clerk of the Irish privy council.
Cope was one of a group of civilian administrators under John Anderson (qv) with a shared belief that repression alone could not end the ‘troubles’, and that peace was only possible if Sinn Féin were treated as a political movement. In this strategy, he was the chief Castle agent in exploring means towards a negotiated peace. With Lloyd George's covert encouragement, he sought contact with the Sinn Féin leadership despite an explicit ban by the cabinet, growing distrust by the military and police authorities, and personal danger. Cope's historical reputation is dominated by his intense exertions in the negotiations leading to truce (July 1921) and treaty (December 1921); but it is not clear that he made any productive contact with Sinn Féin till near the end of 1920, although (unknown to him) his sometime girlfriend, Kathleen Napoli MacKenna, was secretary at the dáil department of publicity.
His preoccupying task for several months after taking office was administrative reorganisation, in which he was so diligent that W. E. Wylie (qv) at first thought he lacked any wider perspective, and Mark Sturgis (qv) noted: ‘he is tenacious of any job he gets his fingers into and their number is legion’ (Sturgis, ed. Hopkinson, 29). Cope's responsibilities included scrutiny and revision of RIC procedures and the relationship between the police, the army, and the intelligence service. He made plain at an early stage his opposition to coercive measures, including the formation of the Auxiliary Division RIC, and his focused energy, impatience for results, and disregard for tact alienated some among the security forces. In addition, for most of the last two months of 1920 he was expecting (and would have accepted) transfer to an important customs post at Constantinople.
By December he had made contact, largely through Martin Fitzgerald (qv), editor of the Freeman's Journal. From then on, he facilitated peace efforts by many notable intermediaries, including Archbishop Patrick Clune (qv), Fr Michael O'Flanagan (qv), Cardinal Michael Logue (qv), and Bishop Michael Fogarty (qv). To assist negotiations, he arranged the release of several arrested Sinn Féin leaders, including Arthur Griffith (qv), Eoin MacNeill (qv) and Éamon de Valera (qv). One of the less successful of his coups was to bring Craig and de Valera together (5 May 1921) by telling each that the other had requested the meeting. On 24 June, two days after George V's speech to the Belfast parliament, Cope forcibly argued the case for peace before the cabinet in London. He brought back to Dublin next day Lloyd George's letter to de Valera suggesting a peace conference. After the truce of 11 July T. M. Healy (qv) thought that ‘Cope's conduct has surpassed that of Thomas Drummond [qv]’ (Callanan, 564). Among some of his military and police colleagues, however, he was resented as ‘a complete Shinn’ or ‘the buck Shinn advocate’ (Sturgis, ed. Hopkinson, 203, 212).
Generally considered to be the author of the truce, Cope was a member of the sub-committee dealing with its observance. He played a key role in the subsequent talks, most notably at the Gairloch meeting (September), and in setting up the sub-conference meetings during the treaty negotiations. The genuine rapport he established with Michael Collins (qv), Éamonn Duggan (qv), Griffith, and others on the Sinn Féin side, allowed him greater access than other British officials and helped in persuading the plenipotentiaries to accept the treaty. To Austin Stack (qv) and other republican opponents of the treaty, Cope was England's chief instrument in bringing it about, and his rapport with the plenipotentiaries suggested intrigue. Conversely, unionists in both houses of the UK parliament alleged, both before and after the treaty, that he had hobbled the crown forces while cultivating Sinn Féin, and even that his loyalty was suspect. Sturgis reported such attacks to Anderson, who was distressed because ‘Cope had done nothing without his knowledge and consent and upon the orders of government’ (ibid., 223).
Cope was the British government's initial choice as permanent secretary of the NI ministry of finance, but his proposals for even-handed policing did not find favour among Ulster unionists, though he did much to lay the administrative foundations of the northern state. He remained in Dublin as the principal British civil official till October 1922, supervising the disbanding of the RIC and the transfer of powers and resources to the provisional government, of which he was very supportive – though not astute enough to see through Collins's northern policy. Although it was rumoured that Cope had his eye on becoming governor general of the Free State, he backed T. M. Healy for the post and encouraged Lionel Curtis (qv) and Tom Jones to do likewise. Having been appointed CB in 1920, he was promoted to KCB in October 1922. Resigning from the civil service in the face of suspicion and resentment for his part in the treaty, he became general secretary of the liberal party (1922–4). Blamed for mismanaging the 1924 election campaign, and having found close cooperation with Lloyd George impossible, Cope resigned; Lord Melchett, one of Lloyd George's financial backers, secured him a post as managing director (1925–35) of Amalgamated Anthracite Collieries Ltd.
Cope's interest in Ireland outlasted his official connection. In June 1923 he advised Kevin O'Shiel (qv) on the financial relationship between the UK and the Free State, and in February 1924 he and N. G. Loughnane (a former Castle colleague) shocked J. H. Thomas, the colonial secretary, by their advocacy of the southern position at the boundary conference. Ramsay MacDonald's first Labour government consulted him constantly on Irish affairs. Retiring to Seaford, Sussex, Cope was chairman of W. Abbott & Sons Ltd up to 1939, and in 1939 was elected chairman of Seaford urban council. At the beginning of the second world war he worked voluntarily for a short time at the lord privy seal's office (renewing his friendship with Anderson), arranging recruiting meetings. Unmarried, he died at Seaford, 13 May 1954, leaving an estate of £25,295. 10s. 5d.
Two portraits of Cope (1919) by Walter Stoneman are in the National Portrait Gallery, London. In the 1930s he considered writing his memoirs and asked Denis Gwynn (qv) to inquire about a publisher; he later dropped the idea, believing that it would not be worth the effort and the subsequent controversy. Many years later F. S. L. Lyons (qv) was deterred from writing a biography of Cope by the paucity of available papers. Photos and descriptions of him in Ireland show a compact figure, full of nervous energy and prone to mood swings, whose great appetite for work made it difficult for him to delegate, and whose efforts in bringing opposing sides together ensured that he would be attacked from several quarters. The most understanding accounts come from his fellow administrator Tom Jones and his close colleague Mark Sturgis, a man of very different background and temperament, who wrote often of Cope in his diaries with admiration and affection.