Cole, Sir William (1571?–1653), English soldier and planter, was the only son of Emmanuel Cole, third son of Thomas Cole of London, and appears to have been raised in Devonshire. He may have studied at Cambridge, graduating BA and MA. After fighting in the Low Countries, he arrived c.1599 in Ireland, where he served at Carlingford, becoming a lieutenant by December 1601, and fighting at the battle of Kinsale. On 15 May 1607 he was confirmed as the captain of the long boats and barges in Ballyshannon and Lough Erne (having held that post for some years already), and was also by then vice-governor of Ballyshannon. That year he was given command of Enniskillen castle, and around this time was involved in disputes with the earl of Tyrconnell (qv). Granted 1,000 acres at Corrigrade, Co. Fermanagh, on 16 November 1611, he purchased in October 1612 another 1,000 acres at Dromskeagh in the same county. Cole established Enniskillen town, receiving a grant of the land for it in May 1612, and becoming provost on its incorporation on 27 February 1613. He was knighted on 5 November 1617 and was sheriff of Fermanagh (1615, 1623, 1626–7) and a JP and collector of fines (1616). By 1623 he was on a government pension. The 1622 commission to inquire into the progress of the Ulster plantation singled him out as a model planter.
In the spring of 1633 he engineered protests in Fermanagh and Monaghan against the payment of contributions to the army. For this he was imprisoned in Dublin castle for a period. He sat for Fermanagh county in the parliaments of 1634–5 and 1640–41 and was a member of the Irish parliamentary delegation sent to London in 1640–41 to complain against Thomas Wentworth (qv) and his government of Ireland. On 10 October 1641 Cole was forewarned by Brian Maguire of Tempo of the imminence of rebellion; eleven days later he was told that it was to begin on the following day; on both occasions he informed the lord justices. Whether his second warning reached Dublin was disputed, as was his claim to have sent messengers to convey the news to settler strongholds throughout Ulster. What is certain is that when the rebellion broke out on October 22, Cole was able to ensure that settler strongholds in Fermanagh were sufficiently prepared to withstand the attacks of the local rebels led by Rory Maguire (qv). His failure to do more angered the Scots settler, Sir Francis Hamilton, commander of Limavady, who accused him of partiality towards the Irish. Cole was one of four Ulster settlers commissioned by the king in October 1641 to raise regiments to defend the north-west: taken into pay by the English parliament in July 1642, these forces formed the nucleus of the renowned Laggan army. Cole contributed 500 foot, but Fermanagh and the defence of Enniskillen remained his principal concerns. Soldiers from Enniskillen were with the Laggan army when it defeated Owen Roe O'Neill (qv) at Clones (13 June 1643), but Cole does not seem to have been with them. Though he paid lip service to the cessation of September 1643, he continued to campaign against the rebels in Fermanagh, where he took the castles of Craenish and Cullenver later in the year.
Cole was present at the meeting in Belfast on 2 January 1644 at which leading British officers in Ulster agreed to oppose the imposition of the oath of adherence to the Anglo–Scottish solemn league and covenant and to accept the authority of the king's lord lieutenant, the marquess of Ormond (qv). His position was complicated by the fact that most of his officers and soldiers were Scots who were opposed to both policies. When presbyterian ministers arrived in Enniskillen at the garrison's request to administer the oath, in May 1644, Cole was almost alone in his refusal to take it. Shortly afterwards, however, as the price of retaining his authority, he did so. Towards the end of the year, he travelled to London to defend himself before the committee of both kingdoms against charges, brought by Hamilton, of royalism and undue leniency towards rebels. His boast that he was the first of the Ulster officers to take the covenant stood him in good stead: his defence succeeded and his parliamentary support was continued in the following years. He remained in London to give evidence, in effect a general account of the outbreak of the rebellion, at the trial of Lord Maguire (qv) in February 1645, and returned to Ireland three months later, bringing with him £10,000 to be distributed among the troops in Ulster. In October, he combined with Charles Coote (qv), the parliamentarian commander in west Ulster, to attack rebel positions in Sligo but disengaged abruptly in November when a force led by Rory Maguire raided his supply base and family sanctuary on Boe Island in Upper Lough Erne. Returning to Fermanagh, he pursued the raiders and defeated them near Lowtherstown. The episode is commonly thought to have confirmed him in his reluctance to campaign outside Fermanagh, but advancing age may sufficiently explain his disposition to limit himself to the preservation of Enniskillen.
The return of the Scots to their allegiance to the king in the second civil war split the Laggan army. Cole continued to accept the authority of parliament; his fellow commanders rejected it. When Coote ordered Cole to arrest three junior officers suspected of disloyalty in January 1649, he obeyed, whereupon the garrison mutinied, declared for the king and imprisoned Cole. He was released soon after and appeared in London in June. In December 1649 he was commissioned by parliament to command 800 men to fight in Ireland, but due to delays in recruiting he never went. He died in October 1653 and was buried at St Michan's church, Dublin.
Cole married (date unknown) Susan, daughter and heiress of John Croft of Lancashire, widow of Lieut. Segar of Dublin castle. They had three sons and at least two daughters.