Cope, William (1738–1820), silk merchant and municipal politician, was born in Dublin, son of Joseph Cope and Susannah Cope (née Handcock) of Dublin. The biographical details of his antecedents are not complete, though it would appear they were of English origin. (His grandfather, William Cope, born some time before 1670, set up in business in Dublin as a silk-dyer (1700–40). He appears to have married Honor, daughter of Charles Semple of Boyle, Co. Roscommon. They had three children: Henry Cope of Castlegal; William, who died in infancy (1707); and Joseph (1705–54).)
William Cope was apprenticed in the Weavers Guild of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1752. He married first (1764) Charlotte Hautenville; secondly (1775) his cousin Elizabeth, daughter and heir to Henry Cope of Castlegal. Both marriages were beneficial to the family business. The Hautenvilles were a very large business family in Dublin: Charlotte was the daughter of Samuel Hautenville, haberdasher in Capel St., who was born in 1690 in Rouen, Normandy, and in 1730 married Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. George Wilkins of Lisburn, Co. Antrim.
The Cope family business was located at 81 Dame St. William Cope entered into partnerships with John Binns (qv) and Samuel Hautenville; later, Cope & Binns moved to nearby Shaw's Court. The Binnses were another successful family of merchants, who lived (1784–96) in Fownes St. Initially, William Cope's management of the family business was successful: by the early 1790s the family had bought a home in fashionable Merrion Square. However, by the end of the century the Copes were in financial difficulties and went into bankruptcy in 1799. The offices in Dame St. were repossessed, though the family house on the street remained open.
In the early 1790s Cope was active in municipal politics. He was a member of the Dublin corporation assembly, the chamber of commerce, the Dublin Society, and the Ouzel Galley. With the French revolution his involvement in local politics became more intense, as he became apprehensive of the effect of revolutionary ideas on Irish politics. Firmly opposing all efforts to introduce catholic relief, as a member of the Dublin corporation assembly, in 1792 he moved and carried a series of resolutions opposing concessions to catholics. He was subsequently elected sheriff of Dublin, but refused to take up the office and paid 300 guineas rather than accept it.
Cope's financial decline was closely connected with the role he played in persuading Thomas Reynolds (qv), who was involved with the Catholic Convention of 1792 and with the United Irishmen, to become an informer. In 1797 Reynolds had mortgaged his lands to Cope for £5,000. By February 1798 Reynolds was financially embarrassed, and the two men travelled together to Corbettstown, where Cope took possession of the mortgaged property. On the journey, Reynolds confessed his involvement in the United Irishmen to Cope. On their return to Dublin, Cope persuaded Reynolds to confess what he knew of the activities of the United Irishmen to the under-secretary, Edward Cooke (qv), in Dublin Castle. This resulted in the arrest of the Leinster provincial committee of the United Irishmen at the house of Oliver Bond (qv) in Bridge St. on 12 March 1798. Cope received a secret-service pension of £1,000 a year for the role he played in the Reynolds affair.
Once Cope's role in the betrayal of the United Irishmen was made public, his business went into decline. In 1807 he was eventually forced to move to Molesworth St., and then in 1809 to 9 Hume St., where he lived with his wife and three daughters. His only son and his daughter-in-law were held prisoners at Verdun from 1803 (when hostilities between France and England resumed) to 1814. Cope died in Dublin 7 December 1820, aged 82 years.