The sitter was the fifth son of John Cotes of Woodcote Hall, Shropshire, and his wife Lady Dorothy Shirley, youngest daughter of Robert, 1st Earl Ferrers. He joined the Navy when a young man, becoming Lieutenant in 1734 and then Captain in 1740 when he was placed in command of the 60 gun York. He was involved in Edward Vernon's attack on Carthagena and remained in the West Indies until 1745. He later commanded the 70 Gun Edinburgh and was part of the squadron under Hawke which defeated the French off Cape Finisterre. He was promoted to Rear-Admiral of the White in 1756 and Vice-Admiral of the Blue in 1758 and was Commander-in-Chief of Jamaica until 1760. Following his retirement from the Navy he represented Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, in Parliament from 1761 until his death in 1767. He married twice, first Mary Kendal (d. 1754) and secondly Miss Ryder. J. Charnock in his Biogaphia Navalis, or Lives & Characters of Officers of the Navy of Great Britain, published in six volumes between 1794 and 1798, commented that following his retirement from the Navy he 'passed a life totally abstracted from the naval service; and died at last regretted by every person who had heard his public character, and lamented by all who were acquainted with his private virtues' (vol. V, p. 16). This portrait was painted in 1762 and Reynolds recorded appointments with the sitter in April, May and June that year, with a first payment of 10 gns. recorded in the artist's ledger between 1 July 1761 and 22 November 1762, and a final payment of the same amount between 28 May and 29 December 1762.