Walter Cope was probably born at Hardwick Manor near Banbury, Oxfordshire, third son of Edward Cope of Hanwell, Oxfordshire and his wife Elizabeth Mohun, daughter of Walter Mohun of Overstone, Northamptonshire (who married Walter's stepfather, George Carleton of Wollaston, Northamptonshire, after Edward Cope's death in 1557). He was the grandson of Sir Anthony Cope and Jane Spencer, and a second cousin of Lady Burghley.
In 1570 he was entered at Gray's Inn, and he became Gentleman Usher to Baron Burghley, and an official of the Court of Wards and Liveries in 1574. In 1580 he was appointed as the court's feodary for Oxfordshire. He was described as Burghley's secretary by 1593, and had become the trusted friend of Burghley's son, Sir Robert Cecil. In 1601 he was also appointed feodary for the City of London and Middlesex.
In 1603 Cope travelled to Edinburgh to welcome James I at his proclamation as the King of England, and was subsequently knighted at Worksop. He later arranged for Cuthbert Burbage's theatre company to revive William Shakespeare's play Love's Labour's Lost to entertain James' consort, Anne of Denmark, at the home of Cecil. In 1604, Cope was elected Member of Parliament for Westminster in James' first Parliament of England, and was begged for assistance by Dudley Carleton, 1st Viscount Dorchester when he was incorrectly suspected of involvement in the Gunpowder Plot.
In 1609 he was given a life position of Chamberlain of the Exchequer, and was granted in October one-sixth of all fines received by the king for the following twenty-one years. In 1611 or 1612, he was made the public Registrar-General of Commerce, and the keeper of Hyde Park with Cecil.
Following the death of James' son Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales in November 1612, the king spent the night at Cope Castle, being joined the following day by his son Prince Charles and granddaughter Princess Elizabeth, and Frederick V, Elector Palatine. The king appointed him Master of the Court of Wards shortly afterwards.
During the Addled Parliament of 1614, Sir Thomas Parry, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, was found to have fraudulently altered an electors' return after they had refused to accept his nominees, including Cope, to whom he had offered one of the Stockbridge seats; Cope's election was subsequently annulled.
Later that year, Cope's elder brother Sir Anthony Cope, 1st Baronet died. Anthony Cope had been made a baronet in 1611. Within a month of his brother's death, Cope became unwell, then died at Cope Castle on 30 July 1614. He was buried at Kensington's parish church. Chamberlain later speculated that Cope's heart had been broken by the loss of his brother and subsequent financial commitments (supposedly over £26,000, a sum equivalent to approximately £3.3m in 2007), along with rumours of losing the mastership of the wards.
Sir Walter Cope's only child, Isabel, married Sir Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland.
- Allen 2004b.
- Barnett 1969, pp. 50-1.
- Allen 2004a.
- Londré 1997, p. 43.
- "Measuring Worth:Purchasing Power of British Pounds from 1264 to 2007". Retrieved 2009-06-01.
- Allen, Elizabeth (2004a). "Cope, Sir Anthony (1486/7–1551)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/6250. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.) The first edition of this text is available as an article on Wikisource: "Cope, Anthony". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Allen, Elizabeth (2004b). "Cope, Sir Walter (1553?–1614)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/6257. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Barnett, Richard C. (1969). Place, Profit and Power: A Study of the Servants of William Cecil, Elizabethan Statesman. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
- Londré, Felicia Hardison (1997). Love's labour's lost: critical essays (illustrated ed.). Routledge. p. 43. ISBN 0-8153-0984-8. Retrieved 2009-06-01.