COTTON, John, of Cambridge.
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Family and Education
m. Margaret, 2s.
Mayor, Cambridge Sept. 1376-8.1
Commr. of array, Cambridge Mar., June 1380, Oct. 1386.
J.p. Cambridge 6 May-Sept. 1380.
Tax collector, Cambs. Nov. 1386.
Coming from a family with a tradition of public service in the borough,2 Cotton was elected mayor in 1376. Acting in this capacity on behalf of the town, he made a fine of £2 at the Exchequer for the restoration of its liberties, and he also purchased a vacant lot on the bank of the river Cam, which he then leased out for the town at 4d.a year.3 At the beginning of his second mayoral term he stood surety for John Sibille when the latter was elected as knight of the shire to the Parliament of October 1377. After two years in office, Cotton was returned in April 1379 to the first of his own seven Parliaments. In four of these (1382, February and October 1383 and 1385) he was partnered by the current mayor, Richard Maisterman, and when not himself returned he offered surety for the attendance in Parliament of one or both of the borough’s Members at almost every election until 1394. He occasionally appeared on royal commissions, in spite of having obtained, on 4 Sept. 1378, a royal exemption from official appointments. His own service as a j.p. in the town in 1380 did not prevent him from becoming embroiled in the factional disputes of the following year, and in February 1381, following charges of obstructing the royal justices in their sessions and inciting the people against them, he was compelled to enter into recognizances of £100 for good behaviour. Although he is not specifically recorded as taking part in the riots which disrupted Cambridge that summer, his purchase of a royal pardon in February following suggests that his activities had created suspicion in official circles.4
Cotton may have had mixed feelings about the mob’s attack on Corpus Christi college in 1381, for his own relationship with the clerks was somewhat ambivalent. In 1376 he had leased from the college at an annual rent of 6s.8d. a large walled garden some 35 yards long and 13 yards wide in St. Mary’s parish, sharing the lease with his wife Margaret and son Walter. Yet four years earlier, as a juror at an inquisition ad quod damnum conducted to decide whether certain tenements in the town, including one he himself held, should be alienated to the college in mortmain, he had withheld his consent to the transfer. Inquiries made in 1380 revealed that, as a result of bribery, the clerks had secured the property notwithstanding the illegality; nevertheless, in January following, the Crown confirmed the college in its possession, thereby exacerbating the contentions between town and gown. The eventual resumption of good relations between the clerks and Cotton may have been helped by the position of the burgess’s son Thomas as a scholar at the university in the 1380s. Certainly, in August 1389, Corpus Christi college gave Cotton a 40-year lease of a tenement adjoining one he already held near the market in St. Mary’s parish, for which he was required to proffer merely an annual quit rent of a rose.5 Cotton’s property holdings were extensive, for he apparently owned ‘Cotton Hall’ elsewhere in Cambridge, and the local manor of Cayles which had appurtenances in neighbouring villages. The full extent of his interests outside the town is unclear, although in 1375 he had been made a feoffee of land in nearby Trumpington, as well as of the manor of Hempstead in Essex, and in 1387 he acquired property in Swaffham Bulbeck, initially in conjunction with others including John Payn I*, but later, in 1389, taking possession of 32 acres on his own account.6
On occasion, Cotton acted as a patron of local churches. During the 1380s he was a member of a religious guild in the church of Holy Trinity, and in 1392 he joined John Blankpayn*, John Herries* and John Thriplow* in donating to St. Mary’s church a number of properties in Cambridge and Chesterton for the endowment of a chantry.7 The date of his death is not known, but it probably occurred before 1408 when a deed mentioned a tenement in St. Andrew’s parish as formerly belonging to him, while another of the following year referred to his earlier tenancy of a garden in Petty Cury.8