COOKE, Sir Anthony (1505/6-76), of Gidea Hall, Essex.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. 1505/6, 1st s. of John Cooke of Gidea Hall by Alice, da. and h. of William Saunders of Banbury, Oxon. educ. I. Temple, adm. 4 Feb. 1523. m. by 1523, Anne, da. of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Gains Park, Essex and Milton, Northants., 4s. inc. Richard and William 5da. suc. fa. 1517. KB 20 Feb. 1547.1

Offices Held

J.p. Essex 1537-54, q. 1558/59-d., Warws. 1564-d.; sheriff, Essex and Herts. 1544-5; gent. privy chamber by 1546-53; commr. heresies, Essex 1549, 1550, eccles. laws 1552; poss. tutor to Edw. VI in 1550; custos rot. Essex 1572-d.2


Anthony Cooke was an adolescent when his father died leaving him a mansion and a sizeable estate within the liberty of Havering-atte-Bower near Romford, Essex: the house had been built and the lands acquired by Cooke’s great-grandfather, the wealthy draper and lord mayor of London Sir Thomas Cooke. It is not known who obtained his wardship: both his stepmother and his uncle Richard were well-placed to do so, as was Sir William Fitzwilliam, whose daughter Cooke was to marry when he was still only about 17. It was as Fitzwilliam’s son-in-law that Cooke was admitted to the Inner Temple on 4 Feb. 1523. Fitzwilliam himself was admitted at the same time, as was his son William, but whereas the elder Fitzwilliam was charged no admission fee, and the younger one was to pay 20s. only when he came into residence, Cooke had to pay the standard fee of 40s.: all three, however, were given the same privileges, to be in or out of commons at their pleasure and to be excused all offices and vacations. One of the pledges on this occasion was Cooke’s brother-in-law Richard Ogle, and it was with Ogle that five months later he was given the use for life of the chamber in the inn known as Essex chamber.3

Of Cooke’s life during the next dozen years there is scarcely a trace. The lack of any further reference to him at the Inner Temple suggests that he did not long pursue his studies there. More surprising is his apparent absence from court, where both his stepmother, who waited in turn on Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary, and his father-in-law, Wolsey’s household treasurer, might be expected to have brought him forward. He may have travelled on the Continent, where his uncle Richard spent many years as a diplomatic courier and go-between, chiefly in the service of the Emperor, but the birth of six or seven of his children between 1525 and 1535 shows that he could not have been away for long. He was perhaps preoccupied with his landed inheritance, which had been augmented in 1521 by a fourth share of the estate of his maternal great-grandfather Henry Belknap, and he may have already embarked upon his programme of self-education. Yet he was no recluse. From 1531 he was regularly chosen as a justice within the liberty of Havering, and in 1536 he was one of the Essex gentlemen put on alert at the time of the northern rebellion.4

From the semi-obscurity of these years Cooke emerges during the last decade of Henry VIII’s reign. In 1539 he received his first appointment at court when he was named one of the newly formed corps of ‘spears’ or royal bodyguard. The martial experience which his selection implies Cooke may have gained in Ireland, where he is reported to have served in 1536-7, but although he was to be called upon to supply men for the campaigns of 1543 and 1544 against France it is not known whether he saw service in them. He was also present on such ceremonial occasions as the reception of Anne of Cleves in 1540 and of the Admiral of France in 1546. Concurrent with his progress at court was Cooke’s advance in his county: from 1537 he sat on the bench and served on other commissions, and in 1544 he was pricked sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire. The rising courtier and administrator was also emerging as a patristic scholar. It was during a royal progress, perhaps the last of Henry VIII’s in the summer of 1541, that Cooke made the translation of St. Cyprian’s sermon on prayer which he dedicated to the King. In the dedication Cooke expressed views akin to those of the christian humanists of his day, but without sharing their perception of the depth of God’s love for man. Fulsome in his praise of the King for delivering his subjects from bondage to Rome, Cooke is vague as to the theological basis of the new order, perhaps out of a prudent hesitation to become controversial.5

Cooke’s interest in the welfare and education of his children was acclaimed during his lifetime. A rebuke to one of his sons in the presence of either Protector Somerset or of Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, is supposed to have prompted the observation, ‘Some men govern families with more skill than others do kingdoms’, and to have led to Cooke’s appointment as tutor to Edward VI. Whether Cooke ever held this post, the traditional high point of his career, is not certain. In March 1550 Bishop Hooper linked him with (Sir) John Cheke in the tutorship, and in the following May he was given an annuity of £100 for providing ‘training in good letters and manners’ to the King, but he is never officially styled tutor and he is nowhere mentioned in the King’s journal. The most likely explanation is that Cooke was brought into the royal household after the retirement of Richard Coxe, Cheke’s fellow-tutor, in February 1550 and that he gave the King the same sort of intellectual guidance as he had given his own children, but as a companion rather than as a teacher.6

The new reign had certainly begun auspiciously for Cooke: in February 1547 he was made a knight of the Bath and in the following November he took his seat in Parliament. This was probably, but not certainly, his first appearance in the Commons, for although in 1545 his shrievalty had barred him from election in Essex and Hertfordshire, he might have been returned for a borough elsewhere. The circumstances of his return for Lewes are of some interest. He was evidently not the choice of the electors, his name appearing on the indenture over an erasure. It is possible that his election was engineered by the Council, either because the original name was unacceptable or because he had failed to find a seat elsewhere, but the influence at work could have been of a more personal kind, the sheriff being his wife’s step-uncle John Sackville I and his fellow-Member (Sir) Walter Mildmay a neighbour from Essex. Although the Journal throws no light on Cooke’s part in this Parliament, he is unlikely to have been prominent there, for he was a man who ‘took more pleasure to breed up statesmen than to be one. Contemplation was his soul, privacy his life, and discourse his element. Business was his purgatory, and publicness his torment’. This hatred of the limelight may help to explain the episode of his election to the Parliament of March 1553. His son-in-law Sir William Cecil nominated him for Stamford and on 31 Jan. 1553 the townsmen chose Cooke and their clerk of the peace Robert Lacy, but by the time the sheriff made the return more than two weeks later Cooke had been replaced by his son Richard. His withdrawal is more likely to have been prompted by paternal solicitude than by political misgivings, for on the King’s death in the following summer he gave his support to Lady Jane Grey and thus incurred a spell in the Tower after the failure to alter the succession.7

Cooke had not moved quickly towards Protestantism. When in 1546 he served on the commission to enforce the Six Articles in Essex, he signed the report recommending severe punishment for those who denied transubstantiation. He may not by then have reached his own final convictions, but by 1550 Hooper could say that he had ‘a pious understanding of the doctrine of the eucharist’. In 1551 he attended the discussions on the subject at the houses of Cecil and of (Sir) Richard Morison, and a year later he served on the commission to reform the ecclesiastical law. With Mary’s restoration of Catholicism Cooke was torn between discharging his duty to the Queen and following the commands of his conscience; it was a cruel dilemma for one who, according to Lloyd, was wont to say, ‘Three things there are before whom I cannot do amiss: 1. my prince; 2. my conscience; 3. my children’, and his only hope of resolving it was by going into exile. On 14 Apr. 1554 he and Cheke arrived at Strasbourg; Cheke went on to Italy, but Cooke remained at Strasbourg for several months, hearing Peter Martyr lecture and perhaps helping in the parliamentary petition, entitled ‘The confession of the banished ministers’, from the English émigrés living there. In the following autumn he followed Cheke across the Alps and spent the winter with Thomas Hoby at Padua, but by June 1555 he was back at Strasbourg, where in that month he was granted a licence to reside. He stayed there for the next three years, corresponding with the leading Protestants on the Continent and writing pamphlets for circulation in England. On Mary’s death he returned home with the twin expectations of seeing a thoroughgoing Reformation and of receiving high office: neither prospect had been fulfilled by the time of his death on 11 June 1576.8

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: R. J.W. Swales


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s i.p.m., C142/31/6, and at death according to MI. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 39; PCC 33 Holder.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xii, xiii, add.; CPR, 1547-8, pp. 76, 78, 83; 1548-9, p. 406; 1549-51, p. 347; Lit. Rems. Edw. VI, p. cxli; Essex RO, Q/SR 39/10.
  • 3. DNB; M. K. McIntosh, ‘Sir Anthony Cooke; Tudor humanist, educator and religious reformer’, Procs. Am. Phil. Soc. cxix. 235-6; LP Hen. VIII, vii; VCH Essex, iv. 106; Cal. I.T. Recs. i. 72-73, 78.
  • 4. McIntosh, 235-6.
  • 5. McIntosh, 237-9; LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xiv, xviii, xx, add.
  • 6. Lit. Rems. Edw. VI, pp. xlix, cxli; McIntosh, 241; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, ii. 406n; Strype, Cheke, 70-77; J. J. Scarisbrick, Hen. VIII, 457; J. K. McConica, Eng. Humanists and Ref. Pol., 271.
  • 7. C219/19/111; Vis. Essex, 199; HMC Hatfield, i. 106; Stamford hall bk. 1461-1657, f. 156; McIntosh, 242; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 39.
  • 8. McIntosh, 241, 243-50; LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xx; Strype, 70-77; C. H. Garrett, Marian Exiles, 13, 124-6; Cam. Misc. x(2), 117, 120; Zurich Letters (Parker Soc.), 8; Lit. Rems. Edw. VI, pp. xlix; Wards 7/16/125.