COTTON, Rowland (1581-1634), of Crooked Lane, London; later of Alkington Hall, Whitchurch and Bellaport Hall, Norton-in-Hales, Salop
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Family and Education
bap. 29 Jan. 1581, s. of William Cotton, Draper of St. Michael’s, Crooked Lane, London and 1st w. Jane, da. and coh. of William Shabery of London.1 educ. St. John’s, Camb. c.1596; L. Inn 1599.2 m. (1) Frances (d. 23 Nov. 1606), da. of Sir Robert Needham* of Shavington, Salop, 1da. stillborn; (2) Joyce (bur. 20 Apr. 1637), da. and coh. of Sir Richard Walsh of Sheldesley Walsh, Worcs., s.p.3 suc. fa. in Salop and Staffs. estates 1607;4 kntd. 13/14 Nov. 1608.5 d. 22 Aug 1634.6 sig. Row[land] Cotton.
Freeman, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffs. ?1605, mayor 1614-15;7 j.p. Salop by 1614-d.;8 commr. oyer and terminer, Wales and Marches by 1616-d.;9 sheriff, Salop 1616-17;10 member, Council in the Marches 1617-d.;11 commr. subsidy, Salop 1621-2, 1624, Forced Loan 1626-7.12
The Cotton family, who derived their name from a township in the parish of Wem, acquired an estate in the neighbouring parish of Whitchurch in the fifteenth century through marriage; they claimed no kinship with the Huntingdonshire Cottons. Neighbours to several of the greatest gentry in Shropshire, the family were not prominent enough to produce any MPs of their own until Sir Richard Cotton, a younger son who made a career at Court, was returned for Hampshire and Cheshire in the 1550s: his descendants, who settled in Hampshire, were denied public careers because of their recusancy. Rowland Cotton’s father, a London Draper, served as senior warden of the Company in 1605-6, and was elected alderman of Dowgate Ward a few weeks before his death in 1607. His uncle Allen Cotton, also a Draper, served as alderman of the same ward from 1616, and as lord mayor in 1625-6.13
Cotton was posthumously remembered for his fluency in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, presumably because of his contacts with the Hebrew scholar Hugh Broughton, a regular guest at his parents’ house from the 1580s. While born and raised in London, he did not follow his father into trade, being heir to the family estates in reversion to his childless uncle John, and was married to the eldest daughter of Sir Robert Needham, the premier landowner in northern Shropshire. In 1605 Cotton was returned to the Commons at a by-election for Newcastle-under-Lyme, where his family owned considerable property: despite rival nominations from the earls of Salisbury (Sir Robert Cecil†) and Dorset (Thomas Sackville†), the corporation was presumably swayed by his uncle’s undertaking to endow the town’s grammar school with £100. Cotton left no trace upon the records of this Parliament. He subsequently joined Prince Henry’s circle, although not as a formal member of the Prince’s Household, acting in masques and achieving a degree of celebrity by besting a ‘haughty Dane’ at the joust.14
Cotton failed to live up to his early promise. His first wife died in childbirth in 1606 (and was memorialized in a monument designed by Inigo Jones*), while he retired to the country after Prince Henry’s death in 1612, holding office as mayor of Newcastle and then sheriff of Shropshire. In 1614 the parliamentary seat he had formerly held at Newcastle went to his erstwhile brother-in-law, Robert Needham, while it was not he but his younger brother William who subsequently became an active member of the Newcastle corporation. He was present at the Newcastle by-election of April 1624, and signed the Shropshire election return in the following year, but is not known to have been a contender at either election, although his brother, then mayor, could surely have arranged a seat for him at Newcastle in 1625. His return as senior knight for Shropshire in January 1626 may have been encouraged by his uncle, then lord mayor of London, or was perhaps motivated by rivalry with the latter; the election was presumably uncontested, as (Sir) Richard Newport, the senior MP from the previous year, signed his return.15
Cotton is not recorded as having spoken during the 1626 session, but he was included on the privileges committee at the start of the session (9 Feb.) and attended the conference of 7 Mar. at which the earl of Pembroke and Archbishop Abbot recommended a generous grant of supply for the war effort. He was also named to a committee investigating the defects of the army sent to the Low Countries a year earlier under Count Mansfeld (22 Mar.) and another for a bill to regulate muster-masters (28 March). He was ordered to attend the conference of 4 Mar. at which the Lords first tested the Commons’ resolve to continue their investigation of the duke of Buckingham, but played no part in the resulting impeachment proceedings. On 16 May he was included on the committee for drafting the Commons’ grievance petition (albeit misnamed as Sir Robert Cotton*, who did not sit in this Parliament), and towards the end of the session he was among those deputed to draft a Remonstrance to the Crown about the House’s failure to pass the Tunnage and Poundage bill (8 June).16
The Shropshire county seats were allocated by rotation among the leading gentry of the shire, and Cotton stood aside at the 1628 general election, finding a seat at Newcastle instead. Once again, he played little part in the important business of the Parliament: he was named to a committee investigating complaints about billeting in Surrey (28 Mar.) and another to check precedents relating to the key issue of liberty of the subject (added 21 May). Otherwise, he was included on the committee for the bill to settle the estates of his neighbour Gilbert, the late 2nd Lord Gerard, whose widow had remarried Robert Needham (7 May). In the 1629 session he was named to a single committee, for the bill to explain the 1606 Recusancy Act (28 January).17
Cotton remained active in local affairs until shortly before his death on 22 Aug. 1634; he was buried the following day at Norton-in-Hales. He settled his affairs two weeks before his demise, entailing his estates upon his wife for life, provided she did not remarry, with a reversion to his brother William. The latter’s great-grandson, another Rowland Cotton, was returned for Newcastle-under-Lyme at a contested by-election in 1699, and represented the borough for most of the next two decades.18
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. GL, ms 11367; Vis. Salop (Harl. Soc. xxviii), 155-6.
- 2. Al. Cant.; LI Admiss.
- 3. Norton-in-Hales (Salop par. reg.), 30; Vis. Salop, 155-6; R. Strong, Henry, Prince of Wales, plate 61.
- 4. GL, ms 11367.
- 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 146.
- 6. C142/529/131.
- 7. T. Pape, Newcastle-Under-Lyme, 135, 252, 266.
- 8. C66/1988; SP16/212.
- 9. C181/2, f. 254; 181/4, f. 162v.