COTTON, Thomas (1594-1662), of Conington, Hunts. and Cotton House, Westminster; later of Eyworth, Beds.
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Family and Education
b. 13 June 1594,1 o. s. of Sir Robert Cotton* of Conington and Elizabeth, da. of William Brocas of Thedingworth, Leics.2 educ. M. Temple 1610, Trin. Camb. 1611, MA 1612.3 m. (1) 17 June 1617, Margaret (d. 5 Mar. 1622), da. of Lord William Howard of Naworth Castle, Cumb., 1s. 2da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) lic. 17 Apr. 1640, Alice, wid. of Edmund Anderson of Eyworth, Beds., da. of Sir John Constable of Dormanby, Yorks. 4s. (1 d.v.p) 2da. suc. fa. as 2nd bt. 6 May 1631.4 d. 13 May 1662.5
J.p. Norf. 1616-c.1625, 22 Feb. 1626, Hunts. 1621-at least 1657, 1660-d., Beds. by 1660-d.,6 commr. sewers, Fens. 1617-1635,7 subsidy, Norf. 1621-2, 1624,8 enclosure, Fens. 1622-4;9 dep. lt. Hunts. 1623-at least 1625,10 1660-d.;11 commr. Forced Loan, Hunts. 1627,12 swans, Midland counties, 1627, Camb. and Ely 1633;13 sheriff, Hunts. 1636-7;14 commr. oyer and terminer, Norf. circ. 1636-42, by 1654-d.,15 array, Hunts. 1642,16 East Midlands Assoc. 1642, assessment, Hunts. 1643, sequestration 1643, levying money 1643, Eastern Assoc. 1643.17
In many respects, Cotton followed in the footsteps of his more famous father, Sir Robert, being a client of the Howards, a collector of manuscripts and a Member of the Commons. However, he did not have his father’s influence nor was he prominent in Parliament. During his father’s lifetime he appears to have managed the family estates at Conington as Sir Robert was frequently absent on business in London. In the early 1620s he showed an interest in fen drainage which would continue throughout his life.18
Cotton donated £10 towards the Palatinate cause in early 1621.19 Three years later he was returned for the newly enfranchised borough of Great Marlow. The date of the election is unknown, but it presumably took place shortly after the writ was issued on 7 May. The borough belonged to William, 5th lord Paget, who, like Cotton and his father, belonged to the Middle Temple. Paget may have put a seat at Sir Robert’s disposal in return for the latter’s antiquarian assistance in the campaign to restore the representation of Great Marlow, along with Wendover and Amersham in the same county. Cotton’s father had certainly been involved in moves to re-enfranchise those boroughs during the previous Parliament, when his assistance had been requested by Francis, 2nd Lord Russell of Thornhaugh (Sir Francis Russell*) concerning Amersham; Sir Nicholas Saunders* had believed that the elder Cotton would have the right to nominate to at least one seat if the boroughs were re-enfranchised.20 Cotton left no trace on the records of the 1624 Parliament, which was prorogued at the end of May and never met again.
In 1625 Cotton was again returned for Great Marlow, and also for Morpeth, in Northumberland, which borough was controlled by the lord of the manor, Lord William Howard of Naworth, Cotton’s father-in-law.21 At the start of the session Cotton elected to serve for Great Marlow, probably in order to free up a place for another Howard client, Sir Arnold Herbert*, a servant of Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk, who had previously represented Morpeth in 1614.22 He failed to secure a seat in 1626, but in 1628 was returned for the Cornish borough of St. Germans, probably on the influence of his father’s close friend, (Sir) John Eliot*. Despite serving in both the 1625 and 1628-9 assemblies, Cotton played no recorded part in parliamentary proceedings.
Cotton joined his father in petitioning the Privy Council for the Cotton library to be re-opened after its closure by Council order in 1629.23 After Sir Robert’s death in May 1631, Cotton was allowed to remove 50 books of ‘no jealous arguments or discourses’, but on being pressed by a clerk of the Council to say when he intended to return these books he replied that he would do so ‘when I shall think good or not at all ... for they are my goods as truly as this cloak upon my back, and if any man can make any just claim to any of them, I will yield the same with all my heart’.24 After the library had re-opened in 1633, Cotton followed in the family tradition of lending works. However, he often required a bond to be paid, and on occasion refused to lend manuscripts considered too valuable to leave the premises.25
Cotton was more of a landlord than an antiquarian and he continued to run the family estates with diligence and zeal.26 He added a grand staircase to Conington Hall in 1634 and restored the parapets on the church later in the decade.27 In 1640 he represented Huntingdonshire in the Short Parliament. A suspected royalist, his estates were sequestered in 1643 and Conington Hall was plundered. However, with the assistance of John Selden* the sequestration was soon lifted, and he spent most of the 1640s and 1650s living peaceably on property he had acquired with his second marriage at Eyworth in Bedfordshire.28 Cotton died on 13 May 1662 and was buried next to his father in Conington Church, where his monumental inscription survives.29 His eldest son, John, had been returned for Huntingdon in 1661. No will or grant of administration has been found.
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Authors: Chris Kyle / Ben Coates
- 1. Misc. Gen. et Her. (n.s.), i. 340.
- 2. CB, i. 46.
- 3. Al. Cant.; M. Temple Admiss. i. 95.
- 4. Misc. Gen. et Her. (n.s.), i. 340; London Mar. Lics. ed. J. Foster, 337; CB, i. 46; F.A. Blaydes, Gen. Bedfordiensis, 110; N and Q (ser. 2), i. 250, 298-9, 324; A. Collins, English Baronetage (1741), i. 137-8.
- 5. Le Neve, Mon. Angl. ii. 93.
- 6. C231/4, ff. 29, 126, 196v; T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 2, p. 13; C193/13/5; f. 51; Perfect List (1660), p. 1; C220/9/4, ff. 1v, 39.
- 7. C181/2, f. 282v; 181/5, f. 10v.
- 8. C212/22/20-1, 23.
- 9. C181/3, ff. 49v, 126v.
- 10. C231/4, f. 196; Add. Ch. 33168B.
- 11. SP29/11/273; 29/42/118.
- 12. C193/12/2, f. 24v.
- 13. C181/3, f. 227; 181/4, f. 153v.
- 14. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 66.
- 15. C181/5, ff. 31v, 218; 181/6, f. 16; 181/7, f. 157.
- 16. Northants RO, FH133.
- 17. A. and O. i. 50, 92, 113, 148, 231, 294.
- 18. Cott. Julius CIII, ff. 117, 119; Harl. 7006, ff. 229-39v.
- 19. SP14/119/14.
- 20. W. Browne, Notitia Parliamentaria (1730), i. 154-6; C231/4, f. 165; CP, x. 283; V. Hodges, ‘Electoral Influence of the Aristocracy’ (Columbia Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1977), p. 196; Cott. Julius CIII, f. 334; K. Sharpe, Sir Robert Cotton, 189.
- 21. J.K. Gruenfelder, Early Stuart Elections, 136.
- 22. Ibid. 138.
- 23. SP16/173/95.
- 24. C115/106/8384.
- 25. C.G.C. Tite, Ms Lib. of Sir Robert Cotton, 25-6.
- 26. R. Manning, ‘Antiquarianism and the Seigneurial Reaction’, HR, lxiii. 277-88.
- 27. VCH Hunts. iii. 145, 149.
- 28. Tite, 63; J. Peacey, ‘Sir Thomas Cotton’s Consumption of News in 1650s Eng.’, The Library (ser. 7), vii. 6.
- 29. VCH Hunts. iii. 151.