COCKAYNE, Henry, of Clapham Greenacres, Beds.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Dec. 1421

Family and Education

2nd surv. s. of John Cockayne (d. 22 May 1429), c. bar. Exch., j.c.p., of London and Bury Hatley, Beds. by his w. Ida (d. 1 June 1426), da. of Reynold, 2nd Lord Grey of Ruthin (1319-88). m. by Feb. 1427, Grace.1

Offices Held


The obscurity of this MP’s career is particularly surprising in view of the wide range of influential relationships which could have been used by him to further his own interests. None of the other Bedfordshire Members returned during our period could boast such a galaxy of influential kinsmen, yet few showed the same reluctance to play any part whatsoever in local or national affairs. For much of his life Cockayne was overshadowed by his father, who, as one of the most eminent lawyers of his day, rose to prominence in the service of the house of Lancaster. Like his own father before him, John Cockayne held office as chief steward of the duchy of Lancaster north of Trent, being appointed by John of Gaunt, who also chose him to execute his will. His other posts then included the recordership of London, which he held from 1395 to 1399, but it was not until Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, seized the throne that his talents were fully recognized. He was replaced as steward in February 1401, having by then been made chief baron of the Exchequer; and in 1406 the King saw fit to offer him a second important judicial appointment as one of the justices of the court of common pleas. Perhaps because of the demands thus made upon him, he resigned as chief baron in 1413, but he continued to sit as a judge until his death 16 years later. Some idea of the prestige which he enjoyed, even as a comparatively young man, may be gained from the fact that Reynold, 2nd Lord Grey of Ruthin, was prepared to accept him as a son-in-law, and in this way the Cockaynes became linked by marriage to the most important landowning family in Bedfordshire. Although he himself came from Ashbourne in Derbyshire, the judge evidently wished to consolidate this potentially useful territorial connexion, and in 1417 he and his wife bought the Bedfordshire manor of Bury Hatley from Sir Edward Botiller for 1,000 marks.2 The manor soon became their home, and in his will of 10 Feb. 1427 John Cockayne gave instructions for his burial in the local church.3 The manor itself was already entailed upon his eldest son, Reynold, who had previously helped to establish the family’s position among the Bedfordshire gentry by marrying Beatrice, the daughter of John Waleys, and thus securing the latter’s valuable manor of Woodcroft, in 1414, at the time of their wedding. Consequently, although he was only a younger son, Henry Cockayne possessed strong links with Bedfordshire through his father, his elder brother and his uncle, Reynold, 3rd Lord Grey of Ruthin. He himself was, moreover, the owner of a small estate at Clapham Greenacres, where he may well have been living when he was returned to the second Parliament of 1421. We do not know either when or how he acquired the land in question, which had until recently belonged to the Greenacre family, but it could have come into his hands by marriage.4

So far as the electors of Bedfordshire were concerned, Cockayne’s pedigree seems to have compensated for his total lack of administrative experience; and this fact alone would account for their readiness to choose him as a shire knight. He had, indeed, already attended the county election to the Parliament of 1420, and was to do so again later, in 1425, 1426 and 1427.5 It is, however, interesting to note that one of his parliamentary colleagues in 1421 was his cousin, Sir John Cockayne of Ashbourne, who was then sitting in the Commons for the seventh time. Whether or not the judge and his brother-in-law, Lord Grey, then used their great influence in the county to secure the return of a second member of the Cockayne family must remain a matter for speculation, although they do not appear to have made any other attempts to further the career of their young kinsman. Cockayne’s one and only experience of the Lower House did not encourage him to accept any more public commitments, and he continued to live quietly in virtual retirement. In the autumn of 1423 he and several others became trustees of land in Bury Hatley, his title to which was confirmed by Sir Baldwin St. George’s* widow some six years later. Meanwhile, in December 1425, he and his elder brother, Reynold, went surety at the Exchequer for their father as farmer of the estates and marriage of Edward, the young son of their recently widowed sister, Elizabeth, and her first husband, Sir Philip Boteler. Whereas Reynold and a younger brother named Thomas, who was in holy orders, were both chosen to execute the judge’s will under the supervision of Sir William Babington, c.j.c.p., Henry Cockayne merely shared a modest bequest of plate with his wife, Grace. Too much significance cannot, however, be read into this apparent lack of paternal affection or trust, as at least five of his nine brothers and sisters had survived to maturity, and none was particularly favoured in the way of legacies either. The MP witnessed a local deed in June 1427, a few months after this will was made, and is last mentioned in May 1430, when he obtained royal letters of protection as being about to serve with John Mowbray, duke of Norfolk, in France. This connexion suggests that he was the ‘Cockayne, esquire of Bedfordshire’ who was travelling down the Thames with Mowbray, in November 1428, when his barge capsized, and six members of his household were drowned. Cockayne himself appears to have died in France; it is unlikely that he outlived his elder brother, who was succeeded by a child named Philip in, or shortly before, 1434.6

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. CP, vi. 154-5; A.E. Cockayne, Cockayne Memoranda, 81-83, 147-8; pedigrees.
  • 2. Somerville, Duchy, i. 367, 418; CP25(1)291/64/61; VCH Beds. ii. 215.
  • 3. PCC 12 Luffenham. Mistaking the judge’s tomb for that of his father, John Cockayne (d. 1372), many writers have supposed that he was buried at Ashbourne (DNB, iv. 682; J.H. Wylie, Hen. V, i. 15-16). The instructions in his will were, however, fulfilled; and he was buried in an altar tomb at Bury Hatley church which was recorded in 1583, but has since been demolished (Cockayne, 147-8).
  • 4. CPR, 1413-16, p. 204; VCH Beds. iii. 129; CFR, xv. 115-16; Feudal Aids, i. 38.
  • 5. C219/12/4, 13/3-5.
  • 6. PCC 12 Luffenham; CCR, 1422-9, pp. 336, 469-70; CFR, xv. 115-16, 282; CPR, 1429-36, p. 324; DKR, xlviii. 271; William of Worcestre, Itins. ed. Harvey, 361.