COCKAYNE, Sir John (d.1438), of Ashbourne, Derbys. and Pooley, Warws.

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



Oct. 1404
May 1421
Dec. 1421

Family and Education

2nd s. but event. h. of Edmund Cockayne (d.1403) of Ashbourne by Elizabeth, da. and event. h. of Sir Richard Harthill† (d.1390) of Pooley. m. (1) Margaret, 1s. d.v.p., 1da.; (2) by 1422, Isabel (d. aft. 1459), da. of Sir Hugh Shirley*, 4s. 2da. Kntd. by Feb. 1388.

Offices Held

Commr. of array, Derbys. Mar. 1392, Dec. 1399, Sept. 1403, Warws. May 1418, Mar. 1419, Derbys. Mar. 1427, Aug. 1436; arrest Feb. 1393, Notts. Apr. 1410; inquiry, Notts., Derbys. July 1393 (false weights), Derbys. Mar. 1406 (those aiding the Welsh rebels), Dec. 1408 (opposition to royal officers), Warws. Sept. 1413 (lands of Sir William Brantingham*), Derbys., Notts. Dec. 1422 (salmon poaching); to make proclamation of Henry IV’s intention to govern well, Derbys. May 1402; raise royal loans, Notts., Derbys. Mar. 1430, Mar. 1431, Derbys. Feb. 1436; apportion tax allowances Dec. 1433; administer the oath against maintenance Jan. 1434; assess a graduated tax on incomes Jan. 1436.

J.p. Derbys. 16 May 1401-Feb. 1407, 20 July 1424-July 1429, 8 June 1431-d., Warws. 4 Dec. 1417-July 1423.

Tax controller, Derbys. Mar. 1404.

Escheator, Notts. and Derbys. 1 Dec. 1405-Nov. 1406.

Sheriff, Notts. and Derbys. 14 Feb.-13 Nov. 1423, 4 Nov. 1428-10 Feb. 1430, 3 Nov. 1434-7 Nov. 1435.


The Cockayne family had been resident at Ashbourne since the mid 12th century, and its tenure of the manor from the duchy of Lancaster had determined the political predilections of several of its members. Sir John’s grandfather, John† (d.1372) had been chief steward of the duchy estates north of Trent under Duke Henry, and his uncle, another John (usually known as ‘the elder’ or ‘the uncle’), was holding the same post in 1398, at the time of the death of John of Gaunt, of whose will he was an executor. The uncle, an eminent lawyer, also discharged the important office of recorder of London (1395-9) and, under the Lancastrians, he was chief baron of the Exchequer (1400-13) and a judge of the common bench (from 1406 until his death in 1429). Having married Ida, daughter of Reynold, 2nd Lord Grey of Ruthin, he established a branch of the family at Bury (now Cockayne) Hatley, Bedfordshire.1

After the death of John’s father in 1403, fighting on the King’s side at the battle of Shrewsbury, his mother (who then married John Francis of Ingleby) retained her patrimony until 1416, so that for many years John was to a certain extent dependent for his income on sources other than the family estates. Thus, in 1412 his landed holdings in Derbyshire were valued at £40 a year, but annuities from the Crown gave him £60 more. That he was to become one of the wealthiest landowners of the Midlands was largely due to his inheritance from his mother, whose properties included the manors of Harthill, Middleton, Tissington and Ballidon (Derbyshire), Pooley, Baddesley Ensor and Newton Regis (Warwickshire), and Calton (Staffordshire). In 1436 Cockayne’s income from his lands and annuities was estimated for the purposes of taxation at £200 a year.2

Cockayne’s career was peppered with violent incidents, and his relations with the dukes of Lancaster and their local officials were often at extremes, ranging from armed conflict to loyal support. In February 1388, when John of Gaunt’s son, Henry of Bolingbroke, was sharing control of the government with his fellow Lords Appellant, an order was issued for the arrest of Cockayne and other men from Ashbourne for the perpetration of ‘divers enormous offences’ including attempted murder, against duchy officers. Later that year he joined in Sir John Ipstones’s* quarrel with the Swynnerton family, but although in 1390 they were committed for trial at Shrewsbury for breaking into property and for the abduction of an heiress, they eventually secured an acquittal. Cockayne’s first return to Parliament coincided with yet another indictment for felony, and he was able to answer the charge in court on his arrival at Westminster. His more peaceable activities in the 1390s included the foundation of a chantry in St. Oswald’s church at Ashbourne on behalf of members of the Kniveton family, to whom he was probably related. Under Richard II he was appointed to no more than a few royal commissions, none of them dated later than 1393, and it may be conjectured that his reasons for purchasing a pardon in 1398 were connected with his close association with Bolingbroke, who was then in disgrace. At that time Sir John was in enjoyment of an annuity of 20 marks by grant of Henry’s father, John of Gaunt.3

There can be no doubt that Cockayne performed valuable services for Bolingbroke either during the latter’s exile or, in a military capacity, after he landed in England in July 1399. Not long after Bolingbroke’s accession as Henry IV he became one of the King’s ‘bachelors’, and he continued to receive his annuity of £13 6s.8d. from the Lancastrian manor of Daventry, which fee was, however, exchanged in October 1400 for another of as much as £60, this being charged on Ashbourne itself and the wapentake of Wirksworth. This very substantial grant suggests something of Cockayne’s worth to the new King. Despite the fact that his father was still alive, it was he who was summoned as one of the representatives from Derbyshire to attend great councils in 1401 and 1403, and again he who was returned as a knight of the shire. During his third Parliament, summoned to Coventry in 1404, a petition was presented to the Lords protesting against Cockayne’s forcible entry with 200 armed men into the manor of Baddesley Ensor. He was summoned before the Council on pain of a fine of £100, but apparently suffered no punishment, possibly because of the proven validity of his claim to the property, which his mother had recently inherited. In April 1405 Sir John took out royal letters of protection as about to put to sea with the King’s second son Thomas, admiral of England (afterwards duke of Clarence). This connexion with Thomas of Lancaster may well have determined his sympathies in the political troubles which disturbed the second half of Henry IV’s reign, for he apparently chose to support the party backing the King and Thomas against the Beaufort bloc and Prince Henry. In August 1410 he was up in arms at Ashbourne with a following of some 200 men, purposing to resist (Sir) Roger Leche*, the steward of Prince Henry’s household, who had been reported as coming to kill him.4 Whether it was as a consequence of this personal quarrel, which clearly caused serious breaches of the peace in Derbyshire, or of the wider political debate, leading to calls on the Beauforts’ side for Henry IV’s abdication, Cockayne and Leche were both among the six knights committed to the Tower by the King’s Council on 24 Oct. 1411, there to remain incarcerated for five weeks. In the following year Cockayne went to France on the anti-Burgundian expedition led by Clarence following the conclusion of an alliance with the Orleanist faction — a policy favoured by the King and his advisors but opposed by Monmouth. Before his departure he made a will at Pooley, in which he settled Middleton on feoffees to the use of his daughter Alice until the consummation of her marriage (presumably with Sir Ralph Shirley*). The chief of another group of trustees of his estates was Sir John Dabrichecourt* of Markeaton, whose daughter Joan had married his eldest son John, and who shared his attachment to the house of Lancaster and in particular to Henry IV and Prince Thomas. Cockayne probably returned from Aquitaine with Clarence when news reached them of the King’s death. It may have been because of his earlier partizanship that under Henry V he was not appointed to many commissions. In 1414 Cockayne was named ex parte Hugh Erdeswyk* on a committee of arbitration to put an end to the latter’s violent dispute with Edmund, Lord Ferrers of Chartley. However, his own record for keeping the peace continued to have nothing to commend it: in the following Hilary term he was indicted in the King’s bench for his earlier affray with Leche, who since the accession of Henry V had been promoted as chief steward of the duchy estates north of Trent; and other charges brought against him later in 1415 alleged extortions, conspiracies and insurrections.5

Cockayne is not known to have taken any part in Henry V’s campaigns in France, although his son (Sir) John did serve in 1417, in the retinue of Richard, Lord Grey of Codnor. Meanwhile, early in 1416, he had been present at the parliamentary elections for Derbyshire. Intermittently, he was keeping up a feud, albeit on a minor scale, with the local officials of the duchy of Lancaster, perhaps because they challenged his own influence in the shire. Thus, in 1419 he forcibly thrust out John Fynderne, former legal counsel to the duchy, from the manor of Stretton, and as a result was arraigned before the duchy council for examination. The same body had to be invoked for a remedy on another occasion when a duchy bailiff was too fearful of Cockayne to make distraint on his property for arrears of rent. During his fourth Parliament (1419) Cockayne was associated with such prominent figures as Sir Thomas Erpingham and (Sir) John Pelham* in standing bail for Eleanor, widow of Sir Nicholas Dagworth*, upon whom suspicion had fallen owing to the treasonous behaviour of her then husband, Sir John Mortimer. He was returned to the last four Parliaments of Henry V’s reign, sitting alternately for Derbyshire and Warwickshire, but it was only after the King’s death that he was appointed sheriff. Ex officio he held parliamentary elections in 1423, 1429 and 1435. In the 1430s he became more closely associated with Ralph, Lord Cromwell, a prominent member of the royal council during Henry VI’s minority: in 1430, for instance, he was one of Cromwell’s pledges of prosecution in a suit over the Derbyshire manor of Crich, and during the Parliament of 1431 (his tenth) he joined Cromwell’s brother-in-law, Sir Richard Stanhope* in undertaking that Walter Tailboys senior (then MP for Lincolnshire) would acknowledge himself content with damages awarded in another case. It was later to be alleged that in 1431 Lord Cromwell had illegally distributed his livery to Cockayne and a number of others, who included the influential Sir Richard Vernon*. Cockayne was present at the Derbyshire elections of 1432, being next after Vernon to seal the indenture of return and thereby endorse the election of his colleague’s eldest son; and it was probably about this time that the friendship already existing between him and Sir Richard was further strengthened by the betrothal of his own now eldest surviving son John (b.c.1422) to Vernon’s daughter, Anne. Indeed, at Martinmas following, when Cockayne completed an entail of his manors of Harthill and Middleton on his issue by his second wife, he stipulated that should this issue fail, Sir Richard himself should inherit the property in tail male. The effectiveness of their alliance was to be made clear at the time of the Derbyshire elections of 1433, when in response to the determination of Henry, Lord Grey of Codnor, to impose his choice of candidates, they entered Derby on 25 June with a force of some 300 armed men, which by challenging Grey’s 200 odd, who had ridden in the day before, secured for its leaders election as shire knights. This breach with Grey, who, like Cromwell, had sought to ingratiate himself with Cockayne and Vernon by offering them his livery, may have been exacerbated by the growing feud between Sir Henry Pierrepont* and the Foljambes, in which the two knights apparently sided with the latter. They were both empanelled on the second of the two grand juries required to make presentments at Derby in April 1434 at special sessions of oyer and terminer presided over by the duke of Bedford, and used their influence on the Foljambes’ behalf. However, another jury indicted Cockayne and Vernon themselves for causing the affray at the hustings. Nevertheless, they seem to have escaped punishment. In 1430 Cockayne had made a loan to the government of £19 13s.4d., but clearly a man of his means would be expected to do more for the war-effort in France, and six years later it was suggested that he should contribute 100 marks to help finance the expedition to be led by the duke of York.6

Cockayne died at Pooley on 7 June 1438 and was buried at Ashbourne next to his first wife. The effigy on his tomb shows him wearing the SS collar of Lancaster. Cockayne’s heir John, his eldest son by his second wife, was then aged 16. The seeds of serious dissension between his widow Isabel and her stepdaughter (and sister-in-law) Alice had been sown by Sir John’s entail of the Harthill inheritance, for this had been promised to Alice at the time of her marriage to Sir Ralph Shirley. Isabel also became engaged in disputes with Joan Dabridgecourt, the widow of her stepson the younger Sir John Cockayne; and it was doubtless with a view to safeguarding her interests in the lawcourts that she took as her second husband Thomas Bate†, a lawyer and councillor to the duke of Buckingham. She was still living in the 1460s.7

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Authors: J. S. Roskell / L. S. Woodger


  • 1. Somerville, Duchy, i. 360, 367, 418. Cockayne has often been confused with his uncle and his eldest son (as in Somerville, 222; DNB, iv. 682), but the former (see J.H. Wylie, Hen. V, i. 15; PCC 12 Luffenham; Mon. Brasses ed. Mill Stephenson, 7) was never knighted, and the latter, who did attain knighthood in c. 1417, died before his father.
  • 2. Feudal Aids, vi. 412; EHR, xlix. 632; CIPM, xvi. 863-5; Genealogist, n.s. vii. 70; VCH Warws. iv. 20, 161, 193; A.E. Cockayne, Cockayne Memoranda, (pt. 1), 17; HMC Rutland, iv. 53; CCR, 1413-19, p. 427; Peds. Plea Rolls ed. Wrottesley, 335 (wrongly dated 6 Hen. VI).
  • 3. CPR, 1385-9, p. 463; 1388-92, p. 339; 1391-6, p. 138; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xvi. 28; Derbys. Chs. ed. Jeayes, no. 1693; CCR, 1392-6, p. 328; C67/30 m. 17; DL29/212/321.
  • 4. DL29/738/12098, 12100; DL28/15 f. 87, 27/10; PPC, i. 162; ii. 88; RP, iii. 561; C76/88 m. 4; J.P. Yeatman, Feudal Hist. Derbys. ii. 138.
  • 5. CCR, 1409-13, pp. 243-4, 261; W. Dugdale, Warws. 1120-1; Coll. Top. et Gen. i. 197; Reg. Chichele, ii. 53-54; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xvii. 25, 28, 51.
  • 6. Somerville, 223; E101/51/2; CCR, 1419-22, pp. 23-24, 65; 1429-35, p. 114; C219/11/8, 12/3, 13/2, 14/3, 4; DL29/197/3089; CPR, 1429-36, pp. 61, 292; PPC, iv. 327; CP25(1)39/45/26; S.M. Wright, Derbys. Gentry (Derbys. Rec. Soc. viii), 114, 128-33.
  • 7. HMC Rutland, iv. 52; Warws. Feet of Fines (Dugdale Soc. xviii), no. 2581; Wm. Salt Arch. Soc. xi. 244; n.s. iii. 156; CFR, xvii. 3; C139/87/40; CCR, 1435-41, pp. 212, 215-16, 459; DL37/16 no. 52; Derbys. Chs. no. 218; Wright, 33, 212; Peds. Plea Rolls, 379; Cockayne, (pt. 4), 5-6, 18; Trans. Birmingham Arch. Soc. xlvii. 82-83 (where the date of Isabel’s death is wrongly given as 1447).