COTTON, Thomas (1514/15-74), of Conington, Hunts.

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



Apr. 1554

Family and Education

b. 1514/15, s. of Thomas Cotton of Conington by Joan, da. of John Paris of Linton, Cambs. m. by 1544, Lucy, da. and coh. of Thomas Harvey of Elmesthorpe, Leics., 4s. suc. fa. 1517.1

Offices Held

J.p. Hunts. 1544-64, q. 1569-d.; escheator, Cambs. and Hunts. 1546-7; sheriff 1547-8, 1560-1; commr. relief, Hunts. 1550, goods of churches and fraternities 1553, subsidy 1563.2


Thomas Cotton’s grandfather, who inherited the manor of Conington from a distant relative in 1460, purchased a second at Denton and established the family in Huntingdonshire. Cotton’s father, three times sheriff of the county, died in 1517 when his son was two years old, and it was only after a long period of wardship that the heir obtained livery of his lands in 1536. This was just too late for him to profit from the first round of monastic buying, but he was very successful at acquiring such property at second hand, and by the early 1540s he had considerably expanded the family estate.3

Cotton was nevertheless to remain a Catholic. In 1542 a neighbour named John Castell accused him of having ‘spoken certain traitorous words touching the King’s Highness’. Religion was probably involved, for Castell, who had been one of Cromwell’s nominees for a by-election to the Parliament of 1529, was a Protestant. The Privy Council ruled against him and ordered him to return to all the places where he had spoken against Cotton and to ‘declare that he had evil spoken’. Cotton’s religion doubtless commended him when he was elected junior knight of the shire to the second Marian Parliament, but he was well qualified by reason of his considerable stake in the county; his assessment for the subsidy of 1550, 50s. on lands valued at £50, was the second highest in Normancross hundred. His local standing is also reflected in 1555 when he was one of the principal mourners at the funeral of John Chambers, bishop of Peterborough. In the Parliament of 1558, the elections for which were prefaced by a royal letter to sheriffs urging the choice of ‘Catholic and discreet’ Members, Cotton carried off the senior knighthood. He had by then added to his property by purchasing jointly with William Lawrence II, his fellow-Member, the manor of Penycocks at Wood Walton.4

His Catholicism notwithstanding, Cotton was pricked sheriff in 1560, but four years later he was judged ‘a hinderer of religion’ and thereafter took little part in affairs. In that year he embarked on a series of transactions to consolidate his property. He made his will on 28 July 1574, leaving most of his property to his wife, annuities of £10 to his three younger sons, and the manor of Wood Walton to his first son, Thomas, provided that Thomas left his mother in undisturbed possession of the manor of Conington. The probate court later awarded Thomas his father’s swans, swan mark, brewing vessels and remission of a debt of £100. Cotton’s death in 1574 left his family in some confusion: his widow was faced with a lawsuit over Conington, while his son was soon to be in trouble for abducting a young relative whom he wanted to bring up a Catholic. The family outlived these crises, however, and Thomas Cotton’s grandson, to whom he left a silver ewer, grew up to be Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, the renowned antiquary.5

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: T. M. Hofmann


  • 1. Date of birth estimated from age at fa.’s i.p.m., C142/32/98. Vis. Hunts. (Cam. Soc. xliii), 27-28; VCH Hunts. iii. 148; LP Hen. VIII, xi; CPR, 1563-6, p. 266; PCC 42 Martyn.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xx, xxi; CPR, 1547-8, p. 85; 1550-3, p. 394; 1553, pp. 316, 354, 414; 1554-5, p. 109; 1563-6, p. 22; 1569-72, p. 225; Lansd. 8, ff. 77-82.
  • 3. VCH Hunts. iii. 418-9, 153; Index 10217(1), f. 4; LP Hen. VIII, ii, xi; NRA 6518 passim.
  • 4. APC, i. 15; LP Hen. VIII, vii; E179/122/145; Machyn’s Diary (Cam. Soc. xlii), 348; VCH Hunts. iii. 238; Feet of Fines, Hunts. ed. Turner, 147-8.
  • 5. Cam. Misc. ix,(3) 29; VCH Hunts. iii. 149, 152, 236; Feet of Fines, Hunts. 158; CPR, 1549-51, p. 168; 1558-60, p. 168; 1563-6, pp. 127, 266, 426; PCC 42 Martyn, 24 Pyckering; Wards 7/16/34; APC, ix. 171; Add. 11342A.