COOKE, Sir Anthony (c.1505-76), of Gidea Hall, Essex and Abergenny Place, Warwick Lane, London.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. c.1505, 1st s. of John Cooke of Gidea Hall by Alice, da. and coh. of William Saunders of Banbury, Oxon. educ. I. Temple 1523. m. Anne, da. of Sir William Fitzwilliam of Gains Park, wid. of Sir John Hawes of London, 4s. inc. Richard Cooke I and William Cooke I 5da. suc. fa. 1517. KB 1547.

Offices Held

Gent. of privy chamber by 1546-53; j.p. Essex by 1537-54, from 1559, Warws. from c.1564; sheriff, Essex and Herts. 1544-5; steward, manor of Havering, Essex from 1559; commr. to enforce Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity 1559, 1562, to take oaths of ecclesiastical persons 1559, to visit dioceses of Norwich and Ely 1559, to visit Camb. Univ. 1559, to visit Eton Coll. 1561; custos rot. Essex from 1572.


Of a family established at Gidea Hall by a London draper about 1460, Cooke inherited considerable estates in Essex, and subsequently came into Warwickshire lands of at least equal value derived from his grandfather’s marriage to Elizabeth Belknap. In addition Cooke and the Belknaps were successful speculators in monastic lands. At the end of Henry VIII’s reign Cooke obtained his only court office, which he retained until the end of the reign of Edward VI, whom he taught ‘good letters and manners’, whether or not he received a formal appointment as the young king’s ‘tutor’. The reign of Queen Mary Cooke spent in voluntary—and easy—exile, supported by funds remitted to him by his son-in-law William Cecil, with whom he corresponded regularly, and it was at this time that he earned a reputation among leaders of the reformed religion as ‘a man of intellectual substance and deep religious commitment’. To one of these, Bullinger, he wrote, on learning of the accession of Elizabeth:

If the Queen, mindful of the great mercy she has received, will but place her confidence in God; if she will daily say unto the Lord, ‘Thou art my fortress, my rock, and my refuge’, there will neither be wanting to herself the spirit of a Judith or a Deborah, nor wisdom to her counsellors, nor strength to her army.

Cooke was elected knight of the shire for Essex while still abroad, and he took an active part in Elizabeth’s first Parliament. On 9 and 15 Feb. 1559 the supremacy bill was committed to him, but he was evidently disappointed at the slow progress of the reform of the church, writing to Peter Martyr on 12 Feb.:

We are now busy in Parliament about expelling the tyranny of the pope, and restoring the royal authority, and re-establishing true religion. But we are moving far too slowly: nor are there wanting at this time Sanballats and Tobiases to hinder and obstruct the building of our walls ... The zeal of the Queen is very great, the activity of the nobility and people is also great, but still the work is hitherto too much at a stand.

But John Jewel, writing to Martyr (28 Apr.) said that Cook ‘defends some scheme of his own, I know not what, most obstinately, and is mightily angry with us all’. His other activity in this Parliament concerned bills on regrators and forestallers (20 Feb.), and menservants (7 Apr.). No speech or committee work is recorded for him in the defective journals of the 1563 Parliament.

Whether because of his religious intransigence or his ‘melancholy temperament’ (as Jewel put it to Martyr, 5 Nov. 1559), Cooke received no major office under Elizabeth. He was one of those recommended by Sir Nicholas Throckmorton for the chancellorship or keepership of the great seal, but, as usual the Queen ignored Throckmorton’s advice. Jewel thought him ‘a worthy and pious man, but I think hardly qualified for that office’. Cooke did, however, carry out a number of tasks for the government (mostly concerned with establishing the religious settlement) in the early days of the new régime. Probably he did not want high office. His health was poor and his epitaph, referring to the earlier period, included the lines:

And he therefore to courtly life was called Who more desired in study to be stalled.

His seventeenth-century biographer wrote:

Sir Anthony took more pleasure to breed up statesmen than to be one. Contemplation was his soul, privacy his life, and discourse his element. Business was his purgatory, and publicness his torment.

He was, of course, on the Essex commission of the peace, and, from 1572, custos rotulorum, but his record of attendance was poor, and his duties as steward of Havering were performed by a deputy. The last decade of Cooke’s life was spent in consolidating his estates and in improving Gidea Hall. His total income has been estimated at £2,500 and he was one of the half dozen wealthiest Essex gentry. He added a wing and a gallery to Gidea Hall, the refurbishment of which was completed in time for the Queen’s visit in the summer of 1568.

Interestingly enough, by the end of his life Cooke’s religious standpoint is quite obscure. Though in an extreme puritan environment while at Strasbourg, and obviously disappointed at the moderation of the Elizabethan church settlement, Cooke took no part in the subsequent puritan agitation. Instead, he loosened his ties with his foreign colleagues, appointed a slack minister to the church of which he held the advowson, and made not a single charitable bequest in the will (PCC 10 Daughtry) he drew up on 22 May 1576, some three weeks before his death. Even the preamble to the will is conventional, where, from one of his kind, an explicit statement of religious views might be expected. He divided a cash sum of £1,400 among family, friends and servants. Cooke died at Gidea Hall 11 June 1576, and was buried in St. Edward’s church, Romford, on the 21st, beneath an elaborate monument, on which he is described as ‘Sir Anthony Cooke, knight, named tutor to King Edward VI because of his exceptional learning, prudence and piety’. His five learned daughters on whose education he lavished so much care were Mildred, who married Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley; Anne, who married Sir Nicholas Bacon and was the mother of Anthony and Francis; Elizabeth, who married Sir Thomas Hoby, ambassador to France, and was the mother of Edward Hoby and Thomas Posthumous Hoby; Catherine, who married the diplomat Henry Killigrew; and Margaret, who married Sir Ralph Rowlett.

This biography is based upon M. K. McIntosh ‘Sir Anthony Cooke’, Proc. Amer. Philos. Soc. cix. 233-50, the author of which had access to an earlier version of this biography.

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: P. W. Hasler