Sir Rowland Cotton (1581 – 1634)

Sir Rowland Cotton’s monument stands in the entrance of St Chad’s Church in Norton-in-Hales. Sir Rowland was born during the reign of Elizabeth. Rowland was the eldest surviving son of William Cotton and Jane Shawbury. Rowland had five uncles of influence on his father’s side they were; John, Thomas, Randolph, Roger and Allen Cotton.

The Cotton Monument St Chad’s Church, Norton-in-Hales

John Cotton – the heir to his family’s properties in Shropshire and Staffordshire, when he died in 1606 he left in his Will £100 to establish a school in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Randall Cotton – was a Privateer [1] – scroll to the bottom of the page to read Randall’s story.

Roger Cotton – a draper and poet who lived in Canning Street and was a member of the Drapers’ Company. He married Katherine Jenkes of Drayton, Shropshire. He was author to a number of rare works, with dedications to Hugh Broughton, Gilbert Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury and Sir Francis Drake.

Allen Cotton – was William’s youngest brother; he was a London merchant and a member of the Worshipful Company of Drapers. In 1616 he was elected an alderman of the City of London. In 1616 he was Sheriff of London and Master of the Drapers Company. In 1625 he was elected Lord Mayor of London and then knighted on 4th June 1626. In 1627 he became president of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, he died on the 25th December 1628 of Gangrene. [2]

A portrait of Sir Allen Cotton
Allen Cotton

William himself was a rich and prominent member of the Drapers’ Company of London. Rowland’s home with his parents and younger brother William was ‘Redde Logge’ Candlewick Street, London. Originally Candlewick Street (now Cannon Street) was called this because of the candle-makers that lived there and it later became a resort of drapers. His father also had property at Petty Wales, Thames Street, next to the Tower of London and Wharf called ‘Galleye Keye’ also in Petty Wales. [3]

Early Life

Rowland was born in 1581, Crooked Lane, St Michael’s, London, just two streets away from Pudding Lane where the Great Fire of London would start, years later in 1666. In the proceedings in the Court of Request files William Cotton is listed with a request relating to tenements in St Clement’s Lane, Cannon Street and the parish of St. Michael, Crooked Lane, London. When Rowland and his brother William were very young they were educated by a family friend and lodger Hugh Broughton.

Hugh Broughton

A portrait of Hugh Broughton
Hugh Broughton

Hugh Broughton was of a similar age to Rowland’s father being born in 1549 and was also from Shropshire. He was educated at Magdalene College, Oxford by Antoine Rodolphe Chevallier (1523-1592) , who was French Protestant Hebraist, he taught the future Queen Elizabeth I French.  During this time, when the Bible was available in a variety of English translations a knowledge of Hebrew as well as Latin and Greek, was desirable for any serious student following the reformation of the church. Hugh became a man of celebrity, who distinguished himself as a preacher of puritan sentiments in theology; he would often spend 14 – 16 hours each day in intense study. Even King James VI of Scotland would later invite him to become a professor in Hebrew at one of the Scotish universities. It was when Hugh came to London that William engaged him to be tutor to his sons, Hugh had also tutored Roger Cotton, Rowland’s uncle. Hugh began his instruction by encouraging Rowland to talking in Hebrew and not to use English. Rowland soon learnt all of the words that would be used in everyday conversations; he was able to call for his meat; his clothes; use phrases and greetings and even words associated with children at play. Rowland’s mother at times would be ready to weep as he could only talk to her and ask her for anything only in Hebrew. To aid Rowland’s learning further Hugh drew up a vocabulary in Hebrew and English so that he could continually learn new words, these new words would be grouped for context so a house; a door; a parlor; a window; a cellar etc.; a field; grass; a flower; a tree; hedge; furrow etc. By the time Rowland was 7 years old he was so well versed in the knowledge of the Hebrew language he could translate almost any chapter of the Bible into English [4]. In 1588 Hugh published his book ‘A Concent of Scripture’, this he dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I and presented this to her in person on 17th November 1589. His book was biblical chronology from Adam to Christ, this book was heavily criticised by John Whitgift (Archbishop of Canterbury) and Richard Bancroft (Bishop of London). Hugh stubbornly defended his work and held a series of public lectures at St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1591 he wrote to Queen Elizabeth asking her that the dispute should be settled by a joint decision of the Church of England and the universities. Ultimately, the decision went in his favour, criticisms were withdrawn and Whitgift accepted Hugh’s views. Although ‘A Concent of Scripture’ was successfully defended, the aggressive and stubborn attitude with which Hugh had conducted its defence did not put him in the best of light and he became known for his strong and highly irritable character. Due to falling out of favour he spent the last years of Elizabeth’s reign in Germany.

A few years after Hugh’s left Rowland went to study at St John’s College Cambridge, when he was 18 years old he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, Holborn, London.

James I of England

On 24th March 1603 Queen Elizabeth I died at Richmond Palace, and hours later King James VI of Scotland, son of Mary, Queen of Scots was proclaimed King James I of England. On the 5th April James left Edinburgh for London and arrived in the capital after Elizabeth’s funeral. In the June of that year the queen and his son and heir Prince Henry Frederick also left Scotland for Windsor. In the July due to the increased spread of the plague Prince Henry left Windsor for Oatland palace, Surrey and took the palace for himself. It was in the August that Hugh Broughton reappeared and preached before Prince Henry at Oatlands [5]. Hugh did not stay in the country long and retreated back to Middleburg, he sent a petition to King James, and also a pamphlet against Archbishop Richard Bancroft, he sent this pamphlet to William Cotton, Rowland’s younger brother who was living in London with a request, if he dare venture, to deliver a copy into the hands of the Archbishop.  William was not without apprehension of danger; yet he could not well deny Hugh’s request. Therefore, he waited upon the Archbishop, and, after making the requisite apology, delivered a copy of the book into his hands, politely asking pardon for his great boldness. Though his grace treated him with all the civility that could have been desired, he was no sooner dismissed than the Archbishop’s officers came to his lodgings, seized all the books they could find, and carried them away [6].

When Rowland was 22 years old, he became a courtier to Prince Henry Frederick.

On the 3rd March 1605, aged 24, Rowland married Frances Needham of Shavington Hall at St. Mary Magdelen Church, Milk Street, London. Frances was the daughter of Robert Needham, 1st Viscount Kilmorey, of Shavington Hall.

On the 4th October 1605, Rowland was elected as MP for Newcastle under Lyme. Rowland would have been in the House of Commons for the opening of Parliament on the 5th November and if the Gun Powder Plot had succeeded he would most likely have lost his life.

Aged 25, Rowland’s wife Frances died shortly after giving birth to their daughter, who also died on the same day, 23rd November 1606.

To the Virtuous and noble Lady, the Lady Cotton.
Tis not to force more tear from your sad eye,
That we write thus; that were a Piety
Turn’d guilt and sin; we only beg to come,
And pay due tribute to his sacred tomb
The muses did divide his Love with you,
And justly therefore may be mourners too.
Instead of Cypress, they have brought fresh Baies
To crowne his Vrne, and every dirge is Praise.
But since with him the learned tongues are gone,
Necessity here makes us use our own,
Read in his praise your own, you cannot miss
For he was but our wonder, you were his.

Thomas Randolph

When William Cotton, Rowland’s father died, calling himself a Citizen and Draper of London, in his Will he gave all of his lands and property in the counties of Shropshire and Staffordshire to his eldest son Rowland Cotton.

November 1608 – Rowland Cotton is knighted at Whitehall.

In 1609 Rowland commissioned Inigo Jones to design a monument for his late wife Frances Cotton. It is around this time that Inigo was also producing drawings for the New Exchange in the Strand and the central tower of St Paul’s Cathdral. Inigo’s original design would later be adapted to include Rowland, beside Frances and their child.

Inigo Jones original design

In 1610, now aged 29 Rowland took part in ‘Prince Henry’s Barriers’. Barriers was a stylized martial combat, conducted on foot with swords and pikes; it was like jousting without horses. This elaborate indoor tournament was preceded by a theatrical entertainment known as a masque. Masques were vastly expensive performances, staged just once, in which scenes whose aim was the glorification of the Stuart dynasty were acted out by courtiers and members of the royal family. Written by playwright Ben Jonson, it was accompanied by music and dance performed by magnificently costumed participants on spectacular sets designed by the court architect Inigo Jones. The prince himself commissioned Oberon, the Faery Prince, for the Christmas celebrations in 1610–11; he took the lead role, and was presented as an amalgamation of Roman hero and Arthurian knight

Prince Henry Dies

In October 1612 Prince Henry Frederick contracted a fever which the doctors could not control; he died on November 6th at the age of 18 of typhoid fever. Henry’s death had a profound shock on the country, akin to Princess Diana’s death in our time. Henry’s body lied in state for over a month and his magnificent funeral cart was followed by a cortege of 2,000 people. The funeral at Westminster Abbey on 7 December was even more magnificent than that of Queen Elizabeth I, nine years earlier. The prince’s coffin, with an effigy laid on top, was carried in procession with 2,000 official mourners; the streets were lined with the grieving populace. There was an unprecedented outpouring of mourning poetry and music. Following the tragic untimely death of his friend Rowland retied to the country.

  • 1614 – Appointed Justice of the Peace for Shropshire
  • 1616 – Appointed as a commissioner of oyer and terminer for Wales and the Marches
  • 1616 – Appointed High Sheriff of Shropshire
  • 1617 – Became member of Council of the Marches for life


In 1618 Paul van Somer paints Rowland’s portrait. Much to my surprise the outfit that Rowland wears for his portrait survives today. His doublet and breeches of slashed white satin over blue taffeta. were given to the V&A Museum by Lady Spickernell, interestingly she also donated other textiles that could also have once belonged to Rowland [7].

Sir Rowland Cotton by kind permission of Weiss Gallery
Doublet and breeches, in storage at the V&A

Joyce Walsh

Rowland married again to Joyce Walshe, the daughter of Sir Richard Walsh of Sheldesley Walsh, Worcestershire. Sir Richard Walsh was an English politician who served as High Sheriff of Worcestershire and is noted for his role in defeating Robert Catesby’s remaining followers at Holbeche House following the failure of the Gunpowder Plot.

John Lightfoot

A portrait of John Lightfoot
John Lightfoot

In 1625 John Lightfoot became Curate at St Chad’s Church, Norton in Hales. It was Sir Rowland Cotton who challenged John to learn Hewbrew saying that he could not really understand the Old Testament without understanding the language that it was written in. Helped by Sir Rowland, he quickly mastered the basics of Hebrew. Through incessant, diligent study, he surpassed his teacher and eventually became the greatest Hebrew scholar in all of England. In 1630 Rowland purchased the Rectory at Ashley, Staffordshire for John Lightfoot. John resided there for 12 years, but held it until his death. John never forgot the debt he owed Sir Rowland.

He laid such doubled and redoubled obligations upon me by the tender affection, respect and favor, that he showed towards me, as have left so indelible an impression on my heart, of honor to his name and observance to his house of Bellaport, that length of time may not wear it out nor distance of place ever cause me to forget it.

John Lightfoot

John died in 1675, leaving behind a body of work which filled nineteen volumes.

In March 1625, Charles I. ascended the throne amidst the general rejoicings of the nation. Sir Allan Cotton, uncle to Sir Rowland, having been elected lord mayor, wished to have his accomplished nephew near him, to assist him in the arduous duties of the mayoralty at the commencement of a new reign and he accordingly removed to London.


On the 22nd August 1634, aged 53, Sir Rowland Cotton died.

More Cottons yet? O let not envious Fate
Attempt the Ruine of our growing State.
O had it spar’d Sir Rowland, then might wee
Have almost spar’d Sir Robert’s Library.
His Life and th’ others bookes taught but the same;
Death kils us twice in blotting twice one Name.
Give Him, and take those Reliques with consent;
Sir Rowland was a Living Monument.

On the death of Sir Rowland Cotton – William Strode (1600-1643)

An Elegie on the death of that Renowned and Noble Knight Sir Rowland Cotton of Bellaport in Shropshire
Rich as was Cottons worth, I wish each line;
And every verse I breath like him, a Mine.
That by his virtues might created bee
A new strange miracle, wealth in Poetrie.
But that invention cannot sure be poor
That but relates a part of his large store.
His youth began, as when the Sun doth rise
Without a Cloud, and clearly trots the skies.
Simply An Elegie. in Par.

Renowned Champion full of wrestling Art,
And made for victory in every part,
Whose active Limbes, oyl’d Tongue, and vertuous Mind,
Subdu’d both Foe and Friend, the Rough and Kind,
Yea, ev’n Thy-selfe, and thy Diseases too,
And all but Death (which won with much adoe
And shall at last be vanquish’d,) where are now
Those brawny Armes that crush’d the Dane? and how
Doe all thy Languages to Silence turne?
Babel’s undifferenc’d by the speechlesse Urne.
What use of Wisedome now to mold the state
Where All are Equall? to appease debate
Where All doe sleepe? sowre dangers to fore-fend
When Spite hath done her worst and dangers end?
Had Death a Body, like the Dane’s or thine,
Th’ adst beene Her death; if humane Eares like mine,
Thy tongues had charm’d them; if a heart to love,
Each quality of thine a dart might prove.
One Beame thou living hadst of Eminence,
And still in Use, left heere and carried hence,
Immortall Love; as busie now as then;
There fixt on God yet heere intwin’d with Men;
That makes Thee pray for Us, Us write for Thee,
Joynes Heaven and Earth in one Fraternity.

Remembrance of the renowned knight – William Strode (1600 – 1643)

Randall Cotton

Randall Cotton

Randall was born in Whitchurch, Shropshire, little is know about his early life.

In September 1590 a ship called the Samaritan of Dartmouth (250 tons) headed by John Davis/Davys (an influential arctic navigator), John Jane/Janes (a nephew of William Sanderson), John Sanderson, Randall Cotton and a small pinnace set sail. This voyage was a succession of disasters, near the island of Madeira a severe storm separated the two ships and the pinnace sank, her crew were rescued by another English ship. Several fights had taken place with Spanish vessels and in one, the Samaritan had been considerably damaged and as a result Davis had no option but to return to England, reaching Falmouth in February 1591. [8]

In August 1591 Randall Cotton was the Captain of the barque Dainty, a ship owned by his friends John Davis and Adrian Gilbert (half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh) and was a part of Thomas Cavendish’s last voyage, which sought to discover the Northwest Passage. This voyage was disastrous throughout. The crew of the Dainty deserted with the vessel shortly after the fleet had left Santos, leaving their captain Randall Cotton with nothing more than the shirt on his back, while he was dining aboard the Roebuck. Randall spent the rest of the voyage as a guest on board a ship called the Desire (120 ton flagship that Thomas Cavendish had built for his successful circumnavigation of the globe 1586-1588). After the rest of Thomas Cavendish’s expedition returned unsuccessful, Randall stayed on the Desire Captained by his friend John Davis, who wanted to return to navigate the Strait of Magellan. On 14th August 1592 Randall Cotton, John Davis and his crew discovered the Falkland Islands. The whole voyage was defeated by bad weather resulting in numerous repairs, so that in November 1592 the crew prepared penguins as provision for the voyage home. With salt in short supply, they collected sea water into shallow rock holes, leaving it to evaporate to salt powder. They were able to dry and salt 14,000 penguins. On the 2nd December they were ready to make their voyage back home to England, however the penguins turned out to be insufficiently cured and scurvy broke out among the crew, only 14 out of 76 men made it back home alive.

In October 1594, three ships the Consent (240 tons), Salomon (170 tons) and Virgin (60 tons) along with 275 men and boys departed from Blackwall, London for the West Indies. Sir James Lancaster was appointed as admiral of the fleet, with Master Edmund Barker of London as vice-admiral and Master John Audley of Poplar near London as rear-admiral. The fleet sailed along England’s coast line until they reached the West Country where they were hit by a storm that enforced the fleet to seek harbour at Dartmouth.  It was in Dartmouth that James Lancaster enlisted the aid of Randall Cotton. Randall agreed to put some money into the venture and took the post of second in command. After the fleet left Dartmouth, they sized a large quantity of canary wine from a Spanish ship near the island of Tenerife and continued their journey to Brazil to lead a raid on Pernambuco. The aim of the raid was to seize the cargo of a storm-damaged Portuguese ship which had landed there on its way back from India. Days later after they had landed at Pernambuco Randall was sent out to destroy a fort that hindered their return. It was in this conflict that Randall Cotton, described as the Admirals Lieutenant and 34 others were killed including; Captain Barker (Captain of the Salomon), Captain John Noyer (a French Captain of Diepe), another French Captain from Rochel, and Master John Barker. [9]

A commemoration of those woorthy and valiant gentlemen, Captaine Barker and his freind, Captaine Cotton, who in this moste honorable attempt lost their lives. Gallants of England, Marses chosen pheres, Brave men of worth, chaveleres of fame, Lay armes aside and poure forth brinish teares, Wayling their losse whom cowarde foes hath slaine. Barker, brave man, the honor of thy name, Whose hautye deedes, yet ill successe in warre, In cheifest mirth doth cause our tunes to jarre. And courtious Cottonne, for his brave attempt Didst well deserve a worthy captaines place. Their valiant force these Spaniards proud have felt, Which purchase fame unto thier great disgrace; Pursuing foes like lions in their chase, Fighting in right of cuntry and our Queene, Like men of worth, most resolute and sterne. In midst of broyles, where foes were ten to one, Thier shot beeing spent, a wunder twas to see How many Spaniards by them to death were brought, Crying: S. George, sweete England, now for thee. The warcke of Spaine we have good hope to see. This sayd those gallants, and even therewithall A luckelesse strook causde Barker dead to fali, Whose death fearce Cottonne requited so That many a foe by him to hell was sent. So shewed this man of worth his force gainst foe, Whose hart with rigor to revenge was bent. But chance of warre hath often wrong event, In cheifest hope to have a joyfull day,
A cursed shot his life hath tane away. Thus fought those men, like champions of our Queene, Having at most in ali three hundred men Against five thousand, which armd in feilde was seene, Ranged to fight, such cowardes still they benne. Yet ali their force they wayed not a pyn, But bravely then the onset on them gave, And by their valour from their fort them drave. But dead they be, yea, dead are both our freinds, Whose fames shall live eternized for ay, That ali may know how brave they made their endes, Which, whilst they lived in this most hardy fray, Did scourge these curres and held them at a bay. Whose senceles truncks though loe enterd* they lye, Their glorious soules both rest above the skye.

The voyages of sir James Lancaster to Brazil and the East Indies 1591-1603

© Hannah Hague

[1] The voyages of sir James Lancaster to Brazil and the East Indies 1591-1603
[2] The obituary Richard Smyth, secondary of the poultry compter, London
[3] The Last Will and Testament of William Cotton, Citizen and Draper of London
[4] The discovery of Hebrew in Tudor England: A third language by G. Lloyd Jones
[5] Sermons at court: Politics and Religion in Elizabethan and Jacobean preaching p184
[6] Select Memoirs of the English and Scottish Divines By Thomas Smith, p327
[7] V&A Textile Collections ref: T.28&A-1938
[8] England's Quest of Eastern Trade By William Foster
[9] The voyages of sir James Lancaster to Brazil and the East Indies 1591-1603