I have been in London on a research Sabbatical for seven months now. In my spare time, I have researched my Cotton ancestry using mainly the resources available at the British Library, the Library of the Institute of Historical Research of the University of London, and the Library of the Society of Genealogists. What I am about to write, unlike other information circulating on the internet, can be proven from documentary evidence contemporary with the people involved, unless otherwise mentioned. I am not including notes to keep this posting a managable length.
Generation-0 The DNA haplogroup for this Cotton family is I1c, members of which appear to have an origin in northern France, but are said to be mostly spread throughout northwestern Europe. Historically, in the case of this particular Cotton family, the most economical explanation would be that one of William the Conqueror's earl's soldiers was given a piece of land in Cheshire to settle and it is from him that future Cottons of this line can claim descent. In fact, in 1086 (20 years after the conquest) in the Doomsday Book, a common soldier with the Norman French name of Ranulph appears. He is a possible ancestor, but it is exactly two hundred years until the next Cotton of this line appears in any surviving contemporary document, so he should never being included in anyone's family tree until further evidence appears which, unfortunately, is highly unlikely.
Simon Cotton, supposed to be the son of William Cotton, though the earliest mention I have found so far of this William Cotton is roughly 300 years after Simon Cotton's appearance in a Cheshire court case, standing accused of cattle rustling. His property (to be called Cotton Edmund's in the future) was in the Cheshire parish of Christleton. There is other evidence which makes it possible but not certain that he was the priest of the local church, his generation being the last in which married priests appear in rural areas of the British Isles before being rooted out by the Catholic Church, a process which had taken several hundred years. He was married to the unnamed daughter of Richard Grosvenor who was a sister of Robert Grosvenor II and Margery Grosvenor married to Philip de Ternen (probably a misreading of Terven, in medieval English handwriting v and n could be easily mistaken for each other) who died without children. The Grosvenors, upon marriage, had given Margery lands as a marriage portion. These lands were later transferred to William Cotton, the son of Margery's sister and Simon Cotton, together with the Grosvenor Coat of arms, though changed slightly from that of the main line. Simon Cotton was recognized as the heir of the Grosvenor estates should Robert II's son Robert III not produce any surviving child. He did, though, becoming the ancestor of the Dukes of Westminster who became the owners of a couple of hundred acres of downtown London and, by means of this, the richest private citizens today in Great Britain.
William Cotton inherited Grosvenor lands in the parish of Tarvin (or Tarven, as it was sometimes spelled). His first wife was a Joan through whom it seems he acquired further lands in the parish of Waverton. These two parishes bordered the parish of Christleton. His second wife whom he married when he must have been well past 40 was a woman by the name of Isabella. It appears that she remarried after his death. Edmund was his only known child by Joan (and not Isabella as often appears in published genealogies, some produced as early as 1600).
Edmund was born around 1315. He was probably not a first son, but was his father's only surviving son. It is from him, that the manor he owned in Christleton came to be called Cotton Edmund's as opposed to another neighboring manor in Christleton which came to be known as Cotton Abbot's because it was owned by a local abbey. Cotton, as we can see, was the place name for that part of Christleton. Thus, the Cottons here, as in many other places in England known as Cotton (it was a very common place name), took their family name from where they lived, meaning that when the first Cotton man coming from Normandy to settle in Cheshire arrived, he was a fairly ordinary person, not even possessing a family name, something only the elite had in those times.
Edmund's wife was Katherine. Her family name may be Brett or Brett de Dana, but this is first evidenced in a family tree appearing more than 250 years after she lived. One should not place a high reliance on this and, though not dismissing it entirely, refrain from including a family name for her in a Cotton family tree or, at least, should make some designation that this family name is only to be considered on a provisional basis.
Edmund had two children, William and Robert, probably both by Katherine. Both married heiresses in Stafford.
The coat of arms Edmund used was different from the one received by his father William from the Grosvenors. The one received from the Grosvenors was, however, used for awhile by Edmund's oldest son William II, as William inherited the properties associated with these arms, while Edmund's other coat of arms was used by his son Robert and Robert's descendants. This coat of arms and not that received from the Grosvenors is most likely the original coat of arms, though no surviving Cotton family today uses it.
William was born in 1346 or thereabouts. This can be fixed fairly accurately as he appeared as a witness in the Scrope/Grosvenor trial in the mid-1380s. The statement he made is lost, but a record of his name and age remains. In the 1370s, he married a rich Staffordshire heiress, Agnes de Ridware, thus bring quite substantial properties (Hampstall-Ridware in Staffordshire, and Boyleston is Derbyshire) into Cotton hands, properties that allowed her descendants to play leading roles in Staffordshire for three generations. He probably died in the 1390s. Before he died, though, he made the necessary legal arrangements so that his own properties (as opposed to those he held by right of his wife) were safely disposed for the benefit of his heirs. His wife lived until 1435, dying a very old woman for her times, being over 75 and probably close to 80 when she passed away. Agnes and her husband had only one child, John, who may be identified from contemporary records. Genealogies appearing 200 years later, however, sometimes give them a daughter, too, which may or may not be right.
William's brother Robert married a less wealthy heiress who brought him the manor of Cotton-under-Needwood less than 10 miles from his brother's wife's estates. Robert's descendants daughtered out in the third generation so his line will not be dealt with further, but many quite interesting and well-known people number among his descendants.
John Cotton (born around 1375) married Isabella Fauconer (variant spellings include Falkner). All published genealogies have her ancestry wrong. In a contemporary document, she states that she was the daughter of John Fauconer, the wife of John Cotton, and the mother of John Cotton. The documents of the time were in Latin and, therefore, the English version of her name could have been Elizabeth rather than Isabella, as Elizabeth sometimes appears under the guise of Isabella in texts of this era and sometimes it appears in the Anglo-Latin form of Elizabeta. Both forms of this name, however, were used in English at the time concerned, so we shall never know 100% for sure if Isabella really were her real name in English. It is convenient, though, to call her that.
Isabella was yet another heiress, though this came after her brother William and William's daughter Elizabeth passed away in what appears to have been the 1420s. Through her, the Cottons acquired the manors of Thurcaston and Cayham in Leicestershire. These properties and the network of human relations they generated kept the junior branches of the Cotton family among her descendants from falling into utter obscurity and helped them to maintain their gentry status for up to a hundred years after her death, probably sometime in the 1340s.
Isabella's ancestry appears in many published sources, but they are all wrong and have been so from the late 15th century. I have managed to correct the worst mistakes in her family tree, but have not had enough time to verify my work against enough of the original sources to justify publishing it here, so I will not include any summary.
John and Isabella's oldest son was yet another John. Their second son was William.
John Cotton II was married to Joan Venables whose name can be known only because she passed a right as a co-heiress of the vast Venables' feudal barony of Kinderton to her oldest son Richard Cotton on the death of her Venables nephew, she, herself, being already dead. A comparison of the inquisition post mortem's (the English medieval equivalent of death certificates for the wealthy or suspected wealthy) of Joan Venable's and that of her son Richard's son prove that her husband's name was John, not Richard as usually appears in printed genealogies. Matters are complicated further because John Cotton II and Joan Venables had a second son by the name of John who married Joan (or Joanna) Fitzherbert, a couple who will be covered under generation-7.
John II married his wife Joan Venables before 1432 when they had their first child Richard. John II has a distinguished career in local government being appointed to many local government commissions and being made sheriff of Staffordshire on occasion. He was born probably in the last years of the 1390s and died in 1478 at about 80 years of age.
John II's brother William Cotton inherited none of the family estates, but apparently through his mother's connections in Leicestershire he was able to marry Mary a co-heiress of the Folville family who brought him a manor in the parish of Rearsby that came to be unofficially known in the 15th and 16th centuries as Cotton's Manor. William's wife's family had been a prominent one, so he shared in that prominence, being involved in local government affairs and even being made once the sheriff of Leicestershire and Warwickshire. He would have been born at the very beginning of the 1400s and lived until the late 1450s when his family entered into relative obscurity on account of their Lancastrian connections. William Cotton and Mary Folville had a son William II, who inherited the family properties, a daughter Cecilia who married John Mallory the lord of the manors of Walton and Tachbrook Mallory (both in Leicestershire) and became the ancestress of many gentry families, and a certainly younger son probably born around 1450 when his mother would have been 40 years old or thereabouts and was known as Thomas (someone who will be discussed below).
Richard Cotton did not live long. He was born around 1432, married Margaret Clerk in 1454, his son Richard II was born in 1461. Like other members of his family, he was a Lancastrian and died fighting for a lost cause. As a result, neither his father or younger brother John III ever held a position in the county government again.
John III apparently did not survive his father who died in 1478, thus his life records have largely disappeared from view though those of his wife Joan Fitzherbert survive. Apparently, John II, not being confident the high childhood mortality rates of the 15th century would allow his heir Richard II to survive, encouraged his son John III (Richard II's uncle) to marry and start a family which John did in an abundance which must have surprised him more than anyone else, as he and his wife had 16 children, of whom only two died in childhood. As he possessed the lordship of no lands, there is no inquisition post mortem for him or his wife. John III and Joan Fitzherbert were probably the ones who actually raised Richard II and excellent relations appear to have been maintained between these two branches of the family in the next generation. For those interested in such things, Joan Fitzherbert brought a royal descent from King Henry II. Moreover, her Cotton children aggressively worked to improve their stations in life with two of her boys going to Eton, one of whom went on to get a doctor's degree from Oxford. Other sons became businessmen or got government related jobs. Her oldest son, John IV, married a very wealthy heiress and her eighth son apparently was the only one to stay at home with his mother. Her daughters all married into gentry families, surprisingly well, considering that they were not in a position to bring money or property into their marriages, unions which produced many people of note who literally changed the course of British history. A large part of the British aristocracy can, in fact, show a descent from this match of a highly obscure 15th century Cotton gentleman and his almost equally obscure Fitzherbert wife.
In the early 1450s, William Cotton II of Cotton's Manor in Leicestershire married Mary Wesenham who possessed large estates in Huntingdonshire. He died quite young fighting for the Lancastrian cause. They had one son, Thomas, who could have been posthumus. This Thomas was the ancestor of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton and the information generally appearing on the internet regarding this line of Cottons beginning with this William II's son is almost always correct up until Sir Robert Cotton, himself. Therefore, I will not discuss this line of Cottons further, except to mention that none of Sir Robert Bruce Cotton's male-line Cotton descendants ever visited Virginia or any American colony and that his male-line descendants died out in the 18th century. Through Sir Robert Bruce Cotton's female-line descendants many members of the British aristocracy can count him as an ancestor. Likewise, I have traced collateral Cotton lines branching off from this family and they can all be shown to have also remained in England. The longest lasting of these collateral lines seems to have made it no further than the mid-19th century, but to have resided in Cornwall and not the United States. Cottons in the United States and elsewhere hoping to find an old and distinguished English ancestry should look elsewhere than this line of Cottons. There are, in fact, quite a few Cotton gentry families with backgrounds just as interesting as the family I am covering now (too many, in fact, for me to even begin to consider researching them). Even though my research is not primarily about Cotton history, I still keep coming across medieval Cotton families at the most surprising times and places. If more people would participate in the Cotton DNA study, there would eventually be more identifiable medieval Cotton lines popping up for people to do research on.
After William II died leaving her with a son named Thomas Cotton, Mary Wesenham married Thomas Lacy by whom she unimaginatively had a son named Thomas. Her third husband, by whom she had no children, was a knight by the name of Billings who was also the Lord Chief Justice of England. Mary Wesenham's mother, by the way, was not Mary Folville who was her husband's mother and her husband's mother, though having the same name, did not get married with the same three gentleman she did. This confusion goes back to Sir Robert Bruce Cotton, himself. He was interested in the royal descent from the kings of Scotland which Mary Wesenham brought him and, in his private notebook produced a family tree in his own handwriting which shows with absolute correctness his descent from Mary Wesenham and through her from the kings of Scotland. As his preliminary research did not show any royal ancestry for Mary Wesenham's first husband William I he did not show an equal interest in William's ancestry, something which would have been much more difficult for him to do then than for us to do now, anyway. As a result, from William Cotton II of Leicestershire backwards his Cotton genealogy is not only useless, but highly misleading. Unfortunately, it is work emanating from his unfinished research which was later accepted by the College of Arms and has been widely disseminated, especially these days, through the internet. I hope this is a small step toward rectifying that situation.
William II not only had a son named Thomas Cotton from whom Sir Robert Bruce Cotton descended, he also had a brother called Thomas who pulled himself up by his own bootstraps to become a successful merchant, a land owner in the Borough of Leicester, and eventually Mayor of the said Borough, which was and is the administrative center of Leicestershire. Considering that he did all this without marrying an heiress is indication of real talent, something many Cottons through the ages seem to have found in them when the going got rough, but usually not until then. Thomas Cotton seems to have had land dealings which involved his uncle John II of Hamstall-Ridware and may have provided a stimulus for two of John III's sons to go into business for themselves. It is from this Thomas Cotton that the Cottons of Leicestershire (Loughton, Boughton Astley, Dadlington, etc.) descend, as do probably many of the Cottons now living in Warwickshire. As they can be traced with fair accuracy through the visitations and other published works, I would like to stop my consideration of them here. Mention should, however, be made of the fact that, in America, the Cottons descending from the John Cotton of Massachussetts who was not the famous preacher but who lived at the same time also are most likely to have descended from this man. In England, the various Cotton gentry families in Leicestershire descending from this particular Thomas Cotton were all daughtered out as gentry by the beginning of the 19th century. I am sure, though, that if more research could be done on 18th century records (the awful century because records are so numerous and, consequently, often unindexed) we could verify the existence of many non-gentry branches of this family, as they shared the historically common Cotton characteristic of more prolifically producing sons than daughters. When the gentry branches did daughter out, though, they did so quite appropriately and, in the female line, here, too, we will find many in the British aristocrcy descending from the Leicestershire Cottons.
Richard II inherited the Cotton lands belonging to the main branch in Cheshire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire, and Derbershire. He married Joan Brereton, the daughter of an old and wealthy Cheshire family. It is possible that in his youth his cousin Thomas Cotton of Leicestershire (the son of his grandfather's younger brother William I and Mary Folville) managed the family properties in Cheshire. Out of the many sons his wife bore him, only one who bore the name of Thomas survived him. His daughters' survival rate was much better and when his son Thomas died only a few years after Richard II leaving a one year old daughter Elizabeth who also soon died, it was like feeding time at the pig pen for his daughter's husbands who were all representatives of the gentry elite of Cheshire and whose descendants among the upper classes of the England and America have made a considerable splash over the centuries.
John IV was the son of John III, being born around 1460. Around 1480, he married a very rich Essex heiress, Alice Langham, who was not much older than him but already a widow with four daughters. His motives may have been mercenary, but it seems to have turned into a love match. They had a huge family which survived as a gentry family in Essex, Suffolk, and then Norfolk until the early 18th century (the awful century) when they lose or sell their family property and then become indistinguishable from the masses of Cottons living during that century. I have reason to believe that there is a prominent protestant Cotton family which made a name for itself in Ireland in the 19th and early 20th centuries who descend from this family and are, thus, the senior branch of the Cottons of Cotton Edmund's family. It would be helpful in one of them would eventually turn up for DNA testing, so that contact could be made to work out the mid-18th century missing generation. One can only hope, though.
Concerning John IV's wife, Alice Langham, I have found no royal descent for her, but have found something more interesting. Her great grandfather was Sir John Hawkwood, an English mercenary who led a band of men which were much valued for their services by the Italian city states of the 14th century.
John Cotton III had a son Roger whose grandson became the Bishop of Exeter at the end of the 1500s, being made so by Queen Elizabeth I. Unless there are unrecorded branches of this family in London which produced male-line descendants, which is something quite likely, this line daughtered out in the 18th century.
John Cotton III's youngest or second to the youngest son was Richard whom I will designate as Richard Cotton III. In the normal course of things, Richard would not have had the money to marry, produce a family, and maintain his gentry status. However, the daughters of Alice Langham by her first husband, Thomas St. John, were the co-heiresses of their father. After John III and John II passed away, Richard III, being the baby, was still quite young and it is likely that he is the one who stayed with his mother. When his mother appears to have passed away several years afterwards, John IV must have felt a special responsibility for him, thus arranging a marriage for Richard III with Jane (or Joan), his step-daughter and a minor heiress in her own right. Richard III also appears to be about the same age as his cousin Richard II's son Thomas who, to help him out, gave him the use of a manor of his in Leicestershire for his life or that of his wife, whichever lived the longest. Though Thomas soon died, his young widow lived another generation, allowing Richard and his wife to live the gentry life and to raise their children as such. It wasn't much but it allowed them to hang on to their status. Richard III's second wife was Alice Savage, apparently the granddaughter of Sir John Savage, a man who played an important role in the overthrow of King Richard III and the success of King Henry VII. Richard Cotton III had only one child by Alice Savage, a daughter, but this daughter's husband managed to acquire by purchase Richard Cotton III's lands shortly before his death. He had several sons by his first wife, Humphrey, Nicholas and Francis.
Humphrey Cotton was born between 1500 and 1510 as was his wife Anne Kynnardsley who was the child of Thomas Kynnardsley of Yoxley, co. Stafford, and his second wife Elizabeth. They had very little to start off with, but involved themselves with gusto in the land speculation going on from the 1530s onward and ended their lives successfully with almost as much land and certainly more money than Humphrey's great grandfather John II had at his death in 1478. Their daughters married well and, not only in England, but also among the upper classes of colonial Virginia, there were many individuals who could trace their descent to this couple (mostly through the marriage of one of their daughters with a Pudsey). They had only
one known son William who will be covered under generation-10. For those who might be interested, Anne Kynnardsley has a descent from King William the Lion of Scotland.
Although DNA testing would be necessary to confirm things, I have reason to believe that the Cottons of Romford descend from Richard III and Joan St. John's son Nicholas. A contemporary (or, indeed, later) statement of being connected is missing, but the number of generations is complete as far as can be traced to the end of the 17th century. It boils down to whether a representative of this line exists somewhere and, if existing, whether that individual would participate in the Cotton DNA project.
Richard Cotton III and Joan St. John had yet another son Francis who was involved in a land deal in Staffordshire with a cousin of his who was the son of John Cotton IV. Francis Cotton is very obscure, but I have reason to believe he was the ancestor of the Penkridge Cottons from whence I believe that the non-conformist Cottons of the 17th and 18th centuries who controlled the iron industry of northern England descend and who have numerous representatives in the United States. There is a will that is not part of the National Archives that is supposed to exist for a Richard Cotton of Penkridge who died in the 1550s which will have to be located and, if found, might take us an important step further in the right direction.
William Cotton married Elizabeth Mallory, one of the younger daughters of Sir Richard Mallory, the Lord Mayor of London, and of Anne Smith who circumstantial evidence points to as a sister of Sir Clement Smith a man who married the sister of King Edward VI's mother Jane Seymour.
She was a great granddaughter of Thomas Mallory of Papworth St Agnes and through him of numerous ancestors who shaped English history in the middle ages. They had two sons, Walter the elder and Thomas the younger.
Walter Cotton married Elizabeth Younge of Caynton a distant cousin of his mother coming from a Shropshire family of distinction. Elizabeth Younge's medieval ancestry overlaps in part with that of her mother-in-law and this marriage, as well as the one before, represented the fact that the new Cotton family line Humphrey Cotton and his wife Agnes Kynnardsley had worked so hard to make rich had fully arrived and were now considered an old family.
William Cotton and Elizabeth Mallory's second son, Thomas Cotton was given the family estates in Burntwood, a fact which enabled him and some of his descendants to maintain his gentry status for three generations. This division of estates was not a Cotton tradition, but did appear often in Mallory history. One can see the influence of Elizabeth Mallory at work. Thomas's wife was Frances. He had one son, Thomas II, who inherited Burnwood (co. Stafford) and possibly another son William of Wolverhampton.
Walter Cotton of generation-10's son and heir was another William Cotton who married Anne Colt, the daughter and eventually sole heiress of a very rich ironmonger, Thomas Colt, of Rotherham in Yorkshire. Their oldest son was Rowland, named after Sir Rowland Cotton, a prominent Cotton who probably wasn't related but whom they thought should be. They had a middle son by the name of Thomas. Their youngest son was another Walter (born 1639) who was a small child when his father passed away. The Cottons reverted to their normal pattern of putting everything into the first son and letting younger sons do what they wanted as long as they didn't use up a significant amount of family resources in doing so. Anne lived significantly longer than her husband and remarried, but was a good manager of family resources.
Thomas Cotton II married a Dorothy Russell in Penkridge, co. Staffordshire. He had four surviving sons, William, Walter, Thomas, and Humphrey, all of whom disappear from the record by end of the 17th century to enter the awful 18th.
William Cotton of Wolverhampton had a large family in the 1630s and 1640s. Two of his sons were named Thomas and Walter. From the mid-1650s, this family too completely disappears from the record.
Rowland Cotton played a prominent role in County politics. In the 1660s a government report describes him as harmless with a liking for alcohol. He didn't add to his lands, but he didn't lose anything, either. His children and grandchildren who survived childhood married decently and in the late 1700s his line daughters out completely, the name Cotton being maintained the female line and combining with Shepherd. Upon Cotton line daughtering out, the Cotton-Shepherd line was raised to the rank of baronet.
Thomas, the son of William Cotton, and brother of Rowland lives to adulthood and is mentioned in his mother's will but disappears completely from the identifiable record as we approach the genealogically awful 18th century.
Walter son of William, by means of an analysis of Virginia colonial militia records and a comparison of wills and parish records can be shown to have been the Walter Cotton of Surry County, Virginia. Nowhere is it stated that he is his father's son, but the combination of evidence interlocks so perfectly that this is the only logical conclusion. He married a woman by the name of Elizabeth. I thought she might be a Stuckley and wish she were because that might a tracable family, but I now think it is highly doubtful we will ever know what her family name was. They had two sons, William of Prince Edward County and Thomas II of Surry and Suffolk Counties, all of which are counties in Virginia. Both sons left too many male-line descendants in the United States to keep track of. If the Cotton DNA study can be considered indicative, perhaps as many as one fifth of all Cottons worldwide, black, white, or yellow, belong to this lineage or to the related Leicestershire Cotton lineage. Much about this particular family has appeared on the internet in recent years, so I shall not carry it any further.
What happened to Walter son of William Cotton of Wolverhampton is completely unknown, but his brother Thomas is most likely to have been the Thomas Cotton who immigrated to Virginia and who made "his cousin" Thomas Cotton the son of Walter Cotton and Elizabeth his heir. The only other Thomas available who fits available data is the Thomas who was the son of Thomas Cotton II of Burntwood but, but a careful analysis of available data made it appear unlikely for him to match up the dates suggested by the Virginia militia lists, leaving Thomas of Wolverhampton as the better choice.
On the internet, one will often come across the statement that Thomas and Walter Cotton of Virginia must have been brothers. This was my assumption and I am responsible for its propagation. I must therefore retract that.
Finally, I would also ask people who use my work to quote me as a source. No research is ever really final and is always subject to change and in genealogical research mistakes always creep in and, unfortunately, this is true even for the best genealogical researc. Quoting sources will allow future researchers to go back and see where data came from and what a researchers position was or what kind of hidden bias might have affected his work. Also, as in this case, quoting me as a source when using my work will allow people to make contact where things are not as clear as they should be or where more evidence is desired.
I need also to caution everyone. This was written at one sitting from memory. In my case, because my sources consist almost exclusively of original material or translations of original material and because they were so numerous, I did not include them. They would have made this unreadable. Also, including them would have taken at least another eight hours work in addition to the eight hours I have already spent writing this posting and that would have been beyond human endurance for me. However, sources are extremely important and I am willing to share (in small doses as they are still not properly typed up and I have other more pressing research to do) with anyone wishing to go further.
Wishing all Cotton genealogists the best,