Elizabeth COOKE

(B. Russell)

Born: ABT 1528, Gidea Hall, Essex, England

Died: May 1609, Bisham, Berkshire, England

Buried: 2 Jun 1609, Bisham, Berkshire, England

Father: Anthony COOKE of Gidea Hall (Sir)

Mother: Anne FITZWILLIAM

Married 1: Thomas HOBY (Sir) (See his Biography) Monday 27 Jun 1558, Gidea Hall, Essex, England

Children:

1. Edward HOBY (Sir) (See his Biography)

2. Elizabeth HOBY (b. 27 May 1562 - d. 1571)

3. Anne HOBY (b. 16 Nov 1564 - d. 1571)

4. Thomas Posthumous HOBY (Sir)

Married 2: John RUSSELL (4° B. Russell) 12/23 Dec 1574

Children:

5. Elizabeth RUSSELL

6. Anne RUSSELL (C. Worcester)

7. Francis RUSSELL (d. young)



© Copyright of David Nash Ford.

Biography reproduced by kind permission of the Royal Berkshire History Website.

Third of four daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke of Gidea Hall in Essex and his wife, Anne FitzWilliam, celebrated for their great learning, as the story suggests. Her father was the tutor of King Edward VI and he, naturally, ensured that his four daughters also received the best education available. One of her sisters married Sir Nicholas Bacon, the Lord Keeper, and another married Sir William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the Lord High Treasurer.

Elizabeth lived with her sister, Mildred Cecil, from 1550 to 1558. During part of that period her father was in exile for his religious beliefs. She was therefore a good match for her husband, Thomas Hoby, the famous translator, who she married on 27 Jun 1558 at the church adjoining is home at Bisham Abbey (Berkshire). By all accounts she was indeed proud and ambitious, and keen for her children to have a good education. She and Sir Thomas had three children before the latter’s death in 1566, Edward, Elizabeth and Anne, and one born very shortly afterwards, known therefore as Thomas Posthumous.

Hoby was knighted in 1566 and sent to France as English ambassador. Lady Hoby accompanied him there in Apr of that year, although she was already pregnant with their fourth child. Unfortunately, he died of the plague only four months later, on which occasion she received a touching letter of condolence from Queen Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth wrote to the widow that she would “hereafter make a more assured account of your virtues and gifts” and some years later (1589) appointed her Keeper of the Queen’s Castle of Donnington and Bailiff of the Honor, Lordship, and Manor of Donnington. Lady Hoby erected a chapel at Bisham in which she built a monument to her husband and his brother, Sir Philip Hoby.

Lady Hoby liked to show her influence at Court by pulling strings with her brother-in-law, Lord Burghley, to advance her associates. Her letters to him testify to her remarkable force of character. In 1569 Sir William Cecil, proposed to marry her to the imprisoned Duke of Norfolk but the idea came to nothing. Lady Hoby remained a widow for eight years, before marrying John, Lord Russell, the Earl of Bedford’s son, on 23 Dec 1574. The two had a son who died young and two daughters. Lord Russell died ten years later. In the Summer of 1592, she entertained the Queen at Bisham for six days and the privy Council also met there. It was in these latter years that Lady Hoby seems to have taken up litigation as an amusing pastime. In 1593, a pitched battle almost took place between her retainers and those of her neighbour, Richard Lovelace of Ladye Place in Hurley (Berkshire), when she illegally threw two of his men in the stocks for lewd behaviour. Lovelace retaliated by preventing her from accessing certain of her possessions locked up in Windsor Castle for safety. Playing the helpless wounded female, Lady Hoby took him to court, but the Attorney-General prudently put the case off until it was forgotten. Later, she successfully petitioned the Privy Council to put a stop to the plans of Shakespeare’s associate, Richard Burbage, for the opening of a theatre near her London home in Blackfriars. While, in 1600, she appeared in the Star Chamber protesting loudly, for half an hour, against the Earl of Nottingham who had too hastily taken up his new post as keeper of Donnington Castle (Berkshire). She had already travelled all the way from Wales in an attempt to oust the Earl and spent the night in her coach at Donnington in protest. She was seventy-eight at the time.

Like her sisters, Lady Hoby acquired a reputation for both musical and linguistic achievements. She was patron of John Downland, the composer of lute songs and dance. Whilst her translation, from the French, of a treatise called 'A Way of Reconciliation touching the true Nature and Substance of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament', was printed in 1605 and the inscriptions of great length, in Greek, Latin and English, on the family tombs at Bisham, and on that of Lord Russell in Westminster Abbey, which were written by her, “sufficiently prove her skill in the learned languages”. Though, famous for organising the magnificent wedding of her youngest daughter to the future Marquis of Worcester, it was the ordering of pompous funerals that was her delight. Just before her death, she wrote a long letter to Sir William Dethick, Garter King of Arms, desiring to know “what number of mourners were due to her calling... the manner of the hearse, of the heralds, and church”. She was buried in Bisham Church beneath the most flamboyant of monuments, on 2 Jun 1609, aged 81. But popular local legend says that she still walks the corridors of Bisham Abbey.

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