Sir William COOKE of Highnam Court, Knight

Born: 14 Feb 1572, Gray's Inn

Died: 2 Mar 1618/9, Highnam Court, Gloucestershire, England

Buried: 4 Mar 1618/9, Saint Martins, London, Middlesex, England

Father: William COOKE (MP)

Mother: Frances GREY

Married: Joyce LUCY (dau. of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote and Dorothy Arnold) ABT 1597, Charlecote, Warwickshire, England


1. Robert COOKE (m.1 Dorothy Fleetwood - m.2 Jane Danvers)

2. William COOKE

3. Thomas COOKE

4. John COOKE

5. Elizabeth COOKE

6. Frances COOKE

7. Dorothy COOKE

8. Mildred COOKE

9. Anne COOKE

10. Mary COOKE

The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.

Born 1572, first surv. son of William Cooke by Frances, dau. of Lord John Grey of Pirgo. Educ. Shrewsbury 1583; G. Inn 1592. Married Joyce, dau. of Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, Warws.. Suc. family 1589. Kntd. 1603. Clerk of liveries in the ct. of wards from 1589; j.p. Herts. by 1596, Glos. temp. James I; purveyor to the stable by Jan. 1599; keeper of the lodge and herbage of Hartwell park, Northants. by 1605; steward of the manor of Bury St. Edmunds by 1614.

Cooke's father and namesake, scion of the Cookes of Gidea Hall, was related to the Cecil and Fitzwilliam families. Anxious that his son should succeed him in the lucrative post of clerk of the liveries, he solicited the support of his brother-in-law Lord Burghley, and was successful in procuring a reversion.

William Cooke the younger was still a minor at the time of his father's death, and the guardianship passed to his mother. All the same, he had no trouble in being recognised as clerk of the liveries, and was described as such in the Gray's Inn register when Lord Burghley obtained his special admission there. It may be presumed that the work was done by deputies. In 1593, the last year of his minority, his mother made a determined effort to contract an advantageous marriage for him. Pleading youth and inexperience, he resisted her arguments and, instead, was asked to pay £1,000 in composition for his wardship. As clerk of the liveries he would have been responsible for the suing out of his own livery. He then went abroad, with a two-years’ licence to travel.

Cooke retained the friendship of many of his father's associates, including James Morice and Francis Bacon, though the latter was viewed with some suspicion by his mother. He inherited a fair amount of property, but his fortunes as a country gentleman were largely founded on his marriage to Sir Thomas Lucy's daughter Joyce, heiress to the Gloucestershire estates of her grandfather, Sir Nicholas Arnold. The marriage took place in 1597 or thereabouts. In that year his lifelong friend Richard Verney was busy negotiating the marriage contract. Through this alliance he acquired Highnam Court, Gloucestershire, which became his principal residence. In 1599 he was able to offer himself, together with six men and horses, for the Queen's service, in subsequent years enhancing his position by the purchase of further land in and around Gloucester. He also owned the manor of Ribbesford and other lands in Worcestershire and, in the reign of James, received a sizable grant in Hertfordshire. By this time he must have been a wealthy man: his will bears out this supposition, and he was able to leave £1,000 to each of his daughters.

Originally the Highnam estate involved him in a complicated lawsuit with John Arnold. Casting doubt upon Arnold's legitimacy, Cooke also claimed, unsuccessfully, the Monmouthshire estates of Llanthony abbey. On several occasions he requested, and received, help from Sir Robert Cecil, and did not neglect to confirm his loyalty to this statesman and relative who helped him on numerous other occasions. Not without reason did Richard Verney once compliment Cecil on the care and love he bore to his kinsman. Cecil was presumably instrumental in securing for Cooke, through the Killigrews, a seat at Helston in 1597, and, as high steward of Westminster, was certainly responsible for his election in 1601. In Parliament Cooke is recorded as serving on one committee in 1597 concerning the poor law (22 Nov), and on a privilege committee on 31 Oct 1601. He was himself involved in a privilege question when one of his servants was arrested and imprisoned during this Parliament. Edward Hoby raised the issue and the offenders were compelled to appear and apologise after Cooke had assured the House that one of his ‘most necessary servants’ was involved: ‘for in truth ... he is my tailor’. As citizen for Westminster, he was eligible to serve on a committee concerned with the setting of watches (7 Nov 1601).

He died in 1619. The clerkship of the liveries, by now ‘quasi-hereditary’, remained in his family, and a Cooke was still holding the office at the dissolution of the court of wards

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