COKAYNE, Sir Thomas (1520-92), of Ashbourne, Derbys.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Mar. 1553

Family and Education

b. 27 Nov. 1520, 1st s. of Francis Cokayne of Ashbourne by Dorothy, da. and h. of Thomas Marrow of Berkswell, Warws. educ. G. Inn, adm. 1539. m. by 1545, Dorothy, da. of Sir Humphrey Ferrers of Tamworth, Staffs., 3s. 7da. suc. fa. 5 Aug. 1538. Kntd. 11 May 1544.1

Offices Held

J.p. Derbys. 1547, 1555-d., Warws. 1554; commr. musters, Derbys. 1546, 1577, 1584, relief 1550, subsidy 1563, to inquire into Jesuits and seminarists in 1585, 1592; sheriff, Notts. and Derbys. 1549-50, 1559-60, Derbys. 1569-70, 1579-80, 1585-6; keeper, Ravensdale park, Derbys. May 1553, collector for loan, Derbys. 1562; steward, manors of Ashbourne and Hartington by 1590.2


The family of Cokayne, one of the oldest in Derbyshire, is said to have settled at Ashbourne on the western border of the county in the middle of the 12th century. Although it was to acquire further extensive properties in that neighbourhood as well as in Staffordshire and Warwickshire, Ashbourne remained its principal residence until the late 17th century.3

Thomas Cokayne upheld the family tradition of service in war, in Parliament and in local government which had been exemplified by his grandfather, ‘a bold and ... worthy knight’ who fought under Henry VIII in France, was at the Field of Cloth of Gold and at Gravelines, and wielded authority in his shire as justice of the peace and sheriff. By contrast, Cokayne’s father was head of the family for only 16 months, leaving Cokayne a minor. The wardship was purchased for £366 by the widow, who married Sir Humphrey Ferrers of Tamworth: Cokayne and his sister Barbara married children of Sir Humphrey by his first marriage. Cokayne’s early years were spent at Gray’s Inn and in the service of Francis, 5th Earl of Shrewsbury, in whose household he was reared. In January 1543 he obtained livery of his inheritance. He fought under the Earl of Hertford in Scotland in 1544 and was knighted at Leith; four years later he was with Shrewsbury himself at the relief of Haddington. He later claimed to have received ‘many extraordinary favours’ from the earl and his successors, and his election as senior knight of the shire to the Parliament of March 1553 was probably one of them. Shrewsbury had himself advocated its summoning and had prepared an agenda, so that he may be expected to have interested himself in its Membership: for his part, Cokayne had qualified himself by his experience as soldier, justice of the peace and sheriff.4

Cokayne was probably more happily seated on a horse than in the Commons. In old age he gratified his friends by compiling, ‘for the delight of noblemen and gentlemen’, a collection of hints derived from his 52 years’ experience of hunting which he dedicated in December 1590 to the 7th Earl of Shrewsbury. In the preface he claimed that ‘Hunters ... are much enabled above others to the service of their prince and country in the wars ... and their minds also by this honest recreation the more fit and the better disposed to all other good exercises’, while warning his readers that it was a recreation and not ‘an occupation to spend therein days, months and years, to the hindrance of God, her Majesty or your country’. He could claim to have reconciled the two activities with his 40 years of service on the bench and five terms as sheriff: only in 1554 had he been omitted from the Derbyshire commission and in that year he was added to the Warwickshire one, perhaps because he was beginning to reside there.5

Under Elizabeth, Cokayne was evidently one of the local pillars of church and state: in 1564 he advised Bishop Bentham on the religious persuasions of the Derbyshire justices of the peace, and 20 years later he was one of the four gentlemen of the shire, ‘sound in religion ... and faithful to her Majesty’, judged fit to escort Mary Queen of Scots, on her journey from Wingfield to Tutbury. Between the two occasions, and for some years after the second of them, he performed a variety of duties, investigating the dispute between the Earl of Shrewsbury and his Glossopdale tenantry in 1581, questioning an Ashbourne man who wrote to Mary Queen of Scots in 1584 and impounding Anthony Babington’s goods two years later. In 1588 he contributed £50 to the Armada loan. No scholar himself, he joined with others in the establishment of a free school at Ashbourne, to which he granted £4 a year out of his lands there.6

Cokayne made his will on 8 Dec. 1591, naming as executors his wife and his eldest son Francis, although he had earlier mistrusted Francis ‘in regard of some debts he was then entered into’, and as supervisors Sir Humphrey Ferrers and Sir Edward Littleton. At the funeral the executors were required to ‘use no vain pomp nor foolish ceremonies which I have always accounted superstitions’. Cokayne died at Ashbourne on 15 Nov. 1592; his widow survived him for three years, and a large marble monument erected to their memory survives in Ashbourne church.7

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Author: C. J. Black


  • 1. Date of birth given at fa.’s i.p.m., E150/749/13. The Gen. n.s. vii. 70-71; J.C. Cox, Derbys. Churches, ii. 386; Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. xii), 7; DNB.
  • 2. LP Hen. VIII, xxi; CPR, 1547-8, p. 82; 1553, p. 352; 1553-4, p. 25; 1560-3, p. 435; 1563-6, p. 21; Lansd. 8(18), ff. 77-82; SP11/5/6; HMC Rutland, i. 112, 168, 301; Osborn coll. Yale Univ. Lib. 71.6.41; Doq. Bk. f. 46; HMC Shrewsbury and Talbot, ii. 159.
  • 3. J. Tilley, Derbys. Old Halls, iv. 73; A. E. Cokayne, Cokayne Memoranda, 1, 2.
  • 4. Cox, ii. 384; LP Hen. VIII, iii, xvii; PCC 4 Dyngeley; Index 10217(1), f. 16v; Vis. Warws. (Harl. Soc. xii), 7; Wards 9/130/199; Derbys. Arch. Soc. Jnl. iii. 112; CSP Scot. i. 161; W. K. Jordan, Edw. VI, ii. 504.
  • 5. Derbys. Arch. Soc. Jnl. iii. 112-13.
  • 6. Cam. Misc. ix(3), 43-44; APC, xiii, 204, 209, 219, 449; xv. 147-8; HMC Rutland, i. 112, 168, 205-6, 208, 230, 301; CSP Scot. vii. 379, 407, 536; CSP Scot. ed. Thorpe, 1589-1603, p. 951; Simpson, Derbys. 85.
  • 7. PCC 37 Nevell; C142/235/106; Pevsner and Williamson, Derbys. 62.