Robert Bruce Cotton Miscellany

Scope and Content

The collection comprises:

  • i) Part of a collection of materials relating to the Parliament of 1625;
  • ii) A brief abstract of the Question of Presidency between England and Spain... collected by Robert Cotton (imperfect);
  • iii) Papers relating to the ordering of the Revenue, etc.

Paginated in pencil 147-245.

Administrative / Biographical History

Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1571-1631), first baronet, antiquary and politician, was educated at Westminster School and Jesus College Cambridge, and attended the Middle Temple in 1589. In the late 1580s Cotton was an early member of the Society of Antiquaries and soon established a substantial library of manuscripts, which he treated as an open resource for scholars and those interested in public affairs. In 1601 Howard commissioned Cotton to write a tract demonstrating from precedent that the English ambassador to France, Sir Henry Neville, should take precedence over the envoy from Spain in Calais to discuss an Anglo-Spanish treaty. Cotton and Howard shared the objective of supporting James VI of Scotland's claim to succeed Elizabeth I. Cotton was aware of his own Scottish antecedents, tracing his roots back to Robert the Bruce, and following James's accession to the throne of England he added Bruce to his signature, becoming Robert Bruce Cotton. Following the Queen's death Howard commissioned Cotton to write a defence of James I's claim, and this service no doubt contributed to Cotton's knighthood on 11 May 1603.

Cotton was elected to parliament for Huntingdonshire in 1604. His knowledge of precedents saw him named to many important committees in the Commons. In the session of 1610 he was nominated in first place to the committee of privileges. In February he used a precedent from the reign of Henry IV to support the view that a subsidy should be granted to the king before grievances were redressed. Cotton was not elected to parliament in 1621, but he did produce precedents to support parliament's desire to discuss the proposed Spanish match for Prince Charles, and the associated matter of war.

Cotton allowed his collections to be used for the production of arguments and precedents deemed detrimental to royal interests, and paid the price in 1629 when Charles I ordered the closure of Cotton's library. In September of the following year, Cotton and his son petitioned for renewed access, and indeed Cotton was petitioning for its return when he died, reputedly of grief at the loss of his library. Cotton died on 6 May 1631 at Westminster. Cotton published little under his own name during his life, but rather advised a succession of leading politicians of his day, including James I and Charles I. He did, however, have time to talk to other antiquarians and scholars, engage in an extensive correspondence with his counterparts in foreign lands, and above all to act as a source for many scholars engaged in their own work.

Source: Stuart Handley, 'Cotton, Sir Robert Bruce, first baronet (1571-1631)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by the John Rylands Library from the London booksellers P.J. Dobell and A.E. Dobell in December 1924 (with English MS 8 and English MS 294).


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, and Elizabeth Gow with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Sir Robert Bruce Cotton.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 293).