Cosin Letter-Books

Scope and Content

Letters, petitions etc., 1593-1686, bound up in 6 guard-books (now rebound in 9 vols.). The contents of Letter-book 1 are for the most part letters from or to northern churchmen, particularly Isaac Basire (1607-1676), archdeacon of Northumberland, and John Cosin (1594-1672), bishop of Durham, about both civil and ecclesiastical affairs. Letter-books 2-6 consist almost entirely of correspondence of John Cosin or his servants during the years of his episcopate, particularly Cosin's correspondence with his auditor, Miles Stapylton.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Cosin (1594-1672) was born in Norwich and educated at Caius College, Cambridge. After serving as secretary to Bishop Overall of Norwich, he became chaplain to Bishop Neile of Durham, and during the 1620's and 1630's was, successively or simultaneously, Master of Greatham Hospital, rector of Elwick and Brancepeth, Co. Durham, prebendary of Durham Cathedral, archdeacon of the East Riding, and from 1634/5 Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge. His close association with the policies of Archbishop Laud and Charles I brought him into collision with the puritan party in Durham, especially his fellow prebendary Peter Smart, and into disfavour with the Long Parliament, and from 1644 until the Restoration he lived in exile in France, as chaplain to Queen Henrietta Maria. He became Bishop of Durham in 1660, and played a leading part in the Restoration church settlement, particularly in the evolution of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. In his own diocese he energetically set about restoring order and repairing the depredations of the Interregnum, and carried out extensive building work at Durham castle and cathedral, and Auckland castle, as well as founding the library in Durham which still bears his name.

Isaac Basire (1607-1676) came to Durham in 1632 as chaplain to Bishop Morton. He subsequently became rector of Eaglescliffe near Yarm, prebendary of Durham Cathedral in 1643, archdeacon of Northumberland in 1644, and chaplain to Charles I, who gave him the rich living of Stanhope. A high churchman, strongly identified with the royalist cause, he was imprisoned in 1646, and then went into exile, travelling extensively through Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. In 1654 Prince George Racoczi appointed him professor of divinity at the university of Alba Julia in Transylvania. He returned to England after the Restoration, and set about putting his archdeaconry in order with a diligence which matched that of Cosin in the diocese at large.


The periods spanned by the individual vols. are as follows:

  • 1A: 1593-1662
  • 1B: 1662-1686
  • 2: 1660-1663
  • 3: 1664-1665
  • 4A: 1669-1670
  • 4B: 1670-1671
  • 5A: 1666-1670
  • 5B: 1670-1673
  • 6: 1668-1672
Within each volume the arrangement is approximately chronological

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Part of Bishop Cosin's Library, Durham (now in Durham University Library).

Other Finding Aids

Online catalogue at online catalogue

Separated Material

Among the Hunter MSS in Durham Cathedral Library is a group of guard-books with similar bindings and lists including 2 volumes, Hunter MSS 7 and 10, which include other letters to Miles Stapylton.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Sub-Librarian, Special Collections (e-mail and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Custodial History

Letter-books 1-5 were originally bound up by the Waghorn bindery in Durham in the 1720's or 1730's, probably at the instigation of the Durham antiquary Dr. Christopher Hunter (1675-1757) since the contents-lists inside the volumes are in his hand. They were subsequently found by James Raine the elder, in a neglected state in the porter's lodge of Auckland Palace (see Raine's Brief historical account of the episcopal castle ... of Auckland (Durham, 1852), pp. 127-128), and on his advice were given to Cosin's Library in 1818 by Bishop Shute Barrington.

Letter-book 6 contains 24 letters from Cosin and 1 from his chaplain William Flower, all to Stapylton, which were presented to Cosin's Library in 1969 by Peterhouse, Cambridge, which had been given them in 1927 by H.M. Wood, literary executor to J.C. Hodgson. They had been part of a larger group of letters to Stapylton which was entrusted to Hodgson, for publication by the Surtees Society, by Canon William Greenwell, who stated he had rescued them from the sweepings of an old Durham solicitor's office.

Related Material

Cosin Manuscripts


George Ornsby included selections from Letter-books 1-5 in his edition of The correspondence of John Cosin (Surtees Society 52, 55: 1868-70), but he omitted very many letters completely, and printed only extracts from almost all the others. Ornsby's transcripts are not entirely accurate and sometimes transpose paragraphs from one letter to another. The University Library's interleaved set of Ornsby is annotated to show which letters come from the Cosin Letter-books and to indicate transpositions in the text.

Hodgson printed Letter-book 6 in full in Northumbrian documents of the 17th and 18th centuries (Surtees Society 131, 1918) pp.133-267; the letters not included in Wood's gift to Peterhouse have disappeared. The University Library's copy of Hodgson is annotated to show which letters come from Letter-book 6.

Darnell, W.N., ed., The correspondence of Isaac Basire (London, 1831).

On Cosin's correspondence see:

Stanwood, P.G. and Doyle, A.I., Cosin's correspondence, Trans. Cambridge Bibliographical Society 5, no. 1 (1969) 74-78

Doyle, A.I., Lost Letters to Mr. Stapylton in North country collections: Durham bishops, John Cosin (Washington, Northern Notes, 1970), 15-18

Lawes, A.H., Cosin's post-Restoration correspondence: a re-assessment, Durham University journal 77 no. 2 (1985) 141-147.