- COTTON, Sir Robert Bruce
Robert Bruce Cotton was an English antiquary and book collector who, through the acquisition and interpretation of an unprecedented mass of historical material, greatly influenced politics and the study of history in early-seventeenth-century England. Born in Huntingdonshire, England, Cotton was the eldest son of Thomas Cotton of Connington, a rich country gentleman. Cotton began his education at Westminster School, and his interest in antiquities was encouraged and refined by the school's second master, William Camden.* After Westminster he proceeded to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he received a bachelor of arts in 1585, and then entered the Middle Temple in 1588. By age seventeen he had begun his historical researches, collecting materials toward establishing a history of his home county of Huntingdonshire. Cotton assisted Camden in founding the Society of Antiquaries in 1586, along with other lawyers and heralds who were interested in antiquities, such as Henry Spelman, John Stow,* Francis Thynne, John Speed, and Richard Carew. Cotton presented himself at court in 1603 and was knighted by James I,* primarily as a reward for Cotton's efforts to legitimize the new king's claim to the throne through his antiquarian research.Cotton's growing collection of manuscripts, books, public and private records, coins, and other historical artifacts became a valuable resource in the years 1604-28. Figures such as Ben Jonson,* John Dee,* Sir John Davies,* and Francis Bacon* often used the library, and Cotton was increasingly consulted to legitimize various political agendas. His advice was sought on everything from ceremonial tradition to legal history and precedents in state policy. After the death of James I and the succession of Charles I in 1625, Cotton and his library became the target of envy, suspicion, and political maneuvering. Charges that he had circulated a tract supporting absolute monarchy were brought against him; he was confined, and his library became closed to him. Although he was released soon after, Cotton was banned from his own library until late 1630; by the time Charles relented, Cotton had fallen ill, and he died in May 1631.Cotton's library was his greatest achievement, both as a contemporary resource for national and international scholars, politicians, men of letters, and antiquaries and as a material legacy. His collecting and scholarly activity provided a model and a catalyst for the major advances in historical and historio-graphical methods in late-seventeenth-century England.BibliographyK. Sharpe, Sir Robert Cotton, 1586-1631: History and Politics in Early Modern England, 1979.Richard J. Ring
Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. Jo Eldridge Carney. 2001.