Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire

by Joseph Tilley

Transcriptions by Rosemary Lockie, © Copyright 1999-2008

Volume I, The High Peak Hundred
Hartle Hall

IS there another old Derbyshire family with such memorabilia for the historian; with so many vicissitudes; with so many dramatic episodes, as the Cokaynes? They have mated with families which gave their children maternal descent from the Plantagenets; they were Knights of the Shire for generations; they had their stately homes in five or six different counties; they were honoured by Royalty and raised to a Peerage; they held the Lordships of various and extensive Manors with a huge rent-roll - and now! The founder of the patrician line - Sir William, the fatuous Lord Mayor, with his immense wealth, his vast estates, his children allied to the noblest houses of the nation - must have felt secure in the splendour of his line being perpetuated. Yet where are wealth, estates, coronets, and splendour now? The true splendour of the House of Cokayne lies with the Ashbourne, and not with the Rushton branch, in spite of their coronets. Extravagance and prodigality were characteristic of each, but with this difference:- There was a dignity with the Ashbourne house, for intelligence was in their wine cups, a munificence in their extravagance, a generosity in their excesses; while the careers of the Viscounts Cullen (less the first and last) were a series of dissipations, low, sensual, grovelling.

About three miles south-west of Bakewell Church, on an upland called Priest's Hill, surrounded by dale, and valley, and glen, and near to where the Bradford joins the Lathkill, just before its confluence with the Wye, we find old Hartle Hall. There is but a gable left of the original structure, but sufficient to remind us of one of the most famous of Derbyshire families. That there was a homestead of the Lord of the Manor as far back as Henry III. is beyond doubt. We know, too, that. when the Manor passed from the De Ferrers it came to the Edensors, and so by marriage to the Herthills.

More than five hundred years have gone by since Edmund Cokayne won the rich heiress of the Herthills and made the Hall one of his homes. In the dowry of this lady were the Manors of Middleton-by-Youlgreave, Ballidon, Hartle, and part of Tissington, together with Polesworth and Pooley Hall, in Warwickshire. His sires had been located at Ashbourne ever since the Conquest, and the distance between Hartle and Ashbourne would argue this union to have been one of affection. Were there not quite as eligible men close at hand? The neighbours of the Herthills at the time were the wealthy families of the Helyons, of Bakewell; Columbells, of Darley; Leches, of Chatsworth - not to mention the Shirleys, of Snitterton; Wendseleys, of Wensley; Bassetts, of Bubnell; Staffords, of Eyam; or Foljambes, of Tideswell.

The founder of the Cokaynes, we are told, was a relative of the Conqueror; but the splendour of their house needs no doubtful kindredship with Royalty to enhance it. Its glory lies in those famous sons whose names are on the Rolls of England. In that Parliament which first crippled the temporal power of the Pope and passed those memorable statutes of Præmunire and Provisors was John Cokayne, the father of Edmund; while his own first-born became that celebrated Baron of the Exchequer who sat on the Bench for thirty years during the reigns of the three Lancastrian Kings.[1] From him sprang the famous Lord Mayor, who became the first Governor of the province of Ulster and founder of Londonderry, and whom King James was delighted to honour. The illustrious marriages of his children are unique.

Three of his daughters espoused earls, a fourth was Viscountess Fanshawe, whilst a fifth became the mother of peers. But what a picture of Esau and Jacob does this family present to us! The senior descendants of Edmund and the heiress of Hartle were improvident, and in the last days of Elizabeth (1599) they sold Hartle to the Manners, Ballidon to the Ashleys, Middleton to the Fulwoods (from whom it passed to the Batemans), and Tissington to the Fitzherberts. Eighty years later the ancestral halls of Ashbourne, Pooley, and Hartle were no longer theirs, the entail of what estates remained to them was cut off, and the last senior representative died in lodgings.[2] But even while they were converting their lands into money in support of their loyalty to the House of Stuart, and to sustain a hospitality and munificence that were ruinous, the cadet branches of their line were living in opulence and enjoying a peerage.

There are some items of the ennobled branch which are food for the student and the gossips. At the time that Charles Cokayne was created Viscount Cullen by Charles I., at Oxford, in 1642, he was Lord of the Manors of Elmsthorpe, in the county of Leicester, and Rushton, in Northamptonshire, which had been purchased by his father, the Lord Mayor. The wife of this nobleman was Mary O'Brien, whose sires had been Kings and Princes of Ireland from Brian Boroihme, monarch of that country, (who fell at the battle of Clontarf, in 1014), till the landing of Strongbow, in 1171. Under English dominion they became Marquises, Earls, and Barons, and the present Lord Inchiquin is the lineal descendant. The issue of this union was Bryan Cokayne, second Viscount, whose life gives us a little drama. At the age of sixteen he was betrothed to the “beautiful Elizabeth Trentham”, whose father was Lord of Rocester, and whose likeness was painted by Lely, while her loveliness was a theme for the gallants at Court - after which he went on the Continent. While in Italy he jilted an Italian lady (said to have been a Countess), who loved him with all the passionate fire of her country. On the very day of his marriage with his affianced, and they with their guests were sitting down to the banquet in Rushton Hall, the victim of his sports abroad turned up, and, in the midst of the assembly, uttered a terrible curse, prophesying misery and want, clenching her curse by drinking to their perdition. His lady was heiress of the Manors of Rocester and Castle Headingham, besides other lands in Staffordshire, Essex, and Oxon; but circumstances verified the curse. From his dissipation the estates were mortgaged to their full value; she sold her own to the last acre. The fourth Viscount got a private Act of Parliament to sell Elmsthorpe and his Leicestershire property; while his wife left him, and he. found a grave at the age of thirty. In the Gentleman's Magazine for 1802 there is a panegyric on the many virtues of the fifth Viscount, who held his title eighty-six years. Yes! His own people admit that for the first forty years of his life he kept “no other company of any sort but dogs, horses, and his own grooms and stable boys.”[3] Yes! The sister of the Bishop of Kildare refused his offer of marriage from his intemperance. His associates were from the vilest of his fellow-creatures; his proclivities were horse racing and gambling; his nuptials excite disgust. Both his wives were scarcely sixteen when he married them; one scarcely laid in her grave when he espoused the other; but, as decrepitude set in, he gave the devil the cold shoulder, and so they numbered him with the saints. By his second wife he was father of the Honourable William Cokayne, who held the Manor of Grindlow, in the Peak, in right of his wife, Barbara Hill. In Vol. III. of the Topographer and Genealogist there is an article written by G. E. Adams, Esq., who is the present Norroy King at Arms of the College of Heralds, and a Cokayne maternally, in which it is asserted that Charles Cokayne, fifth Viscount Cullen, held “Grinlow, in Derbyshire” - (which he never did) - “which was left in 1714 by Frances, Countess of Bellomont, sister of the third Viscountess Cullen, to his father, her nephew, the fourth Viscount, in whose descendants it remained till the co-heiresses of the last Viscount sold it in 1827 to the Coxes”. This assertion from such a source is amazing, if not reprehensible. There cannot be the slightest particle of a doubt that the Cokaynes got it from the Hills, and not till the last half of last century; yet here the Norroy King at Arms would have us believe that they held it from 1714 till 1827. Lysons, White, Bagshawe, and various other compilers, distinctly state that it was the property of that eccentric lawyer, Serjeant Hill, whose daughter, Barbara, married the Hon. William Cokayne. If the manor had been the gift of the Countess of Bellomont, would such a fact have escaped Lysons? Did he invent a cock-and-bull story about the Hills possessing it? To find one of a junior but ennobled branch of the Cokaynes holding Grindlow so recently is somewhat curious when we remember that the senior or Ashbourne line, after being Peak landlords for two hundred years, disposed of their estates in the last days of the sixteenth century.

There are two incidents connected with Hartle Hall, one historic, the other domestic, which invest the spot with more than ordinary interest. These incidents we will briefly state.

On the 23rd July, 1403, was fought the battle of Shrewsbury, and among the slain was Edmund Cokayne (whom the King had knighted that morning), Sir Hugh Shirley, and Sir Thomas de Wendesley - all neighbours, and all fallen in the ranks of Bolingbroke. Among the prisoners there was another neighbour - Sir Richard Vernon - who was thereupon beheaded as a traitor. When we remember that the mother of Cokayne was Cecelia Vernon, and that his son had married Shirley's daughter, there is a pathos about this little cameo of history. It was at Hartle, perchance, where he had buckled on his sword and snatched his last kiss.

The other incident shows us a curious fact - that in both cases where a Cokayne mated with a Vernon, the firstborn of such union was doomed to a violent end. In the year 1488, Thomas Cokayne was living at Hartle with his wife, Agnes Barlow (whose nephew, Robert, became the first husband of Bess of Hardwicke). From here he went on a visit to his parents at Pooley Hall (a splendid residence of the family which the heiress of Hartle had brought), where he met Thomas Burdett. These young gentlemen, when going through Pooley Park, quarrelled, and Cokayne fell mortally wounded - it was thought by accident. His body was brought to Youlgreave for interment, where his tomb stands in the east end of aisle of the Church, on which there are armorial bearings, recounting various alliances of the family. Within the Church at Ashbourne lie the ashes of the valiant old knights who gave to the house of Cokayne its splendour, which by comparison only is tarnished in the descendants of the plutocratic Lord Mayor, who wore coronets.

There is a simple question which our research has forced upon us: Why is it more difficult to get at anything like an accurate pedigree of the Cokaynes than of the whole three hundred of the old Derbyshire families? Have all authorities caballed together to render such a thing impossible? Take one item, Sir John Cokayne, the celebrated Baron of the Exchequer, who, during the last seven years of the reign of Henry IV., was also judge of Common Pleas as well as Chief Baron, is said, by all authorities we have met with to have been the son of Edmund, who fell at Shrewsbury, and Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir Richard de Herthill. We believe, however, that there is a document in the hands of Mr. Andreas F. Cokayne, of Bakewell, which impugns such a statement, by showing the famous judge to have been the brother and not the son of Edmund. Then again, such authorities as Foss, in his Lives of the Judges, and Leslie Stephen, in his National Biography, say distinctly that the Chief Baron married Isabel, daughter of Sir Hugh Shirley, who also fell at Shrewsbury. Cokayne says as distinctly that he did not. The life of the Chief Baron, as it appears in a recently published volume by Leslie Stephen, was written by J. M. Rigg, Esq., and is well worthy of perusal. He says that the judge was the “son of Edmund Cokayne, of Ashbourne, in Derbyshire, and Pooley, in Warwickshire, by Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir Richard de Herthull, was recorder of London in 1394, and appears as advocate in a suit, before the Privy Council in 1397, between two grantees by letters patent of the governorship of Rothelan Castle, in Wales. In 1400 he was as created Chief Baron, was summoned to the Council in the following year, and created a justice of Common Plea, in 1405. In May, of this year, he was accused in Parliament of having seized, by force, the Manor of Baddesley Ensor, in Warwickshire, and of keeping the owners out of possession, and was ordered to appear, in person, to answer to the charge. Of the further proceedings in this matter there is no record. The Manor, however, remained in his possession, since by his will, which he made before starting to France with the military expedition, sent to the aid of the Duke of Orleans in his struggle with the Duke of Burgundy, in 1411-12, he entailed it upon his son John.

On the accession of Henry V., he retained the office of justice of Common Pleas, but vacated that of Chief Baron. His patent for the former office was again renewed on the accession of Henry VI.” This writer concludes his article with words which are a corroboration of Foss, but which are said to be incorrect by Mr. A.. E. Cokayne, of Bakewell. “His wife, Isabel, was the daughter of Sir Hugh Shirley, who was killed at Shrewsbury, fighting on the side of Henry IV. By her he had four sons. A lineal descendant of the judge, Charles Cokayne, of Rushton, in Northamptonshire, was raised to the peerage of Ireland as Viscount Culler, in 1642”. The marvellous part of the business is this: Among the gentlemen who contributed accounts, of the Cokaynes, some three years ago, to the National Biography, was the Norroy King at Arms - G. E. Cokayne Esq. (formerly Adams). Could not this authority have. prevented such egregious blunders being perpetrated in the work to which he was contributing?

There is one member of this family we are ever pleased to get in company with; jolly old Sir Aston, Say you he has been dead this two hundred years. Not so, he yet lives in his poems, in his comedies of “Trappolin”, and the “Obstinate Lady”; and, in his tragedy of “Ovid”. We should wish to have known him at his “beloved Pooley”, to have listened to his stories of Venice and Florence, to have heard him render one of the best sonnets, to have had his authority for the relationship of the Cokaynes, as he had them by rote from the Conqueror downwards. It was the knight's father who sold Hartle to the husband of Dorothy Vernon.

The associations of the old gable, who will take the trouble to recover them? Those who could, perchance will not; those who would, cannot. Still it reminds us of men who held State appointments under the Plantagenets, who mere knighted for their valour by the Tudors, and who rose to a peerage under the Stuarts.

[1] “Lives of the Judges”. Ross, Vol. IV., p. 304.
[2] His will was proved under £72. “Leslie Stephen's National Biog.”
[3] “Topographer”, Vol. III.

Extract from Old Halls, Manors and Families of Derbyshire, 1892.
Transcribed by Rosemary Lockie in April 1999.

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