Sir Thomas Cotton's Consumption of News in 1650s England

Sir Thomas Cotton’s Consumption of News in 1650s England

Peacey, Jason

The Library: The Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 7.1 (2006) 3-24


One of the more unfair comments penned by the seventeenth-century antiquary and MP, Sir Simonds D’Ewes, concerned the son of his fellow scholar, Sir Robert Cotton, owner of one of the most famous early modern libraries. Writing in his autobiography D’Ewes claimed that Cotton’s son and heir, Sir Thomas Cotton, 2nd Bt (1594–1662), was ‘altogether unworthy to be the master of so inestimable a library as his father’. Although Sir Thomas was clearly no scholar or collector, the inaccuracy of this statement is now recognised by scholars who have demonstrated the efforts that Sir Thomas devoted to lobbying the government of Charles I to release the Cotton library, within two years of his father’s death, from the sequestration that had been imposed in 1629. Moreover, evidence suggests that he took great care to preserve and protect the collection, and to ensure that it remained available to be consulted, and borrowed from, in the decades that followed. Indeed, it was Sir Thomas who personally compiled parts of the catalogue of his father’s great collection. Furthermore, evidence from Sir Thomas Cotton’s financial papers indicates that he was himself an enthusiastic customer of London’s bookshops, and that he acquired numerous new works as they emerged from the capital’s presses, at least during the 1650s. However, in keeping with the profound transformation that both the publishing industry and political culture had undergone since Sir Robert’s death, Cotton’s own obsession can be shown to have been the political pamphlets and newspapers that appeared in such profusion during the decades of civil war and interregnum.

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