Cotton, Robert Bruce, Sir, 1st Baronet, of Connington (1570 -1631)
Robert Bruce Cotton was the eldest son of Thomas Cotton of Cottington in Huntingdonshire, and Elizabeth Shirley. A younger son of the family in the fifteenth century, William Cotton, married Mary Wesenham, granddaughter and eventual heir of John de Bruce, or Bruis, who claimed descent from the Scottish kings. From this union, Robert Bruce Cotton was directly descended. Educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his B.A. 1585, at a very early age, Cotton became a member of the Elizabethan Society of Antiquaries, which met for many years at his London home, Cotton House, on the banks of the Thames at Westminster. Here he formed the magnificent collection of early English manuscripts which bears his name, and is one of the chief treasures of the British Library. Many came from the dissolved monasteries, but others originated in the State papers, and on his offending the Council, his library was sealed up 20 November 1629. He twice petitioned for its return, the second time with his eldest son, but it was not released until after his death. He was knighted 11 May 1603 by James I, and on the 29 June 1611 was one of the second batch of Baronets to be created. He gave directions that his library should not be sold, and bequeathed it to his son Sir Thomas Cotton, 2nd Baronet, his only surviving child by his wife Elizabeth Brocas, who petitioned the government for its return and was eventually successful. Sir Thomas took no part in the Civil War, but moved the library to a villa at Stratton which belonged to his son's wife, leaving Cotton House at the disposition of the Parliament. On his death 13 May 1662, the library passed to his son, Sir John Cotton, 3rd Baronet, only child of his first wife, Margaret Howard, daughter of William Lord Howard of Naworth Castle, Cumberland. In 1700, he made known his intention of giving the library to the nation, but died, 12 September 1702, before an act of Parliament made for the purpose could take force. An agreement was then made for the collection to be bought from his grandson, Sir John, 4th Baronet, for the sum of £4,500, and the manuscripts eventually passed to the British Library on its foundation, though some were damaged in a fire at Ashburnham House in Little Dean's Yard on the 23 October 1731. Many of the printed books, as evident from their dates of publication were added by the second and third baronets.