Randle Cotgreve must have been well-known in Cheshire in the fifteenth century. He lived near the city of Chester and was no doubt a familiar face there. And for more than a decade and a half, he attended the sittings of various courts – criminal, civil, inquisitions, coroners, sheriffs’ court – that sat in the city.
But although his name is recorded dozens of times in contemporary documents, it is almost impossible now to get a picture of who he was. Apart from his approximate date of birth (1406, estimated because he claimed to be 45 in 1451), the earliest thing known about Randle Cotgreve is that in 1430, with his older brother Robert, he attended a ‘loveday’ ceremony when his friend and (distant) cousin John Wettenhall publicly and supposedly amicably settled his differences with a man called John Maisterson.
Then nothing until in 1443, at the age of about 37, having never been been on a jury before, Randle Cotgreve suddenly began to serve with great frequency. And regularity and he went straight to the top, sitting on the Grand Jury at the Cheshire Court of Great Session. He had obviously just become eligible, by acquiring the property needed to qualify. One possibility is that his mother had died and he inherited lands from her (his father had been dead for nearly a decade), but more probably he got married and obtained the land through his wife. For the next 17 years, Randle appeared year after year at the Great Sessions on both criminal and civil juries, at inquisitions and at the sheriff’s eyre.
Later pedigrees disagree about who his wife was, with most calling her Cicely the daughter of Sir John Cheney of Willaston. Another agrees that she was called Cicely but give her father’s name as Henry Wolston. Cheney seems more likely (his brother was one of the coroners of Cheshire), and his daughter was presumably the mother of Randle’s three children, two of whom married into the Dodd and Tattenhall families – the third never married and may have died young. But other pedigrees give Randle’s wife name as Margaret, and claim that after his death she went on to marry John Tussingham. It is certainly true that when he died, his wife was called Margaret because in 1461, Roger Middleton was prosecuted for attacking Margaret lately wife of Randle Cotgreve. And she may well have later married into the Tussingham clan because for the next two decades the Cotgreves and the Tussinghams were constantly threatening one another and having to find sureties for their good behaviour – presumably they were fighting over property that the Cotgreves thought belonged to them but which the Tussinghams had managed to take possession of.
Randle Cotgreve must have died in 1460 or early 1461, when he was about 55, because his predictable appearances at the various courts suddenly stopped and it was in autumn 1461 that Margaret was no longer currently his wife but lately so.
He might have disappeared without more or less trace if it were not for his daughters, who married William Tattenhall and John Dodd. These families continued to use the Cotgreave coat of arms very proudly, and when in 1501, Dodd’s family came to record their history, they were keen to report that John [Dodd] maried a woman called Catheren Cotgreve daughter and one of the heirs of Rondell Cotgreve of Coton wch John and Katheren had a son called Rondell Dodd, and they went back further into Randle’s ancestry, noting that one Rondell Cottgreave had a sone Will’m Cotgreve wch was his heire wch Will’m had a sone called Rondell Cotgreave wch was his heire wch Rondell had two daughters called Emme and Katheren, wch Katheren was maried to John Dodd.
National Archives: CHES3/41; CHES3/43; CHES3/44; CHES24/37; CHES24/38; CHES24/39; CHES3/42; CHES3/43; CHES3/44; CHES3/45; CHES25/14; CHES26/16; CHES26/18; CHES29/167.
British Library: Harley MS 506, f.354r; Harley MS 1535; Harley MS1925; Harley MS 2011; Harley MS 2153.
College of Arms: MS H.14
Thomas Helsby’s revised edition of George Ormerod’s History of the County Palatine of Chester (1888).