When William Cotgreve was alive, he was a thriving and ruthless businessman who started out with one small property in Chester and ended up with a massive complex known as The Crow. It was a pub, a hotel, a bakery, a stables, a storage facility and a home.
In death, his extensive interests took a great deal of unravelling. Accounts, sales reports, inventories, receipts, rentals and court cases. Two yokes of cattle sold to John Smyth for £6/13s/4d listed on a document headed “Testamentum Ric Williams vultim Marcij 1593” – the evidence of Richard Williams 31 March 1593. 36 shillings and 8 pence to Widow Tasker on “A note of leases in being”. A donation towards the reparation of the parish church of St John on “an abstract of legacyes” . A record called “A remembrance of severall somes of money paid to severall persons as is alleged” that Mrs Anyon had been given more than £27 but only acknowledged receipt of £3. A parchment of “Notes of fragmentes of money and rentes…and other notes…to be inquired of” reporting that £13/27s had been passed to Mr Christopher Conway towards a ceremonial cup for the city of Chester’s mayor and dignitaries.
And among all these details and names, sums of money, lists of possessions, and itineraries of places in which Cotgreve owned land is a short three line entry headed “Lame Kath”. First, a payment “To lame Katheryn” of 5 shillings. Then a line that simply says, “more 40 shillings”. Lastly, with a bit more detail, “more for 2 years and [a] half wages” an amount totalling £3/6s/8d, equivalent to a monthly allowance of a little more than two shillings. A low value horse, a “black old gelding” had been sold for 43shillings and 4 pence, two years’ worth of Lame Katheryn’s entire income.
So who was Lame Katheryn, known even in formal accounts by her disability rather than her name? Clearly she had been employed by William Cotgreve. From the dates of the documents, it looks like the salary related to the years after his death – so she had been kept on by the executors, William’s brother Randle Cotgrave and their friend John Morgell.
There may be clues elsewhere. William Cotgreve had supported his female relatives by employing them. In his will, he left a bequest of £5 to his sister “Jane Cotgreve, now my servant”. He left more than £3 to his niece Elizabeth Seckerson, listed elsewhere in the accounts as “servant” at his estate in Christleton, just outside Chester. So perhaps Lame Katheryn was Elizabeth’s half sister, Katheryn Kirke, also left a small sum in William’s will.
But Cotgreve also had another employee, whom he simply called “Kathrinn my servant” and requested that she “behave her self dutifull” after his death.
Whoever she was, “Lame Katheryn” has no known surname, nothing is known about what happened after her wages were paid up or what she did with the small legacy she was left by her employer. We do not know whether she was, as he had asked, dutiful when he died or even what he meant by it – did he suspect that she would cause trouble unless her income specifically depended on it?
What we do know is that her defining characteristic was that was lame.
Cotgreave, P. (2019) Heroes and Villains of Chester and Beyond, Palatine Books, Chapter 31.
British Library: Harley MS 2095, ff.4, 5, 29, 30; Harley MS 2067, ff.196-204; Harley MS 2067, f.32
Cheshire Record Office: EDA 2/2 f.155