The documentary record of Reece Cotgreave’s life suggests an identity crisis. His surname was written at least a dozen different ways – Cottgraive, Cotcreave, Coltgreave, even Cotgreene. And nobody seemed quite sure how to spell his first name, which was uncommon in Cheshire even though it was an anglicised version of popular name from neighbouring Wales – he appears as Rees, Rice, Reeze, Rease, Ryce, Reice, Rece or Reece. His profession was sometimes given as clothworker or clothier and other times as maltster, but he was actually clearly making money by selling beer. He owned land in the Wirrall, houses in Chester, fields and crofts in various rural villages and got married at Marbury, twenty miles away from his home. Which name, which job, which place, defined him?
He himself was sure of the answers. His name was Reece Cotgreave, he was of the city of Chester and however he made his money, having been granted the freedom of his home city on the basis of serving a proper apprenticeship as a clothworker, that was the only role that identified his status. It was true that he also traded in malt and sold beer, and true that his horizons stretched far beyond his immediate surroundings.
He was presumably born in Christleton, the village where his father owned a small farm. But by his teens, he was living in the city, training for his trade. And by his twenties, Reece was working in Chester and active as a citizen using the city’s Exchequer court, and the county court at the castle to pursue his trade debts. He was soon a significant figure in his parish, St John’s, elected to the post of swornman by his neighbours. In time, his status rose, not just using the city’s courts but playing an important part in ensuring justice was done – for example, serving on the Grand Jury that indicted criminals. He was churchwarden, executor of wills, and eventually elected as a member of the Common Council of the city.
He accumulated land – in addition to his home, Reece had a house on the eastern side of the city, leased agricultural land from Lord Derby and some sort of rougher ground (described as “gorsty crofts,” technically meaning enclosed plots with gorse or other fibrous, perhaps spiky plants, maybe brambles) from Sir Francis Gamull. In 1649, a survey of property belonging to the church included various holdings of “Reeze Coltgreave” including a house, garden and orchard, 9 yards by 60 and with an adjoining piece of arable ground:
The defining feature of his lifetime was the English Civil War, which saw Chester hold out for the King, besieged and eventually taken by Parliament. Whether Reece supported one side or tacked with the changing fortunes is not clear. He certainly wrote a letter on behalf of a Royalist clergyman who had suffered at Roundhead hands, but there is no evidence that he suffered when Parliament took over and removed disloyal and suspect civic leaders from their posts.
Married twice, when he died in 1659, Reece Cotgreave left property to his two sons, Thomas and John, and his daughter Alice (named after her mother). The sons died without children and when the College of Arms checked up on who was using family heraldry in Chester in 1663, it was Alice the daughter of “Rice Cotgrave” – both names spelled wrongly – who appeared in the records as part of her husband’s family:
British Library: Harley MS 2158; Harley MS 1996; Harley MS 2136; Harley MS 2173; Add Ms 14,415
National Archives: CHES38/6; CHES16/46; CHES16/47; CHES16/52; CHES16/59; CHES16/60; CHES16/70; CHES13/27; CHES14/14; CHES14/15; CHES14/43; CHES14/44; CHES14/52; CHES6/5; CHES6/6; CHES13/34; SP23/191; CHES38/24; PROB10;
Chester Archives and Local Studies: P51/12/1; WS John Cotgreave 1637; WS Robert Cotgreave 1639; WC Edward Griffith 1662; SBC83; Parish Register of St John’s; ZQSF77; CAS/1; CR65/3/1; ZCR34/4-5; A/B/2