In this article my forays into family history take us back in time to the early 1600s when Britain was fast evolving into the modern age; old customs still prevailed in country areas, whilst life in London was somewhat different. From time immemorial parents have always had great aspirations for their children's education, upbringing and marriage. At that time the custom for sons was either to apprentice them to a merchant in London, to article them to a lawyer, or even to send them to university to enter the church.

One family line in my studies has proved particularly rewarding in terms of both continuity and interesting connections. I have been fortunate in tracing the Cockmans (the "ck" is silent as in the famous brand of port) back to Elizabethan times on the Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire borders. John Cockman was farming in Newton Blossomville in the mid 1500s; he died in 1580 and left a Will listing his five children. His son Richard was born around 1575 and, although I have not been able to trace his wife or marriage, I still know much about him. He had four children born at Farndish in Bedfordshire: Jane b.1606, John b.1608 William b.1609 and Alice b.1612. In 1627 John Egerton, Earl of Bridgewater, appointed Richard as Bailiff to manage the Manor of Wollaston in Northamptonshire on his behalf. Richard, his wife and four children, all duly moved to Wollaston, where they took up residence with the Earl and his family.

On 27 June 1602 the Earl of Bridgewater had married Lady Frances Stanley, daughter of the 5th Earl of Derby, and they had many children; some sources suggest as many as thirteen. It appears that by 1627 at least the following were living at Wollaston: Elizabeth, Mary, Frances, Alice, Arabella, Charles, John & Thomas. The newly arrived Cockman children simply joined the throng. Presumably there was a governess in charge and they all became one happy family. The Earl, engaged as he was in government, spent most of his time at the Barbican in London, whist Lady Frances and the children would have remained at Wollaston. What, however, is certain is that in about 1639 young William C (b.1609) took a shine to the twenty year old Lady Alice (b.1619). By 1650 William, still a bachelor, was living in London; Alice was living at the Barbican with her brother John, who was the new Earl.

Lady Alice Egerton in her prime.

In the words of the 1653 Chancery Bill of Complaint [legal documents to this day have no punctuation!] William (your orator) "grew into the good opinion and affections of the Lady Alice Egerton, which said Lady Alice was then about 20 years of age, which affections between the said Lady and your orator afterwards more increased in so much that the said Lady and your orator about 9 or 10 years since and after the said Lady attained the age of 21 mutually agreed and promised to marry each other." The Bill then goes on to explain that Lady Alice's father, the first Earl, had died on 4 December 1649 and that "the said Lady Alice, by now at her own disposition, did desire your orator to take orders for their marriage, for a wedding ring and for lodgings for them after they were married. But now that the said Lady Alice and your orator their intentions aforesaid being made known to the now [present] Earl of Bridgewater and some of the friends of the said Lady Alice, they caused her to be removed from her wonted bedchamber in the house of the Earl in the Barbican in London being one pair of stairs and lodged her in a higher room where they restrained her of her liberty and debarred your orator or any friend of his from any access to her." The Bill then relates how the 2nd Earl then arranged for his sister Lady Alice to be married to Richard Vaughan, 2nd Earl of Carbery, on 20th July 1652. The case dragged on until 11th May 1654 when it was dismissed. William Cockman had to pay 5 costs - a vast sum at today's value. Sadly William died in October 1673, still a bachelor, and is buried at Wollaston; Alice died without issue in 1689. What might have been the case had she married William?

The original Bill of Complaint may be read at the National Archives under the reference: C.7/463/15