Elizabeth Cooke, Lady Hoby
Born: 1528, possibly at Romford, Essex
Died: May 1609 at Bisham, Berkshire
Elizabeth Cooke was the third daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke of Gidea Hall in Essex and his wife, Anne FitzWilliam. Her father was the tutor of King Edward VI and he, naturally, ensured that his four daughters also received the best education available. She was therefore a good match for her husband, Thomas Hoby, the famous translator, who she married on 27th June 1558 at the church adjoining his home at Bisham Abbey (Berkshire). Together, they had two daughters, Elizabeth and Anne, and two sons, Edward and Thomas Posthumous: the last being born after his father’s death. Lady Hoby lived in Paris for a while, when her husband was appointed British Ambassador there in March 1566. Unfortunately, he died only four months later, on which occasion she received a touching letter of condolence from Queen Elizabeth. Lady Hoby remained a widow for eight years, before marrying John, Lord Russell, on 23rd December 1574. The two had a son who died young and two daughters. Lord Russell died ten years later.
Lady Hoby liked to show her influence at Court by pulling strings with her brother-in-law, Lord Burghley, to advance her associates. Her letters to him testify to her remarkable force of character. In the Summer of 1592, she entertained the Queen at Bisham for six days and the privy Council also met there. It was in these latter years that Lady Hoby seems to have taken up litigation as an amusing pastime. In 1593, a pitched battle almost took place between her retainers and those of her neighbour, Richard Lovelace of Ladye Place in Hurley (Berkshire), when she illegally threw two of his men in the stocks for lewd behaviour. Lovelace retaliated by preventing her from accessing certain of her possessions locked up in Windsor Castle for safety. Playing the helpless wounded female, Lady Hoby took him to court, but the Attorney-General prudently put the case off until it was forgotten. Later, she successfully petitioned the Privy Council to put a stop to the plans of Shakespeare’s associate, Richard Burbage, for the opening of a theatre near her London home in Blackfriars. While, in 1600, she appeared in the Star Chamber protesting loudly, for half an hour, against the Earl of Nottingham who had too hastily taken up his new post as keeper of Donnington Castle (Berkshire). She had already travelled all the way from Wales in an attempt to oust the Earl and spent the night in her coach at Donnington in protest. She was seventy-eight at the time!
Like her sisters, Lady Hoby acquired a reputation for both musical and linguistic achievements. She was patron of John Downland, the composer of lute songs and dance. Whilst her translation, from the French, of a treatise called 'A Way of Reconciliation touching the true Nature and Substance of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament,' was printed in 1605 and the inscriptions of great length, in Greek, Latin and English, on the family tombs at Bisham, and on that of Lord Russell in Westminster Abbey, which were written by her, “sufficiently prove her skill in the learned languages”. Though, famous for organising the magnificent wedding of her youngest daughter to the future Marquis of Worcester, it was the ordering of pompous funerals that was her delight. Just before her death, she wrote a long letter to Sir William Dethick, Garter King of Arms, desiring to know “what number of mourners were due to her calling….the manner of the hearse, of the heralds, and church”. She was buried in Bisham Church beneath the most flamboyant of monuments, on 2nd June 1609, aged 81. But popular local legend says that she still walks the corridors of Bisham Abbey…..
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