[Brief biography contributed by John O’Grady.]

September 1608 - 16 October 1660
A leading lawyer, and widely regarded in his day as a fair and humane judge.

  • Born at Husbands Bosworth, Leicester, son of Isaac & Elizabeth Cooke.
  • Educated at Wadham College Oxford [1622-24], and Gray’s Inns, to which he was called in 1631, King’s Inns, Dublin, 1634.
  • Married to Frances Cutter at St. Olave’s, September 1646.
  • On 10th January 1649, he was appointed Solicitor-General and prepared a first draft of the charge against King Charles 1st, i.e., that of waging war on his people. Between the 20th and 27 January 1649, he led the prosecution of King Charles, and secured the verdict.
  • King Charles was executed on 30 January 1649.
  • In March 1650, Cooke was appointed Chief Justice of Munster, Ireland, and in 1655 was Recorder of Waterford, where he lived.
  • On 4th May 1660, King Charles 2nd was proclaimed King of England. Cooke was arrested in Dublin shortly afterwards, and sent under guard to London.
  • In October 1660, all of the surviving regicides were committed for trial.
  • On 13th October, Cooke was tried, convicted, and sentenced.
  • On 16th October, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Charing Cross.


  1. DNB [1892 edition] ed. Leslie Stephens, Vol. X11, page 70 [He is referenced here as Cook, John]
  2. The Tyrannical Brief, the man who sent Charles 1 to the scaffold, by Geoffrey Robertson QC, Chatto & Windus, London


This text was copied from Wikipedia on 11 July 2024 at 4:10AM.

"Fictitious portrait called John Cook" by Robert Cooper in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London (NPG D17879).

John Cook or Cooke (baptised 18 September 1608[1] – 16 October 1660)[2][3] was the first Solicitor General of the English Commonwealth and led the prosecution of Charles I. Following The Restoration, Cook was convicted of regicide and hanged, drawn and quartered on 16 October 1660.[4]


John Cook was the son of Leicestershire farmers Isaac and Elizabeth Cook whose farm was just outside Burbage. He was baptised on 18 September 1608 in the All Saints church in Husbands Bosworth and educated at Wadham College, Oxford, and at Gray's Inn. Cook and his first wife Frances (died 1658)[5] had a son (name unknown). With his second wife Mary Chawner, Cook had a daughter, Freelove,[6] who was still a baby in 1660 when Cook was executed. Prior to his appointment as prosecutor, he had established a reputation as a radical lawyer and an Independent.

Mr. John Coke, late Chief Justice of Ireland, had in his younger years seen the best part of Europe; and at Rome had spoken with such liberty and ability against the corruptions of that Court and Church, that great endeavors were used there to bring him into that interest: but he being resolved not to yield to their solicitations, thought it no longer safe to continue among them, and therefore departed to Geneva, where he resided some months in the house of signor Gio. Diodati, minister of the Italian church in that city; after which he returned to England and applied himself to the study of laws; and in that profession became so considerable, that he was appointed by the High Court of Justice to be their solicitor at the King's trial.

In a 2005 biography of Cook, Geoffrey Robertson argued that Cook was a highly original and progressive lawyer: while representing John Lilburne he established the right to silence and was the first to advocate many radical reforms in law, including the cab-rank rule of advocacy, the abolition of imprisonment for debt, the abolition of the use of courtroom Latin, the fusion of law and equity and restrictions on the use of the death penalty. Cook was among the first to argue that poverty was a cause of crime and to urge probation for those who stole to feed starving families; he originated the duty to act free of charge for those who could not afford it. Although he was not fundamentally anti-monarchist, he was forced to this stance when King Charles I would not recognise the legality of the court or answer the charges of tyranny against him. Robertson writes that Cook bravely accepted his fate at the Restoration when many others compromised with the new regime.[8]

The idea of trying a reigning king had no precedent; previous monarchs had been deposed, but had never been brought to trial as monarchs. The High Court of Justice established by an act of the Rump Parliament consisted of 135 commissioners (all firm Parliamentarians); Cook accepted the brief to lead the prosecution.

The trial of King Charles I on charges of high treason and other high crimes began on 20 January 1649, but he refused to enter a plea, claiming that no court had jurisdiction over a monarch.[9] When Cook began to read the indictment, King Charles I twice tried to stop him by ordering him to "Hold" and twice tapping him sharply on the shoulder with his cane. Cook ignored this so King Charles then rose to speak, but Cook resumed speaking, at which point King Charles struck Cook so forcefully on the shoulder that the ornate silver tip of the cane broke off and rolled onto the floor. The King nodded to Cook to pick it up, but Cook stood his ground and after a long pause, King Charles stooped to retrieve it himself. This is considered an important historical moment that was seen as symbolising the divine monarch bowing before human law.[9]

Trial and execution

As a regicide, Cook was excluded after the Restoration of Charles II from the Indemnity and Oblivion Act which indemnified most opponents of the Monarchy for crimes they might have committed during the Civil War and Interregnum (1642–1660).

The memoirs of Edmund Ludlow give an account of Cook's trial and his public execution the next day.

...he was seized and imprisoned by Sir Charles Coote, who joining with Monk in his treachery to the Commonwealth, sent him over to England, that he might sacrifice him to his new master, in satisfaction for the blood of his party which he himself had formerly shed. Being brought to his trial, he was accused of preferring, in the name of all the good people of England, an Impeachment of High Treason to the High Court of Justice against the late King; that he had signed the said impeachment with his own hand; that upon the King's demurrer to the jurisdiction of the Court, he had pressed that the charge might be taken for confessed; and therefore had demanded judgment from the Court against the King: but this indictment being more particularly charged upon him in the three following articles: First, that he, with others, had propounded, counselled, contrived, and imagined the death of the late King. Secondly, that to bring about this conspiracy, he, with others, had assumed authority and power to accuse, kill and murder the King. Thirdly, that a person unknown did cut off the King's head; and that the prisoner was abetting, aiding, assisting, countenancing and procuring the said person so to do.

He answered, first, that he could not be justly said to have contrived or counselled the death of the King, because the proclamation for the King's trial, even by the confession of his accuser, was published on the ninth of January, which was the day before he was appointed solicitor to the High Court of Justice.

In the second place, though the Court should not admit that to be an Act of Parliament, which authorized him to do what he did; yet he assured himself they would allow it to be an order which was enough to justify him.

Thirdly, that he, who had neither been accuser, witness, jury, judge, or executioner could not be guilty of treason in this case.

He urged that having acted only as counsel, he was not answerable for the justice or injustice of the cause he had managed; that being placed in that station by a public command, it could not be said he acted maliciously or with a wicked intention, as the indictment mentioned; that words spoken do not amount to treason, much less when set down in writing by the direction of others; especially since no clear proof had been produced, that his name subscribed to the charge against the King was written by himself. He said, that to pray and demand justice, 'though injustice be done upon it', could not be treason within the statute; that when he demanded justice, it might be meant of acquittal as well as of condemnation; and that if it should be accounted treason in a council plead against the King, it must also be felony to plead against any man who may be unjustly condemned for felony; that the High Court of Justice, though now called tyrannical and unlawful, was yet a court, had officers attending them, and many thing had authority, there being then no other in this nation than that which gave them their power; and if this will not justify a man for acting within his own sphere, it will not be lawful for any one to exercise his profession unless he may be sure of the legality of the establishment under which he acts. These and divers other things of no less weight he said in his defense; but the cabal thinking themselves concerned to prevent the like in time to come and to terrify those who were not only able but willing also to be employed in such service, procured from the jury a verdict of condemnation against him according to their desire.

— Edmund Ludlow.[10]

Thus, John Cook was tried and found guilty of high treason for his part in the trial of King Charles I. He was hanged, drawn and quartered with the radical preacher Hugh Peters and another of the regicides on 16 October 1660. Shortly before his death, aged 52, Cook wrote to his wife Mary:

We fought for the public good and would have enfranchised the people and secured the welfare of the whole groaning creation, if the nation had not more delighted in servitude than in freedom.[11]


Cook's only known surviving child was Freelove Cook (named in Cooke's letter from his condemned cell). She was married at St Mary's Church, Newington, Surrey, on 13 June 1674, to John Gunthorpe, an apprentice goldsmith (1671) and the son of John Gunthorpe, citizen and innholder of London. John and Freelove Gunthorpe emigrated to Antigua, West Indies, before August 1677 (date on grant of Buck's Plantation to Gunthorpe); they were both dead before 9 September 1693, as indicated in the will of her mother, Mary (Chawner) Cook. John Cook's widow Mary, subsequently married John Shenton in 1669 at Barwell.[5] Mary (Cook) Shenton died 1679.[5] John and Freelove Gunthorpe had three sons Robert,[5] John Junior and William (Born around 1682). John Gunthorpe Junior died in Antigua in 1740, leaving issue. William Gunthorpe had a son called William, also born in Antigua.

The journalist, historian and anti-Corn Law propagandist William Cooke Taylor (1800–1849) claimed descent from Cook.[12][13]



  1. ^ Robertson 2005, p. 21.
  2. ^ Prest 2015.
  3. ^ Also spelt John Cooke, notably by Geoffrey Robertson
  4. ^ Potter 2015, p. 147.
  5. ^ a b c d Robertson 2005, p. 
  6. ^ Robertson 2005, p. 4.
  7. ^ Ludlow 2004, p. 309.
  8. ^ Robertson 2005, .
  9. ^ a b Robertson 2002, p. 5
  10. ^ Ludlow 2004, p. 309–311.
  11. ^ Robertson 2011.
  12. ^ Cooke Taylor 2004.
  13. ^ The Gentleman's Magazine, 1850, pp. 94–96


External links

5 Annotations

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

John Collins (1625–1683), the son of a nonconformist minister whose income was small and irregular, was born at Water Eaton near Oxford. His education did go beyond grammar school.

A short period spent as an apprentice to an Oxford bookseller started his lifelong interest in the book trade. Collins then entered the service of Charles, Prince of Wales as junior clerk of the kitchen where he received instruction in aspects of practical mathematics and accounting.

At the outbreak of the Civil Wars, Collins found work on an English merchantman which for 7 years was engaged by the Republic of Venice in its naval war against the Turks. Again, he spent his free time learning mathematics and Latin.

Following John Collins’ return to London in 1649, he earned his living teaching mathematics and handwriting, while also serving as accountant to the alum farmers of London. In his spare time he produced some practical books, including An Introduction to Merchants’ Accounts (1652), The Sector on a Quadrant (1658), and The Mariners’ Plain Scale (1659).

At the Restoration, John Collins move into government employment as accountant to the Excise Office.

In 1668, through the efforts of William Brereton, he was made accountant to the Brooke House Committee.

Around 1670 John Collins married Bellona Austen, and he was made secretary to the Council of Plantations.

Later, Collins was manager of the Farthing Office for5 years, but as a government clerk, his pay came either late or not at all due to an over-stretched Treasury.

In his final years, John Collins held a minor post as accountant to the Royal Fishery Company and produced two books on the use of arithmetic in questions of economics: A Plea for the Bringing in of Irish Cattel (1680) and Salt and Fishery (1682).

Always Collins found meaning by promoting mathematics. Besides the books he wrote, he used his contacts to see many mathematical works through the press, including Thomas Salusbury’s Mathematical Collections and Translations (1661–5), Isaac Barrow’s Lectiones geometricae (1670), and John Wallis’ Mechanica (1669–70).

Collins built an extensive network of correspondents throughout the British Isles and Europe, with whom he exchanged mathematical news and receivred the latest publications. Members included John Pell, James Gregory, Wallis, Isaac Newton, G. W. Leibniz, and R. F. de Sluse. Such was his role that they called him ‘Mersennus Anglus’.

Collins’ extensive letter collection was used by the Royal Society as evidence in establishing Newton’s claim to the priority over Leibniz in the discovery of calculus.

John Collins also drafted responses for Secretary Henry Oldenburg to mathematical correspondence received by the Royal Society.

Collins was modest because of his birth, but was elected a Fellow in 1667, and for many years oversaw the Society’s accounts.…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Sorry -- lost my mind again. John Cook and James Collins both worked on the Brooke House hearings, but they are different people. I'll see what I can find on Mr. Cook ... but the above isn't him.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

John Cook, 1608-60
The chief prosecutor at the King's trial and an active law reformer, he was executed as a regicide in 1660.

In February 1660, with the Restoration imminent, Cook was arrested by Sir Charles Coote and sent as a prisoner to the Tower of London.
He was exempted from the Act of Indemnity and Oblivion and brought to trial as a regicide in October 1660.
Cook skillfully conducted his own defence, but was inevitably found guilty of treason.
He was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 16 October 1660.…

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

John Cook/Cooke (1608 –1660) was the first Solicitor General of the English Commonwealth and led the prosecution of King Charles.

“The proceeding against King Charles in 1649 secured the constitutional gains of the Civil War – the supremacy of Parliament, the independence of judges, individual freedom guaranteed by Magna Carta and the common law”.
Having said this, it is true many of the regicides have been woefully under-researched and their ideas and motivation have been largely left to small footnotes in old history books.

One such figure is the leading regicide and republican lawyer John Cooke who has finally been recognized in a 2007 biography by Geoffrey Robertson, “Tyrannicide Brief”.
Cooke is more known for his refusal to pick up King Charles' silver cane top than for providing the theoretical, constitutional and practical justification for killing the King.
As Cooke said "We fought for the public good and would have enfranchised the people and secured the welfare of the whole groaning creation, if the nation had not delighted more in servitude than freedom."

One thing is clear: many who took part, including John Cooke, did not believe the trial and execution of King Charles was a foregone conclusion. The majority of the leading figures of the revolution “did not at first want to kill the King”.
Cooke at the beginning thought “the proceedings would end with some form of reconciliation”.
It was only the threat of an intervention from the New Model Army that moved most of the leading regicides to kill the King. It was, after all, the army that wanted "to call Charles Stuart, that man of blood, to an account for that blood he had shed, and mischief he had done".

San Diego Sarah  •  Link


John Cooke was a radical for his day (as befitted his Puritan background). He railed against rampant corruption and cronyism in the legal profession and the justice system.
He created the first lawyer's code of ethics (although not accepted during his lifetime and for centuries to follow) whose basic principles now form the bedrock of legal codes of ethics in both Britain and the United States.
Cooke was extremely concerned with the plight of the poor. He wrote in a number of publications calling for action to be taken to secure a better standard of living for the poor.
In his book, "The Poor Man’s Case", Cooke called for social equality and even called for a national health service.
In another far-sighted way Cooke believed poverty was a significant cause of crime; he would later call for limits to the death sentence and abolition of imprisonment for debt.
He even urged fellow barristers to give away small parts of their salary in order to carry out legal work for the poor.

Cooke, for his trouble, was hunted down like a common criminal and was a given the traitor’s death: hanged, drawn and quartered.

Much more at……

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.