Randle Cotgrave

Randle Cotgrave


IN 1861, T. Hughes suggested publishing a notice in Notes and Queries concerning Randle Cotgrave,(1) compiler of the first complete French-English dictionary in 1611; the notice never appeared. Other attempts were made to identify Cotgrave, sometimes supposing that Hugh Cotgrave (a Herald who died in 1584) was his father.(2) Cotgrave’s entry in The Dictionary of National Biography is inaccurate and unhelpful and this note aims properly to identify Cotgrave and give brief details of his life.(3)

Randle Cotgrave was born in about 1569, the son of Randolph Cotgrave (1541-92), the registrar of the diocese of Chester.(4) (There were other Randle Cotgraves in the family including one (1512-87) who was a priest in the city and another who was a Catholic recusant.(5) Father and son both attended the King’s School in Chester, which the younger left in about 1586 before going to St John’s College, Cambridge; he was later admitted to the Inner Temple.(6) At Cambridge, Randle Cotgrave met William Cecil, son of the Earl of Exeter and went on to work as Cecil’s secretary. He was also involved in Cecil’s business, being a party to several indentures.(7) Cotgrave dedicated his Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues to Cecil, since the time it had taken to prepare `might have beene otherwise imploded’ in his master’s service. Cecil already spoke French, so Cotgrave admitted that the work could not have been `a Worke of lesse use for our Lordship’. `Rowland Cotgrave’ presented Prince Henry with a copy of the dictionary in 1611, for which he received a gift of 10[pounds].(8)

Jean Beaulieu, who worked for the British Ambassador to France, was a friend of Cotgrave and checked the text of his dictionary before publication.(9) Several letters between Beaulieu and friends suggest that Cotgrave was a poor correspondent. Once Beaulieu wrote `I have not heard from Mr. Cotgrave’ and on another occasion, `a thousand curses upon that idle Cotgrave for not writing’.(10) Beaulieu may have been the anonymous Frenchman who described Cotgrave as `Gentilhomme Anglois, a qui son propre Pays &, surtout, le notre ont une obligation particuliere, qu’ilz ont a peu d’autre’.(11) Cotgrave thought rather less of his own talents beginning his preface with the words `Humanum est errare’ and continuing `I (who am no God, or Angell) . . . am willing ynough to accuse my selfe’ of imperfections; he calls the book `so meane a Peece’.

Randle Cotgrave lived in the parish of St Bartholomew the Great in London, where his son was buried in 1619 and his wife in 1638.(12) Cotgrave himself was buried at St James, Clerkenwell, on 21 March 1652-3.(13) Other Cotgraves mentioned in this parish may have been his offspring; Helen Cotgrave (died 1622) may have been named after Randle’s mother, Helen Taylor.(14)

(1) N&Q 2nd series, xii, 39. (2) P. Cotgreave, `A Note on Hugh Cotgrave’, The Coat of Arms, in the press. J. Brownbill, `The Cotgrave Family’, The Cheshire Sheaf, 3rd Series, iv, 39. N&Q 2nd Series, x, 9. (3) Other information about Cotgrave will be found in M. Eccles, `Randle Cotgrave’, Studies in Philology, lxxix, part iv, 26. (4) Public Record Office C24/518 No. 10. The Cheshire Sheaf, 3rd Series, xvii, 22. British Library, Harley MS 2177, folio 10v. (5) The Cheshire Sheaf, 3rd series, i, p.34, xvii, 18. Public Record Office E179 85/28. Cheshire Record Office QJF July 1580, folio 14. Chester City Record Office QSE 4, folios 3-4. Queen’s College Oxford MS 80, folio 105v. (6) Information concerning the King’s School was kindly researched for me some years ago by Mr A. St. G. Walsh, a former member of staff. A. B. C. `Johniana’, The Eagle, xxiii (1902), 378-9. J. Venn, Alumni Cantabridgensis (1922), i. 401. Students Admitted to the Inner Temple (1877),131. (7) Public Record Office, SP23/130 folios 31-8. (8) P. Cunningham, Extracts from the accounts of the revels at court (London 1842) 31. (9) British Library Harley MS 7002, folio 221. N&Q 3rd series, viii, 84. (10) E. K. Purnell & A. B. Hinds, The MSS of the Marquess of Downshire (1936), ii, 7, 26, 28, 172, iii, 56. (11) Preface to R. Cotgrave, Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues (London, 1611). (12) Guildhall Library MS 6777/1. (13) Harleian Society Register Series (1891), xvii, 295. (14) The visitiation pedigrees usually give her name as Eleanor but it is clear from the burial record that she was known as Helen, British Library Harley MS 2177, folio 10v.

Randle Cotgrave was the first to complete a French-English dictionary in 1611. Yet when it was suggested that a notice on him be published in ‘Notes and Inquiries’ in 1861, it was never taken up. ‘The Dictionary of National Biography’ does not have accurate nor sufficient information on Cotgrave. His ‘Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues,’ may be his only work of note, but it is not ‘so meane a Peece’ as he called it.

Cotgreave, Peter, “A note on Randle Cotgrave”. Notes and Queries, 42.3, 1995.

Posted 1 March 2019. Modified 1 March 2019.

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