Cokayne, Aston (DNB00)

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COKAYNE, Sir ASTON (1608–1684), poet, was the representative of an ancient family long seated at Ashbourne in Derbyshire, which by marriage, temp. Henry IV, with the heiress of the family of Herthull, had acquired large estates in several midland counties, including the lordship of Pooley (in Polesworth), Warwickshire. He was son and heir of Thomas Cokayne [q. v.] and Ann, half-sister of Philip, first earl of Chesterfield, daughter of Sir John Stanhope of Elvaston, Derbyshire, by his second wife, Dorothy, daughter of Thomas Trentham of Rocester, Staffordshire; his father being son and heir of Sir Edward Cokayne, the youngest son, but eventually heir of Sir Thomas Cokayne [q. v.] Cokayne's life can, in a great measure, be compiled from his ' poems.' He was born at Elvaston (Poems, 184), and baptised 20 Dec. 1608, at Ashbourne. He was educated at 'Chenie school' (ib. 138), doubtless 'Chenies,' Buckinghamshire, of which Peter Allibond [q. v.] was rector. He proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge, as a fellow commoner (ib. 11, line 3, 194), being under Robert Creyghton, D.D., orator and Greek professor (ib. 237). He entered one of the Inns of Court in London ' for fashion's sake,' and about 1642 was created M.A. at Oxford, 'but neglected to be registered.'

On 16 July 1632, when aged 24, he started, with a 'Mr. Maurice La Meir, alias Ardenville' (ib. 192), on a tour to France and Italy, of which he gives an elaborate account in a poem (ib. 93-7) to his son,' Mr. Thomas Cokaine.' Soon afterwards he married Mary, daughter of Sir Gilbert Knyveton, bart., of Mercaston, Derbyshire, the ' My Mall ' of the epigram to his wife (ib. 188). His son was born on 8 May 1636. On 26 Jan. 1638-9 he succeeded, by his father's death, to Pooley Hall, &c., but not to the estate of Ashbourne, which was held by his mother till her death there on 29 Aug. 1664.

Between these dates most of his writings were undertaken, the earliest being (1) a translation into English of 'Dianea, an excellent new romance written in Italian by Gio. Francisco Loredano, a noble Venetian,' to whom 'The Author's Epistle 'is inscribed, being dated 'from Venice, 25 Oct. 1635,' though. the work was not published in London till 1654. (2) 'Small poems of divers sorts written by Sir Aston Cokain,' 1658. The 'poems' include the 'Masque presented at Bretbie in Darbyshire [the seat of the Earl of Chesterfield] on Twelfth Night, 1639' (118-28), and are followed by the comedy of 'The Obstinate Lady,' of which a copy had surreptitiously been printed in the previous year, 1657. (3) A reissue of the above poems in 1659, entitled 'A Chain of Golden Poems, embellished with wit, mirth, and eloquence, together with two most excellent comedies, viz. The Obstinate Lady and Trappolin suppos'd a Prince, written by Sir Aston Cokayn.' (4) Another reissue of the above in 1662, entitled 'Poems, with The Obstinate Lady and Trappolin a supposed Prince, by Sir Aston Cokain, Baronet; whereunto is now added The Tragedy of Ovid.' Finally (5), in 1669, came the last reissue, entitled 'Choice Poems of several sorts, with three new plays, &c.'

The literary merit of the 'two most excellent comedies' and of ' The Tragedy of Ovid ' is small, while that of the ' Poems ' is marred by an extreme coarseness. For genealogical purposes, however, these numerous poems and epitaphs are invaluable, the number of persons and facts therein mentioned being probably without parallel. Though doubtless (Poems, p. 197) Cokayne loved a 'fine little glass' and alienated every acre of his inheritance, whatever his extravagance, he was staunch to his religion and to his king, and sustained heavy pecuniary losses in their cause. His name appears among the 'compounders' for 356l., while the fines inflicted on him as a 'popish delinquent' were probably much larger. He had previously been created a baronet by the late king, the date ascribed being 10 Jan. 1641-2, but the patent was never enrolled. The fact is recognised by Dugdale (his neighbour and friend) in his 'Warwickshire' and in the 'Heralds' Visitation of Derbyshire,' 1662. In 1671 he joined with his son in selling the long-inherited estate of Ashbourne, and in 1683, shortly before his own death, he sold his 'beloved Pooley' (ib. p. 111, line 11). Having survived his only son, who died childless, and his wife, who died at Pooley (May 1683), a few months before him, he died in his seventy-sixth year, a ruined man, in lodgings at Derby, 'at the breaking up of the great frost,' and was buried with his wife, 13 Feb. 1683-4, at Polesworth. By his will, dated 6 Feb. 1683-4, and proved at Lichfield, he left twenty shillings to his daughter Mary Lacy and to each of her children, and the residue to his daughter Isabella Turville, which, including 'purse and apparell, 10l.,' amounted in all to but 79l., his goods and chattels being still at Pooley. After his death the male representation of the family seems to have devolved on his 'cousin' Bryan Cokayne, then Viscount Cullen. Wood says that he 'was esteemed by many an ingenious gentleman, a good poet, and a great lover of learning, yet by others a perfect boon-fellow, by which means he wasted all he had.' In 'Cotton's Poems' (1689) he is highly praised for his 'Tragedy of Ovid,' while his neighbour, Thomas Bancroft [q. v.], in his 'Epigrams' (book i. No. 120) writes to him and of him:

He that with learning vertue doth combine,
May, tho' a laick, passe for a divine
Piece of perfection; such to all men's sight
Appeares yourselfe.

[Wood's Athenæ (Bliss), iv. 128; British Bibliographer, ii. 450-63; Cokayne's Works.]

G. E. C.