Sir Rowland Cotton (1581 – 1634) of Alkington Hall, Whitechurch, and Bellaport Hall, Shropshire

Paul van Somer
1576 – 1621

Sir Rowland Cotton (1581 – 1634) of Alkington Hall, Whitechurch, and Bellaport Hall, Shropshire

Painted 1618

Oil on Canvas: 40 3/8 x 34 1/4 inches, 102.5 x 87 cm


  • Presumably by descent within the Cotton family;[1] [2]
  • collection of Mr E. Peter Jones;
  • his sale, Sothebys, 19th July, 1961, lot 185, as Sir Richard Cotton by Daniel Mytens;
  • European private collection, Antwerp
  • [1] According to the 1854 edition of Burke’s landed Gentry there was a portrait of Rowland Cotton at Etwall Hall: “..while scattered through the different rooms are portraits of the Cotton family, as well as other distinguished characters. Not the least interesting of these is the full-length portrait of Sir Rowland Cotton, who was tutor and companion to Prince Henry till the Prince’s death, November 6, 1612.” See: Burke, J.B. (1854) Visitation of Seats, 2S. Vol. 1, p88
  • [2] The 1937 edition of Burke’s Landed Gentry reports that Constance Lilian Cotton was living at Etwall Hall until her death in 1920. Etwall Hall was demolished in 1952 and the site is now a school


  • Arnold, J. (1973) Sir Richard Cotton’s Suit. The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 115, 842, pp.326-329

Sir Rowland Cotton (1577 – 1634) was an English politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1605 and 1629. He was the eldest son of William Cotton, a rich and prominent member of the Drapers' Company of London, who lived at a house called the 'Redde Logge' in Canwicke Street in the City of London. The young Rowland had grown up in his father's house in London, matriculated at St John's College, Cambridge c.1596 and was admitted to Lincoln's Inn in June 1599. His father had two elder brothers, both of whom were childless, so when Rowland's uncles both died in or about 1606 and his father in April 1608, he inherited the family property consisting of land in Shropshire and Staffordshire, primarily at Alkington in Whitchurch, the family seat, and Bellaport in the parish of Norton-in-Hales, where he himself chose to live. [1]

Whilst born and raised in London, Rowland did not follow his father into trade, being heir to the Bellaport family estates in reversion to his childless uncle John. He married firstly Frances, the eldest daughter of Sir Robert Needham of Shavington Hall, situated five miles from Bellaport. The Needhams were the premier landowning family in Shropshire and this enabled Rowland Cotton’s political career: Cotton was adopted by the mayor and burgesses of Newcastle-under- Lyne as their prospective member, taking his seat in the parliament of 1605-10 Following this, He subsequently joined Prince Henry’s circle, although not as a formal member of the Prince’s Household, and is recorded as having been in one of the Prince’s masques, possibly Oberon.[2] In 1608 his wife died and it was to his acquaintance, Inigo Jones, that Cotton turned to for a design for her tomb which still stands in the remote church of St Chad at Norton-in-Hales, Shropshire.[3] He married secondly Joyce, the daughter and co-heiress of Sir Richard Walsh of Sheldesley Walsh, Worcestershire.[4] He died in August 1634 aged 53 and was buried in the parish church at Norton-in-Hales, beside his first wife. He left no children and his estates reverted to his brother William on the death of his wife.[5] [6]

In our portrait, Rowland is wearing one of the most resplendent costume pieces of this period and the silk doublet and breeches are a virtuoso of tailoring with deep slashing on the doublet revealing a layer of blue silk beneath. The costume is so exceptional that, not surprisingly, it has been lovingly preserved by the Cotton family and was eventually gifted to the Victoria and Albert museum, London, by Lady Spickernell in 1938.[7] The magnificence of the costume is most likely due to the Cotton family’s background as merchant drapers in the City of London: Rowland would have been familiar with the wide range of fabrics and accessories on sale in the capital’s shops. The most expensive collection of shops with the most coveted fashionable goods were to be seen in the Royal Exchange, in the City of London,[8] close to the family home where he grew up.

Paul van Somer (c. 1577 – 1621), also known as Paulus van Somer, was a Flemish artist who arrived in England from Antwerp during the reign of King James I of England and became one of the leading painters of the royal court. He painted a number of portraits both of James and his consort, Queen Anne of Denmark, and of nobles such as Ludovic Stuart, earl of Lennox, Elizabeth Stanley, Countess of Huntingdon, and Lady Anne Clifford.

[1] Frances Stackhouse Acton (1868) The Castle and Old mansions of Shropshire. (1868) Shrewsbury: Leake and Evans, p.38

[2] Roy Strong (1986) Henry Prince of Wales and England’s Lost Renaissance. Thames and Hudson. p

[3] Newman, John (1973) An early drawing by Inigo Jones and a monument in Shropshire. Burlington Magazine, Vol. 115, No. 843, pp360 - 367

[4] Sir Bernard Burke (1879) 6th Ed. A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain. Vol.1, p.375

[5] Cotton, Rowland (1581-1634), of Crooked Lane, London; later of Alkington Hall, Whitchurch and Bellaport Hall, Norton-in-Hales, Salop". History of Parliament Online. Retrieved 01/10/14

[6] Eventually Etwall Hall became the main residence of the Cotton family. “Etwall Hall, anciently the seat of the Ports and subsequently of the Cottons, is a venerable mansion of brick, raced with stone; the picture gallery has some exquisite carvings in wood, and several or the rooms contain portraits of various members of the Cotton family: it is now the seat of Rowland Charles Hugh Cotton Esq. lord of the manor” See: Kelly's Directory of the Counties of Derby, Notts, Leicester and Rutland pub. London (1891) p.204-205

[7] Arnold, J. (1973) Sir Richard Cotton’s Suit. The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 115, 842, p.326

[8] Ribeiro, Aileen (2005) Fashion and Fiction. Dress in Art and Literature in Stuart England. London: Yale University Press, p34

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