Cook, Sir Thomas

(1420–1478)
   A former Lord Mayor of London and one of the wealthiest merchants in the city, Sir Thomas Cook was prosecuted for treason in 1468 in a famous episode that was later used by RICHARD III to illustrate the ambition and avarice of the WOODVILLE FAMILY. Apprenticed to a LONDON cloth merchant as a child, Cook so prospered in that profession that by the 1460s his London mansion contained tapestries, plates (of precious metals), and art objects worth almost £1,400. He also owned various properties in and around London, including a country home at Gidea Park, and he lent money to EDWARD IV. Cook served as an alderman of London from 1456 to 1468 and as mayor in 1462–1463. For his financial services to the Crown, he was knighted at Elizabeth WOODVILLE’s coronation in 1465.
   In 1468, Cook was implicated in the CORNELIUS PLOT. He was accused of failing to inform the government that he had been contacted, in about 1466, by agents of the exiled Lancastrian queen, MARGARET OF ANJOU. According to the traditional account of Cook’s case, the merchant declined the agents’ request for financial assistance, but, because he was a former Lancastrian customs officer, aroused enough suspicion to be arrested and imprisoned. During Cook’s confinement, agents of Richard WOODVILLE, Earl Rivers, Queen Elizabeth’s father, ransacked the merchant’s house, carrying off cloth and other valuables, including an £800 arras coveted by Rivers’s wife, JACQUETTA, duchess of Bedford. Brought to trial for treason, Cook was acquitted of that charge by a London jury, but convicted of misprision of treason (i.e., being aware of treason but failing to report it). Although the court imposed a huge fine of over £8000, which effectively ruined Cook, the Woodvilles were so dissatisfied with the verdict that Rivers persuaded the king to dismiss the presiding judge, John Markham. Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth revived an ancient privilege called “Queen’s gold” to demand a further £500 from Cook.
   Several modern historians (e.g., see Hicks, below) have disputed this view. They argue that Cook’s alleged victimization by the Woodvilles was largely the product of antiWoodville PROPAGANDA, which was initially employed in the late 1460s by Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, to attack the king and the COURT party, and was then taken up again after 1485 by historians writing in support of the house of TUDOR. The modern view also suggests that Cook was actively working for the house of LANCASTER and was, as the jury found him, guilty of misprision of treason. Thus, as regards the Cook case, the conduct of Edward IV and of the Woodvilles was far less reprehensible than tradition would have it.
   Whatever the facts of the case, Cook supported the READEPTION of HENRY VI in 1470 (see Edward IV, Overthrow of). He secured election to PARLIAMENT and reappointment as alderman and sought compensation for his losses of 1468. Upon Edward’s return in 1471, Cook strove to keep London solidly behind the Lancastrian government, even exercising the office of mayor when the incumbent feigned illness to avoid taking sides. Upon Edward’s restoration, Cook fled the country but was captured and returned to London, where he was again tried, stripped of his offices, and fined (see Edward IV, Restoration of). Released in 1472, Cook died a relatively poor man in May 1478.
   In 1483, while seeking to convince London citizens of the desirability of replacing the Woodville-dominated kingship of EDWARDV with that of his uncle, Richard, duke of Gloucester, Henry STAFFORD, duke of Buckingham, reminded them of the sufferings supposedly inflicted on Cook by the Woodvilles.
   Further Reading: Hicks, Michael,“The Case of Sir Thomas Cook, 1468,” in Richard III and His Rivals: Magnates and Their Motives in the Wars of the Roses (London: Hambledon Press, 1991); Ross, Charles, Edward IV (New Haven, CT:Yale University Press, 1998).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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