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This eminent public benefactor died, in 1731, without Booki, surviving issue. The baronetcy then reverted to Robert Tb«p'suc. the eldest son of the second marriage of the first Sir John c8TMTMs,°'. Cotton, grandson of the Founder. From Sir Robert, fifth Cottm*. baronet, the dignity came, in 1749, to a fourth 'John Cotton ' who then became sixth baronet and who was the last surviving male heir of his honoured line.
Sir John had lost his only son—a fifth John—many years before his accession to the baronetcy, which, on his own death (27 March, 1752), became extinct. Conington had long previously passed to a younger son of Sir Thomas Cotton, second baronet; as shown in the following—
Founder), many Cotton MSS. were alienated—partly by sale and partly by gift—to
Book i, The reader who glances at this pedieree will notice that
Tin sue- some of the Cottons of 1600-1750 were as fortunate in Smi'ro'bkrt getting heiress-wives as had been their foregoers of preCottom. ceding centuries. But their possessions were scattered almost as rapidly as they had been augmented. Conington, which was the most valued possession of Sir Robert, was less prized by his descendants. The Council Books show that some of its appendant manors and members—notably Glatton and Hulme—gave to the Founder himself a good deal of trouble. The Sequestration Books show the anxieties and losses which the busy Parliamentarians of Huntingdonshire inflicted on his next successor. Other circumstances tended also to bring the place into disfavour with owners who had a choice of seats. It lay so close to the great northern road, as to be exposed to undue demands alike from the movement of troops and from the tramping of professional vagrants. Nor was it less exposed, from its situation, to injuries by great floods. Long before the exD«s£rtio> tinction of the male line, Conington was deserted, in favour
OF THE OLD . °
Seat or of more attractive abodes in southern counties. We learn from a passage in Stukeley's Itinerary that the house was fast becoming a ruin, even in the reign of George the First; although it had been solidly rebuilt by Sir Robert himself.
'I thought it,' writes that antiquary, 'a piety to turn half a mile out of the road, to visit Conington the seat of the noble Sir Robert Cotton,—where he and Camden have often sat in council upon the Antiquities of Britain, and where he had a choice collection of Roman inscriptions picked up from all parts of the kingdom. I was concerned to see a stately old house of hewn stone, large and handsome, already falling into ruin.'*
* Stukeley's Itinerary of Great Britain (2nd edit. 1776).
By the Statute which established the Cotton Library Booki, as a national institution, it was enacted as follows: 'The Tu"PstcCottonian Library . . . shall be kept and preserved, in the TM^ name and family of the Cottons, for public use and CoTTONadvantage. And therefore, according to the desire of the Thiestabsaid Sir John Cotton, and at his request, the said Mansion Act O? 1700. House, . . . and also all the said Library, . . . together with all the Coins, Medals, and other rarities, . . . shall be vested in Trustees . . . with a perpetual succession.' The first Trustees were the Lord Chancellor Somers, Mr. Speaker Harley (afterwards Earl of Oxford), and the Lord Chief Justice, ex officio; together with Sir Robert Cotton, of Hatley St. George, Cambridgeshire; Philip Cotton, of Conington; Robert Cotton of Gedding, in Cambridgeshire, and William Hanbury, of the Inner Temple. It latis was provided that on the decease of any one of the four C.7.'L family trustees the heir male, for the time being, of Sir Robert Cotton, the founder, should appoint a successor.
The furious party-spirit which at this time divided the country into hostile camps, the leaders of which were at any moment ready to fly at each other's throats, was eminently unfavourable both to the guardianship and to the growth of the new institution; as it was, indeed, to all matters of learning or of mental culture. Hardly seven years had passed before it was found necessary to pass 'An Act for the better securing of Her Majesty's purchase of Cotton House in Westminster!
This Act recites that since the preceding enactment of 1700 'very little had been done in pursuance thereof to make the said Library useful to the Public, except what had been lately done at Her Majesty's charge;' and that the place wherein the Library then was, being 'a narrow little damp room, was improper for preserving the books