In the Caird Library Manuscript collections is a compilation of naval records containing extracts made by Sir Robert Cotton from original records from the time of King John to Elizabeth I [PLA/2]. It is perhaps little known that aside from amassing the ‘most important collection of manuscripts ever assembled in Britain by a private individual’ [Cotton Collection, British Library], Cotton was also a Navy commissioner during the reign of James I.

Having transcribed the English extracts (but not the Latin!), I think it's likely that Cotton produced the record to prepare for his commission of enquiry which resulted in a report into the abuses of the Navy in 1608. Thus, I believe the record (which is undated), would have been written perhaps in the period 1605-1608. The original report is available at the National Archives:

There are around eighteen themes Cotton made extracts from and each section contains extensive marginalia. Here is an example of one theme with my summary of the records consulted:

Cities, townes and castles fortified (King John, H.3, E.1, R.2, H.8, E.2, E.3) [English and Latin] [p.44]


The abbreviations refer to the various Kings and Queens from the time of King John to Elizabeth I [she is not referred to in the above example].

The notes end with extensive material on the subject of ‘Ordnances for the Warre’ subdivided ‘ffor the Holy Church; ffor Prisoners; ffor Payments of Thirds’ etc. Much of the commission’s work for the report fell on Cotton under the charge of the Earl of Northampton. After reading the report, James I commanded Northampton to draw up a book of ordinances for the Navy which he duly presented. So we can perhaps deduce why Cotton was so thorough with regard to ordnance.

‘From May 1608 to June 1609 Cotton served on a commission investigating abuses in the navy. His main role in this reform initiated by Northampton was to assemble witnesses and evidence.’ [see Cotton's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography]

Cotton’s palaeographical knowledge and skill laid bare the abuses of the Navy [with his damning report] and with his cunning ability to acquire into his private ownership vast quantities of public records; it was no wonder that state officials of his time began to feel a little concerned.


1. McGowan, A P, The Jacobean commissions of enquiry 1608 and 1618, Navy Records Society, 1971
2. The National Archives, SP 14/41 Report by Sir Robert Cotton on abuses in the government of the royal navy and suggestions for their reformation. See link:
3. Oppenheim, M A, History of the administration of the Royal Navy and of merchant shipping in relation to the Navy, from 1509 to 1660 (p193-194).

Mike (Archivist)