Robert Cooke

When I chose the name for this website I hadn’t seen the transcription/translation below (I purchased the domain in February 2014, having thought about it earlier). Likewise, my thoughts on Robert Cooke’s death recorded on the The Greenes page were written before I found these thoughts of his contemporaries. Obviously we were thinking along similar lines! – see the Why page as well.

A translation of his Latin memorial reads (underlining mine):-

‘Here lie the mortal remains of Robert Cooke, lately Rector of this parish; I do not know whether his tongue or his life was the more eloquent, inasmuch as he showed himself to be an outstanding example of piety. But in the course of preaching he was too energetic and broke a blood vessel, whereupon all his blood gushed forth little by little from his body, and before long his life as well. So he poured out his life’s blood for the gospel, and died a most beautiful death, fitted for no ordinary martyrdom. But, do you traveller, stay awhile, for this dust here, so recently learned and eloquent, does not cease to preach, but tells you that you too are mortal; go therefore and long for immortality. He died 3 January A.D. 1681, aged 30.’

Preaching dust!

Note: I found the above on Sunday 6th April 2014, having gone to a service at St Mary’s church partly to look for it – I’d discovered amongst some Suffolk churches information that there was a memorial in the church about Robert Cooke dying whilst preaching, but I didn’t know what it said, so was interested find out more. I went unsure whether I was right to be planning this website, especially putting up what I had already largely written by that stage about the Greenes*Francis Greene in particular, and my thoughts on the Why page. Did God really want me to say all of these things, metaphorically dig up these dusty old bones, and bring them to life as it were, to speak out again, over three centuries later – and on the internet!? I prayed for guidance and perhaps some insight/indication that this was indeed God’s will for me, hoping for but not necessarily expecting a sign. It occurred to me as I cycled down Mill Hill that Ezekiel 37 (a vision regarding a valley of dry bones being brought to life) might be a particularly appropriate sign. Imagine my thrill, I must admit shock and amazement, when the Old Testament reading was indeed Ezekiel 37!** It’s difficult to imagine a more direct sign under the circumstances, short of being tapped on the shoulder by Francis Greene and told to get on with it! – ‘since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…’ (Hebrews 12:1 – NIV). Given this experience, and the added confirmation I’d felt from the like-minded preaching dust terminology on the memorial that I’d gone to look for, from that April day I felt compelled to persevere in this task. So here is!

* aside from Richard Greene, who I did not discover until after this trip and becoming aware of Peter May’s material, which also introduced me to the manorial records.
** I’m aware that this was the set text for the day (unbeknown to me at the time). I believe God caused me to pick 6th April for my trip for that reason. He is sovereign over everything in advance like that, even my prayer and thoughts on the way.


Robert Cooke was Rector of Newmarket St Mary’s from 1677 until his death in 1681. It’s thought that he was perhaps born in Bottisham, the son of Thomas Cooke, and educated at Christ’s College Cambridge.

The memorial transcribed/translated above was originally on the floor within the altar rails according to someone called Tom Martin who described it at the end of the eighteenth century. It’s the transcription in his notes that’s been translated above (see the references below), which was made before some of the wording was worn away, presumably primarily by those serving communion (a fitting place for it given what it says – we are reminded there that we are both cleansed by Christ’s blood and called to pour out our lives in service of the gospel). The stone was placed in the south wall of the church during the nineteenth century restorations and appears perhaps to have been re-carved at that point, with a combination of the original words and dashes (possibly corresponding to the bits that could not be read)? It appears to be a new carving. Perhaps the original worn text is on what is now the back of the stone?

It’s interesting from a medical point of view to speculate on his cause of death. In a modern context such a death would almost certainly represent a gastrointestinal bleed, perhaps a ruptured ulcer, especially one that had eroded into an artery. At the time though another more likely cause might have been tuberculosis (perhaps a lung lesion eroding into a blood vessel or even a neck node into a neck vessel?) – see the case of Guy Bell from December 1851 detailed on the page regarding Floyd Minter Peck.

Relevant references in chronological order

1677: Robert Cooke M.A. Rector of St Mary’s Newmarket. Reference: Rectors of St Mary’s information board, St Mary’s church, Newmarket. [Note: given in memory of Elizabeth Janet Smith, died August 15th 1999.]

1681, 3rd January: Memorial to Robert Cooke, St Mary’s church, Newmarket. [Note: under the memorial in a frame is the Tom Martin information, transcription and translation above (seen April 2014).], [Note also, I subsequently discovered on reviewing the Tom Martin notes myself (which were made in 1770), that he only transcribed the first few lines, the rest was added later by another hand in 1816 from a copy originally made by ‘the Revd. Mr. Hemsted of Bedford, who formerly had been many years Curate at Newmarket’. Reference: E2/41/9/A, folio 30 (back), (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds).]

Some other sources consulted include:-

The research notes of Peter May. Reference: HD1584, (Suffolk County Record Office, Bury St Edmunds). [Note: I discovered these, and his books etc., after making enquiries as a result of the trip described above and conversations after the service.]

The Scripture quotation from the NIV translation is from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Anglicisation copyright © 1979, 1984, 1989. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton Limited. [Note: the quotation above however ought to be regarded as fair use/dealing in this context anyway – see the Usage &c. page.]

Venn J, Venn JA. Alumni Cantabrigienses. Cambridge University Press; 1922;1(1):368.

Note: For published material referenced on this website see the ‘Acknowledgements for resources of published material’ section on the ‘Usage &c.’ page. The sources used for original unpublished documents are noted after each individual reference. Any census records are referenced directly to The National Archives, since images of these are so ubiquitous on microfilm and as digital images that they almost function like published works. Census records are covered by the ‘Open Government Licence’ as should be other such public records (see the ‘Copyright and related issues’ section on the ‘Usage &c.’ page for which references constitute public records, and any other copyright issues more generally such as fair dealing/use etc.).