Charles Cotterell

You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.
Malcolm Forbes

Cotterell Portrait

In 1667, Sir Charles Cotterell, an English courtier and translator, suggested a calculating instrument, called Arithmetical Compendium (Instrument for Arithmetick). It was a combination of Napier’s Bones with a bead-type abacus, used to avoid writing down the partial products of multiplication using the rods. In fact, Cotterell’s idea was popularized several years later, circa 1670, when Robert Jole (Jole was a scientific instrument maker, brother in the Clockmakers’ Company, who was active in London between 1664 and 1704), produced his version of the device.

Cotterell most probably knew and was influenced by Samuel Morland, who devised in the 1660s a total of three calculating machines, which were presented to King Charles II and the general audience.

Arithmetical Compendium of Cotterell
Arithmetical Compendium of Charles Cotterell (© National Museums Scotland)

The calculating instrument of Cotterell has a boxwood case (size: 184 mm x 59 mm x 19 mm, weight: 0.13 kg), and was made of brass (binding pieces), glass, iron, engraved paper, and vellum. There is a separate silvered brass tool, for pushing beads and lifting out rods.

Arithmetical Compendium of Cotterell
Arithmetical Compendium of Charles Cotterell in its boxwood case (© National Museums Scotland)

The user of Cotterell’s device would slide a window up and down to expose different parts of the times table, reading off the multiplicand on the edge of the instrument frame.

The box is inscribed with the text The Index of ye Quotient The Index of ye Multiplier Divisor Multiplic and The Fore Rule. The separate brass tool is inscribed with the text Robert Jole att ye Crowne Nere ye new Exchainge fecit.

Biography of Charles Cotterell

Charles Cotterell, portrait from 1660
Charles Cotterell, portrait from 1660 by Sir Peter Lely

Charles Cotterell (or Cottrell) was born on 7 April 1615 in Wilsford, Lincolnshire, England, and was baptized there two days later. He was the only son (there were four daughters) of Sir Clement Cotterell (1585–1631) and Anne Alleyne (d. 1660, an heiress and daughter of Henry Alleyne of Wilsford), who married in 1606.

Sir Clement Cotterell was appointed as muster-master of Buckinghamshire in 1616 and groom-porter to King James I in 1619, and was knighted in 1620. He was a Vice-Admiral of Lincolnshire from 1620 to 1631. In 1621, he was elected Member of Parliament for Grantham. In 1624 he was elected Member of Parliament again.

Charles Cotterell attended Queens’ College, Cambridge, from 1629 until 1632, but did not take any degree. In June 1632 he began touring Europe with aristocratic friends. Shortly after returning to England in 1634 he was engaged to take the Earl of Pembroke’s sons Charles and Philip Herbert on their travels. Though the tour was marred by the death of Charles, Cotterell entered Pembroke’s service on his return in 1636. Cotterell served the Earl of Pembroke under courtly and military service in the Cavalier army until knighted in Oxford in 1645.

In the early 1640s Cotterell served in the privy chamber troop against the Scots, and his real opportunity for advancement came with the death in July 1641 of the King’s master of the ceremonies, Sir John Finet. Sir Balthasar Gerbier had the reversion to Finet’s place and Cotterell replaced him as assistant master on 30 July. In December 1643 he was promoted to the rank of major and, having fought at Edgehill, at both battles of Newbury, and at Alresford, was knighted in Oxford on 21 March 1645.

The Cotterell Family, painted by Dutch artist Jan Mytens in 1657
The Cotterell Family, painted by Dutch artist Jan Mytens (Anne Cotterell obviously is missing, because she was left at nurse in England). The painting is said to be made in 1658, but this is very unlikely, because Cotterell’s wife Frances died in 1657, while their eldest daughter Frances died in December 1653.

In Oxford, Cotterell collaborated with William Aylesbury in translating Davila’s Storia delle guerre civile (published in 1647) from Italian. at the request of the king. In March 1649, after the king’s execution, Cotterell (along with his wife and elder daughter Frances (or Frank), born in 1646, as their infant daughter, Anne, born in 1648, remained in England), accompanied Aylesbury and the Duke of Buckingham into exile in Antwerp.

By 1652 Cotterell had moved to The Hague as steward to Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, while completing a translation of La Calprenède’s Cassandre. After resigning his stewardship in September 1655, Cotterell was appointed an adviser to the Duke of Gloucester, under whom he fought in three campaigns in Flanders.

In the summer of 1642, Charles Cotterell married Frances West (1621–1657), daughter of Edward West of Marsworth, Buckinghamshire, and half-sister of the architect Roger Pratt. They had three daughters and two sons: Frances (Frank), their eldest daughter, born in 1846, died on 31 December 1653; Anne Dormer (Cottrell) (1648-1695); Clement (1650-1672), their eldest son, was killed in a naval engagement against the Dutch at the Battle of Southwold Bay, in May 1672; Elizabeth Trumbull (Cottrell) (1652-1704); Charles Lodowick (1654–1710), followed his father as Master of the Ceremonies.

Sir Charles Cotterell by Robert Williams
Sir Charles Cotterell, by Robert Williams (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

On 29 May 1660, Cotterell returned with the royal party to London, with his children but without his wife Frances, who died around 1657, and was sworn Master of the Ceremonies on 5 June. The pursuit of a young widow, Anne Owen, led Cotterell to form a friendship with Katherine Phillips, whose husband was the Member of Parliament for Cardigan. Phillips was a young poet known in her salon as Orinda. Cotterell became a major figure in Orinda’s literary circle, and later took Phillips’s seat in Parliament from 1663 until 1678.

Sir Charles Cotterell resigned his seat as Master of the Ceremonies on 27 December 1686, in favor of his son Charles Lodowick. In 1693 he published a translation The Spiritual Year, a Spanish devotional tract.

Cotterell seems to have been well regarded by those who knew him. For example, the diarist and naval administrator Samuel Pepys described him as “ingenious”. The Italian historian and satirist Gregorio Leti lavished praise on him, believing he represented everything that any court in the world could seek in a master of ceremonies, describing him as “of kind disposition, soft and gentle, assiduous in his visits, of wise counsel, exemplary lifestyle, and the best conversation”.

After a sickness of some ten days, Charles Cotterell died at 6 p.m. on 7 June 1701 at his home in St Martin’s Lane, Westminster.