CATHERINE (TROTTER) COCKBURN 1679-1749 (Researched by Keith Robertson Longhorsley LHS)

Early Life

Catharine was born on 16 August 1679 in London.

Both her parents were Scottish.

Her father, David Trotter was a commodore in the Royal Navy and was a favourite of King Charles II. He assisted in the demolition of Tangier in 1683 and was then sent to protect the fleet of the Turkish Company, during this campaign he died of plague at Alexandretta in 1684.

Her mother was Sarah Bellenden, a close relation of Lord Bellenden.

Following the death of David Trotter, the family received a pension from the Admiralty and then, following the death of King Charles, an allowance of 20s a year from Queen Anne.

Little is known of Catharine’s early life other than that she taught herself French and obtained help in learning Latin and Logic.

Literary Fame and Success

In 1693, she produced her “Verses written at the age of fourteen, and sent to Beville Higgins on his sickness and recovery from the small-pox”. Higgins was a well-known writer and wit and it is thought that this resulted in Catharine being introduced to William Congreve and Dryden. In the same year the short novel “Olinda’s Adventures” was published anonymously and in later editions, it was attributed to Catharine Trotter.

Her first play, “Agnes de Castro” was written in 1697. She also sent verses to Congreve who praised her work. Her second play “The Fatal Friendship” was also written in 1697, with Congreve acting as her literary adviser. The play was well received. This was followed in 1700, by the publication of her only comedy, “Most Votes Carry It “and in 1701 her play “The Unhappy Penitent” was performed at Drury Lane Theatre. At this point, she left London.

In 1702, Catharine published her major philosophical work “A Defence of Mr. Locke’s ‘Essay of Human Understanding’”. Locke received a copy and sent Catharine a letter of appreciation and a present of books. Later she defended the philosopher Lady Masham against Thomas Burnet’s charge that Lady Masham’s essays had been written by Locke.

Catherine’s next work, the tragedy “The Revolution of Sweden”, was completed in 1703 and sent to Congreve who suggested several changes. Catherine returned to London and completed the play in 1704. In the same year, she published verses in honour of the Duke of Marlborough’s victory, which was highly praised. In 1706 “The Revolution in Sweden” was performed at the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket, but only ran for six days.

Catherine also published several poems, including being one of the “Nine Muses” who published poems to mark the death of Dryden. She was famous in literary circles and was well connected in London society.

Marriage and Family

In 1708, she married Patrick Cockburn, a clergyman. They moved to Nayland near Colchester. It is not known how long they stayed in Nayland, but they returned to London before 1714, as Patrick Cockburn became the curate of St Dunstan’s Fleet Street.

They had a son, John, and three daughters: Mary, Catharine and Grissel.

The Reverend Cockburn achieved national notice in 1714 when he refused to take an oath of Abjuration, renouncing the Stewart claim to the throne. As a result of this, he was dismissed from his post at St Dunstan’s and the family experienced a period of great poverty.

In 1726, the family’s fortunes recovered when Mr. Cockburn relented and took the Oath. At this time, Catherine rewrites her comedy “Love at Last” under the title “The Honourable Deceivers”. She also wrote a “Vindication of Mr. Locke’s Christian Principles from the Injurious Imputations of Dr. Holdsworth”, but was unable to find a publisher.

Mr. Cockburn was appointed to a position in charge of the Episcopal congregation of Aberdeen. The family moved to Aberdeen. At the same time, he was appointed to be vicar of Longhorsley, but did not take up residence until 1737, when the Archbishop of Durham instructed him to do so in order to resolve problems related to the actions of the Curate.


By the time the family moved to Longhorsley, Catharine’s eyesight was failing and she was having difficulty writing and sewing by candlelight

In a letter to her niece, Mrs. Anne Hepburn, now Mrs. Arbuthnot of Peterhead, Catherine gives some details of her life in Longhorsley:


…my head has not been disposed to reading since I came here… The greatest inconvenience I find about this place is the distance from the church. By good providence, I had a lift thither and home again on Whit Sunday, in a chaise with four horses. But the lady to whom the vehicle belongs, (and sometimes comes in a coach and six) has been ever since in another part of the country, so I have staid at home all other Sunday, and I am likely to do so all other Sundays and I am likely to do so until I get myself equipped for riding, which I intend as soon as possible., that I may not lose the only season when weather and my health will allow me to go to public worship.

May 1739

…it was but lately that I have got rid of my cough, and have since been troubled with some pains. But the fine weather, which we have at present, recovers me and I always love the country in summer. This is agreeable enough now, nor are we without company and as such as can help us to books. But we need to lay in a store of them against winter, for I fear all the rest of the pleasing scene will disappear at that time.

September 1743

… The unexpected loss of my poor child, who was so useful to me and had been almost all of her life with me, was indeed, a severe affliction. She was a long time every moment in my thoughts. Whatever I turned my mind to she mingled with it: all that I found in books was some way or other applied to her; and still there is not a day but she is frequently the subject of my reflection; nor do I endeavour to divert them from her, but make the best use I can of them. I sometimes imagine that I have now a nearer interest in another state than I had, please myself with the hope of joining her spirit there, and finding her rejoicing in her early escape from the evils of this world. Sometimes I consider how graciously Providence often makes our disappointments and crosses in one kind turn to our advantage in another. My Kitty’s return to me is an instance of this: had she continued with her brother, how desolate should I have been when deprived of the only child that was left to me. Sharing each other’s grief is relief and comfort. Besides she is of the greatest use to me; so that I have reason to be thankful both for her and the blessing of I have in the goodness of my son, though at this distance from me- I hope God will please to preserve them.

(At this time her son was in Germany in some office connected with the Army)

20 November 1744

I have very little prospect of tolerable health for any continuance. My cough returned the beginning of September and held me for two months. It is now succeeded by such a difficulty of breathing, that I do not know which is the most grievous; but between them, I am reduced to great weakness.

October 1747

…what with the cough and whilst I was free from that, a violent disorder on one side of my head with an extravagant toothache. I had no respite this summer and have not been able to write once to my son since he went abroad till the middle of last month.

…Sunday being privileged from the needle, I have found the time of late to read.

August 1748

There are about nine months in the year when I am unable to write, even to my nearest friends, or on the most important business; much less can I apply myself to abstruse speculations.

Despite her failing health, she returned to her writing and she completed her work “Remarks upon some Writers in the Controversy concerning the Foundation of Moral Duty and Moral Obligations”. This was published in 1743 in “The History of the Works of the Learned”.

Catharine’s final work was a refutation of Rutherford’s “Essay on the Nature and Obligations of Virtue”. This was published in 1747 and met with such critical success that her friends urged her to collect her works as a single manuscript. She began this task but had not completed it at the time of her death. An incomplete collection of her works was published, by Dr Birch, in 1751.

In 1749, Catharine wrote her Will:

In the name of God, Amen. This eleventh day of May in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and forty nine, I Catharine Cockburn relict of the Rev Mr Patrick Cockburn, late Vicar of Long Horsley in the County of Northumberland, being weak in Body but of perfect mind and memory do make, constitute & ordain this my last Will and Testament in manner following, that is to say, First I recommend my Soul to the mercies of God thro’ the Merits of my Redeemer, and my Body to be buried according to the discretion of my Executor hereafter named & to be laid in ye Church Yard of Longhorsley by ye graves of my late Husband & Daughter. And as to my Worldly Goods, I give & dispose of them in the following manner, that is to say First I give and bequeath to my dear Daughter Catharine, for her filial piety & affectionate tenderness, all my Works & copies of my Works that are now designed to be printed or that may hereafter be printed, with the whole profits arising from the same.. Also I leave & bequeath to my said daughter Catharine all & every my goods & Chatteles, linen cloths & other wearing apparel excepting that which is otherwise declared in this Will; also whatever money I have by me or shall be due to me at the time of my Death after Expences of my Funeral are defrayed.

Also I leave & bequeath to my eldest daughter ye Lady Keith the sum of ten pounds.

Also I leave & bequeath to my maid servant Mary Macall for her fidelity & care my old crape night gown & fifty shillings.

Also I leave & bequeath to my dear son John whom I likewise make & appoint my sole Executor of this my last Will & Testament all my Books and Letters.

In Witness whereof I hereunto set my hand & seal the day and year above written.

Signed, sealed & declared to Be the last Will of the Testator

in the presence of Us

John Smith her mark Cath: X Cockburn

Ralph White

Catherine died later that year on 11 May 1748 and was buried in the churchyard in Longhorsley, alongside her husband and daughter.

The gravestone is on the east wall of the old Church (No 78 on the map of the old cemetery)

The inscription reads:

Here lie the bodies of

P. Cockburn, A.M. Vicar

of this Parish, who died

4 Jan. 1748-9 in the 71 years of

his age.

Catharine his wife who

died 11 May 1748 in the 70

year of her age

Let their works praise

them in the gates

Grissel their daughter

who died 1 Nov 1742 in

the 22 year of her age."