The reason for this article came about after a rather public argument I had with a person who is considered the greatest authority on the history of all things Mayflower and the Scrooby movement and the Walloon church. I myself believe this to be true to an extent. I did find him to be mistaken in a couple of matters that I have researched most diligently. He had made the statement and published it in books that Francis Cooke of the Mayflower was a Walloon. I vigorously disagree for various reasons I present here.
It is my belief that Francis Cooke was born and raised in England to English parents and was an educated and humble man. That before leaving England for Leiden 1603 he was a follower of Pastor John Robinson.
Robinson was born at Sturton-Le-Steeple in Nottinghamshire, England between March and September 1576, this range of dates deduced by comparing two records at Leiden that give his age at the time of the event. He was educated at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, and entered Corpus Christi College at the University of Cambridge in April 1592. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1596. In May 1598 he was admitted a Fellow of his college and ordained a priest of the Church of England. This was followed one year later in 1599 by his Master of Arts degree. Following the attainment of his Master's degree, he obtained two positions at Corpus: Praelector Graecus, a lectureship in Greek, and Decanus, a post involving student oversight.
Cambridge was a center of Puritanism. During his years there, Robinson gradually accepted its principles. The leaders of this movement strongly criticized the English Church because they believed its beliefs and rituals were too much like those of the Roman Catholic Church. The reforms they advocated would purify the established church from within; for this reason they became known as Puritans.
Francis Cooke is also shown to be a student here at this time.
Some Puritans who despaired of getting the changes they favored in the established Church, decided to leave to form Separatist churches.
Queen Elizabeth I was the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Elizabeth I followed a largely tolerant policy toward the Puritans and Separatists. When James I succeeded her in 1603, however, he instituted a policy designed to enforce religious conformity. The Puritans would, he warned, adhere or he would "harry them out of the land". It was the King's belief that his throne depended on the Church hierarchy: "No Bishop, no King".
James I vigorously enforced The Act Against Puritans 1593, 35 Elizabeth, Cap. 1, making it illegal for separatists to hold their own services. Anyone who did not attend the services of the Church of England for forty days, and who attended private services
“contrary to the laws and statutes of the realm and being thereof lawfully convicted shall be committed to prison, there to remain without bail mainprise until they shall confirm and yield themselves to same church.
College fellows were prohibited from marrying so Robinson resigned his fellowship to wed Bridget White, on 15 February 1604 at St. Mary's Church, Greasley in western Nottinghamshire. Bridget was the daughter of Alexander and Eleanor Smith White, formerly prosperous yeoman farmers at Sturton-Le-Steeple, who were deceased at the time of the wedding. At her marriage, Bridget was residing near Greasley on land held under a 99 year lease by her older brother Charles, who had inherited the lease by their father's will.
In August 1603, Robinson became associate pastor of St. Andrew's Church in the commercial center of Norwich. This city had contacts on the continent with Holland and Flanders and had a considerable number of foreign workers and refugees. In addition, the most influential political leaders and merchants in Norwich were Puritans. Now this is the time period that most interests me. This is also the time that Francis Cooke leaves England and shows up at Leiden. He joined the Walloon Church which was already established there at that time.
Soon after Rev. Robinson assumed his duties in St. Andrew's, James I issued a proclamation requiring that all ministers conform to a new book of canons. The deadline to conform was set for the end of November. Robinson left the church but remained a resident of Norwich, where he was unsuccessful in gaining the mastership of the Great Hospital. He subsequently preached privately at various locations in northern Nottinghamshire, including in the Spring of 1605 at his home village of Sturton-Le-Steeple.
Francis Cooke is first noted in historical records on April 25, 1603 in Leiden, Holland as a witness at Raphael Roelandt’s betrothal. For purposes unknown, Francis Cooke resided in Leiden for about six years before the arrival of the congregation of English Separatist Pastor John Robinson in 1609.
Francis Cooke was betrothed to Hester Mahieu at the French Walloon Church at Vrouwekerk in Leiden on June 30, 1603, with she joining the church one month prior to her betrothal. Her family were Protestant, Walloon, refugees from Lille, France to England. She was probably born in the late 1580s with her family coming to Leiden about 1590. Mary Mahieu, a sister of Hester, married Jan de Lannoy in Leiden and their child Philip de Lannoy had Francis Cooke as a witness to his baptism in the Vrouwekerk on November 6, 1603. Cooke’s nephew Phillipe de Lannoy would later join the Separatist Church in England and arrived in Plymouth in November 1621 on the ship Fortune.
Leiden records give Francis Cooke’s betrothal as 9 June 1603, and presuming his birth was 1582 or before. In the Leiden church Betrothal Book he was recorded as Franchois Couck and his bride being Hester Mahieu with the witnesses to the marriage being two Walloons. They were identified Francis from England, and Hester from Canterbury.
Now this name Couck bothered me a great deal. It is a French spelling of an English name that is certain. One would certainly expect that if Francis Cooke were taking communion with a French congregation he would certainly be able to speak French, and further if one were to find his name in records in that church recorded in French one might even assume he himself was French. Then again it is a French Church. Flemish to be exact. Everything would be recorded in French. What really bothered me about the name was the fact that I live in a country and an area in that country with a huge French population and could never remember hearing or seeing Couck as a surname. I could not find it on the internet, or the phonebook. I called French Canadian Cousins in Quebec and they had never heard of it. So again I had to conclude that Francis Cooke was an Englishman.
Francis and Hester were members of the Walloon Church. They took communion with the Walloon Church. One argument presented to me was that he would not be able to take communion with the Walloons because if he were English he would not be permitted to take communion with the Walloons. However the Cooke family had a long history of giving aid to Walloons and Huguenots since the St. Bartholomew Day massacre. So I am certain they took communion with the Walloon Church, and did become members of the Scrooby congregation after it moved to Leiden in 1609. As Calvinist followers there would be no reason not to allow an English friend not to take communion with them.
It is known that Francis Cooke and his wife departed Leiden in August 1606 for Norwich in county Norfolk in England, which may have been where he originated but t no proof has been found in records of the time. The Leiden congregation had some Separatist members who had fled Norwich, and the Cooke’s may have contacted the Separatists there. The Cooke's did not remain in Norwich long as their son John was baptized at the Walloon Church in Leiden between January and March 1607 with the couple receiving communion in Leiden on January 1, 1608. Francis and his wife Hester were identified as “Franchoys Cooke et Esther sa femme” in Leiden after their return from Norwich, taking communion in Leiden’s Walloon church on New Year’s Day, 1608.
In February 1609, members of Pastor John Robinson’s English Separatist church came to Leiden. The Cookes did not then become members of the Walloon church, but did join the Leiden congregation sometime later, after their daughter Elizabeth was baptized on December 26, 1611.
When the English Separatist church in Leiden decided to go to America in 1620, Francis Cooke decided that from his family only he and his thirteen year–old son John would go over. His wife Hester and younger children would remain in Leiden until the colony was more established.
Now I love the timing of this as well. It seems that Francis Cooke and Hester make a trip to Norwich in 1606 and what do you suppose happens a year later.
In the autumn of 1607, the Scrooby congregation decided to emigrate to the Netherlands. English Separatists had been settled at Amsterdam since the late 1500s and were able to worship as they chose. The Separatists secretly packed their belongings, and set out on foot for the sixty mile journey to the port town of Boston in Lincolnshire. Awaiting them was a sea captain, who had agreed to smuggle them out of the country.
But, before the congregation arrived at Boston, the captain betrayed them to the authorities. The Separatists were searched, their money taken, and their belongings ransacked. They were put on display for the crowds and confined in cells on the first floor of the Boston Guildhall. During the month of their imprisonment, the magistrates treated them well. Richard Clyfton, William Brewster, and John Robinson were the last to be released.
The second attempt to flee to the Netherlands was successful. Robinson was not among the main group that first left the country as he, Clifton, Brewster, and other leaders stayed behind until the following year to help weaker members. Clifton arrived at Amsterdam in August 1608 and subsequently became the Amsterdam congregation's teacher.
One has to realise that Francis Cooke had definite ties to Norwich. What other reason would he and Hester have to go there in 1606.
The Mayflower departed Plymouth, England on September 6/16, 1620. The small, 100-foot ship had 102 passengers and a crew of about 30-40 in extremely cramped conditions. By the second month out, the ship was being buffeted by strong westerly gales, causing the ship's timbers to be badly shaken with caulking failing to keep out seawater, and with passengers, even in their berths, lying wet and ill. This, combined with a lack of proper rations and unsanitary conditions for several months, attributed to what would be fatal for many, especially the majority of women and children. On the way there were two deaths, a crew member and a passenger, but the worst was yet to come after arriving at their destination when, in the space of several months, almost half the passengers perished in cold, harsh, unfamiliar New England winter.
On November 9/29, 1620, after about 5 months at sea, including 3 months of delays in England, they spotted land, which was the Cape Cod Hook, now called Provincetown Harbor. And after several days of trying to get south to their planned destination of the Colony of Virginia, strong winter seas forced them to return to the harbor at Cape Cod hook, where they anchored on November 11/21. The Mayflower Compact was signed that day.
Y DNA testing for male Cooke descendants has found haplotype I1. Francis Cooke was an educated Englishman. He attended Jesus College at Cambridge for at least a year. The Cooke family was part of the radical Protestant movement in England even before Francis was born. They were involved in the economy as landowners and cloth merchants who interacted extensively with the wave of French Huguenots who flocked to England after the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. Francis' grandfather, Anthony, was forced into exile on the continent during the reign of Queen Mary because of his religious views.
Although the parentage of Francis Cooke of Leiden, and later the Mayflower and Plymouth parentage is unknown; Y-Dna evidence at the Cooke Dna Project shows a clear match between between descendants of Anthony Cooke, and Francis Cooke.
Further when one does a statistical analysis of the Frenchified variants of Cooke or Cook. One comes up with the following:
For the Surname Coucke:
United States 107
For the Surname Couck:
United States 26
Now it seems to me if Francis Cooke were a Walloon or a Huguenot as suggested the names given in the Walloon church records would be much more numerous than they are. Especially after all of these years. It becomes obvious that it is an English name translated into French.
Gerald S. Hayes