John Cosin 1595-1672

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John COSIN 1595-1672

Biographical Note

Born in Norwich; BA Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, 1614; MA 1617, BD 1623, DD 1630, fellow 1620-24; University Preacher at Cambridge in 1622. Secretary/Librarian to Bishop John Overall 1616-19. Prebendary of Durham 1624-43; Dean of Peterborough 1640; Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge 1635-44 before being ejected and forced to flee to France, where he became chaplain to the exiled royalist community in Paris until the Restoration. Returned to England 1660 and was made Bishop of Durham in the same year, a post he held till his death in 1672. In his younger days he was closely associated with Arminianism and the High Church theological cause championed by William Laud; he was a particular enemy of the puritan and Parliamentary parties. His Collection of private devotions, published in 1627 aroused strong controversy for its allegedly Roman Catholic tendencies.


Cosin acquired books throughout his life. He bequeathed ca.5500 books to the diocese of Durham, housed in a purpose-designed library building opened in 1669; this is still in being today (Cosin's Library), administered by Durham University. The Library contains books from every stage of his life, from his student and academic days through his period in exile to his time as a Bishop, and the ways in which the books reflect the layers of his life is no small part of their value. They do not comprise all the books he owned, however. During the Interregnum his library was sequestered and kept in Peterhouse (and almost sold); after 1660, he gave many books to Peterhouse, and the relationship between the Cosin books in Durham, and in Cambridge, is complex. He also gave books to Durham Cathedral Library between the 1630s and 1660s. Before the Civil War, he was actively involved in plans to create a new University Library in Cambridge.

Characteristic Markings

Cosin hardly ever wrote his name in his books; there is one known book from his student days in Cambridge, now in Senate House Library, London, with his inscription (Bb4 [Erasmus] SR, Erasmus, Epistolae, 1552). During the earlier part of his career, ca.1630-40, he inscribed a code “p m” in some of his books, and “D C” in others. These letters are always written around, or directly beneath the imprint; their meaning is unknown. Occasionally both codes appear together in the same book. Many of the books which were in Peterhouse during the Interregnum had a pressmark written according to the distinctive formula then used at the college. In the 1660s Cosin had two small armorial stamps made, showing his arms as Bishop of Durham, for use on spine. It was his intention that all the books in the Library should have one of these stamps impressed on them, but only a small proportion was thus treated before he died. Several specimens of Cosin’s handwriting are reproduced in G. J. Cuming, The Durham Book, Oxford, 1961.


  • Doyle, A. I., John Cosin in W. Baker (ed), Pre-19th century British book collectors, Detroit, 1999, 51-56.
  • Doyle, A. I., John Cosin (1595-1672) as a library maker, The Book Collector 40 (1991) 335-357.
  • Dubois, E., La bibliotheque de l’eveque Cosin à Durham et sa collection des livres français de la théologie et de spiritualité protestatnes des XVIe et XVIIe siecles, Bulletin de la Société de l’Histoire du protestantisme Français 1982, 175-188.
  • Milton, Anthony. '"Cosin, John (1595–1672), bishop of Durham."' Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Oates, J. C. T., Cambridge University Library: a history, Cambridge, 1986, p.169-70.
  • Osmond, P. H., A life of John Cosin, London, 1913.
  • Pearson, D., Cambridge bindings in Cosin’s Library in P. Isaac (ed.), Six centuries of the provincial book trade in Britain, Winchester, 1990, 41-60.
  • Ramage, D., Cosin’s French books, The Durham Philobiblon 2 pt 8 (1964), 57-63, 2 pt 9-10 (1969), 65.