Papers of Thomas Cockman (Master 1722-45)

Thomas Cockman (1675–1745) came from Cowden, Kent.

He signed the Admissions register at University College on 20 Dec 1690, and matriculated on 22 Jan 1690/1 aged 16. He became a BA in 1694, and an MA in 1697, and in 1701, was elected a Bennet Fellow. He resigned his Fellowship in 1712, married, and held two livings in Kent.

In 1722, on the death of Arthur Charlett, Cockman was put forward as a candidate to succeed him as Master of University College. What followed was one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the College. Cockman was elected Master, but not with an overall majority. His opponents persuaded the Vice-Chancellor that the vote was invalid, and that the runner-up, William Denison, be elected Master instead. The Vice-Chancellor, invoking his right as Visitor of University College, ordered that Denison’s election be recognised. Cockman’s party, however, using of the legend linking the College with King Alfred, declared that, since the College was a Royal Foundation, the Crown should be the Visitor, and the dispute went to law. In 1727, the case was heard, and the verdict was that King Alfred was indeed the College’s Founder, and that the Crown its Visitor. It took a further two years for a formal Visitation to take place, and for Cockman's election as Master to be confirmed (the story is told in more detail in R. H. Darwall-Smith ‘The Great Mastership Dispute’, in UCR Vol. XII no. 3 (1999), 58–85, and A History of University College (Oxford, 2008), Chapter 12).

Surprisingly once Cockman’s position as Master had been upheld by the Visitors, his tenure appears to have been a very peaceful one, until his death in February 1744/5. The College Register shows that Fellows from both his and Denison’s sides carried on in the College, performing their duties much as before (for example George Ward, who had been one of Denison’s most outspoken supporters, remained as Senior Tutor), and Cockman left behind him a good reputation for his concern for the welfare of his undergraduates, and for his determination to spend as much time as he could in residence. Cockman was buried under the altar in the College Chapel.

These papers were all found in the archives during the stocktaking of summer 1993. Unsurprisingly, Most of them refer to the dispute over his Mastership from 1722–1729. They are divided into the following series:


UC:MA34/L1     Papers on the University's involvement in the Mastership dispute

UC:MA34/MS1  Copies of Documents used as Evidence in the Mastership dispute

UC:MA34/MS2  Narrative Accounts of the Mastership dispute

UC:MA34/L2     Legal papers relating to the 1727 Court Case

UC:MA34/N1     Pamphlet

UC:MA34/L3     Papers relating to the creation of New Statutes

UC:MA34/C1     Correspondence of Thomas Cockman, 1726-44


Because of the length of the complete catalogue, it has not been placed online. Instead, a pdf version of it may be consulted here.