Catharine Trotter Cockburn (1679-1749)


Unlike Lady Masham, Catherine Trotter did not grow up in the house of a Cambridge don. Her father, a naval captain, died when she was quite young leaving the family very poor. Catherine was largely self-educated and engaged in a lively literary career as well as the philosophical writings which are our chief interest.

Scholars are coming to see Catharine Trotter Cockburn as one of Locke's most able eighteenth century defenders. She also wrote in defense of Lady Masham against charges that her books had been writeen by Locke.


Cockburn Timeline

167916, August, Catharine Trotter is born to Captain David Trotter and his wife, Sarah.
1683David Trotter died on his ship of the plague and the purser of the ship took all of his holdings and the goldsmith keeping his gold claimed bankruptcy. Sarah Trotter and her two daughters were left to depend on their friends and relatives for support. Catharine taught herself to write, learned French, and obtained help in learning Latin and Logic.
1693Trotter wrote a set of verses to Bevil Higgons regarding his recent smallpox attack. It is surmised that this correspondence led to introductions to William Congreve and Dryden.
1697Trotter writes her first play,Agnes de Castro. She also sends verses to Congreve and receives a grateful reply.
1697Trotter writes her second play, The Fatal Friendship with Congreve as literary adviser. It is highly praised.
1700Trotter presents her only comedy, Most Votes Carry It.
1701The Unhappy Penitent, Trotter's fourth play premiers at Drury Lane. She leaves London.
1702Trotter defends Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding against his critics in an anonymous essay titled A Defence of Mr. Locke's 'Essay of Human Understanding'. Locke received a copy and sent Trotter a letter of appreciation and a present of books. Later she defends Lady Masham against Thomas Burnet's charge that Masham's essays were Locke's work.
1703The Revolution of Sweden, a tragedy is completed by Trotter and sent to Congreve who suggested several changes. Trotter returns to London.
1704Trotter spends the year rewriting her tragedy and composing verses in honor of The Duke of Marlborough's victory. The verses were highly praised and later published.
1706The Revolution of Sweden was produced at The Queen's Theater, Haymarket. The play's run, however, was only six days.
1708Trotter marrys Mr. Cockburn, a clergyman. They had two daughters and a son.
1714Mr. Cockburn refuses to take an oath of Abjuration (renouncing the Stuart claim to the throne through the Pretenders) and is fired. The Cockburn family is reduced to extreme poverty.
1726Mr. Cockburn relents and takes the oath. Trotter rewrites her comedy Love at Last under the title The Honorable Deceivers. She also wrote Vindication of Mr Locke's Christian Principles from the Injurious Imputations of Dr. Holdsworth, but was unable to find a publisher.
1737The Cockburn family moves to Northumberland.
1739Trotter writes a philosophical tract titled Remarks upon some Writers in the Controversy concerning the Foundation of Moral Duty and Moral Obligations. Her eyes were growing weak and she was no longer able to sew or write by candlelight.
1743Trotter's tract is published in The History of the Works of the Learned.
1747Trotter writes a refutation of Rutherford's Essay on the Nature and Obligations of Virtue. It's success when published caused her friends to press her to collect her works in a single manuscript.
17494 January, Mr. Cockburn dies.
11 May, Catharine Trotter Cockburn dies.
1751Trotter's Vindication of Mr Locke's... is published.

Cockburn Time Line Sources

Suggested Readings available at OSU

Other Sources not Available At Kerr Library