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Cottam was born to Protestant parents, Laurence Cottam of Dilworth and Anne Brewer, but was converted as an adult by Thomas Pound. He studied at Brasenose College, Oxford, and received his M.A. on July 14, 1572, before leaving for London, where he became master of a grammar school. It was there that he met Pound and decided to head to Douai to become a priest.
He was ordained a deacon at Cambrai in December of 1577 and, desiring to become a missionary to India, went to Rome and was received as a Jesuit novice at Sant' Andrea on April 8, 1579. That October he came down with a fever and was sent to Lyons to recuperate. From there he went to the English College, Rheims, considering himself accepted for India, if his health improved after a visit to England. He was ordained around May 28, 1580, at Soissons and left on June 5 with four companions for England. Betrayed by an English spy named Sledd, he was immediately arrested at Dover. Through a ruse by Dr. Ely, one of his fellow-travelers, Cottam reached London safely; however, the good deed put the doctor at risk, and Cottam voluntarily surrendered himself.
He was initially committed "close prisoner" to the Marshalsea, where it is thought he said his first mass. After being tortured, he was removed on December 4, 1580 to the Tower, where he endured the rack and the Scavenger's Daughter. Cottam was arraigned with Edmund Campion and others and on November 16, 1581, he was sentenced to death. His execution was deferred until May 30, 1582, when he was executed with the Scavenger's Daughter.
- This article incorporates text from the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913, a publication now in the public domain.
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