CROMWELL, alias WILLIAMS, Richard (by 1512-44), of London; Stepney, Mdx. and Hinchingbroke, Hunts.
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Family and Education
b. by 1512, s. of Morgan Williams of Putney, Surr., and Greenwich, Kent by Catherine, da. of Walter Cromwell of Putney. m. by 8 Mar. 1534, Frances, da. of Sir Thomas Murfyn of London, 2s. Francis† and Henry†. Kntd. 2 May 1540.2
Servant of Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset by 1529-30; member, household of Thomas Cromwell 1530; jt. keeper, Marwell park, Hants 1533; keeper, Orwell park, Cambs. 1534; jt. (with Thomas Cromwell) constable, Berkeley castle, Glos. 1535-40, sole 1540-d.; sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. 1536-7, 1541-1; j.p. Cambs., Hunts. 1538-d.; gent. privy chamber by 1539-d.; commr. array, Hunts. 1542-numerous minor offices.3
Richard Williams was the nephew of Thomas Cromwell. His father, a brewer of obscure origin who married Cromwell’s sister Catherine, was living at Putney in 1495 and at Greenwich in 1517. Leland thought that the family came from Llanishen near Cardiff, and an Elizabethan herald produced a Welsh pedigree 15 generations long.
When Thomas Cromwell made his will in 1529 his nephew was included among his ‘poor kinfolk’. Williams was then serving the Marquess of Dorset, as Cromwell had earlier done, but on Dorset’s death in October 1530 he entered his uncle’s service and adopted the name Cromwell. For the next ten years he was employed in both public and private matters and was a channel of communication with the minister. His uncle’s plan of 1533 for his marriage to the widow of George Courtenay seems to have been wrecked by her kinswoman Anne Boleyn’s opposition, but within six months he had married a lord mayor’s daughter whose ample dowry included houses in St. Helens Bishopsgate and Stepney. In 1534 he had the unenviable task of conducting More from the Tower to trial at Westminster, but it was his visiting and suppressing of monasteries which made him a target for the rebels of 1536. He retaliated by taking ruthless action against them in Lincolnshire, but despite his claim to have been indispensable to the Duke of Suffolk’s decision making, and Suffolk’s own commendation, his services went unrewarded save perhaps by the shrievalty of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire in the following autumn. Cromwell chose to establish himself in the second of those counties, buying Sawtry abbey from the crown for £1,700 in 1537 and then adding some of the escheated lands of Sir John Hussey, Lord Hussey and further monastic property, including Ramsey abbey for which he paid nearly £5,000. It was Hinchingbroke priory, which he leased in 1538, that he was to make his home. This local ascendancy was unmatched by significant advancement at court, where he achieved little more than a knighthood and a place in the privy chamber.4
It is possible, if unlikely, that Cromwell had been by-elected for Huntingdonshire after the death of Sir Nicholas Harvey in 1532, his uncle’s patronage being perhaps sufficient to outweigh his youth and recent establishment in the county. Membership of that Parliament would have carried him into its successor of 1536, in which he could in any case have expected a seat, if not for a shire then for one of the many boroughs for which the names of the Members are lost. By 1539 he had achieved a position in the shire which would have needed little reinforcing by his uncle and which gave him precedence over his fellow-knight Oliver Leder, a dependant of the minister. Cromwell was joined in the House by his cousin Gregory Cromwell, with whom during the third session of 1540 he had to witness the attainder and execution of their kinsman. From this catastrophe both emerged unscathed: a month after the dissolution Richard Cromwell and Oliver Leder had instructions addressed to them about collecting the subsidy, and in the following autumn Cromwell was pricked sheriff for the second time.5
During the last four years of his life Cromwell consolidated his Huntingdonshire estates and disposed of property elsewhere to help redeem mortgages. He was again first knight of the shire in the Parliament of 1542 and after its second session he served in the campaign in the Netherlands, where he saved the life of the commander, Sir John Wallop. He was in England for the third session but in the summer of 1544 he accompanied the King’s expedition to France. He was in ‘most health’ when before his departure he made his will on 20 June, and his death on the following 20 Oct. was probably the result of the campaign which had ended a month earlier. After providing for his sons and leaving horses to the King, Sir John Williams and Gregory Cromwell, he instructed his executors, who included his kinsman (Sir) Edward North, to apply the income from the remainder of his property to the payment of debts amounting to £3,000. North acquired the wardship of the seven year-old son and heir Henry, who was to become the grandfather of the Protector.6
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: T. M. Hofmann
- 1. E159/319, brev. ret. Mich. r. [1-2].
- 2. Date of birth estimated from first office. Harl. 890, f. 38; Vis. Hunts. (Cam. Soc. xliii), 79-80; VCH Hunts. ii. 67-69; LP Hen. VIII, vi; Wriothesley’s Chron. i (Cam. Soc. n.s. xi), 117-18.
- 3. LP Hen. VIII, vii, xii, xiii-xvii, xx.
- 4. M. L. Robertson, ‘Cromwell’s servants’ (Univ. California Los Angeles Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 474-5; VCH Hunts. ii. 69; LP Hen. VIII, i. ii, iv-xv; Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, iii. 17; Roper, Life of More (EETS cxcviii), 74; Somerville, Duchy, i. 604; M. H. and R. Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, passim; Wriothesley’s Chron. i. 95-97.
- 5. LP Hen. VIII, vii, xvi-xx, add.; Wriothesley’s Chron. i. 117-18; HMC Bath, iv. 341.
- 6. LP Hen. VIII, xvi-xx; Hall, Chron. 858; DKR, xxx. app. 191, 195; PCC 20 Alen; C142/70/10.