CROFT, Sir James (c.1518-90), of Croft Castle, Herefs.
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Family and Education
b. 1518, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Richard Croft of Croft Castle by Catherine, da. of Sir Richard Herbert of Montgomery Castle, Mont.; ?bro. of Thomas. m. (1) c. 1540, Alice (d.1573), da. of Richard Warnecombe† of Ivington in Leominster, Lugwardine and Hereford, wid. of William Wigmore of Shobdon, 3s. inc. Edward and James 4da.; (2) Catherine, da. of Edward Blount. Kntd. 1547; suc. fa. 1562.1
Water bailiff, Boulogne 1544-5, under-marshal 21 Mar. 1546-Mar. 1547; capt. Haddington by June-Sept. 1549; member, council in the marches of Wales 1550, vice-president 1550-1; ld. dep. [I] 29 Apr. 1551-Apr. 1553; gent. privy chamber Nov. 1551; dep. constable of the Tower ?1 May-8 July 1553; j.p.q. Herefs. from 1559 and of most marcher and Welsh counties from 1573; gov. Berwick-upon-Tweed 14 Apr. 1559-21 Aug. 1560; commr. musters, Herefs. 1569; comptroller of the Household 1570; PC 24 May 1570; constable, Aberystwyth castle, Card., Montgomery castle, Mont. 1570; steward, Kedewen, Kerry and Montgomery, Mont. 1570, Hereford by 1570, Leominster by 1571; keeper, Wigmore park, Herefs. 1570; custos rot. Herefs. c.1573; commr. to treat with the Spanish at Bourbourg Jan. 1588.2
In the aftermath of Wyatt’s rebellion, when Croft and Princess Elizabeth were fellow prisoners, Croft refused to implicate her, though he was ‘marvellously tossed and examined’. Elizabeth never forgot, and throughout her reign Croft could rely on her friendship, which was as well, for long before his death he had lost the support of almost every other influential person in the realm. Sir Henry Percy, 2nd Earl of Northumberland, thought Croft was his own worst enemy. To Burghley in 1578, he wrote:
The man has not the readiest way to do good to himself as other courtiers have, and finds he is hindered by indirect means. He standeth in need of help more than, perhaps, his stomach will yield to make show of to the world.
Despite grants of land in Herefordshire and Kent, of fines from concealed lands, the considerable perquisites of his comptroller’s office and sinecures such as the garbling of spices, Croft still died ‘pauperrimus miles’.3
Early in Elizabeth’s reign he was restored in blood, and sent to the northern border. At Berwick, he at first gained the good opinion of his colleagues, Sadler describing him to Cecil as ‘wise and diligent’. He agreed with the active policy then in favour towards the Scottish protestants and joined Sadler in an appeal for money to win their support, ‘for of bare words only can they receive no comfort’. Early in 1560 he went north from Berwick, much against his will, quarrelled with his fellow officers, entered into correspondence with the Regent and withdrew his army division at a critical moment during the attack on Leith. The Duke of Norfolk, on investigating the matter, wrote to Cecil: ‘I assure you I thought a man could not have gone nearer a traitor and have missed, than Sir James’. There was talk of an indictment, but Maitland and other Scottish lords wrote to Cecil on Croft’s behalf, and Thomas Randolph added an appeal for clemency: ‘I am sorry at my heart for Sir James Croft’s deserts; whatsoever enchanted him, I never found man franker than he was to the purpose’. Croft was dismissed from his governorship of Berwick and it was almost ten years before he received another office outside Herefordshire and Wales.4
From 1563 to his death nearly 30 years later Croft represented the county in every Parliament. There were at least two other Herefordshire families outstanding enough to provide county Members and deputy lieutenants, and one of these, the Scudamores, became closely related to Croft when John Scudamore married his daughter Eleanor. The other family, the Coningsbys, led for much of the reign by Thomas Coningsby of Hampton Court, Herefordshire, disliked a Croft monopoly of the county seats, but from 1563 to 1589 they were unsuccessful in challenging it. In 1563 Croft’s co-Member was James Warnecombe, his brother-in-law, who almost certainly owed his seat to Croft’s influence, and thenceforth until Sir James’s death the junior Member was John Scudamore. Croft’s influence did not, however, extend to both the Herefordshire parliamentary boroughs. At Hereford, he became steward, in 1584 helping the town authorities when their liberties were threatened by quo warranto proceedings. But the borough maintained its parliamentary independence fairly consistently in Elizabethan Parliaments, always returning at least one, and usually two townsmen. An unknown correspondent who wrote to Croft before one election, asking to be placed ‘a burgess in your country, where it shall seem to you best’, was wrong in assuming that Croft was able to control the boroughs. Even at Leominster, only five miles from his main seat, he was not the unchallenged patron: the Coningsbys and their relatives the Hakluyts had considerable influence, and took both seats in 1559. Still, from 1563 to 1586 Croft was able to exercise at least one nomination, and sometimes two, and he was successful in getting his relatives and supporters on to the Herefordshire commission of the peace.
In 1563 he served on committees concerning curriers (27 Jan.) and the statute of artificers (3 Mar.); and in 1566 he was appointed to committees concerning felonies in Wales (22 Nov.) and the wearing of caps on the Sabbath day (22 Nov.). By 1571 he had been appointed comptroller of the Household and a member of the Privy Council, and as such would have been able to attend the important committees to which the Privy Councillors were appointed for the remainder of his parliamentary career. His name appears in the parliamentary journals as officiating at the installation of the Speaker and in the tendering of oaths to the House of Commons on 2 Apr. 1571, as he was to do for at least two of the sessions of the following Parliament. His position as comptroller of the Household led him to assure Members of future reform in the abuses of purveyors on 7 Apr., although his own record on this matter was open to question. He took part in some of the major debates of the Parliament, speaking twice on the treasons bill (12 Apr., 14 Apr.), and against Strickland’s bill for the reform of the prayer book on 14 Apr., when he warned Members against offending the Queen:
Since we have acknowledged her to be Supreme Head, we are not in these petty matters to run before the rule, which to do and wherein to offend were folly. How frowardly we were, he did refer to our own considerations, insinuating in some sort that our heady and hasty proceedings, contrary and before law, did rather hinder than help.
He took a special interest in the bill for Bristol, speaking on 11, 12, 20 Apr., serving on the committee (12 Apr.) and finally reporting the bill (3 May). His committee work in 1571 was not great: he was appointed to a conference with the Lords to discuss the bill of the 12 shires of Wales (25 May), and served on committees concerning the navy (25 May) and the river Lea (26 May).
In the first session of the 1572 Parliament, Croft was active in the debates on Mary Queen of Scots. He served on three conferences with the Lords (12 May, 28 May and 9 June), spoke once on the matter (23 May) and was chosen to report the Queen’s answer to a petition from the House (23 May), refusing to agree to an act of attainder against Mary. Croft was ‘sorry it was his chance to be the bringer of so uncomfortable a message. He would be glad if he could take away the cause of the despair’. He supported a suggestion made that same day that the House should submit its case in writing. He had a more personal interest in a bill to bring water from the Severn to Worcester: on 5 June 1572 he refused to submit to a valuation of his own land in the Worcester area. He ‘hath some not worth 20 years’ purchase, which he would not give for 60’. On 6 June he opposed the third reading of a bill ‘restraining the bringing in of any wares of any country in which our wares are forbidden’. His other committee activity in this session included the poor law (29 May), and speaking on the subject the next day he was in favour of excluding minstrels from the definition of vagabonds. He was appointed to the committee for the Earl of Kent’s bill (4 June), and spoke on Oxfordshire highways and bridges (7 June).
In 1576 the journals record no speeches, but on 10 Mar. a foreign correspondent reported him as opposing in the Commons the proposal to petition the Queen to accept the sovereignty of the Netherlands. Croft is quoted as saying that those who advocated this measure were ill-intentioned (mal affectionnés) towards her. He was appointed to at least 18 committees this session, on such topics as promoters (18 Feb.), bastardy (15 Feb.), cloth (16 Feb.), sheriffs (18 Feb.), broggers and drovers (28 Feb.), haberdashers (28 Feb.), unlawful weapons (2 Mar.), the inning of salt marshes (5 Mar.), Rochester bridge (5 Mar.), letters patent (7 Mar.), fraudulent conveyances (7 Mar.), export licences (12 Mar.) and excess in apparel (13 Mar.). In 1581 he spoke thrice. On 21 Jan. he moved that Members should wait, making a low curtsey, until the Speaker had retired, and ‘not so unseemly and rudely to thrust and throng out as of late time hath been disorderly used’. On 24 Jan. when he spoke against Wentworth’s motion for a public fast, he ‘urged and enforced the fault of the House with much ... violence’. On 8 Feb. he reported the conference held with the Lords on the subject of encumbrances. He was appointed to at least eight committees in 1581, concerning the clerk of the market (27 Jan.), slanderous words and practices (3 Feb.), sheriffs (4 Feb.), assize of fuel (21 Feb.), wax (24 Feb.), the government of London (4 Mar.), navigation (17 Mar.) and Arthur Hall (18 Mar.).
On 3 Dec. 1584 Croft again complained about bad manners. This time it was ‘the great disorder of serving men and boys in hurting and misusing of other persons’. His committees included: privilege (8 Dec.), the Sabbath day (10 Dec.), grants by corporations (11 Dec.), procedure (15 Feb. 1585), Jesuits (18 Feb.) and Morpeth (15 Mar.).
Croft was appointed to the Norfolk election committee on 9 Nov. 1586, and at some time in this Parliament he made an unpopular (and unreported) speech on Mary Queen of Scots. On 21 Nov. he claimed to have been misinterpreted. Though the House had understood that he was against their petition to the Queen to have Mary executed, he now affirmed his ‘earnest and devout prayer to God to incline her Majesty’s heart’ to the petition. He was in charge of the bill for Thomas Hanford’s debts (15, 20 Mar. 1587). The matter reappeared in the next Parliament, Croft reporting the progress of the examination on 22 Feb. 1589. His committees in 1589 concerned privileges (7 Feb.), salted fish (11 Mar.), aliens (12 Mar.), excess in apparel (21 Mar.), and casks (24 Mar.). He spoke on the treasons bill, 29 Mar. As first knight of the shire he could have served on the subsidy committees, 24 Feb. 1585, 22 Feb. 1587 and 11 Feb. 1589.[footnote]
In the meantime, between his last few speeches in the Commons, Croft had finally disgraced himself. Though ostensibly restored to favour after his lapse in Scotland, Burghley had lost confidence in him, and the Leicester-Walsingham faction on the Privy Council knew him to be their most consistent opponent over active support for the Netherlands protestants. Croft quite openly supported a pro-Spanish policy, and was known to be in receipt of a pension from Philip II of Spain, whom he admitted being ready to serve in everything ‘he honestly could’. Two Spanish ambassadors sang his praises to their sovereign. Guzman de Silva said in 1566 that Croft was the only good soldier left in England, and Mendoza that Croft’s friendship was worth a present of 2,000 crowns in jewels. Other ministers (including, later, Robert Cecil) took money regularly from Spain, but one way and another, Croft was in an exposed position even before his handling of peace negotiations with Parma led to his complete isolation.5
As early as 1586 Croft was concerning himself ‘about the Prince of Parma’, and in January 1588 he was made a commissioner to treat with the Spaniards at Bourbourg. The appointment probably reflects Elizabeth’s appreciation of Croft’s services in maintaining her system of checks and balances within the Privy Council rather than any inherent respect for his abilities. Charles Howard I, the lord high admiral, thought him ‘a long grey beard with a white head witless’, and Parma himself described him as ‘a weak old man of 70 with very little sagacity’. However, for whatever reason, he was joined to the 4th Earl of Derby, William Brooke†, 10th Lord Cobham and two lawyers on the peace mission. From the outset he acted independently, travelling separately from the other commissioners and finally, weary of procedural delays, he saw Parma alone, save for an interpreter. Perhaps mistaking politeness for agreement, he despatched a messenger to Elizabeth assuring her that Parma had agreed to an armistice. The Queen was sceptical, and Croft’s fellow commissioners angry. When Parma’s official answer reached them a few days later, it was noncommittal on points Croft had declared settled, and he barely escaped recall. After the return of the commission he attended Privy Council meetings in mid-August, but at the end of that month he sustained a short spell in the Fleet ‘on her Majesty’s commandment’. Early in October 1588 he was elected knight of the shire for Herefordshire for the last time, and by January 1589 he was back in the Commons and at the Council table, where he had always been regular in attendance.6
His career on the council in the marches of Wales was in character. He was at odds with Sir Henry Sidney’s administration over public matters, and this antagonism was exacerbated when Robert Sidney competed successfully with Croft’s grandson, Herbert Croft, for a match with the heiress Barbara Gamage. With Sidney’s successor the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, Croft’s relations were worse, Pembroke taking exception to Croft’s well meant suggestions for a reduction in the authority of the president of the council in the marches.7
Croft attended the Privy Council up to 28 June 1590. He died 4 Sept. and was buried in Westminster abbey, ‘his Prince’s favourite and in fair esteem with all that knew him’.8
Morgan transcripts at Hereford, vi. 182; Neale, Commons, 347-5, 151; SP12/167/45, 46; Strype, Annals, iii(2), pp. 453-5.