CROMWELL, alias WILLIAMS, Henry (c.1537-1604), of Hinchingbrooke and Ramsey Abbey, Hunts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

b. c.1537, 1st s. of Sir Richard Cromwell alias Williams of Hinchingbrooke by Frances, da. of Sir Thomas Murfyn; bro. of Francis Cromwell alias Williams . educ. ?Queens’, Camb.; L. Inn 1557. m.(1) Joan (d.1584), da. of Sir Ralph Warren, ld. mayor of London, sis. and h. of her bro. Richard Warren of Claybury, Essex, 6s. inc. Oliver, Richard and Robert Cromwell, and Henry Cromwell, 5da.; (2) Susan Weeks (d.1592), s.p.; at least 2da. illegit. suc. fa. 1544. Kntd. 1564.1

Offices Held

J.p. Hunts. from c.1569, q. by 1574; sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. 1565-6, 1571-2, 1580-1, 1592-3; commr. musters, Hunts. by c.1570; warden of Waybridge and Sapley forests 1580; custos rot. Hunts. 1581.2


Of Welsh descent, the Cromwell or Williams family had only recently become important in Huntingdonshire, owing their rise from the lowly status of Putney innkeepers to their relationship with the statesman Thomas Cromwell, whose name they adopted. Sir Richard, father of Henry the 1563 Member, became rich through speculating in monastic lands, and left to his heir the sites and demesnes of Ramsey abbey and the nunnery of Hinchinbrooke. Henry, whose wardship was granted to Sir Edward North, subsequently divided his time between the two properties, using Ramsey as a summer residence. At Hinchingbrooke he pulled down the convent and built a house, using materials from Barnwell Priory. It was here that he was knighted by Elizabeth after her visit in 1564. He also owned extensive estates in other parts of the county.3

Although he sat in Parliament only once, Cromwell’s influence can be seen in a number of other Elizabethan elections, notably in 1572, when as sheriff he secured the return of his brother Francis as junior knight, and from 1586 onwards, when first a close friend of the family (possibly a relative), George Walton, and then the heir to Hinchingbrooke, Sir Henry’s eldest son Oliver, became county Members. The only obvious setback to the Hinchingbrooke influence occurred in 1584, when Francis Cromwell was defeated owing to the tactics of the sheriff, Sir Henry Darcy, the possessor of Leighton Bromswold, another of the great houses in the county, with whose previous owners Cromwell had been on friendly terms.4

For forty years Cromwell played a leading part in local affairs. In 1564 the bishops’ letters to the Council noted that he was ‘earnest in religion and fit to be trusted’. He was not a j.p. and it is surprising that he should not have been included in the commission before this. His regular duties as a county official were supplemented by membership of a number of local commissions—for instance to control grain prices, to ‘take care in the good assessing of the subsidy’, and in 1592 to take the oaths of officials in Huntingdonshire. During the period when Campion and Persons were active in England, he spent much time and energy in an unsuccessful search for the Jesuit Edward Chambers, who was rumoured to be at large in the district. In 1599, during a vacancy in the bishopric of Ely, he was one of those who surveyed the episcopal lands for the Crown. He was closely associated with the Huntingdonshire musters, and according to a declaration which he drew up in 1575, had been for five years solely responsible for training the county levies twice a year, at considerable expense to himself, in addition to his personal contributions to the musters of ‘ten demilances and ten light horses with furniture’. In 1588 he brought up the 400 footmen and the troop of horse levied in his county to help repel the threatened Spanish invasion. Part of his speech at the special musters of February 1589 has survived. He enjoined ‘continual practice to attain the weight and perfect use’ of weapons, and spoke of the defeat of the Armada, which had secured that ‘the glorious word of God’ should be ‘most freely preached among us’. Later in the reign there are references to his work in providing soldiers for Ireland: in July 1592 he deputised at the musters for the lord lieutenant, John St. John, and Baron St. John of Bletsoe, who was ill.5

Locally Cromwell was known as ‘The Golden Knight’ because he threw coins from his coach to the people in the streets as he moved from Hinchingbrooke or Cromwell House in Huntingdon to Ramsey for the summer months, and he was one of 12 ‘knights of great possessions’ suggested for baronies in 1588. His tenants sometimes found him oppressive. A petition from the poor of Warboys against his exactions was before the Council in 1576, and his gift of 40s. to Queens’ College, Cambridge to provide an annual sermon against sorcery was financed from goods forfeited to him as lord of the manor by an unfortunate family in the same parish who had been convicted of witchcraft on Lady Cromwell’s accusation. Several charges of treasonable words and of conduct unbefitting a justice of the peace were brought against him. His most famous—and ludicrous—quarrel, with Sir Henry Darcy, lasted for many years, each man accusing the other of unfair attempts to gain precedence in the county. Darcy claimed that Cromwell had drawn up a new commission of the peace, placing his own name above his rival’s—a reversal of the order of the past 18 years; that he had taxed the shire for ‘powder and match’ at the musters, and detained the money; that he had certified his own subsidy assessment at only £100, whereas the commissioners had put it down as 200 marks; and that he had appointed an insufficient man as clerk of the peace. In 1601 Sir Robert Cecil wrote of Cromwell’s ‘great years and infirmities’, but he lived until 6 Jan. 1604. His will, drawn up a few weeks before his death, has a devout preamble, praying that his descendants might so live as to be ‘accepted among the elect’. He left £1,400 and a carcanet of diamonds to his youngest daughter Dorothy, who was then still unmarried (and who later married Thomas Fleming II), and £100 each to four younger sons. Two illegitimate daughters, Alice and Robsert Cromwell, were to have the rents of two houses in Huntingdon. The will appointed Cromwell’s eldest son Oliver as executor, with Eleazar Lok and Walter Creed as supervisors. The funeral at All Saints, Huntingdon, was as ostentatious as he would have wished and must have contributed to his heir’s financial difficulties.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. E150/93/2; Vis. Hunts. (Cam. Soc. xliii). 80; VCH Hunts. ii. 68-9.
  • 2. Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 29; Lansd. 21, f. 50; CSP dom. 1547-80, p. 648; Cal. Feet of Fines Hunts. ed. Turner (Camb. Antiq. Soc. Pubs. oct. ser. xxxvii), 176; SP12/155/72-4.
  • 3. VCH Hunts. ii. 69,
  • 4. St. Ch. 5/A41/32, A42/30; Neale, Commons, 47-9.
  • 5. Cam. Misc. ix(3), p. 29; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 338-9; 1598-1601, p. 237; APC, xii. 13; xiii. 387, 410-11, 421; xvi. 186; xxiii. 70-1, 258; xxviii. 537; xxxii. 281; Lansd. 8, f. 78; 21, f. 50; 104, ff. 51 seq.; VCH Hunts. ii. 14; W. M. Noble, Hunts. and the Spanish Armada, 54-5.
  • 6. Camden, Britannia (1806), ii. 259; APC, ix. 91; xviii. 423; xxv. 500-1; xxvi. 4-6, 54; R. Carruthers, Hist. Huntingdon, 152, 176; SP12/155/72-4; HMC Hatfield, xi. 260-1; Add. Charter 33159; Neale, 49; C142/283/106.