CREWE, Ranulphe (1559-1646), of Lincoln's Inn, London and Crewe Hall, Barthomley, Cheshire; later of Westminster

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press



Family and Education

bap. 10 Jan. 1559, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of John Crewe of Nantwich, Cheshire and Alice, da. of Humphrey Mainwaring of Nantwich; bro. of Thomas*.1 educ. Shrewsbury g.s. 1570;2 Christ’s, Camb. 1576; Furnival’s Inn; L. Inn 1577, called ?1584.3 m. (1) 20 July 1598, Julian (d. 29 June 1603), da. and coh. of John Clippesby of Clippesby, Norf., 2s. 1da. d.v.p.; (2) 12 Apr. 1607, Julian (d. 10 Aug. 1629), da. of Edward Fusey of London, wid. of Sir Thomas Hesketh* (d. 15 Oct. 1605) of Heslington, Yorks., s.p. suc. fa. 1598;4 kntd. 8 June 1614.5 d. 13 Jan. 1646.6 sig. Ranulphe Crewe.

Offices Held

Bencher, L. Inn 1600, autumn reader 1602, kpr. of Black Bk. 1606-7, treas. 1610-11;7 under-steward, Gt. Yarmouth, Norf. 1606-8, recorder 1608-11;8 just. assize, Midland circ. 1616, Oxf. circ. 1617, Home circ. 1617-24, Norf. circ. 1625-6;9 sjt.-at-law 1614-25;10 c.j.k.b. 1625-6.11

Commr. subsidy, Gt. Yarmouth 1608,12 Cheshire, Mdx., Westminster 1621-2, 1624,13 piracy, London, Mdx., Kent, Essex 1614,14 gaol delivery, London 1614-26, Ely 1625-6,15 oyer and terminer, Verge 1615-at least 1617, 1626,16 London, Mdx. 1615-26,17 Midland circ. 1616,18 Wales and Marches 1617,19 Home circ. 1617-24,20 Norf. circ. 1625-6,21 sewers, Essex 1618-at least 1625,22 Mdx. 1619-1627,23 Kent, Surr., Lincs. 1625,24 Suff. 1626,25 Westminster 1634,26 highway repairs, Herts., Essex 1622, Mdx. 1626,27 annoyances, Mdx. 1625, seabreaches, Norf. 1625;28 j.p. Mdx. 1615-at least 1619, 1625-6,29 Cheshire 1616-26,30 Essex, Herts., Kent, Surr., Suss. 1617-24,31 Westminster 1618-20, 1625-6,32 Beds., Bucks., Cambs., Ely, Hunts., Norf., Suff. 1625-6;33 kpr. of monuments (jt.), Westminster Abbey from 1617;34 gov. Charterhouse hosp., London 1628-d.35

Speaker of the House of Commons 1614.36

Commr. concealed tolls, Eng. and Wales 1618,37 member, High Commission 1620, 1625-6.38


Crewe’s background was comparatively humble. His father, although recognized locally as a gentleman by the time of his death, is said to have been a tanner, and his immediate forebears had probably engaged in trade since their arrival in Nantwich in about the late fifteenth century. However, as Crewe liked to observe, he was ultimately descended from the ancient family of De Crue, who had taken their name from the Cheshire manor of Crewe some three centuries earlier. Even in an age obsessed with genealogy, his fixation with recovering and restoring what he saw as his lost patrimony was remarkable, and he regarded the purchase of Crewe manor in 1609 as one of his crowning achievements.39

Crewe received a thorough education. At Shrewsbury school, where his Christian name was recorded in its variant forms, Randall and Randolph, his contemporaries included his cousin (Sir) Roger Wilbraham*, who was his close friend in later life.40 Brief spells at Cambridge university and Furnival’s Inn were followed by a thorough grounding in the Common Law at Lincoln’s Inn; he was probably the Mr. ‘Crues’ called to the bar there in 1584. By 1596 he was employed as counsel to the 7th earl of Shrewsbury (Gilbert Talbot†), through whom he met his first wife, a member of the earl’s household, and in 1598 he assisted the attorney-general, Sir Edward Coke*, in a Queen’s Bench prosecution. Two years later he became a bencher of Lincoln’s Inn, and emerged as one of the more prominent puritans there.41 He almost certainly obtained his seat at Brackley in 1597 through his brother, Thomas, who owned property close to the borough.42 By this time Crewe was flourishing. Marriage in 1598 to the heiress Julian Clippesby brought him an estate in Norfolk near Great Yarmouth. Shortly after his wedding Crewe obtained a Crown grant of lands in Warwickshire and elsewhere. Over the next few years he was also used as a trustee in settlements involving both Shrewsbury and lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†), his patron at Lincoln’s Inn.43 Appropriately enough, he chose as the subject of his autumn reading in 1602 a Tudor statute on enrolments of land sales.44 Further property deals followed, and from about 1609 he built up a substantial estate in Cheshire, centred on his new home at Crewe Hall.45 His professional reputation was also spreading. In 1606, he defended the king’s title to alnage in the House of Lords. In 1610-11, somewhat earlier than his seniority prescribed, he served as treasurer of Lincoln’s Inn. Presumably because of the weight of his professional commitments, he paid in 1611 to avoid giving a double reading.46

Nevertheless, it must have caused some surprise when, in 1614, Crewe was nominated as Speaker, for he was relatively unversed in Commons’ procedure. Indeed, his previous experience of the House was limited to the Parliament of 1597-8 and to two occasions in 1606 when he had appeared in the Commons as legal counsel. Moreover, his professional standing was unimpressive compared with that of most of his immediate predecessors. Apart from John Croke in 1601, all the Speakers during the past three decades had, at the very least, been serjeants-at-law when appointed.47 The thinking behind the king’s choice of Crewe is difficult to fathom, but a shortage of suitable alternatives may have been a major consideration. Sir Francis Bacon* was probably passed over both because of doubts about the eligibility of the attorney-general to sit in the Lower House, and out of concern to avoid parallels with the 1613 Irish Parliament, in which Ireland’s attorney-general, Sir John Davies*, had proved to be a controversial choice as Speaker. Similarly, the solicitor general, Sir Henry Yelverton*, had rendered himself odious to Members in 1610 by his strong support for impositions.48 With such obvious candidates ruled out, James may have viewed Crewe as a good compromise candidate. The king doubtless wanted a Speaker who would support his political agenda, and Crewe demonstrated his willingness both during the Parliament and in his support for the Benevolence which followed it. At the same time, his puritan sympathies might be expected to appeal to the Commons, and indeed he seems to have been a popular choice when initially presented to the House.49

Crewe’s nomination was almost certainly also bound up with the political jockeying which preceded the Parliament. When news of his selection leaked out around 17 Mar., Sir Thomas Lake I* was generally expected to become secretary of state and thereby take on the running of government business in the Commons. As Lake was widely perceived as a crypto-Catholic, Crewe may have been viewed as a suitable foil to him - much less experienced in parliamentary matters, but indubitably sound in religion.50 This scenario is consistent with the fact that his patron Ellesmere, quite possibly the man who suggested him, had only recently expressed in Council the view that Prince Charles should marry a Protestant. Moreover, while the circumstances surrounding his election are unclear, Crewe may have been nominated at Saltash by the high steward of the duchy of Cornwall, the 3rd earl of Pembroke, who favoured a Parliament as an alternative to a Catholic match. Neither of the two Cornish families with whom Crewe is known to have previously had business dealings, the Killigrews and Trelawnys, possessed the necessary local influence, whereas Saltash, a duchy borough, might well have listened to Pembroke. However, assuming that Pembroke and Ellesmere were indeed the prime movers behind Crewe’s selection, the intended balance between him and Lake was lost when, on 29 Mar., the secretaryship went instead to Sir Ralph Winwood, a firm Protestant but a parliamentary novice.51

Crewe performed the role of Speaker well enough when not under pressure. His opening speeches on 5 and 7 Apr., first declining and then accepting his nomination, were dignified and apposite; Chamberlain thought his oration to the king on the latter day ‘very orderly and convenient’. On 17 May he handled with aplomb the accustomed formalities when several peers attended the Commons to hear Richard Martin* represent the Virginia Company. On certain issues, he could catch the mood of the House very well, as when he remarked that Bishop Neile of Lincoln had infected the Commons with leprosy by his offensive remarks about their right to debate impositions.52 Nevertheless, his uncertainty about procedural matters left him open to criticism by better-established Members. On 23 May Sir John Savile lectured him for allowing Sir William Cavendish I to read a speech, while eight days later Sir Edward Montagu intervened to prevent Crewe from proceeding with the second reading of a naturalization bill before the intended beneficiary had taken the required oaths of supremacy and allegiance. Such public admonitions can have done nothing to engender respect for him among the newer Members in particular, and there was general agreement that, like Sir Edward Phelips before him, he was frequently not treated with due deference. On 5 May, for example, Sir Edwin Sandys observed ‘that when Mr. Speaker offers to speak, every man ought to be silent’, while Savile demanded that Crewe be shown greater courtesy ‘than when the House rose to have every man thrust out of the door before him’. The latter issue remained a sore point for the Speaker, and on 30 May he himself requested that ‘according to the ancient order of the House [he] might pass out of the House without crowding’.53

With Winwood and the other privy councillors failing to push through the government’s agenda effectively, Crewe did what he could to help them. On 8 Apr., despite criticism of his intervention, he successfully delayed a vote on whether to exclude the attorney-general, Sir Francis Bacon, giving the Crown’s officers time to re-group. On 31 May, as the Commons sought to avoid a subsidy debate, the Speaker headed off an attempt by Nicholas Fuller to introduce a new and contentious bill about Chancery. These were but minor victories, however. Crewe lacked Phelips’ skill in managing the Commons’ agenda, and on the matters of real substance his efforts were regularly brushed aside. On 5 May he quite properly reminded the House that the day had been set aside for debating the subsidy, but Members pressed on regardless with a discussion about impositions. On 16 May, with the Commons still pre-occupied with the same unwelcome business, Crewe tried to change the subject by introducing a new bill. However, Edward Alford ‘desired to have the House moved whether the Speaker could speak or read a bill at any time without leave of the House’, forcing Crewe into a humiliating request for guidance as to his proper remit. He was again overruled on 23 May when he sought to delay a report critical of the new order of baronets.54

The Speaker’s impotence was fully exposed three days later when he attempted to avoid putting to the question Sir Robert Phelips’ motion for business to be suspended until the Neile dispute was resolved. Crewe argued feebly that the House should not effectively adjourn itself while the Lords continued to sit, but Sir Edward Montagu accused him of exaggerating the significance of the proposal, and Phelips got his way. The situation deteriorated further the next day, when Crewe delivered the king’s letter challenging the Commons’ right to suspend its activities. Far from subduing the House, this letter provoked a verbal assault on the Speaker himself, with allegations that he had breached Members’ confidentiality by visiting James without permission. Attempts by Winwood and Lake to support Crewe backfired, leading to accusations that he had even let the king see the draft Journal. Thrown onto the defensive, the Speaker attempted to justify his actions, but succeeded only in confirming the impression that he was acting primarily as James’s spokesman.55

In the Parliament’s closing days, Crewe sided firmly with those Members who sought to prolong the session by meeting the king’s demands. On 3 June, he delivered James’s ultimatum that the Commons must address the supply question or face dissolution, and when this provoked John Hoskins’ notorious ‘Sicilian Vespers’ speech the Speaker advised the House to ‘speak of kings tenderly for they sit in God’s throne here’. It is unclear whether his reported illness on the following day was an attempt to prevent the Commons from drafting their counter-demand for the impositions issue to be addressed by the Crown. On 6 June, having presented the king’s letter confirming the imminent dissolution, Crewe tried to dismiss fears that some Members would shortly be punished for their remarks about Scottish courtiers, and urged the House to press on with ‘the king’s business’. The dissolution was finally pronounced on 7 June, shortly after the Speaker failed in a last-ditch bid to secure supply.56

Given the political obstacles facing Parliament in 1614, and the ineffectual leadership of the official government spokesmen in the Commons, it is difficult to see how even a more experienced Speaker than Crewe could have prevented the final outcome.57 James was evidently satisfied with his performance, as he knighted him on the day after the dissolution, and in the following month promoted him to king’s serjeant. During the next two years Crewe took an increasingly prominent role in the Crown’s legal business. In 1615 he assisted in the prosecution of Oliver St. John* for his opposition to the Benevolence, and of Edmund Peacham for treason. He served as a judge when Richard Weston was tried for his part in the Overbury murder, and handled a number of the charges brought against the earl and countess of Somerset in 1616.58 When his old friend Coke was dismissed as lord chief justice in the same year, Crewe replaced him as an assize judge, and even helped to question him about offending passages in his law reports. He took an active part in prosecuting the earl of Suffolk in 1619, and in the following year opened the Crown’s case against the disgraced attorney-general Yelverton.59

In October 1620, Crewe was included in the commission of judges appointed by the king to lay plans for the next Parliament.60 Summoned to the Lords as a legal assistant for all four sessions from 1621 to 1626, he accordingly appeared in the Commons only to deliver messages from the peers.61 In July 1621 he was spoken of as a potential master of the Rolls, but actually received no further promotion until 1625, when he became lord chief justice of the King’s Bench. In November 1626, after a long career of unquestioning service to the state, he unexpectedly refused to subscribe to the legality of the Forced Loan. Charles I summarily stripped him of his offices and effectively barred him from public life thereafter.62 Crewe did not immediately despair of restoration to royal favour. For nearly two years he lived in conspicuous seclusion at his house in Westminster, and apparently turned down the opportunity to return to the Commons as an ordinary Member in 1628, correctly anticipating that his treatment would become an issue in attacks on the government. In June 1628 he approached the duke of Buckingham, who allegedly undertook to help him, but this scheme foundered with the duke’s death, and the king was unmoved by a subsequent direct appeal.63 Although Crewe still had friends at Court, such as lord keeper (Sir Thomas) Coventry* and Endymion Porter†, he received no further appointments other than a nomination to the Westminster sewers commission in 1634. Loss of office naturally affected Crewe financially, and his sense of grievance against the Crown intensified when legal judgments which he had obtained in a dispute over market tolls at Nantwich were arbitrarily set aside by the king in 1634.64 He presumably sanctioned the garrisoning of Crewe Hall by parliamentarian forces in the early stages of the Civil War. Construction of his grand new mansion there had finished only in 1639, and the royalist siege and subsequent pillaging of the house in 1643 compounded his misery. When Crewe revised his will for the last time on 22 Oct. 1645, he was obliged to cancel numerous legacies due to lack of funds, and several of his bequests of plate and jewellery were made conditional on the items concerned being recovered. Some of his more precious possessions, gifts from the earls of Shrewsbury and Derby, and legacies from Coventry and Coke, had been placed in trust as perpetual heirlooms, but he was having to stock Crewe Hall with furniture all over again. Not surprisingly, given these circumstances and his advanced years, Crewe chose to remain at Westminster, where he died in January 1646. However, having erected a private chapel at Barthomley church, close to his Cheshire seat, he was interred there in the following June. Both his sons entered the Commons, Sir Clippesby representing Downton and Callington in the 1620s, and John sitting for Cheshire in 1654.65

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. G. Ormerod, Hist. Cheshire, iii. pt. 1, p. 314.
  • 2. Shrewsbury Sch. Regestum Scholarium comp. E. Calvert, 33, 35.
  • 3. Al. Cant.; LI Admiss.; LI Black Bks. i. 436.
  • 4. Ormerod, iii. pt. 1, p. 314; Vis. Cheshire (Harl. Soc. xciii), 31; C142/292/167.
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 154.
  • 6. Ormerod, iii. pt. 1, p. 314.
  • 7. LI Black Bks. ii. 61, 70, 100, 136.
  • 8. Norf. RO, Y/C19/5, ff. 53v, 87v; Y/C2/12, ff. 67-76v.
  • 9. C181/2, ff. 257, 269, 285v; 181/3, ff. 120v, 138, 204v.
  • 10. C66/2040/8.
  • 11. C66/2327/18; 66/2383/1.
  • 12. SP14/31/1.
  • 13. C212/22/20-1, 23.
  • 14. C181/2, f. 214.
  • 15. C181/2, f. 218; 181/3, ff. 156, 182, 192.
  • 16. C181/2, ff. 235v, 287; 181/3, f. 198v.
  • 17. C181/2, ff. 238, 241v; 181/3, ff. 182, 190v.
  • 18. C181/2, f. 259.
  • 19. C181/2, f. 277.
  • 20. C181/2, f. 285v; 181/3, f. 120v.
  • 21. C181/3, ff. 138, 204v.
  • 22. C181/2, f. 318v; 181/3, ff. 19, 43, 158v.
  • 23. C181/2, f. 347; 181/3, ff. 158v, 213.
  • 24. C181/3, ff. 158v, 161, 168v.
  • 25. C181/3, f. 201v.
  • 26. C181/4, f. 190v.
  • 27. C181/3, ff. 68v-9, 204.
  • 28. C181/3, ff. 157, 189v.
  • 29. C231/4, f. 3v; C66/2174; 66/2367; E163/18/12.
  • 30. C231/4, f. 19v; E163/18/12.
  • 31. C66/2147; 66/2310.
  • 32. C181/2, f. 331v; 181/3, f. 15v; C66/2367; E163/18/12.
  • 33. C66/2367; E163/18/12.
  • 34. WAM, Chapter Act Bk. ii. f. 23.
  • 35. LMA, Acc/1876/G/02/01, p. 219; Acc/1876/G/02/02, f. 74.
  • 36. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 12.
  • 37. C66/2169.
  • 38. R.G. Usher, Rise and Fall of High Commission, 347.
  • 39. Ormerod, iii. pt. 1, pp. 305-6, 309, 420; PROB 11/196, f. 102v; J. Campbell, Lives of Chief Justices, i. 378; C54/1958/4.
  • 40. Reg. Shrewsbury Sch. 33, 35; PROB 11/128, f. 343.
  • 41. Cal. Talbot Pprs. ed. G.R. Batho (Derbys. Arch. Soc. Rec. Ser. iv), 190; HMC Hatfield, viii. 260; Croke, 1st Rep. Hemsley v. Price (1598); W.R. Prest, Inns of Ct. 1590-1640, p. 204.
  • 42. J. Bridges, Northants. i. 198. Although HP Commons, 1558-1603, i. 215-6 ascribes his return to the influence of Sir Thomas Egerton, the ld. kpr. only acquired his interest there three years later.
  • 43. C66/1492; 66/1615; E41/47; LI Black Bks. ii. 87.
  • 44. Readers and Readings in the Inns of Ct. and Chancery ed. J.H. Baker (Selden Soc. suppl. xiii), 133.
  • 45. C54/1844; 54/1873; 54/1958/4; 54/2194/24.
  • 46. E. Foss, Judges of Eng. vi. 290; LI Black Bks. ii. 136-7,140.
  • 47. CJ, i. 275a, 290a; HP Commons, 1558-1603 (Edward Coke, John Croke III, Edward Phelips, John Popham, John Puckering, Thomas Snagge I, Christopher Yelverton).
  • 48. CJ, i. 323b-4a; Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 66.
  • 49. HMC Downshire, v. 206; E351/1950; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 12-13.
  • 50. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 518; Spain and the Jacobean Catholics ed. A.J. Loomie (Cath. Rec. Soc. lxviii), ii. 34.
  • 51. Narrative of the Spanish Marriage Treaty ed. S.R. Gardiner (Cam. Soc. ci), 111-12, note b; Cott. Titus F.IV, ff. 340-1r; E41/47.
  • 52. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 12-13, 21-8, 269, 407; Chamberlain Letters, i. 524. The precise date of Crewe’s remark about Neile is unclear.
  • 53. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 145, 155, 319, 386, 399.
  • 54. Ibid. 31-3, 155, 158, 264, 321, 325, 388.
  • 55. Ibid. 360, 367, 369, 371-4.
  • 56. Ibid. 413, 424, 426-7, 433-4, 444; HMC Portland, ix. 136-7.
  • 57. C. Russell, Addled Parliament, 17.
  • 58. HMC Downshire, v. 206; Chamberlain Letters, i. 607; Foss, vi. 290.
  • 59. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 14, 29; HMC Hatfield, xxii. 95, 131.
  • 60. Letters and Life of Francis Bacon ed. J. Spedding, vii. 114.
  • 61. LJ, iii. 10b, 215b, 442a, 501b; CD 1621, ii. 267, 272, 352; iv. 55; v. 203, 364, 393, 395, 398; ‘Jervoise 1624’, f. 23; Holles 1624, p. 56; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 162; Procs. 1625, p. 423; Procs. 1626, ii. 194, 215.
  • 62. Chamberlain Letters, ii. 388; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 168.
  • 63. Campbell, i. 376-8; Holles Letters, ed. P.R. Seddon (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xxxv), 377; CD 1628, iv. 170, 322.
  • 64. Campbell, i. 378; HMC Cowper, ii. 24, 49, 54, 58, 60; iii. 150.
  • 65. Ormerod, iii. pt. 1, p. 312; P. de Figueiredo and J. Treuherz, Cheshire Country Houses, 66; PROB 11/196, ff. 100-3; Foss, vi. 292.