CROMWELL, Sir Oliver (1562/6-1655), of Hinchingbrooke House and Ramsey Abbey, Hunts.
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Family and Education
b. 1562/6,1 1st s. of Sir Henry Cromwell alias Williams† of Hinchingbrooke and Joan, da. of Sir Ralph Warren, Mercer and alderman of London;2 bro. of Henry*. educ. Queen’s, Camb. 1579; L. Inn 1582.3 m. (1) settlement 22 Jan. 1584, Elizabeth (d. 27 July 1600), da. of Sir Thomas Bromley† of Rodd Castle and Hodnet, Salop, ld. chan. 1579-87, 4s. 4da. (1 d.v.p.);4 (2) 7 July 1601, Anne (d. 23 Apr. 1626), da. of Gielis van Eychelberg alias Hooftman of Antwerp, wid. of Sir Horatio Palavicino (d.1600) of London and Babraham, Cambs., 2s. d.v.p. 2da.5 suc. uncle Richard Warren† 1597; fa. 1604;6 cr. KB 25 July 1603.7 d. 28 Aug. 1655.8 sig. O[liver] Cromwell.
Capt. militia ft. Hunts. at least 1585-8;9 j.p. c.1586-7, by 1594-?1642, (custos rot. 1604-29), Huntingdon 1605-?42, Cambs. 1608-?42;10 sheriff, Cambs. and Hunts. 1598-9;11 commr. sewers, Gt. Fens 1604-?42, depopulation, Hunts. 1607, subsidy 1608, 1621-2, 1624, aid 1609, swans, Cambs. and Hunts. 1616, oyer and terminer, Norf. circ. 1616-?42;12 ranger, Weybridge Forest, Hunts. 1616-27;13 commr. enclosures, Gt. Fens 1624, Forced Loan, Cambs. and Hunts. 1626-7, knighthood fines, Hunts. 1630-1, assessment 1642, array 1642.14
Gent. of the privy chamber, king’s Household 1603-36;15 master of forests and chases, Prince Henry’s Household, c.1610-12,16 Prince Charles’s Household, 1616-24;17 member, Prince Charles’s Council 1618-25.
Cllr. Virg. colony 1607; cttee. Virg. co. 1609.18
A pedigree of 1602 traced Cromwell’s ancestry to an eleventh-century king of Powys, and recorded that his great-grandfather came to England in the retinue of Henry VII. The MP’s grandfather Sir Richard Williams† purchased vast estates in Huntingdonshire in the aftermath of the dissolutions ordered by his uncle Thomas Cromwell†, and adopted the latter’s surname, though in the seventeenth century the family was still cited as ‘Cromwell alias Williams’ in legal documents.19 Cromwell’s father was one of 12 ‘knights of great possessions’ considered for peerages before the 1589 Parliament.20 His estates of about 66,000 acres gave him enormous influence within his own county, and Cromwell candidates were returned as knight for Huntingdonshire in all but three of Elizabeth’s parliaments.
Sir Oliver Cromwell was a regular fixture at the late Elizabethan Court, where he ran up heavy debts during the 1590s. He inherited a substantial estate from his uncle Richard Warren in 1597, but disposed of most of it within a few years to pay off his creditors.21 However, his coffers were replenished by his second marriage to the widow of the financier Sir Horatio Palavicino, at which time his father also settled most of the Hinchingbrooke estate upon him: in 1602 one contemporary estimated his worth at ‘near £5,000 per annum’.22 Cromwell should have gained relatively little from his second wife, as Palavicino stipulated that if his widow remarried she was to be removed from the executorship of his will and denied the benefit of his goods.23 However, the will’s supervisors, Robert Cecil† and Gilbert Talbot†, 7th earl of Shrewsbury, backed Cromwell’s marriage proposal, and Lady Palavicino’s trustees permitted Cromwell to take control of the estate on the security of a bond of £20,000. He was, in fact, connected to two of the Palavicino trustees: Sir Thomas Knyvett was married to Richard Warren’s widow, while (Sir) Henry Maynard† had bought much of Warren’s estate from Cromwell.24 Control of Palavicino’s assets left Cromwell with liability for the financier’s relatively modest debts,25 but allowed him to lay claim to the £22,500 the estate was still owed by the Crown, for which he received grants of lands worth at least £500 a year in 1606-8.26 Cromwell also ensured that his second wife’s estates would remain within his family by marrying two of his daughters to Palavicino’s sons, and gained control of his stepdaughter’s portion of £5,000 by marrying her to his heir.27
Cromwell was one of the many courtiers who rushed to Edinburgh on the death of Queen Elizabeth, and it was presumably at his invitation that James included Hinchingbrooke on the itinerary for his journey to London in April 1603. The new king, who pronounced himself impressed by the lavish reception he received, appointed Cromwell a gentleman of the privy chamber a few weeks later, and dubbed him a knight of the Bath at the Coronation.28 In February 1604, shortly after the death of Cromwell’s father, James returned to Hinchingbrooke, at which time the Chancery clerk William Ravenscroft* reported that his clerk had prepared a patent for Cromwell’s ennoblement.29 However, the grant was never sealed.30 The king, perhaps unaware that he was expected not to interfere in parliamentary elections, may have ordered the drafting of this grant as a ploy to help Cromwell secure the senior seat in the Huntingdonshire election, which took place a few days later. As heir to the family estate Cromwell had been obliged to accept the junior seat, but following his father’s death he aspired to the senior seat, which had been held by Sir Gervase Clifton† in 1597 and 1601. News of the proffered peerage, which doubtless spread quickly, would have confirmed Cromwell’s pre-eminence within the county at a crucial juncture, and it seems that Clifton stood aside and allowed Cromwell to take the senior seat unopposed.
Cromwell was never prominent in the Commons, but left his mark upon James’s first Parliament: he attended a conference with the Lords about the Instrument of Union (24 Nov. 1606); and was included on committees for the expiring statutes’ continuance bill (22 June 1604), the free trade bill (3 Apr. 1606), and others regulating parliamentary elections (3 Apr. 1606) and promoting regular attendance by MPs (28 May 1607). His closeness to the king presumably explains his inclusion on the delegation appointed to seek royal permission to discuss the controversial subject of impositions on 26 May 1610.31 As the owner of 10,000 acres of fenland, drainage was the local issue over which Cromwell demonstrated most concern. He was named to the committees for several fen drainage bill (12 May 1604; 4 Mar. 1606; 12 June 1607; 20 Mar. 1610), and probably supported them, although in a debate of 9 May 1607 he urged ‘that the [sewer] commissioner of one country [i.e. county] may not tax another country’. The matter clearly exercised him on at least one other occasion, as he referred to an unrecorded earlier speech on the subject.32
Cromwell was involved in several privilege disputes during the Parliament, most embarrassingly in March 1610, when his page was implicated in an extortion racket that was being run at a Westminster tavern by the servants of a number of courtiers.33 He invoked parliamentary privilege to obtain suspension of judicial proceedings on two occasions, for himself in May 1607 and for a servant in June 1610.34 The 1607 lawsuit concerned the estate of his neighbour Sir George Walton†, who had disinherited his heir Edward Throckmorton because of the involvement of the latter’s master and cousin, Robert Catesby, in the Gunpowder Plot. Walton, who died in May 1606, chose to leave his lands to Cromwell for three years, ‘to give that entertainment he may conveniently to my ancient friends’, with a reversion to the heirs of a deceased cousin.35 Throckmorton sued for possession of Walton’s manor of Great Staughton in 1607 under a 21-year lease granted to his mother in 1602. Cromwell contested the claim on behalf of the under-age heir, Valentine Walton†, whose wardship he had bought, but he lost control of the lands under a Chancery decree of 1612.36
With his finances revived by the Palavicino inheritance, in 1606-7 Cromwell proposed, an exchange, either of part of his estate or of the £22,500 owed to Palavicino, in return for the Crown manor of Somersham, which lay adjacent to his own lands on the edge of the fens.37 The Palavicino claim was resolved by assigning ex-chantry lands to Cromwell, a settlement brokered by the countess of Suffolk, who was later accused of profiting hugely from the deal by purchasing the same lands for herself at a substantial discount.38 At the same time, Cromwell found the means to acquire a patent to collect fines awarded by the court of Common Pleas, and petitioned for similar grants for Exchequer and Assize court fines.39 However, within a few years, Cromwell was again in financial trouble: in 1612 he mortgaged Weybridge Forest to the heirs of the London financier Thomas Sutton for £8,800, and in the following year he passed it to the Crown for £16,000, over half of which went to pay off the debt to Sutton’s executors.40 The precise scale of Cromwell’s debts is difficult to discern, as he was rarely prosecuted by his creditors, partly because his Court posts gave him immunity from arrest, but largely because of his unusual willingness to sell lands to meet his obligations.
The causes of Cromwell’s financial problems are as difficult to gauge as their extent. Although a supporter of fen drainage in the Commons and an active sewer commissioner, the only project in which he is known to have invested was a partnership with some of his tenants to drain 350 acres of Ramsey Fen in 1629.41 Many of his debts may have arisen from his extravagance at Court, but he must also have been put to considerable expense by the king’s regular visits to Hinchingbrooke, usually in October, for the hunting.42 The friendship between the two men admittedly brought Cromwell many benefits, including a number of forfeitures, while in 1608 his Court pension of £200 was bought out for a generous £6,000. James also granted him a lease of the rangership of Weybridge, and much of the land within the forest which he had passed to the Crown in 1613.43 However, Cromwell’s gradual dissipation of his estate suggests that the benefits of Court life were outweighed by the costs. He also displayed a worrying lack of financial acumen, particularly over the sale of the manor of Low Leyton, Essex to Edward Ryder, a London Haberdasher, in 1599. The deal may have been intended to provide Cromwell with a line of credit, but Ryder died in 1609 owing Cromwell and his suretors £2,060, only two-thirds of which was ever recovered.44 Two years later, Cromwell’s ignorance of his own financial affairs was highlighted by the deathbed confession of a scrivener he regularly used, who admitted that he had defrauded his client by altering the sums due upon various recognizances.45
Despite his debt problems, Cromwell stood for the senior county seat once again at the general election of 1614, possibly in partnership with Sir Robert Cotton*, who had taken the junior seat in 1604. They were initially opposed by Sir Robert Bevill* and Sir Robert Payne*, but a deal was apparently struck whereby Bevill stood aside at a late stage in favour of Cromwell, who then supported Payne for the second seat. The pair carried the day, leaving Cotton’s outnumbered supporters helplessly protesting that ‘this false ploy must needs return to somebody’s much discredit’.46 At the same election, either Cromwell or his brother Henry secured a seat for the family’s business associate Christopher Hodson at Mitchell, Cornwall, probably through their Arundell relatives.
Cromwell is not known to have spoken in the Addled Parliament, but he was named to a number of committees. His seniority probably explains his inclusion on both the committee for privileges (8 Apr.) and the delegation ordered to attend the conference with the Lords on the bill concerning the succession rights of the Elector Palatine’s children (14 April).47 His Court connections probably explain his inclusion on the committees for bills to naturalize the courtiers Sir Francis Stewart* and William Ramsey (23 May) and the children of the soldier Sir Horatio Vere (17 May), and to assist the courtier Sir Richard Wigmore in exploiting his patent for importation of fish (24 May).48 The measure in which he is most likely to have had a personal interested was confirmation of the foundation of the Charterhouse by the executors of his former creditor, Thomas Sutton (9 May).49 Finally, on 23 May, at the third reading of the bill to allow Herbert Pelham* to break the entail on his estates, he served as a teller in support of the measure, which was rejected.50
Although he had represented his shire in six consecutive Parliaments, Cromwell did not stand at the county election on 30 Dec. 1620, when Bevill and Payne defeated (Sir) Sidney Montagu* at a poll.51 Neither man had estates of more than a few thousand acres, and they could not have carried the day without Cromwell’s support, which may have been the price they exacted for his unopposed election in 1614. He was clearly aware of the need to make alternative arrangements as early as 1 Dec. 1620, when he used his influence as a member of Prince Charles’s Council to secure a nomination at Saltash on the duchy of Cornwall interest.52 The borough returned (Sir) Thomas Trevor, the prince’s solicitor, and Cromwell was one of the few Duchy candidates who did not secure a seat. He does not seem to have been too concerned by this failure, as he allowed the vacancy created at Lostwithiel when Sir Henry Vane opted to sit for Carlisle on 6 Feb. 1621 to go to Edward Salter*, one of the prince’s carvers.53
Cromwell sat for Huntingdonshire again in 1624, when Bevill and Payne appear to have stood aside in his favour. However, he was obliged to yield the senior seat to Edward Montagu, who outranked him socially as the eldest son of Viscount Mandeville (Sir Henry Montagu*). He quickly found himself embroiled in the attempted impeachment of lord keeper Williams because of a complaint to the committee for the courts of justice from Edward Throckmorton, who had renewed his Chancery suit for the manor of Great Staughton when his 21-year lease expired in 1622. Williams dismissed the case, but Throckmorton protested that he had been wronged because he had not been allowed to examine one of his witnesses. Cromwell justified himself before the committee on 25 Feb.; although a further examination was ordered seven weeks later, the case never became a major point of contention, and the decree was allowed to stand.54 He made only one other recorded speech, on 27 Apr., when he certified that none of the local officials in his shire qualified for inclusion in the petition against recusant officeholders.55
As on previous occasions, Cromwell’s committee appointments encompassed an eclectic mixture of issues. He did not speak in the debates on the Spanish Match, but he did attend a conference with the Lords to draft a petition to the king for a breach with Spain on 3 Mar., and he was also included on the committee appointed to draft a militia bill in preparation for the war that was expected to follow this rift (16 April).56 Named to the committee for the expiring statutes’ continuance bill (13 Mar.), he was consequently included on the delegation ordered to confer with the Lords over one of its clauses on 22 May.57 Once again, his interest was focused on more minor measures: his seat on Prince Charles’s Council explains his inclusion on the committee for the bill allowing duchy of Cornwall leases to continue beyond the death of an incumbent prince (9 Mar.),58 while the improvements he made to his estates, by assarting forest land and enclosing fen commons, suggest that he opposed the bill against enclosures (24 March).59
Cromwell had no known interest in the three private bill committees to which he was named in 1624, although he attended one of the committee meetings for Robert Wolverston’s* estate bill on 21 April.60 He took a close interest in the bill by which his son-in-law Toby Palavicino proposed to break the entail on his estates. Objections were raised at the committee stage (which Cromwell was entitled to attend as an MP for Huntingdonshire) but the bill passed without further opposition after Palavicino assigned several manors to Cromwell and Sir Thomas Barrington* to provide for his family. Palavicino refused to confirm the trust by a fine after the bill reached the statute book, and he mortgaged and later sold the lands concerned, which provoked Cromwell to engage in several years’ worth of fruitless litigation in pursuit of compensation for his daughter and grandchildren.61
At the 1625 election Cromwell paired with Payne,62 but once again Montagu took the first seat, and Payne presumably stood down to allow Cromwell to take the second. Named to three bill committees, for confirmation of tenures on the Crown manor of Macclesfield, Cheshire (23 June), division of the newly drained marshes at Erith and Plumstead in Kent (28 June) and nurturing of stocks of naval timber (9 July), Cromwell otherwise left no trace on the session.63 He probably paired with Payne against Montagu again in 1626, but this time it was Cromwell who stood aside. Montagu’s summons to the Lords led to a by-election on 10 June; although the indenture does not survive, it is likely that Cromwell was returned in his stead. Whoever the successful candidate was, he had no time to make any mark on the Parliament, which was dissolved five days later.
Cromwell’s financial difficulties caught up with him in June 1627, when he was forced to sell Hinchingbrooke to the Montagu family. The alienation of Weybridge in 1613 had provided only the briefest of respites: he mortgaged Sapley Park in the following year, and had forfeited it completely by 1618,64 after which he began borrowing heavily on the London money market again.65 By the autumn of 1624 he was offering Hinchingbrooke to the Crown,66 which he presumably hoped to lease back on terms as favourable as those he had obtained for Weybridge Forest. James’s death probably put paid to this idea, as Cromwell was not close to the new king, although he retained his position in the privy chamber under Charles. The Montagus paid almost £6,000 for the house, the park and his lease of Weybridge Forest, which was more than sufficient to pay off his creditors.67
Although the sale of Hinchingbrooke enabled Cromwell to avoid bankruptcy, his local standing never recovered from this blow. He lost the post of custos rotulorum, and his troubles affected his electoral influence: Huntingdon broke away from his patronage in 1626, and he does not appear to have contested the county election in 1628. His son Henry, who stood against Sir Sidney Montagu in October 1640, was defeated, although his former ward Valentine Walton, a Ship Money refuser, was returned for the junior county seat.68 Old age and ill health increasingly confined him to his house at Ramsey, which led his sister Elizabeth Hampden to observe: ‘I wish he had taken the same course 30 years ago, so would it have been happy for all his’.69
Cromwell’s sons Thomas and William fought for the king during the Civil War, and his eldest son Henry was apparently appointed royalist sheriff of Huntingdonshire in 1643.70 In the spring of the same year Cromwell himself armed his tenants under the pretext of protecting his property, a move which provoked a visit by his nephew Oliver Cromwell*, who, as he later recalled, ‘not only disarmed but plundered him, for he took away all his plate’.71 Following this incident Cromwell’s estates were sequestrated, but Cromwell protested his innocence, and did not petition to compound until 1648. His fine of £841 was quickly discharged without payment, presumably after intervention by his nephew, who later secured a similar discharge for Sir Oliver’s heir.72 The disparity in the size of the fines indicates that Cromwell had already assigned the bulk of his estates to his son, a process which was clearly complete by the time of his death, as he left neither will nor administration.
Cromwell’s death, on 28 Aug. 1655, was caused by an unfortunate accident, described by the antiquary Sir William Dugdale: ‘he was out in the rain, and after his return, sitting by a good fire without any company in the room, by some weakness or swoon [he] fell into the fire and was so scorched that he died about two days after’.73 He was buried at Ramsey the same night, ‘to prevent, it is said, his body’s being seized by his creditors’. His son Henry, whose debts had forced the sale of yet more lands, died only two years later,74 being succeeded by his only surviving son, Henry, who reverted to the family’s former name of Williams at the Restoration. He sat for Huntingdonshire in every Parliament from 1654 until his death in 1673, after which the last of the family estates passed to his sisters, who sold them off to settle his debts.75
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: Simon Healy
- 1. C142/248/42; 142/283/106; M. Noble, Mems. Protectoral-House of Cromwell (1787), p. 48.
- 2. Vis. Hunts. ed. H. Ellis (Cam. Soc. xlii), 79-80.
- 3. Al. Cant.; LI Admiss.
- 4. C142/283/106; Noble, 77.
- 5. Noble, 49-50; L. Stone, Sir Horatio Palavicino, 29-30.
- 6. C142/248/42; 142/283/106.
- 7. Shaw, Knights of Eng. i. 154.
- 8. Noble, 48.
- 9. W.M. Noble, Hunts. and the Spanish Armada, 39-47.
- 10. C181/1, f. 113; 181/3, f. 244; SP14/33, f. 8v; SP16/405.
- 11. List of Sheriffs comp. A. Hughes (PRO, L. and I. ix), 14.
- 12. C181/1, f. 74; 181/2, ff. 257v-8; C205/5/1; SP14/31/1; 14/43/107; C212/22/20-1, 23.
- 13. Hunts. RO, dd/M50/1.
- 14. C181/3, f. 126v; C193/12/2, f. 4v; E178/7154, f. 101c; 178/5348, ff. 4, 9; SR, v. 152; Northants. RO, FH133.
- 15. HMC 7th Rep. 526a; SP16/2/118; LC5/134, p. 98.
- 16. E306/12/21(pt.1)/36.
- 17. SC6/Jas.I/1680-7.
- 18. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 93; Recs. Virg. Co. ed. S.M. Kingsbury, iv. 369.
- 19. Noble, Mems., 1-4, 7-8.
- 20. Add. 33462, ff. 40-3; Lansd. 104, f. 52v.
- 21. Stone, 301-2; A.H. Dodd, ‘Mr. Myddelton the Merchant’, Eliz. Govt. and Soc. ed. S.T. Bindoff, J. Hurstfield and C.H. Williams, 263; Add. ch. 33149, 33151.
- 22. Manningham Diary ed. R.P. Sorlien, 85-6.
- 23. PROB 11/96, ff. 205-6.
- 24. Ibid.; Stone, 298, 303-4; HMC Hatfield, xi. 260-1; xv. 370.
- 25. C2/Jas.I/M7/44; C78/172/8; 78/191/14.
- 26. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 190, 340; E214/696; C66/1727/20; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 103.
- 27. Stone, 305; PROB 11/96, f. 204; Noble, Mems. 57-8, 62-3.
- 28. HMC Hatfield, xv. 19; Stone, 304; HMC 7th Rep. 526; Shaw, i. 154.
- 29. C142/283/106; HMC Hastings, iv. 1.
- 30. No record of the grant has been found in SP38, SO3, PSO5, C82 or C66.
- 31. CJ, i. 244b, 292b, 293a, 324b, 376a, 434a.
- 32. Ibid. 207b, 277a, 382a, 413a, 1043a.
- 33. Ibid. 304a.
- 34. Ibid. 370b, 371b, 434b.
- 35. ‘Holland 1624’, ii. f. 3; PROB 11/107, ff. 261-2; C142/337/112; E214/1133.
- 36. C78/192/15. See also C2/Jas.I/W16/16.
- 37. HMC Hatfield, xix. 334; CSP Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, pp. 435-6.
- 38. C2/Jas.I/C23/83; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 103.
- 39. CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 479.
- 40. LMA, Acc/1876/F/03/1; Hunts. RO, dd/M50/1, 3; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 190; HMC Downshire, iv. 231.
- 41. C2/Chas.I/C100/56; C78/339/11.
- 42. Ex inf. Helen Payne.
- 43. C66/2028/18; 66/2078/19; 66/2111/5; Noble Mems. 42-3; CSP Dom. 1611-18, pp. 295, 506; Hunts. RO, dd/M50/7.
- 44. Stone, 302; Add. ch. 33154-65; Add. 33462, ff. 110-11; C78/179/15.
- 45. C78/201/18.
- 46. Cott. Julius C.III, f. 115; K. Sharpe, Sir Robert Cotton, 161-2.
- 47. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 33, 82.
- 48. Ibid. 268, 320, 332.
- 49. Ibid. 176.
- 50. Ibid. 318-19.
- 51. STAC 8/47/7.
- 52. DCO, Letters and Patents, 1620-1, f. 39v.
- 53. CJ, i. 510b.
- 54. C2/Jas.I/T13/62; ‘Holland 1624’, i. f. 3; ‘Earle 1624’, f. 29v; ‘Spring 1624’, p. 29; ‘Lowther 1624’, f. 64v; CJ, i. 766b; R. Ruigh, Parl. of 1624, pp. 142-3, n.78.
- 55. CJ, i. 776a.
- 56. Ibid. 676b, 768a.
- 57. Ibid. 709a, 736b.
- 58. Ibid. 680a.
- 59. Ibid. 748b; CSP Dom. 1623-5, p. 566; C2/Chas.I/C100/56; C78/339/11.
- 60. CJ, i. 700b, 758b, 766a; ‘Earle 1624’, p. 217; HLRO, main pprs. 8 Apr. 1624.
- 61. CJ, i. 705a; C2/Chas.I/L25/5.
- 62. Add. 33461, f. 61, which can be dated to 1625 by internal evidence.
- 63. Procs. 1625, pp. 226, 257, 358.
- 64. C142/373/33; VCH Hunts. ii. 173; Add. ch. 39229.
- 65. LC4/199, ff. 77v, 353, 421v-2; 4/200, f. 102.
- 66. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 138, 378.
- 67. Hunts. RO, dd/M50/1, 7.
- 68. Bodl. Carte 74, ff. 164, 175; HMC De L’Isle and Dudley, vi. 334.
- 69. Barrington Letters ed. A. Searle (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xxviii), 156-7; Eg. 2644, f. 246.
- 70. Noble, Mems. 50, 53-6; CCC, 918-19; Add. 33462, f. 134.
- 71. Add. 33462, ff. 134-5; P. Warwick, Mems. of the Reign of Chas. I, 278; W.C. Abbott, Writings and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell, i. 227.
- 72. Add. 33462, ff. 134-5; CCC, 978-9.
- 73. HMC 5th Rep. 176a.
- 74. Noble, Mems. 48, 60-2.
- 75. VCH Hunts. ii. 160, 194.