CROMWELL (afterwards WILLIAMS), Henry (1625-73), of Bodsey House, Ramsey, Hunts.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Constituency

Dates

1661 - 3 Aug. 1673

Family and Education

bap. 22 June 1625, 3rd but o. surv. s. of Henry Cromwell of Ramsey Abbey by 2nd w. Anne, da. of Sir Richard Dyer of Place House, Great Staughton, wid. of Sir Edward Carr, 1st Bt., of Sleaford, Lincs. m. his cos. Anne, da. and h. of Richard Cromwell of Upwood, Hunts., s.p. suc. fa. 1657.1

Offices Held

Commr. for assessment, Hunts. 1657, Aug. 1660-9, Huntingdon 1663-9, militia, Hunts. Mar. 1660; col. of militia ft. Hunts. Apr. 1660-?72, j.p. July 1660-d., dep. lt. Aug. 1660-d., commr. for loyal and indigent officers 1662, appeals, Bedford level 1668.2

Gent. of the privy chamber 1671-d.; capt. R. Ft. Gds. 1672-d.3

Biography

Cromwell was descended from Morgan Williams, who married the sister of Henry VIII’s great minister. The founder of the family dropped his Welsh patronymic in favour of his uncle’s surname, acquired extensive monastic lands in Huntingdonshire and represented the county in 1539. His descendants in the senior line were profuse and extravagant, and their interest was already declining before the Civil War. Cromwell’s grandfather and father were both active Royalists, though their fines were remitted in consideration of their kinship to the future Protector. Notwithstanding this clemency, he succeeded to a much diminished estate and manner of life. Though the son of a Cavalier officer he had demonstrated his good affection to Parliament by sitting for Huntingdonshire under the Protectorate, and, being thus within the qualifications imposed by the Long Parliament, he was re-elected in 1660, probably unopposed. He was not an active Member of the Convention, though he may, as ‘Mr Williams’, have helped to prepare the bill for the abolition of the court of wards. He obtained leave to go into the country on 8 May, but returned to be nominated to the committee on maimed soldiers. At the Restoration he obtained the King’s consent to drop the name of Cromwell, and was named to the order of the Royal Oak, with an income probably over-estimated at £2,000 a year. On 7 July he made a speech on a question of privilege. On 11 Sept. he presented a petition on behalf of himself and his tenants, ‘being two hundred families’, against the fen drainage bill; a proviso was read to provide for the better safety of the country, but rejected by 99 to 84. When the bill was revived in the second session, Williams was appointed to the committee.4

Williams was re-elected to the Cavalier Parliament, in which he was a moderately active Member, serving on for committees, acting as teller in 17 divisions, and making six recorded speeches. He served on the committee for the corporations bill in 1661. Although presumably an Anglican, he acted as teller with one of the Boscawens on 16 Apr. 1662 for debating the amendments made by convocation in the Book of Common Prayer, and in 1663 he was in favour of an address to mitigate the observance of Lent. He supported the first turnpike bill, acting as teller in two divisions. He continued to oppose every bill brought forward for the drainage of the fens, and on 3 May 1664 leave was given to bring in a provisio for his especial benefit. He was reckoned a court dependent at this time, though it is not clear why. His name stands first among those authorized to bring in a highways bill on 26 Nov. As a member of the committee for the private bill of Sir Robert Carr, he was given the delicate task of interviewing his unfortunate half-brother, the 2nd baronet. ‘Surly Williams’ apparently missed the Oxford session, but his activities in 1666 earned him from Andrew Marvell the sobriquet of ‘the accountants’ bane’. He sat on the committees inquiring into the embezzlement of military stores and the hearth-tax returns, and on 18 Oct. seconded the proposal for raising money from office-holders by privy seal. He was one of the 11 Members appointed on 8 Jan. 1667 to propose reasons for a conference on the poll bill. He was teller for the country party on the Winchelsea election division, and, with Thomas Lee I, against allowing counsel to Lord Mordaunt.5

Although Williams was named to the committees of inquiry into the miscarriages of the war and the sale of Dunkirk he took no part in the impeachment of Clarendon. On 22 Apr. 1668 he spoke in support of lowering the maximum rate of interest, and two days later he was teller with Jonathan Trelawny I for a proviso to the conventicles bill authorizing distraint for unpaid fines. In 1669 Sir Thomas Osborne noted him as one of the independent Members who usually voted for supply, but he was in favour of proceeding with the inquiry into the suppression of the case brought by (Sir) John Morton against Henry Brouncker in the King’s bench, and on 17 Feb. 1670 he was actually teller against the supply bill. Meanwhile some of the chickens hatched by his obstinate resistance to the Bedford level project were coming home to roost. The commissioners, Williams complained, had marked out the boundaries of his manor of Ramsey in the newly drained fenland very inequitably. Although he had been made a commissioner of appeals, nothing short of a private Act could right him. His bill was introduced on 4 Nov. 1670, but made slow progress; twice additional names had to be added to the committee, and when Giles Hungerford reported on 5 Dec. it was ordered to be recommitted after prolonged debate. It did not pass the Lower House till 19 Dec., only to be rejected by the Lords on the first reading. Meanwhile Williams had confirmed his position as an Anglican stalwart by moving for the punishment of the prominent London dissenter Jekyll for reflecting on the lord mayor. He seconded the motion for the publication of the names of Members absent from their duties, although he had himself twice made default in attendance, in 1666 and 1668. On 10 Dec., probably with the best intentions, he threw the government timetable on supply into chaos by proposing a tax on new buildings. Williams’s attitude to defaulters had not passed unnoticed, and when he applied for leave to go into the country on 7 Feb. 1671 it was refused without a division. Nevertheless he went, and was presented for absence from a call of the House; but the Commons, having enjoyed the joke, voted to excuse him by 185 to 86, Carr and Lionel Walden I acting as tellers for the majority.6

The failure of his private bill had certainly not eased Williams’s financial situation, and he was no doubt glad to evade his creditors by a post at Court. More bizarre was his transformation, at the age of 47, from a militia colonel to a regular captain, a commission in the Grenadiers being apparently obtained for him by his nephew Sir Robert Carr, although of course late vocations to the military life might be held to run in the family. He attended the first session of 1673, being named on 7 Mar. to the committee of elections and privileges and to that for relieving Protestant dissenters. According to tradition he died of a stroke when his candidate was defeated at a by-election in the same year. If so (and the details are muddled and unconvincing), he must have lingered for some time, for the only possible election, when (Sir) Nicholas Pedley was returned for the county, had been held on 15 Feb. and Williams did not die till 3 Aug. His heirs were his sisters, who sold Ramsey Abbey to Silius Titus. Williams’s career as a Member of Parliament is chiefly of interest in illustrating by its sheer eccentricity the difficulty of welding the loyalist Anglican backwoods squires into a stable government majority.7

Ref Volumes: 1660-1690

Authors: M. W. Helms / E. R. Edwards

Notes

  • 1. M. Noble, Mems. Cromwell Fam. i. 67-72.
  • 2. Parl. Intell. 30 Apr. 1660.
  • 3. Carlisle, Privy Chamber, 188; CSP Dom. 1671-2, p. 249; 1673, p. 483.
  • 4. VCH Hunts. ii. 193-4; Cal. Comm. Comp. 978-9; Merc. Pub. 19 July 1660; Bowman diary, f. 59v.