CROMWELL, Thomas (c.1540-c.1611), of King's Lynn, Norf.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
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Family and Education

b. c.1540, 3rd s. of Gregory, 1st Baron Cromwell, by Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Seymour of Wilts., wid. of Sir Anthony Ughtred. Half-bro. of Henry Ughtred. educ. St. John’s, Camb. 1553. m. Aug. 1580, Katherine (d.1615 or 1616), da. of Thomas Gardner of Coxford, 5s. 4da.1

Offices Held


Cromwell’s father was connected with Sir William Cecil, whom he described in his will as ‘my especial and singular good lord’, and it may have been Cecil who found Cromwell his seats at Fowey, Bodmin and Grampound, possibly by arrangement with the 2nd Earl of Bedford at Fowey and Bodmin. His return at Preston in 1584 is accounted for by the patronage of Sir Ralph Sadler, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, who was brought up in the household of Cromwell’s grandfather, Thomas, Earl of Essex. Cromwell has been described as ‘the model type of parliamentarian, deeply versed in the history and procedure of the institution, though ... lacking in historical perspective; eminently responsible, but fearless in defence of liberty’. He was a puritan but his zeal did not cloud his judgment which, with his knowledge of procedure, rendered him one of the most experienced committeemen of his time. He served on nearly 100 committees, and wrote journals covering the sessions of Parliament in 1572, 1576, 1581 and 1584, now in the library of Trinity College, Dublin. In 1571 Cromwell sat on only two committees: concerning a legal matter (12 May) and fugitives (25 May). In 1572 he was appointed to committees on Middlesex jurors (19, 22 May), a private bill 21 May), vagabonds (22, 29 May), and the Lords committee on Mary Queen of Scots (9 June). On 30 May he spoke in favour of including minstrels within the provisions of the vagabonds bill. It is the second session of this long Parliament, however, that marks the beginning of his particularly active period as a committeeman. He served on at least 11 committees in 1576, concerning the avoiding of idleness (11 Feb.), a private bill (14 Feb.), sheriffs (18, 24 Feb.), naturalisation (3 Mar.), benefit of clergy (7 Mar.), rogues (7 Mar.), wharves and quays (13 Mar.), relief of vicars (13 Mar.) and Lord Stourton’s bill (13 Mar.). Cromwell spoke (21 Jan. 1581) in support of Paul Wentworth’s motion for a public fast and daily preaching. On as Jan. he spoke against a bill concerning children born in England of alien parents. He served on or more committees during this session concerning the following topics: forgery (26 Jan., 11 Feb.), slanderous practices (1 Feb., 17 Mar.), sheriffs (4 Feb.) copyholders in Worcestershire (6 Feb., reported by him 13 Feb.), Arthur Hall (6 Feb.), children of aliens (7 Feb.), private bills (14, 20 Feb., 14, 17 Mar.), legal matters (11, 14, 20, 27 Feb., 10 Mar.), sowing hemp seed in Hertfordshire (23 Feb.), wax (24 Feb.), privileges and returns (24 Feb., 8 Mar.), the Family of Love (27 Feb.), Ledbury hospital (4 Mar.), the Queen’s safety (14 Mar.) and navigation (17 Mar.). On 18 Mar. 1581 he reported the progress of the committee appointed to clarify the question of returns in this last session. In 1584 Cromwell was mainly preoccupied with legal matters, serving on 12 such committees (1, 4, 12, 16, 18 Dec., 10 Feb. 1585, 2, 5, 10, 12, 13, 19 Mar.). He was also appointed to committees to consider the Arthur Hall case (21 Dec.), a private bill (15 Dec.), religious matters (19 Dec.), privilege (11, 23 Feb., 2 Mar.), procedure (3 Mar.), highways (9 Mar.), Devonshire cloth (16 Mar.), the government of the city of Westminster (17, 22 Mar.), and apprentices (23 Mar.). In 1586 Cromwell was appointed to the committee to examine the Norfolk returns on 9 Nov., which he reported on 11 Nov. On 2 Dec. he was appointed to the committee to examine Arthur Hall and again was chosen to report to the House on 20 Mar. 1587. He introduced a motion on 15 Feb. 1587 to thank the Queen for responding to their petition to execute Mary Stuart; and on 13 Mar., after the imprisonment of the extreme puritan Members who had supported Cope’s ‘bill and book’, Cromwell moved ‘to have some conference with the Privy Council of this House’, and with others concerning the Members committed to the Tower: the House appointed a committee, for which Cromwell prepared with great thoroughness, searching for precedents to show that the Queen had no right to imprison Peter Wentworth and the others. The principal liberties, he claimed, were those of the body and of speech, and a Member ought not to be withdrawn from his service. He also tried to show that ‘by ancient practice’ the Commons themselves punished offending Members. He served on committees in this Parliament concerning Mary Queen of Scots (4 Nov.), Orford harbour (7 Nov., 6 Mar. 1587), legal matters (27 Feb., 15, 20 Mar.), privilege (6 Mar.), private bills (13, 15 Mar.), cloth in Suffolk (16 Mar.) and sheriffs (17 Mar.). Cromwell was once more very active in 1589, reporting the progress of committees for the purveyors bill (15 Feb.), Orford harbour (24 Feb.), captains and soldiers (26 Feb., 3 Mar.), New Romney returns (3 Mar.), perfecting of statutes (22 Mar.) and serving on committees concerning privileges and returns (7, 8 Feb.), benefit of clergy (10 Feb.), the subsidy (11 Feb.), private bills (12 Feb., 18, 19 Mar.), purveyors (15, 27 Feb., 18 Mar.), forestallers and regrators (17 Feb., 5 Mar.), the repeal of statutes (25 Feb., 13 Mar.), captains and soldiers (26 Feb.), the bishopric of Oxford (13 Mar.), Berwick (14 Mar.), outlawries (20 Mar.) and excess in apparel (21 Mar.).2

Cromwell was several times appointed by the Privy Council to intervene in Norfolk affairs and quarrels. He acted as steward of North Elmham for his brother Henry, 2nd Baron Cromwell, and later for his nephew, Edward, 3rd Baron Cromwell, who was in debt. When Cromwell retired, he went to his lands near King’s Lynn, making his will on 17 Feb. 1610. He describes himself as ‘of great age and very often subject to sickness and pains’. He did not wish for any ‘pomp or sumptuousness’ to be used at his funeral, ‘being not willing to have vanities continued for me after my death, whereto I have been too much subject in my lifetime’. His executrix was Katherine, ‘who has always been a most loving wife ... and hath besides endured many griefs and sorrows for my sake’. Perhaps this is a reference to her Catholic relatives. Her brother was Bernard Gardner, S.J., condemned in 1602, and her half-brother Richard Cornwallis, the priest, son of Henry Cornwallis. Cromwell’s estate was ‘inspired by evil debtors, losses sustained by death of cattle and sheep, bad bargains and my neglecting of mine own business for the following of the business of my brother and nephew’. He left 20s. to the poor of Great Risborough, Norfolk, and 40s. to the poor of the parish where he died. He left property and money to his wife and to his children subject to their good behaviour and obedience to their mother. He died between February 1610 and April 1611.3

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.


  • 1. Vis. Norf. (Harl. Soc. xxxii), 124; G. A. Carthew, Hundred of Launditch, ii. 522.
  • 2. M. Noble, Mems. protectoral House of Cromwell, 76; HMC Hatfield, xi. 8; D’Ewes, 183, 188, 212, 213, 220, 222, 247, 248, 253, 259, 262, 282, 285, 289, 292, 293, 295, 299, 300, 301, 302, 304, 305, 306, 307, 334, 335, 339, 340, 341, 343, 347, 355, 361, 362, 363, 364, 365, 366, 368, 369, 371, 372, 394, 395, 396, 398, 407, 410, 412, 415, 416, 417, 429, 430, 431, 432, 433, 434, 436, 438, 439, 440, 441, 443, 445, 446, 447, 448, 449, 450, 451, 453; CJ, i. 89, 92, 96, 97, 99, 101, 105, 106, 108, 110, 111, 114, 115, 120, 122, 123, 124, 125, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 135.
  • 3. APC, xvii. 280; xx. 300; xxi. 160; Carthew, ii. 521; PCC 35 Wood; G. Anstruther, Seminary Priests, i. 125.