CRANE, Francis (c.1579-1636), of St. Thomas the Apostle, London and Mortlake, Surr.; later of Stoke Park, Stoke Bruerne, Northants.

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

b. c.1579.1 educ. G. Inn 1619.2 m. c.1618, Mary (d.1645), da. of David Le Maire of London and wid. of Henry Swinarton (d.1617) of London, s.p.3 kntd. 5 Sept. 1617.4 d. 26 June 1636.5 sig. Fra[ncis] Crane.

Offices Held

Servant of (Sir) Thomas Smith†, ?by 1606-1609; clerk of council, Prince Henry’s Household 1611-12,6 auditor-gen., Prince Charles’s Household 1617-at least 1630,7 member, Prince Charles’s Council c.1623-5, Duchy of Cornw. Council from 1625;8 chan. Order of Garter 1626-d.;9 member, High Commission, 1633-d.,10 enforcement of soap monopoly, 1634.11

Director, Mortlake tapestry works, Surr. 1619-d.12

Commr. subsidy, Surr. 1624,13 new buildings, London 1625,14 Forced Loan, Surr. 1626, Northants. 1626,15 sewers 1633-at least 1634,16 j.p. 1625-at least 1634, Surr. 1625-d.;17 steward, Grafton honour, Northants. from 1629; kpr. Grafton and Potterspury Parks, Northants. from 1633.18

Member, E.I. Co. by 1624-at least 1632, cttee. (associate) 1628;19 member, Bedford Level Corporation, 1635-d.20


Little is known of Crane’s origins, though the union of his sisters with minor Cornish gentlemen lends some credence to an undocumented claim that he came from Camborne in Cornwall.21 In the opening years of the seventeenth century he was a servant of Sir Thomas Smith, a clerk of the Privy Council and clerk of the parliaments, who presumably encouraged Crane to obtain in 1606 the second reversion of the latter office. Following Smith’s death three years later, Crane allegedly contracted to marry his widow, from whom he received £4,000 when she broke off the engagement.22 By 1611 he was conducting private business for the 2nd duke of Lennox who, as a royal cousin and favoured courtier, may have influenced Crane’s appointment that year as clerk of Prince Henry’s Council. Crane’s financial acumen was already apparent, and in March 1612 he sold for £1,000 a Yorkshire estate purchased from Lennox only two months earlier for £400.23 His clerkship ended with Prince Henry’s death in the following November, and in May 1613 he surrendered his reversionary clerkship. However, he continued to seek a public career, for on returning from a trip to France later that year he pursued the post of agent in Brussels. Although nothing came of this bid, Crane had apparently retained a foothold at Court since his backers included the king’s favourite, the earl of Somerset.24 The earl’s influence, rather than any connection with Lennox or Cornwall, probably lay behind Crane’s election to Parliament in 1614 at Penryn, since the borough was dominated by another of Somerset’s clients, Sir Robert Killigrew*. Crane received barely a mention in the records of this Parliament, making no speeches and being named to just two committees. One was established to prepare a statement expressing the Commons’ opposition to undertakers (13 Apr.), while the other was detailed to consider a bill on silk-dyeing (24 May).25

When the duchy of Cornwall’s administration was reconstituted in 1616-17, Crane secured the post of auditor-general, with a broad oversight of all Prince Charles’s finances. His new status was confirmed by a knighthood in September 1617. Although Crane maintained his links to Lennox, who in about 1618 helped him with the financial provision for his marriage settlement, his career was increasingly shaped by his royal service. His proposal in 1619 to establish a tapestry factory at Mortlake depended on Crown backing, and was almost certainly a royal initiative, intended to emulate the works founded in 1607 by Henri IV of France. Crane’s visit in 1618 to Flanders, ostensibly to Spa, may in fact have been an exploratory mission for this project, since the first stage in setting up the Mortlake factory involved the importation of skilled Flemish tapissiers. The project was financed initially by the grant of the fees arising from the sale of three new baronetcies. Although by mid-1620 Crane was experiencing difficulties in collecting the money owed by Sir Samuel Tryon, work began that autumn on the first suite of tapestries, a Crown commission.26

In the 1621 Parliament Crane again sat for Penryn. He presented the bankruptcy bill on 1 Mar., supported an import ban on Spanish tobacco (10 Apr.), and was named to a committee which was instructed to prepare bills on alehouse regulation, the sale of horsemeat and the clerk of the market’s regional jurisdiction (24 April).27 When Tryon, who was then imprisoned in the Marshalsea over the baronetcy dispute, secured a hearing before the committee of grievances on 23 Mar., Crane assented to his safe-conduct to and from the committee. With the session approaching final deadlock on 17 Dec., Crane backed the king’s request for the Commons to proceed with its legislative business.28

The first suite of Mortlake tapestries, which depicted a conventional Flemish subject, the myth of Vulcan and Venus, was completed in June 1622. The Crown now acted to consolidate the project, and in 1623 the king hired a new designer, Francis Cleyn, while Prince Charles purchased Raphael’s famous designs for papal tapestries. However, the Mortlake finances remained precarious, and in the spring of that year Crane, as the factory’s director, appealed to James for fresh resources, claiming that he had personally sustained a loss of more than £13,500 on the project, and was therefore unable to raise further capital himself. Faced with the prospect that the works might collapse without Crown intervention, Prince Charles provided £500, while the king, under pressure from the duke of Buckingham, agreed to contribute an additional £2,500 in June 1623 by way of a grant of the fees arising from the creation of five serjeants-at-law. These measures eased Crane’s immediate problems, and in the following year he took steps to enhance production. Describing himself to Buckingham as ‘destined for adventures’, he explored the possibility of exports to Persia and in 1624 arranged for tapestries to be shipped out by the East India Company. However, he failed to secure his dividend payments from the Company in silk rather than money.29

Crane’s continuing favour with Charles was confirmed by his promotion in early 1623 to the Prince’s Council, and he was returned to the 1624 Parliament for Launceston as the Council’s nominee. In the Commons Crane was mainly associated with Crown and duchy business. Among the subjects covered by the committees to which he was named were bills to facilitate leases of duchy property (9 Mar.), confirm a land transaction between Prince Charles and Lady Alice Dudley (23 Mar.), remove brewhouses from the vicinity of royal residencies, and allow the king to acquire York House (both 19 May). Another of his committee nominations related to the subpoena office, which was run by his duchy colleague Sir Henry Vane* (22 April). Crane was also named to a legislative committee reviewing the New River project (22 Mar.), and to conferences on bills concerned with recusancy and monopolies (3 and 7 April).30

Prince Charles’s accession to the throne in 1625 brought a general enhancement of Crane’s position. In May he was granted an annuity of £2,000 for ten years, half of which was to serve as a part-payment for existing tapestries, with the remainder intended to encourage future work. Two months later the king also provided for repayment of a loan to the Crown which Crane had been required to make in 1624. At about the same time, he obtained a patent for making farthing tokens, which he held jointly with the dowager duchess of Lennox, widow of his old patron, though enforcement of this monopoly proved troublesome.31 Crane had evidently maintained his ties with the Lennox family, as he was drawn into delicate marriage negotiations between the 2nd duke’s niece, Elizabeth Stuart, and the earl of Arundel’s heir, Henry Frederick Howard*, Lord Maltravers, by the end of 1625. Whether this was Crane’s first direct contact with Arundel is not clear, but in January 1626 the earl rewarded his efforts on behalf of his son by nominating him for a parliamentary seat at New Shoreham. Crane failed to achieve election, however, notwithstanding the duchy of Cornwall’s ownership of Shoreham manor, and Maltravers’ clandestine nuptials a few weeks later angered Charles I, who had nursed other plans for his Stuart cousin. When in early March Arundel was consigned to the Tower, Crane wrote to him offering to take the blame for the turn of events, and advised him to placate the king rather than look to Parliament for help. Although these recommendations were ignored, it was presumably at the behest of Arundel as earl marshal that Crane received the chancellorship of the Garter in the following July, and the two men remained on intimate terms thereafter.32

The late 1620s saw Crane’s career reach its peak. Mortlake was now producing the highest-quality tapestries in Europe, and purchasers included Buckingham and lord keeper Williams. The East Indies venture was not a great success, but the first consignment of tapestries eventually brought a return of £3,000, and by late 1628 Crane was contemplating a renewed assault on this market.33 In the same year he again raised a loan for the Crown, this time amounting to £7,500, for which he received as security for two years the honour of Grafton in Northamptonshire. Although he seems already to have owned property in the county, where he had been a magistrate since 1625, this new grant, which was swiftly followed by the stewardship of the honour and full possession of Stoke Bruerne Park, provided Crane with a significant estate which he was keen to develop.34 Over the next few years he converted his house at Stoke into an Italian-style villa with pavilions linked to the main block by curved colonnades, the first of its kind in England. The stylistic character of the pavilions supports the tradition that another Arundel client, the king’s surveyor Inigo Jones*, advised on the project. Crane reportedly also borrowed Cleyn from Mortlake to decorate the interiors.35

In 1630 Dru Burton, Crane’s deputy as duchy auditor-general, approached the government with allegations that royal projects and subsidies at Mortlake had resulted in undisclosed profits totalling as much as £12,255. Crane promptly dismissed Burton, and though there was apparently some substance to these claims, the Crown showed reluctance to act on his report.36 Nevertheless, Crane’s luck was turning. In the same year, the king delayed redemption of the Grafton mortgage, choosing instead to extend the grant. Crane offered to purchase some of the lands concerned and open a new tapestry works at Grafton, but Charles, having accepted an additional £5,000 from him, then withdrew from the sale and converted the money into an additional loan. Although the sum now at issue, £12,500, was remarkably similar to the alleged Mortlake surplus, there is no firm evidence that the government was seeking indirectly to penalize Crane. A warrant for repayment of the £5,000 was actually prepared in July 1631, though it apparently fell victim to lord treasurer (Sir Richard) Weston’s* reluctance to clear Crown debts. Crane was appointed a trustee of another royal lordship in 1632, and two years later was described in the East India Company’s records as being specially favoured by the king, who granted him the keepership of two more Grafton honour parks in 1633 and, for another £4,000, the Welsh lordship of Dyffryn Clwyd in 1634. That Crane initially expected a successful outcome to the Grafton business is shown by his purchase of other Northamptonshire properties during the early 1630s, but by 1634 he was losing patience and threatened to foreclose on the still unredeemed mortgage.37 During that year reports reached the Privy Council that he was administering the honour in his own name, and taking materials from Grafton manor house and elsewhere to use at Stoke Park, charges which the government investigated despite Crane’s denials. The king at length instructed the honour’s under-steward Sir Miles Fleetwood, Crane’s 1624 parliamentary partner, to raise the money to clear the loan by compounding with the Grafton tenants, but Crane, presented with a real prospect of repayment, now disputed the terms on offer and obstructed Fleetwood’s efforts. The legal wrangles dragged on into 1636, but with decreasing success for Crane, who in mid-1635 decided to cut his losses and invest in a Norfolk estate centred on Woodrising. He seems to have surrendered his title to Grafton honour before his death.38

In early 1636 the king owed £2,872 for tapestries, which may explain why Crane apparently had no difficulty in February in renewing his farthing token patent, this time in partnership with Lord Maltravers, who had taken over the duchess of Lennox’s interest. Crane had evidently consolidated his relationship with Arundel’s son, who assisted him with the Woodrising purchase and shared his new-found enthusiasm for fen drainage.39 Although still vigorous mentally, Crane had for some time been suffering from the stone, and in March he travelled to Paris for surgery. The operation on 18 Apr. achieved its immediate objective, the removal of a rough stone the size of a hen’s egg. However, the wound turned gangrenous and Crane died on 26 June, behaving to the last ‘like a stout and humble Christian’, according to Sir John Scudamore*.40 By his will, drawn up on 27 Aug. 1635, he bequeathed £500 to help repair St. Paul’s cathedral. He also provided an annuity of £200 for his recently founded almshouses for poor Garter knights at Windsor Castle, a project arising from an earlier bequest made by his brother-in-law Peter Le Maire, and now entrusted to Arundel and Maltravers. In a codicil drafted three days before his death, Crane advised his wife to settle at Woodrising, where he requested burial, and to allow his executor and principal heir, his brother Richard, to dispose of some of the remaining Grafton lands, which now represented a much smaller estate than his Norfolk properties.41 In the event Mary Crane preferred to remain at Grafton. Richard attempted to take over at Mortlake, but sold out to the king in 1637, and failed to wind up Crane’s affairs before his own death in 1645. Crane’s estates thereafter descended to a nephew and niece, his sisters’ children, both of whom married into the Crane family of Loughton, Buckinghamshire. The Windsor almshouses were demolished in 1863, and of Stoke Park only the pavilions now survive. Three portraits of Crane still exist: a contemporary drawing by Lucas Vorsterman, an engraving from a painting by George Jameson and, most appropriately, a likeness in tapestry, supposedly designed by Van Dyck.42

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: Paul Hunneyball


  • 1. MI, Woodrising, Norf.
  • 2. GI Admiss.
  • 3. Vis. London (Harl. Soc. i), 93; C78/297/3; G. Baker, Hist. and Antiqs. of Northants. 243; St. Mary Aldermanbury, London (Harl. Soc. Reg. lxi), 98.
  • 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 166.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1636-7, p. 25.
  • 6. AO1/2021/3.
  • 7. SC6/Jas.I/1681; CSP Dom. 1629-31, p. 441.
  • 8. E306/12, box 2, bdle. 22, nos. 16, 19; G. Haslam, ‘Jacobean Phoenix’, Estates of Eng. Crown ed. R.W. Hoyle, 284; DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 4.
  • 9. C66/2380/13.
  • 10. CSP Dom. 1633-4, p. 326.
  • 11. C181/4, f. 186.
  • 12. W.G. Thomson, Hist. of Tapestry (3rd edn.), 278, 292.
  • 13. C212/22/23.
  • 14. C66/2349/3 (dorse).
  • 15. C193/12/2, ff. 38v, 58.
  • 16. C181/4, ff. 140, 180.
  • 17. C231/4, f. 194v; C66/2654; 66/2725.
  • 18. C66/2499/1; 66/2631/1.
  • 19. CSP Col. E.I. 1622-4, p. 409; 1625-9, p. 590; 1630-4, p. 266.
  • 20. W. Dugdale, Hist. of Imbanking and Draining (2nd edn.), 410.
  • 21. C.S. Gilbert, Hist. Survey of Cornw. ii. 88; Vivian, Vis. Cornw. 13, 41, 120; Baker, 243.
  • 22. HP Commons, 1558-1603, iii. 399; C66/1696; Harl. 7004, f.75; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 524.
  • 23. C2/Jas.I/C24/88; CP sub Lennox; C54/2102/31; 54/2119/51.
  • 24. C54/2164/7; APC, 1613-14, p. 106; HMC Downshire, iv. 266, 274.
  • 25. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, i. 358; Procs. 1614 (Commons), 76, 330.
  • 26. C78/297/3; Thomson, 278, 280, 289; L. Martin, ‘Sir Francis Crane’, Apollo, cxiii. 92; APC, 1618-19, p. 170; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 260; CSP Dom. 1619-23, pp. 141, 165.
  • 27. CJ, i. 532b, 590a; CD 1621, ii. 288.
  • 28. CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 246; CD 1621, v. 463; vi. 331; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 251-2. An inquiry into the Grice fam.’s affairs was apparently conducted by Sir Robert Crane*, not by this Member, as stated in CD 1621, iv. 226.
  • 29. Thomson, 289, 292; Martin, 92; Bridges, i. 328; Harl. 1581, ff. 274, 386; Chamberlain Letters, ii. 433; APC, 1623-5, p. 266; DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, ff. 4, 7.
  • 30. DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 33v; CJ, i. 680a, 745a, 747a, 754a, 757b, 773a, 705b.
  • 31. T. Rymer, Foedera, viii. pt. 1, pp. 43-4, 104-6; C66/2351/1; APC, 1629-30, pp. 323-4; CSP Dom. 1634-5, p. 85.
  • 32. Arundel, Autograph Letters, 1617-32, Peers to Spiller, 16 Jan. 1626; M.F.S. Hervey, Life of Earl of Arundel, 240-3, 245-7; Harl. 4712, ff. 245-6; Suss. Arch. Colls. xxxviii. 154; D. Tyssen, Parl. Surveys of Suss. 1649-53, p. 227.
  • 33. Thomson, 285, 289-90; O. Manning and W. Bray, Hist. and Antiqs. of Surr. iii. 303; CSP Col. E.I. 1625-9, pp. 67, 71, 270, 441, 590, 647, 668.
  • 34. SP39/23/2; C66/2407/7; 66/2500/26.
  • 35. Bridges, i. 328; J. Heward and R. Taylor, Country Houses of Northants. 311, 313.
  • 36. CSP Dom. 1629-31, pp. 441-2; Thomson, 289-91.
  • 37. R. Ashton, Crown and the Money Market, 62-4 ; CSP Dom. 1631-3, p. 110; F.C. Dietz, Eng. Public Finance, 258; C54/2875/18; CSP Col. E.I. 1630-4, p. 526; C66/2676/1; Baker, 243.
  • 38. Strafford Letters (1739) ed. W. Knowler, i. 261, 336, 524; CSP Dom. 1635-6, p. 226; 1636-7, pp. 306-7; 1637-8, p. 428; OR; E126/4, f. 248r-v; C54/3048/12; LR17/1 (21 and 28 Dec. 1634); C142/544/42.
  • 39. CSP Dom. 1635-6, p. 280; C66/2688/30; C54/3048/12; Dugdale, 410.
  • 40. Harl. 4712, f. 245r-v; Dugdale, 410; CSP Dom. 1635-6, pp. 274, 372; 1636-7, p. 25.
  • 41. PROB 11/161, f. 55; 11/172, ff. 117-18; C142/544/42.
  • 42. Baker, 243; Thomson, 292-3; PROB 11/172, f. 118; Martin, 94, 96; Heward and Taylor, 311. The Vorsterman and Jameson images are at the BM; the tapestry was last recorded as being at Ingatestone Hall, Essex: Martin, 96.