CROFT, Sir Herbert (c.1564-1629), of Croft Castle, Herefs. and Great St. Bartholomew's, London

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.1564, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of Edward Croft† of Croft Castle and Alice, da. and h. of Thomas Browne of Attleborough, Norf.1 educ. ?Christ Church, Oxf.;2 M. Temple 1594; embassy France 1598.3 m. c.1590, Mary (d.1659), da. and coh. of Anthony Bourne of Holt Castle, Worcs., 4s. 5da. suc. fa. 1601;4 kntd. 7 May 1603.5 d. 1 Apr. 1629.6

Offices Held

J.p. Herefs. 1589-c.1607, Carm. by 1591-1595, Oxon. by 1593-c.1607;7 steward of Crown manors, Herefs. and Mont. 1592-1612;8 dep. lt. Herefs. 1597-1607;9 recvr.-gen. S. Wales 1599-1604;10 commr. oyer and terminer, Oxf. circ. by 1598-1615, Wales and Marches by 1602-6,11 subsidy, Herefs. 1599-1600; 12 member, Council in the Marches of Wales 1601-7;13 woodward, Herefs. by 1606-at least 1610;14 commr. inquiry into the lands of wards, Mdx. 1608.15

Cttee. Virg. Co. 1608.16

Commr. cloth exports 1614.17


Croft claimed descent from Bernard the Bearded (the Domesday tenant of the property from which he derived his surname, 12 miles from Hereford), who gave up everything to enter a monastery. The family regularly represented Herefordshire from 1312, and reached its apogee under Elizabeth, when Croft’s grandfather served as comptroller of the Household. Although the latter supplemented his income by selling state secrets to Spain, he left his estate so heavily encumbered that Croft’s father, after dabbling unsuccessfully in sorcery, fled the country in 1594 to escape his creditors.18

Despite continuous service in the last four Elizabethan Parliaments, there were several obstacles to Croft’s candidature in 1604. A former follower of the 2nd earl of Essex, he never enjoyed an easy relationship with (Sir) Robert Cecil†. Indeed, he had offended the chief minister so seriously that he was initially refused a knighthood on the accession of James I, an unusual distinction that was only averted by a letter from the 3rd earl of Southampton begging Cecil to consider ‘what passed from him to discontent you proceeded rather from his present grief than out of any want of respect’.19 Another obstacle to Croft’s re-election was the shrinking size of his estate. Financial difficulties had already forced him to compound with his creditors, at the cost of his Welsh property, and to convey Croft Castle to his cousin Sir James Scudamore* and three other trustees. Moreover, unable to resist the temptation of an opportunity to round off his estate in north Herefordshire by the purchase of Leinthall Earls for £1,000, he had been forced to liquidate some of his assets, surrendering the receivership of South Wales and transferring to another guardian the lands of (Sir) Humphrey Baskerville*, on which he had spent nearly £500 in money and a whole year in law and travel to prove a tenure for the Crown. In addition to these difficulties, Croft’s dispute over enclosure with his tenants at Luston must have given him the reputation of an oppressive landlord among the freeholders. Nevertheless he was re-elected for Herefordshire, with Scudamore as his colleague.20

In 1604 Croft made 17 recorded speeches and was appointed to 49 committees. Pressing into the overcrowded House of Lords to hear the speech from the throne that opened the session on 19 Mar., Croft was thrust back by a yeoman of the guard with the deliberately offensive words: ‘Goodman burgess, you come not here’. Having ascertained the name of the officious beefeater, Croft complained to the Speaker, and after some debate the offender appeared in custody and apologized.21 He was named to the committee for privileges three days later and to a special committee to secure the liberation of Sir Thomas Shirley I from a debtors’ prison on 27 March. His sense of the dignity of the House was outraged by Shirley’s continued incarceration in the Fleet. He desired that the recalcitrant warden should be ‘more terrified’ by threats to imprison him in the notorious dungeon of Little Ease. On 12 May he was named to the committee sent to the Tower to inspect it, and after the weekend reported on ‘the loathsomeness of the place, ... the warden’s insolent carriage, [and] the care and demeanour’ of Sir George Hervey* as lieutenant of the Tower.22 He was among those instructed to attend the king on 28 Mar. with a defence of the refusal of the Commons to accept the disqualification of Sir Francis Goodwin* as an outlawed debtor, and two days later he was among those appointed to draw up reasons for their proceedings over the Buckinghamshire election.23 He contributed to the debate which followed Sir Thomas Ridgeway’s motion on 1 June for a ‘survey of the proceedings’ of the Commons to be presented to the king, and spoke in favour of the resulting ‘Form of Apology and Satisfaction’ when it was presented by Ridgeway on 20 June.24 In addition to his interest in parliamentary privilege Croft was concerned with Commons procedure. Speaking in the debate following the report of the bill for the naturalization of Sir George Home and confirmation of his patent on 4 June he demanded that ‘men speaking for the bill should not waste time seconding one another’.25 He also defended the conduct of the Speaker in not ‘opening’ the bill against poaching on 21 June.26

Croft spoke frequently on the proposed Union with Scotland. On 23 Apr. he moved that the lawyers should consider the legal implications of the change in the name of the kingdom. The following day he proposed that the vice-chamberlain (Sir John Stanhope I*) should be sent to the king to thank him for his message allowing freedom of speech on this subject, and was one of the Members appointed to maintain ‘matters of honour and reputation’ at the conference with the Lords on 28 April.27 However he objected to the report made by Sir Francis Bacon on 21 May of another conference on the Union, and on opening the debate the following day he expressed doubts over the powers given to the commissioners in the bill. On his motion a committee was appointed to resolve the question, to which he was named, and on 24 May he supported the new proviso that was produced.28 He subsequently wrote that ‘His Majesty stood ill-conceited of me upon some information that His Majesty had received concerning my carriage in the first Parliament’. This probably refers to the scepticism he showed towards the Union, but he also wrote that by ‘humbling myself at his sacred feet, [I] did endeavour the purging of myself, and, as I thought, left His Majesty well satisfied towards me’.29

Croft was among those appointed on 26 May to draft a message to the Lords about the bishop of Bristol’s book refuting the arguments of the Commons against the Union. On 1 June he was named to the committee to prepare a conference with the Lords about the book and the following day he was appointed to assist in presenting the Commons’ case to the Lords. On 11 June, in the debate following Bacon’s report on the conference, Croft moved that they should inform the Lords that they were not satisfied with the bishop’s oral apology and that they required a submission in writing to be brought down to the Commons. He spoke on the matter again on 21 June but his words are unrecorded.30

On 27 Apr. he was appointed to the committee for the bill against lurking and secret outlawries. He successfully moved that the same committee should draft a bill against the stealing of outlawries, but no such measure ever materialized.31 Croft is also recorded as having contributed to three further debates, although his words are unrecorded, the first, on 12 June, concerned the relief of the soldiers in Ireland; three days later he participated on the debate concerning the repeal of an Elizabethan statute concerning the payment of debts by officials; and on 6 July he was among those who discussed Francis Moore’s report of the bill concerning Crown lands.32 On 16 June he headed a delegation that took ten bills from the Commons to the Lords.33

During his absence in London, Croft’s tenants at Luston had seized the opportunity to trespass on his enclosures.34 Worse was to follow, for in September 1604 the Crown made his archenemy Sir Thomas Coningsby† surveyor of Crown lands in Herefordshire, of which Croft was steward. According to Coningsby this appointment ‘was a thing very displeasing’ to Croft.35 In June 1605 Croft was employed by the Privy Council to investigate disturbances by Catholics in Herefordshire, and probably in the same year he sold to (Sir) John Walter* the Oxfordshire manor of Sarsden, which had come to him through his wife.36

During the second session Croft was named to 36 committees and made 13 recorded speeches. He probably attended the start of the session, as he was among those appointed to consider the incorporation of the Spanish Company on 5 Nov. 1605.37 When Parliament resumed after the long adjournment caused by the Gunpowder Plot he was named to the committees to recommend severe proceedings against Jesuits, seminary priests, and ‘all other popish agents’ (21 Jan. 1606), and to consider the thanksgiving (23 Jan. 1606) and attainder bills (30 Apr. 1606).38 His first recorded speech of the session was on 28 Jan, when he supported Samuel Lewknor’s complaint about the arrangements made for Members to watch the trials of the surviving conspirators in Westminster Hall.39

On 30 Jan. 1606 Croft was appointed to the committee for the bill for the better execution of the purveyance laws, and in the debate on purveyance on 15 Feb. he moved ‘to have an end of the matter of purveyors’, and for the articles against the purveyors to be delivered. He spoke again on the same subject on 7 Mar. when he proposed to ‘let the Lords know that we have determined touching the composition’.40 Croft’s chief concern in the session, however, was his campaign to remove Herefordshire and three other English counties from the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches. Although a member of the Council since 1601, his position was probably purely nominal. After 1600 effective power was concentrated in an inner ‘Council attendant’, consisting of the lord president and the four judges. Consequently, although members of the gentry like Croft formed a majority on the Council they had little influence over its decisions. The ruling by King’s Bench in a case brought in 1604 threw the legality of the Council’s jurisdiction over the English shires into doubt. The following year the opponents of the Council sought to capitalize on this decision by confirming their exemption from the Council’s authority. Croft was one of four ‘gentleman protectors’ who petitioned the king against the Council in the autumn of 1605. Croft represented Herefordshire, while Sir Samuel Sandys*, Sir Roger Owen* and Sir Edward Winter represented Worcestershire, Shropshire and Gloucestershire respectively.41

On 10 Feb. 1606 a bill was introduced in the Commons to amend the statute of Union with Wales.42 During the second reading debate 11 days later, many Members called for the bill to be thrown out, ‘but Sir Herbert Croft stood up [and] in a very long speech declared the importance of the bill’. The four border shires, he declared, ‘are hurt and oppressed with that government’. Indeed, he had helped ‘certain other gentlemen’ draw up a list of 100 cases which proved that the Council in the Marches was guilty of ‘oppression’. This timely intervention persuaded the Commons to commit the bill, and Croft, the second member appointed to the committee, was instructed to deliver in his notes concerning the cases he had cited.43 Croft subsequently opened the third reading debate on 10 Mar., and answered the objections made by Richard Young.44 The bill was passed and sent to the Lords, but Croft remained dissatisfied, and on 10 Apr., supported by Sir Robert Cotton, he moved for a message to be sent to the Upper House asking for ‘some superfluous words in the bill’ to be deleted. However, his motion was rejected after Sir Francis Bacon argued that it was unprecedented. It seems likely that Croft’s aim in seeking to amend the bill after it had left the Commons was to appease the measure’s critics in the Lords, where it failed to emerge from committee. On 13 May Croft brought in another bill to exempt the four shires from the jurisdiction of the Council in Marches. This received its second reading the following day and was committed. That afternoon Croft attended the king with the Commons’ grievances, which included the abuses committed by the Council in the Marches. At this meeting James promised to see that the law was executed, which Croft evidently interpreted as a commitment to reform the Council. Consequently, when the bill to exempt the four shires was returned from committee on the 15 May it was, on Croft’s motion, ‘suffered to sleep’.45

It may have been Croft who brought in the bill ‘for the better maintenance of husbandry and tillage in the county of Hereford’, since his name heads the committee appointed on 20 March.46 On 10 Feb. he was named to the committee for the subsidy bill. When this measure was reported (25 Mar.) he proposed that the House should agree a time for the first payment and proceed from there.47 Croft reported two private bills, one of which concerned the estates of Walter Walsh (17 Mar.), a Worcestershire gentleman, and the other the lands of Edmund, 2nd Lord Chandos (7 May).48 On 9 Apr. he contributed to the debate on the pre-emption of tin, and six days later spoke on another grievance, that of Sir Roger Aston’s* greenwax patent.49 His final recorded speech of the session was on 17 May, when he opposed a bill to naturalize a brewer from the Catholic Rhineland, which was rejected on first reading.50 During the session he was in contact with Sir Maurice Berkeley* and Sir Robert Wingfield* about an aspect parliamentary business, the nature of which is unknown.51

During the third session Croft was named to 19 committees and made 13 speeches. Appointed to the privileges committee on 19 Nov. 1606, he took part in the debate three days later over whether the attorney-general, Sir Henry Hobart*, should be disqualified from sitting by virtue of his office. When a division was called Croft argued that the opponents of disqualification should go out into the lobby ‘for they would have the king’s attorney to remain a Member here, which was never seen’. However others disputed Croft’s reasoning and in the end the House agreed not to put the question.52 On 11 Feb. 1607 Croft successfully moved a new standing order that committee adjournments should be reported to the House on the next day.53 When the Speaker fell ill on 23 Mar. 1607, he moved for the privileges committee to consider the precedents for proceeding in the Speaker’s absence, which was agreed.54 Five days later he objected to the use of committees by the privy councillors to manipulate proceedings, arguing that ‘in committees when every man may reply, some special persons of place by speaking often, and countenance do prevail more than by their reasons’.55

In the third session most of Croft’s energy was devoted to obstructing the Union with Scotland. He was appointed to attend the conference with the Upper House of 24 Nov. 1606 and two days later he argued that Members should debate the issues raised among themselves before conferring with the Lords again.56 On 28 Nov., when the Lords objected to leaving the discussion of hostile laws and free trade to the Commons, with extradition and naturalization initially reserved for themselves, Croft proposed that Members of the Commons should debate all the issues among themselves and then confer with the Lords. This proposal was accepted and Croft carried up a message to the Lords accordingly.57 On 1 Dec. 1606 he took charge of the Instrument of Union and ten days later was appointed to help to prepare for a further conferences on the subject.58 When, on 16 Feb., Sir Christopher Pigott* launched ‘a bitter and scandalous invective against the nation of the Scots’, Croft urged that ‘the generality of his distemper may be pressed against him, and not any particular accusation, but the words may be put in oblivion’.59 On 24 Feb. he was appointed to prepare for another conference with the Lords about the Union and to give his ‘best assistance, upon occasions offered in the conference’.60

In seeking a formal Union, James I sought to naturalize the subjects of both kingdoms and to repeal any law which reflected the former enmity between the two countries. On 20 Feb., however, Croft argued that those born since James’s accession were not legally naturalized.61 Croft returned to this issue on 28 Mar., by which time he was seeking to thwart the king’s wishes covertly. At first he argued that those Scots born before James ascended the English throne were more deserving of naturalization than those born afterwards, ‘for we see their deserts, of the other we cannot judge’. He also complained that the Scots were unwilling to make concessions, and that ‘we deal with a nation that in their treaty do give to us merely nothing’. However, he then joined Sir Edwin Sandys in advocating the complete merger of the two kingdoms by calling for a ‘perfect’ Union. On the face of it this was a stunning volte face, but in reality it was a clever manoeuvre designed to wreck the Union completely. One of the main advantages of a perfect Union was that its supporters could appear to support a Union while secretly opposing it. Such a merger, he knew, was unacceptable to the Scots, as it effectively implied the annexation of Scotland by England. Another advantage of the perfect Union was that its guaranteed rejection would enable the Commons to blame the Scots for the failure of the Union. In order to appear even more reasonable, Croft argued that it was the existing proposals for an ‘imperfect Union’ that were unsatisfactory, as once the Scots were naturalized and able to ‘enjoy all benefits here’ they would no longer be interested in uniting with the English, as this would mean abandoning their own legal system. The great advantage of a ‘perfect’ Union, he added, was that it could be achieved rapidly ‘if the Scottish nation have that sincere mind to come to us’. Moreover, once James ‘did understand our great desire of this perfect Union, he would not mislike it’. Croft concluded his speech by calling for further debate in the Commons before conferring again with the Lords, presumably in the hope of delaying further proceedings until after the Easter recess.62

In the debate on 28 Apr. Croft supported Sandys’s motion, for the Commons to proceed with the perfect Union and reproved the Speaker for describing Sandys’s proposition as new. ‘I think the project ... to be good’, he declared, ‘and I could wish that the king might clearly understand ... how much we are stalled with the imperfect Union, and how much we desire the perfect Union’. Denying that the proposal was a ‘diversion’ from James I’s own proposals, he again questioned the good faith of the Scots, asserting: ‘I doubt not but the Scottish do desire the imperfect Union, thereby to enjoy the benefits with us, which when they have [they] perhaps will be backwards in the perfect’.63

Croft was the first Member appointed on 4 Mar. to the committee for the bill to permit enclosure in certain Herefordshire parishes, but the measure was reported by Anthony Pembrugge, who sat for Hereford.64 He was also appointed to the committee to consider legislation for the speedier payment of the king’s debts (2 May) and seems to have taken charge of the bill, which failed to emerge from committee.65 As a member for a cloth-making county Croft was authorized to attend the committee on the bill for regulating the woollen textiles industry on 23 February. At the third reading on 11 May he defended a proviso exempting from the apprenticeship requirement the freemen of Hereford and Leominster. The bill was recommitted to review the clause, which was reported the following day. Croft then asserted that the House could not vote separately on the proviso but only whether to accept or reject the whole bill, but he was overruled and the proviso was struck out.66 When he asked leave to depart on 27 May, he elicited an unusual tribute to his usefulness in the Commons. His request was granted ‘with caution that he return within a very short time, ... the House having so much use of his service as he could not be long spared’. The only subsequent occasion on which he was mentioned in the surviving records was on 19 June when, along with other members of the privileges committee, he was ordered to review the entries in the Journal concerning privileges.67

Croft subsequently attributed his purge from public office to his opposition to the Council in the Marches.68 However, as the question of the Council had not been raised in the third session it seems more likely that Croft’s disgrace resulted from his opposition to the Union. Indeed, Croft does not appear to have renewed his campaign against the Council until after he was dismissed.69 He still had friends on the Privy Council, for (Sir) Dudley Carleton* reported on 16 Sept. 1607 that his dismissal from membership of the Council in the Marches was ‘a matter of much consultation [that] went not so current but had some contradiction’.70 At the Michaelmas quarter sessions in Herefordshire, ‘being then no justice of the peace, and therewith discontented’, Croft persuaded the members of the bench to complain of the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches. On 13 Jan. 1608 a remarkable letter of thanks was addressed to Croft, bearing the signatures of almost the entire Herefordshire bench. These included not only his colleague Scudamore and his political associate John Hoskins*, but also the bishop and even his old antagonist Sir Thomas Coningsby†:

We have been heretofore much benefited by your care and travail for us, in attending the right honourable the lords of His Majesty’s Council, in moving the High Court of Parliament, and in soliciting the reverend judges of the realm ... to be freed from the jurisdiction of the Council established in the principality of Wales and the Marches.

The lord president responded by accusing Croft of oppression and malversation as steward of the queen’s manor of Leominster, but provided evidence of only two cases.71

Croft’s deteriorating finances led him on 15 Oct. 1607 to seek a loan from Sir John Scudamore†. His difficulties, he insisted, were due not to prodigality, but to usury. ‘I am now in this case, that I owe yet £1,500, all upon interest, enough to be my utter ruin, as I have too dearly experienced twice within these 17 years’. What Croft wanted was £1,000, to be repaid over ten years, without interest, of course. As security he offered his manor of Luston, which he guaranteed free of all encumbrances (except his unruly tenants, whom he did not mention). ‘A man of any spirit’, he admitted, ‘would rather starve than sue as I do in this letter’, but he knew that Scudamore had no better use for his money, and ‘in all things else you ... have showed yourself most affectionately kind’.72 The success of this application can only be conjectured, but by December Croft was back in London, living in a fashionable quarter on the outskirts of the City.73

In the fourth session of the first Jacobean Parliament Croft was named to 59 committees, made 31 speeches, and acted as teller in five divisions. By now well-established as a voluble speaker, Croft’s first recorded intervention, on 14 Feb. 1610, was ‘not less than an hour’ in length. He started by enumerating what he considered the three ‘ends of parliament’, which were ‘to take[sic] good laws’, ‘to make known public grievances’ and to grant the king ‘aid from the subjects’. Asserting that ‘every man [was] to think of the grievance that most concerns his country’, he launched into an attack on the jurisdiction of the Council of the Marches over the four English counties. In particular he raised the case of a ‘poor man suffered to perish’ who had been imprisoned by lord chancellor Ellesmere (Thomas Egerton†) ‘for not obeying the Court in Wales’, and had died as a consequence. The attack on Ellesmere was ‘tenderly apprehended’ by the Commons and the following day was answered by Sir Henry Montagu, who entered into a lengthy discussion of the particular case but ran into trouble when he appeared to suggest that privy councillors could imprison at their discretion. In response Croft ‘went through his speech better than he did before’ and moved successfully that the case should be referred to the committee for grievances.74

Croft was interested in other grievances besides the Council in the Marches. On 24 Apr. he delivered a long speech in the debate following Sir Edwin Sandys’ report from the committee for grievances concerning silenced ministers in which he supported Sir Francis Hastings’ motion to proceed by petition to the king rather than as a grievance.75 On 11 May he moved for a committee, to which he was the first Member named, ‘to sort the grievances and pen some inducements or preambles’.76 The following day he successfully moved for the grievances to be read.77

Croft continued to take an interest in issues concerning the conduct of the House, and on 26 Feb. he called William Holt to order over his long declamation against Dr. Cowell, though ‘tender in staying any man’s speech’.78 On 7 Mar. he proposed a procedure to regulate the erasing of clauses from bills after they had been engrossed, suggesting that all deletions should be endorsed by the signature of either the Speaker, for the Commons, or the lord chancellor, for the Lords. However, according to William Hakewill ‘this motion was not further prosecuted’.79 He spoke in the debate concerning Sir James Scudamore’s claim to privilege for his servant on 16 Mar. and reported the case from the privileges committee 12 days later.80 Concerned to defend the dignity of the House, after the conference of 4 May, when Archbishop Bancroft reproved the Commons for orations that amounted to nothing but froth, Montagu’s anodyne report aroused his indignation and he called for a fuller account of the prelate’s words ‘because the proceedings of this House [have been] taxed’.81 On 23 June he became impatient at the long silence that followed a speech by Nicholas Fuller concerning impositions, telling his fellow Members that ‘if any were of contrary opinion to that which had been moved, he should speak next and so one after another, that the certainty for our judgments might the better be found out’.82 As the session progressed he became worried about the emptiness of the House, tabling a list of the lawyers who had left Westminster for the summer assizes on 19 June, and together with Sir Edwin Sandys acted as teller on the third reading for the ‘much disputed’ bill to improve attendance seven days later.83

That Croft’s concern with proper procedure could descend into pedantry was shown when the Commons took the oath of allegiance on 5 June. He seems to have been concerned that the oath did not sufficiently distinguish between the pope’s temporal powers and spiritual authority. After announcing to the House ‘what manner he would take it, for that he would use no mental or secret reservation’, he raised a query concerning the provision in the oath denying that the pope could authorize foreign princes to invade the country. He took the oath, he declared, on the understanding that the clause meant that the pope had no right to authorize a sovereign prince to invade England, and did not refer to principalities which were part of the papal states, because ‘he doth not know what power the pope hath over his tributary princes that hold of him’.84

On 15 Feb. Croft was named to attend the conference with the Lords at which Salisbury detailed the crisis in the Crown’s finances , and in debate four days later he suggested that two courses were open to the Commons: ‘either to send to the Lords, or to hear what we should do from the privy councillors in this House’.85 In the debate following the second conference of 24 Feb. Croft seems to have been worried that the Commons would become committed to supplying the king without first securing concessions, as he proposed to send a message to the Lords declaring that the House was ‘free from any manner of engagement’. He acted as teller against deferring further debate with Sir William Strode.86 On 14 Mar. he welcomed the king’s permission to discuss wardship as part of the Contract and moved that a message of thanks be sent to James.87 In the committee on tenures on 23 Mar. he was anxious to be reassured that lands freed from feudal tenure should pay no more than those already held by socage.88 After the king raised his demand to £200,000, Croft urged (1 May) that it should be debated and determined on the floor of the House.89

Although Croft saw impositions as a grievance in themselves, describing them on 18 May as ‘the great grievance’, he seems to have been more exercised by James’ attempt to stop the Commons debating the issue. When the Speaker, on the king’s instructions, ordered the Commons to give over discussion of impositions, Croft declared, on 11 May, that ‘it hath grown into too much custom that the Speaker should bring any message from the king, but when he was sent for by the House’. On 18 May he argued that ‘the stay of dispute of impositions, [is] the stay of our business’, and he successfully moved to have an answer to the king drafted in grand committee. He accepted Sir Walter Cope’s draft assuring the king that the Commons was no less dutiful than its predecessors, remarking on the following day that ‘our intention was always so’. However, he was concerned at the implications of James’s intervention for the Commons’ right to free speech, and on 22 May called for ‘a petition of right, showing how in all parliaments we had freely disputed of any thing concerning ourselves’. This proposal was taken up by the Commons, and the petition was duly presented to the king on 24 May, although Croft was not named to the delegation sent to deliver it. James now agreed to allow the Commons to debate impositions provided that the Commons would proceed with the Great Contract. 90

On 13 June Croft was among those who argued that grievances and supply should go hand in hand, and two days later he urged the House ‘for dispatch’ to ‘lay aside all other business, and enter into the matter of impositions’. He seems to have sought to work with privy councillors on this issue, passing to Sir Julius Caesar* the text of a bill against impositions on 3 July.91 On 16 June he proposed that a message be sent to the Lords declaring ‘that we had not been idle in those things that concern support’, by which he meant the increase in revenue which the king would receive in return for the concessions in the Great Contract, and announced that ‘it now rested with their lordships to let us know the price’.92 He attended the conference with the Lords about the Contract on 26 June, at which he stated that the Commons had ‘offered that [which] we think it is worth’. He also complained that the concessions were dearly bought, pointing out that many of those whose taxes would be increased as a result of the Contract would receive no benefit from the abolition of wardship or purveyance.93 He was subsequently included in the select group of Members who had a private meeting with Salisbury in Hyde Park on the evening before the king’s speech of 10 July.94 The following day he acted as a teller against the motion to grant a fifteenth, and argued that as grievances were a matter of right, whereas supply was a Benevolence from the subject, the former should take precedence. Consequently there should be ‘no giving until an answer’. However he probably did not oppose the vote of a subsidy as the following day he was named to a small committee to draft the subsidy bill.95 On 13 July he supported Sandys, who offered to grant the king a tax of 2d. in the pound on land for the Great Contract, because he thought this would be ‘easier’ than offering the king a fixed annual revenue, but the motion was rejected.96 On 18 July Croft increased the Commons’ demands with a well-supported motion ‘concerning the four shires, that it might be taken in the composition’.97 Three days later he spoke in a debate concerning the levy for the Great Contract, but his words are unrecorded.98

Croft also took an interest in various minor items of legislation. On 21 Mar. he spoke in the debate on the first reading of a bill to regulate brewing in victualling houses, and acted as teller in favour of rejecting it.99 On 19 Apr. he reported the bill to naturalize Salisbury’s secretary, Levinus Munck†, which was ordered to be engrossed.100 On 14 July he acted as teller with Sir Edwin Sandys in favour of the episcopal leases bill, but the measure was rejected.101 His final recorded speech of the session, on 23 July, defended the vice chancellor of Oxford against charges that he had cast aspersions on the Commons at a recent university ceremony.102

During the brief autumn recess (which was intended to enable Members to consult their constituencies about the Contract), the Herefordshire grand jury urged the county bench to support the knights of the shire in their efforts to obtain redress from the king against the Council in the Marches. The lord president of the Council subsequently claimed that the jury was dominated by kinsmen or dependents of Croft, Scudamore and Coningsby. During this same period Croft was obliged to beg a favour for a cousin who had murdered a royal gamekeeper.103 He also wrote to an unidentified peer against impositions. The letter indicates that Croft reluctantly accepted that impositions were technically legal, but he thought them politically wrong, as they ran counter to the traditions of English politics and would inevitably lead to ‘discontent in the subjects’.104

When Parliament reassembled in October the Speaker, after a few days of sitting, resolved to call the House. As there were less than 100 Members present, Croft obtained a postponement in ‘a discreet, stout, and well-tempered speech’.105 He still hoped for a major concession to the four shires; but in his message of 6 Nov. 1610 the king would offer no more than to permit appeals to Westminster Hall from decisions at Ludlow after midsummer.106 Two days later Croft gave ‘many reasons’ for abandoning the Contract:

First, because we were gone so high before as we could not reach higher; secondly, ‘twas agreed nothing should be spoken concerning the matter of supply till we had concluded the matter of support; and thirdly, to make supply part of the bargain ... were to make the Lords partners to that part which properly belongs to us and not to them.107

Croft was one of the 30 Members summoned to an audience with the king on 16 Nov., when he distinguished himself by interrupting Sir Henry Neville I with his familiar exposition of the grievances of the four shires.108 This ‘closeting’ of a select group aroused concern in the Commons, and on 22 Nov. Croft urged a full report ‘to the end they may understand His Majesty’s gracious proceedings’. On 23 Nov. he declared that it was ‘fit to make known to the king wherein we are not satisfied, and what we do desire, and to give thanks for that which he hath granted’. The House agreed with this view, but the final adjournment soon followed.109

By the end of 1610 Croft may already have transferred the management of his demesnes at Croft and Gatley to his wife, who claimed to have raised the annual proceeds from £300 to £500. Her own extravagance was notorious, and she settled the entire increase on their eldest son (Sir) William* to support him in his travels. Croft for his part obtained a grant of the Leominster manors from the queen; but this could not extend beyond her own lifetime, and the resultant litigation with the tenants rendered it a disastrous investment. A widow named Caswall brought a suit in Chancery against him for oppression and eviction, but Croft’s counsel, Richard Martin*, had the case dismissed on a technicality.110

The death of Salisbury and the rise to power of Robert Carr, earl of Somerset, encouraged opposition to the Council in the Marches.111 Croft also cultivated Somerset in the hope of obtaining a knighthood for his son, who was a minor and would, if knighted, be exempted from wardship if Croft died before he was of age. On 9 May 1614 he wrote an eight-page letter to the young Scottish favourite to win from him ‘an endeavour to work me into His Majesty’s gracious good opinion’, for he was not ‘such a commonwealth man’ as chiefly to study the esteem of his constituents. Considering ‘how little effect reasons used in Parliament may avail, when either they may not be reported or misreported to His Majesty, ... although indeed that is the only proper place for such men as myself to speak’, he hoped the speech from the throne would ‘declare the withdrawal of the four English counties’ from the jurisdiction of the Council in the Marches. Somerset duly delivered this formidable document to the king, whose marginal comments were unfavourable: ‘of a very seditious consequence, if not treasonable. ... A damnable fallacy. ... All the rest is but eloquence’. James’s final remark was optimistic but misplaced:‘When we meet I hope to make him see that he hath not done so fair play as Bellarmine hath done our religion in his controversies’.112

Croft’s eagerness to win the king’s favour had not passed unnoticed, and in the 1614 Parliament he was twice ‘saluted’ as an undertaker (on 8 and 12 April). He was no doubt referring to himself on 14 May, when he said ‘that divers taxed as stars of the last Parliament, [have] now [turned to] jelly’. He later wrote that he was ‘cried down for a time-server and turncoat’.113 He was as talkative as ever, with 27 speeches, but the relative paucity of committee appointments, only 15, may indicate the suspicion in which he was now held by his fellow Members. While Sir Thomas Bromley* still considered him ‘a most worthy pillar of this House’,114 for much of the time he was on the defensive. On 12 Apr. he stated that unless the issue of the ‘undertakers’ was cleared up he feared ‘great prejudice to His Majesty’s service’.115 On 2 May he claimed that the rumours had been spread deliberately ‘to distract all the good proceedings of the House’ and ‘that some young gentlemen [had been] directed to go with their voices as some of these undertakers’. He wanted Sir Dudley Digges, who claimed to have evidence that Catholic conspirators were behind the rumours, to declare what he knew.116 When, on 14 May, Sir Roger Owen produced an anonymous proposition for managing the Commons, Croft announced that ‘if any of the House were the author of that paper’ he should ‘come forth and avow it’. Sir Henry Neville I duly admitted that he was responsible, whereupon Croft argued that Neville had wisely kept quiet about this paper until now and called for an inquiry into the divulging of its existence.117

On 5 May Croft proposed that the debate on supply be opened the following day, but he found no seconder.118 Five days later he wrote to Somerset complaining that ‘I can yield no good account to those that have chosen me now to serve for them of my consenting to give their money to the king’ and that he was ‘like in my own particular to undergo the scorn of that party in Parliament that do already brand me with an over-earnest desire to effect His Majesty’s service’.119

In the debate over the attorney-general’s right to sit in the Commons (8 Apr.) Croft reiterated his earlier opinion ‘that the attorney-general ought not to be of the House, nor any attorney-general’. However he moved that the question should be referred to a committee ‘in satisfaction to His Majesty for doing it gravely and discreetly’. He was the first Member appointed to search for precedents, and was also named to the committees for privileges and the expiring laws continuance bill.120

In the debate on the Northumberland election dispute (9 Apr.) Croft argued strongly for sending for Sir George Selby*, stating that the case was ‘tending to the extreme prejudice of all elections’.121 He continued to prove a stickler for proper procedure, for in the debate on the bill to settle the succession following the marriage of Princess Elizabeth to the Elector Palatine he announced that there was ‘no ground to commit a bill without some matter shown why it should be committed’.122 On 15 Apr. he argued that attempts to stop petitions from being delivered anonymously ‘abridges the liberty of the House’.123 On 5 May he complained of the disrespect shown to the Speaker, and urged ‘that it might be observed that none should go out of the House before the Speaker’.124 When Sir Robert Gardener was interrupted while moving for supply on the same day Croft reproved his colleagues, reminding them that only the Speaker had the power to interrupt Gardener. However, he overstepped the bounds of acceptable criticism by comparing the House to a cockpit, for which he was called to order by Sir Jerome Horsey, who complained that Croft had assumed ‘too much regularity to himself’.125 He again reproved the House on 10 May, when he stated that it was ‘unmannerly to be silent upon the king’s message’.126 Moved to tears by Richard Martin’s own ill-judged criticism of the House on 17 May, he argued that Martin should not be called to the bar until the following day so as to give him time for reflection.127 After Fuller reported the bill for recovering small debts on 19 May, Croft advised that the measure should not be amended on the floor of the House but either recommitted or engrossed.128 Croft was troubled by the loss of records after the death of the clerk of the Commons Ralph Ewens in 1611 and his successor William Pinches the following year. On 20 May he moved for the privileges committee to consider the matter and for a petition to be sent to the king ‘that we might have some place assigned to keep the records of the House’.129

Croft took a firm line on the Stockbridge election case. On 9 May he argued that the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Sir Thomas Parry*, who was accused of interfering in the election, should be allowed into the House to hear the accusations against him but afterwards be sequestered and questioned at the bar.130 The following day he argued that, apart from Sir Roger Owen, his fellow Members had ‘gone too tenderly’ with Parry. He argued that Parry should be expelled, but he was willing to spare him from imprisonment in the Tower ‘for the king’s sake’.131 Nevertheless, on 11 May he argued that ‘no punishment [was] great enough for Parry.132

Given that Croft privately considered that impositions were technically legal, it is not surprising that at the debate following the second reading of the bill against these duties on 18 Apr. he was reluctant to have the question of their legality raised again, asserting that ‘this point [was] cleared upon argument in the last Parliament’. He nevertheless supported the bill, as impositions meant that no man could be certain of the ownership of his property. There were, however, ‘some things [to be] corrected [which were] amiss in the bill’, and he wanted ‘all such things in the bill as may give any touch to His Majesty’s honour’ to be particularly considered.133 On 16 May he claimed that ‘some have pretended’ that there were records to contradict the Commons case against impositions and that ‘divers of those things we build upon may, by true inference, be turned against us’. Consequently he moved that ‘if any man were in doubt let him appear and show his mind’. For his own part he argued that the views of the Elizabethan chief justice (Sir) James Dyer†, that custom duties predated any parliamentary grant, were ‘none of his but rather a quaere or a private note of his’.134

Having put his faith in lobbying Somerset to secure the exemption of the four shires from the Council of the Marches, Croft made little attempt to raise the matter in Parliament in 1614. On 18 Apr. he was named to the committee to repeal a clause in the statute of Union with Wales, but this was a bill of grace intended to abolish the Crown’s unused power to legislate by decree in the principality, and did not affect the powers of the Council.135 On 20 May Sir Edwin Sandys raised the question of the king’s 1610 letter to Speaker Phelips concerning the Council. Sir Robert Phelips* was thereupon sent to request the letter from his father, but subsequently reported that his father had lost it. He nevertheless thought that Croft had a copy, whereupon Croft agreed to deliver it to the committee for petitions.136

In the debate concerning Bishop Neile’s attack on the Commons on 26 May, Croft emphasized the importance of avoiding a breach between the two Houses, arguing that it was ‘better to let him go unpunished than to bring ourselves into that snare’.137 The following day he proposed giving the king ‘a satisfactory answer’ to his letter about the cessation of business resulting from the dispute about Neile’s speech, and was the first named on 28 May to the delegation to deliver it.138 He seconded the motion of Sir Edward Montagu on 3 June for a committee to consider how to pacify the king.139 Four days later, in response to James’s threat to dissolve Parliament unless there was an immediate vote of taxation, he proposed that they should grant ‘a small supply’ comprising one subsidy and two fifteenths, although they should also reserve ‘to every man the property of his goods’.140

The dissolution of the Addled Parliament with no concessions from the Crown ended Croft’s hopes of regaining his position within his native county. He received his paltry reward in the shape of a knighthood for his son a week after the dissolution.141 He continued to press for the exemption of the four shires until his patron Somerset was arrested and imprisoned in November 1615. In the following month he obtained a pass to travel abroad, without his wife or family; but it was over a year before he left.142 In May 1617 it was reported that he had ‘secretly shrunk over into France, his whole estate being so weakened and wasted as now a good while he hath been driven to hide his head and play least in sight’.143 A few months later it became known that, as he later wrote, ‘I have changed my religion wherein I was born and bred, and in which I lived and made profession of for above 53 years’.144 Many marvelled that Croft should turn Popish; but Chamberlain commented with shrewd anticipation: ‘desperation hath made more monks than him’.145 In fact, his funds sufficed to maintain him in the world for another nine years; under various assumed names, he was heard of in such places of fashion and resort as Spa, Rome, and St. Germain.146 Nothing came of a letter of 1624 in which he applied for permission to return to England, and two years later he was admitted as a lay brother to the English Benedictine monastery of Douai.147 Encouraged, perhaps, by the temporary defection to the Church of Rome of his third son Herbert (subsequently bishop of Hereford), he printed several letters to encourage other members of his family to follow the same course; but they too were fruitless. He died on 1 Apr. 1629. No will or administration has been found. He was buried at Douai under an epitaph extolling his prudence, patriotism and, above all, his piety, which had induced him to follow the example of his distant ancestor Bernard by retiring to a poor little cell and living like a monk.148

Ref Volumes: 1604-1629

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. O.G.S. Croft, House of Croft of Croft Castle, 81; R.E. Ham, County and the Kingdom, 14.
  • 2. His eldest son apparently said that Croft studied at the college. As he does not seem to have matriculated Wood suggests his stay was short. Croft himself stated in 1614 that he had not been ‘bred up in learning’. Ath. Ox. ii. 318; SP14/76/53.
  • 3. M. Temple Admiss.; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 37.
  • 4. Croft, 88-94; Ham, County, 62
  • 5. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 104.
  • 6. Ham, County, 286.
  • 7. Ibid. 49; C66/1698; JPs in Wales and Monm. ed. Phillips, 159-60; Hatfield House, ms 278.
  • 8. Ham, County, 95.
  • 9. APC, 1597-8, p. 4; SP14/28/84.
  • 10. Ham, County, 95.
  • 11. C66/1482; C181/1, f. 32v; 181/2, ff. 17v, 232v.
  • 12. Ham, County, 111.
  • 13. HMC Hatfield, xi. 567; Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 100.
  • 14. HMC 13th Rep. IV, 253; Lansd. 168, f. 182.
  • 15. C181/2, f. 64.
  • 16. A. Brown, Genesis of US, 93.
  • 17. HMC Downshire, iv. 338.
  • 18. Croft, 5, 23; R.E. Ham, ‘The autobiography of Sir James Croft’, BIHR, l. 48-49.
  • 19. Ham, County, 86; HMC Hatfield, xv. 117.
  • 20. Ham, County, 67, 68, 71-72; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 83; C78/431/7; HMC Hatfield, xv. 369-70.
  • 21. Lansd. 486, f. 5v; CJ, i. 142a.
  • 22. Ibid. 150a, 155b, 208b, 209a, 969b.
  • 23. Ibid. 157a, 160a.
  • 24. Ibid. 230b, 995a, 984a.
  • 25. Ibid. 985a.
  • 26. Ibid. 966a.
  • 27. Ibid. 955b, 956b, 959a.
  • 28. Ibid. 218a, 222b, 976b, 977b, 978a
  • 29. Croft, 83.
  • 30. CJ, i. 227a, 230a, 985a, 990a, 996a.
  • 31. Ibid. 187b, 959a.
  • 32. Ibid. 240a, 253b, 991a.
  • 33. LJ, ii. 321.
  • 34. Ham, County, 71-2.
  • 35. Sidney Letters ed. A. Collins, ii. 306-7.
  • 36. T. Hammond, Late Commotion of Certain Papists in Herefs. (1605) sig. D4v; Ham, County, 69; Paroch. Collections, ed. F.N. Davis (Oxon. Rec. Soc. xi), 252.
  • 37. CJ, i. 256b.
  • 38. Ibid. 257b, 258b, 303a.
  • 39. Bowyer Diary, 10.
  • 40. CJ, i. 261b, 269a, 280a.
  • 41. Ham, County, 154, 194.
  • 42. CJ, i. 265b.
  • 43. Bowyer Diary, 49; CJ, i. 272b.
  • 44. CJ, i. 281b, 282a.
  • 45. Bowyer Diary, 115, 164; CJ, i. 296a, 308b, 309a; Ham, County, 205-8.
  • 46. CJ, i. 287b.
  • 47. Ibid. 266b, 289b.
  • 48. Ibid. 285b, 306a.
  • 49. Ibid. 295b, 298b.
  • 50. Ibid. 310a.
  • 51. HMC Hatfield, xviii. 389, 456.
  • 52. CJ, i. 1003b; Bowyer Diary, 189. It was customary during a division for those in favour of a novelty to go into the lobby: C. Strateman-Sims, ‘Policies in Parliaments’, HLQ, xv. 48. The problem here was that the House could not decide whether the att. gen.’s membership of the House was a novelty or not.
  • 53. CJ, i. 1012a.
  • 54. Ibid. 1032a.
  • 55. Bowyer Diary, 246.
  • 56. CJ, i. 324b, 1005a, Bowyer Diary, 194.
  • 57. Bowyer Diary, 198; CJ, i. 326a, 1005b; LJ, ii. 455-6.
  • 58. CJ, i. 327a, 329b.
  • 59. Ibid. 1014a.
  • 60. Ibid. 340a.
  • 61. Ibid. 1019a.
  • 62. Bowyer Diary, 246-7; B. Galloway, Union of Eng. and Scotland, 115.
  • 63. Bowyer Diary, 261-2; Galloway, 117.
  • 64. CJ, i. 347b.
  • 65. Ibid. 366a, 1042b.
  • 66. Ibid. i. 372a; 1043a; Bowyer Diary, 292.
  • 67. CJ, i. 376a, 385b.
  • 68. Croft, 83.
  • 69. Galloway, 139.
  • 70. Carleton to Chamberlain ed. M. Lee, 100.
  • 71. SP14/31/14, 16, 24.
  • 72. C115/107/8507.
  • 73. Ham, County, 270.
  • 74. CJ, i. 393a, 393b, Procs. 1610 ed. E.R. Foster, ii. 7, 353-5; HMC Downshire, ii. 240.
  • 75. CJ, i. 421a; ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 7v.
  • 76. CJ, i. 427b
  • 77. ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 10.
  • 78. CJ, i. 400b.
  • 79. Ibid. 407b; Procs. 1610, ii. 360; W. Hakewill, Manner How Statutes are Enacted in Parliament by Passage of Bills (1641), pp. 66-7.
  • 80. CJ, i. 412a, 425b-416a.
  • 81. Ibid. 425b.
  • 82. ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 17v.
  • 83. CJ, i. 441b, 443b.
  • 84. Parl. Debates, 1610 ed. S.R. Gardiner, 50.
  • 85. CJ, i. 393b, 397a.
  • 86. Ibid. 402b, 403a.
  • 87. Ibid. 411a.
  • 88. Procs. 1610, ii. 64.
  • 89. CJ, i. 423b.
  • 90. Ibid. 427b, 429b, 432a; Procs. 1610, ii. 92-3, 95, 110.
  • 91. ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 16; CJ, i. 440a; Procs. 1610, ii. 410.
  • 92. CJ, i. 440b; Procs. 1610, ii. 149-50.
  • 93. Proc. 1610, i. 119.
  • 94. T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Jas. I, i. 123.
  • 95. CJ, i. 448b, 449a; Procs. 1610, ii. 383.
  • 96. CJ, i. 449a.
  • 97. Ibid. 451b.
  • 98. ‘Paulet 1610’, f. 27.
  • 99. CJ, i. 413a.
  • 100. Ibid. 419a.
  • 101. Ibid. 450a.
  • 102. Ibid. 453b.
  • 103. CSP Dom. 1603-10, pp. 632, 649.
  • 104. Cott. Titus B.VII, f. 455.
  • 105. Procs. 1610, ii. 296.
  • 106. Ham, County, 241.
  • 107. Procs. 1610, ii. 321.
  • 108. HMC Hastings, iv. 226-7; Winwood’s Memorials ed. E. Sawyer, iii. 235.
  • 109. Parl. Debates, 1610, pp. 140, 145.
  • 110. Ham, County, 72-73, 271-4; CSP Dom. 1611-18, p. 488; C78/311/5.
  • 111. Ham, County, 168.
  • 112. Croft, 84; SP14/76/53.
  • 113. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 32, 238; Croft, 84.
  • 114. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 121.
  • 115. Ibid. 65-6.
  • 116. Ibid. 125, 123.
  • 117. Ibid. 244, 246.
  • 118. Ibid. 153.
  • 119. SP14/77/15.
  • 120. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 32-5.
  • 121. Ibid. 40.
  • 122. Ibid. 54.
  • 123. Ibid. 86-7.
  • 124. Ibid. 156.
  • 125. Ibid. 148.
  • 126. Ibid. 194.
  • 127. Ibid. 277.
  • 128. Ibid. 292.
  • 129. Ibid. 297, 303.
  • 130. Ibid. 178, 182.
  • 131. Ibid. 192, 197.
  • 132. Ibid. 205.
  • 133. Ibid. 94; Wentworth Pprs. ed. J.P. Cooper (Cam. Soc. ser. 4. xii), 67.
  • 134. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 261, 265
  • 135. Ibid. 98
  • 136. Ibid. 296, 297, 390, 397.
  • 137. Ibid. 360.
  • 138. Ibid. 367, 377.
  • 139. Ibid. 417.
  • 140. Ibid. 438, 444.
  • 141. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 154.
  • 142. SO3/6, unfol., 24 Dec. 1615.
  • 143. Chamberlain Letters ed. N.E. McClure, ii. 76-77. Sir Thomas Lake I* wrote that Croft left England to avoid prosecution, presumably for debt. Letters to and from Sir Dudley Carleton ed. P. Yorke, 137.
  • 144. Croft, 84.
  • 145. Chamberlain Letters, 106.
  • 146. Ibid. 154; Letters to and from Sir Dudley Carleton, 144; J. Howell, Epistolae Ho-Elianae (1650), p. 29; HMC Downshire, vi. 478.
  • 147. Ham, County, 283, 285.
  • 148. Ath. Ox. ii. 318; Responsa Scholarum of Eng. College at Rome ed. A. Kenny (Catholic Rec. Soc. lv), 390; Ham, County, 286; Croft, 85.