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Richard Williams (alias Cromwell)

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Richard Williams (alias Cromwell)

Sir Richard Williams (alias Cromwell)
Born Richard Williams
Died 1545 (aged 42–43)
Occupation Welsh soldier and a courtier
Spouse(s) Frances Murfyn
Children Henry
Parents Morgan Williams
Katherine Cromwell

Sir Richard Williams, alias Cromwell (born by 1502 – 1545) was a Welsh soldier and a courtier in the court of Henry VIII.[1] He was a maternal nephew of Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex and profited from the Dissolution of the Monasteries in which he took an active part. He was a great-grandfather of Oliver Cromwell.

Early life

Richard Williams was born by 1502 in the parish of [2] The former part of his life unknown.[3]

Morgan Williams

Richard was eldest son and heir to Morgan Williams. The aspiring Welsh lawyer [4] had moved from Glamorgan to Putney where he initially pursued his business of innkeeper and brewer. Williams' good fortune was to marry Katherine, the elder sister of Thomas Cromwell long before the commencement of latter's illustrious career as Henry VIII's great minister. In later life, Williams and his son would benefit financially from this relationship, receiving substantial landholdings confiscated from the church. [5]

Protégé of Thomas Cromwell

Richard was brought into the court of King Henry VIII by an alliance with Thomas Cromwell, the great favourite of Henry, whom that monarch raised from a humble situation to be Earl of Essex, Vicar-General, and Knight of the Garter.[3] Introduced to King Henry VIII,[6] by so powerful an interest as Thomas Cromwell, and possessing so many qualifications as he did, and those particularly attractive to that sovereign, Richard Williams soon largely partook of the royal bounty, which Henry lavished his favourites and their friends. It is certain that he stood so high in that monarch's esteem, that he was entrusted with some considerable appointments very early in the administration of his relation; and by a letter he wrote to Lord Cromwell, it appears that he was very active, and probably instrumental, in suppressing the Pilgrimage of Grace insurrection.[7]

Dissolution of the Monasteries

During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Sir Richard was appointed one of the Visitors of the religious houses;[8] his zeal in the cause of both the sovereign and the minister, met with an ample reward; perhaps the latter, finding himself in so precarious a situation as the favourite of the most fickle of princes, was happy to raise up one of his family to assist and support him: certain it is, that 8 March 1537/8, he had the grant of the nunnery of Hinchingbrooke, in Huntingdonshire, of the value of £19. 9s. 2d. as stated in the deed; but making every possible allowance for the difference in the value of money and land at that time to what it is at present, yet we must suppose this monastery to have been very much under-rated: for the grant states the lands and premises given to Sir Richard as lying in the several parishes and hamlets of Hinchinbrook, Huntingdon, Stewkley-Magna, Stewkley-Parva, Turkington, Houghton, Esington, Auconbury, Paxton-Magna, Paxton-Parva, Hale-Weston, Warensley, or Wiresley and Bawynhoo, all in the county of Huntingdon; Eltisley, Botesham and Boxworth in Cambridgeshire; Staplewe, and Bewlow, in Bedfordshire; Hamildon-Parva, in Rutland; and Stoke Doyle and Oakley, in Northamptonshire.[9] The same year he had also a royal grant of the monastery of Saltry-Judith, in the county of Huntingdon, valued £199 11s. 1d.[10] 9 April 1539, he received for the trifling sum of £1 0s. 5d. a grant of certain premises, lying in Eynsbury, Eton, and Little-Paxton in Huntingdonshire, belonging to the late dissolved chantry of Swasey, in the county of Cambridge. These were very considerable places;[11] but in the same year he had a grant from the crown of the abbey of the Grey-Friars, in Yarmouth, in Norfolk;[12] and 4 March 1540, also the site of the rich Abbey of Ramsey in Huntingdonshire,[13] with the several meres or lakes belonging to it, in the same parish;[14] it is expressed in the grant, that it passed in consideration of his good service, and the payment of £4963 4s. 2d. to be held in capite by knights service.[15] Considerable as this sum then was, it was trifling in comparison of the prodigious value of that abbey and the annual revenue amounted to £1987. 15s. 3d.[16] The other grants, though many of them were not wholly free, were probably upon easy conditions. It is very certain that the dissolved religious houses were disposed of, for almost nothing; and this knight, we may presume, from his alliance with the vicar-general (who, in fact, had the disposal of them) had great favour shown him; especially, as he was beloved by the sovereign, and was a Visitor; all these grants passed to him by the names of Rich. Williams, otherwise Cromwell.[17]

Court and jousting

In the same year, he eminently distinguished himself by his military skill and gallantry:[18]

On May day was a great triumph of jousting at Westminster, which jousts had been proclaimed in France, Flanders, Scotland, and Spain, for all comers that would, against the challengers of England, which were Sir John Dudly, Sir T. Seymour, Sir T. Poynings, Sir George Carew, knights; Anthony Kingston, and Richard Cromwell, esquires; which said challengers came into the lists that day, richly apparelled, and their horses trapped all in white velvet, with certain knights, and gentlemen riding afore them, apparelled all with velvet and white sarsnet, and all their servants in white doublets, and hosen cut all in the Burgonion fashion, and there came to joust against them, the said day, of defendants 46, the earl of Surrey being the foremost; Lord Williame Howard, Lord Clinton, and Lord Cromwell, son and heir to T. Cromwell, earl of Essex, and chamberlain of England, with other, which were all richly apparelled: and that day sir John Dudley was overthrown in the field by mischance of his horse, by one Andrew Breme; nevertheless, he brake divers spears valiantly after that; and after the said jousts done, the said challengers rode to Durham-place, where they kept open household, and feasted the king and queen, with their ladies, and all the court. The 2nd of May, Anthony Kingstone, and Richard Cromwell, were made knights of the same place. The 3rd of May, the said challengers did Tourney on horseback, with swords; against them came 29 defendants: Sir John Dudley and the earl of Surrey running first, which the first course lost their gauntlets, and that day Sir Richard Cromwell overthrew M. Palmer in the field off his horse, to the great honour of the challengers. The 5th of May, the said challengers fought on foot, at the barriers, and against them came 30 defendants which fought valiantly, but Sir Richard Cromwell overthrew that day, at the barriers, M. Culpepper in the field; and the 6th of May the said challengers brake up their household. In the which time of their house-keeping, they had not only feasted the king, queen, ladies, and the whole court, as was aforesaid, but on the Tuesday in the rogation week, they feasted all the knights and burgesses of the common house in the parliament; and on the morrow after they had the mayor of London, the aldermen, and all their wives to dinner: and on the Friday they brake it up as is aforesaid.

Sir Richard and the five challengers, had each of them, as a reward of their valour, 100 marks annually, with a house to live in, to them and their heirs for ever, granted out of the monastery of the Friary of St Francis, in Stamford, which was dissolved, 8 October 1538,[19] which his majesty was the better enabled to do, as Sir William Weston, the last prior, who had an annuity out of the monastery, died two days after the jousts. We may form a proper idea of the gallantry of our knight, and the esteem that the king had for him on that account, from the following anecdote: when Henry saw Sir Richard's prowess, he was so enraptured, that he exclaimed, "Formerly thou wast my Dick, but hereafter thou shalt be my diamond"; and thereupon dropped a diamond ring from his finger, which Sir Richard taking up, his majesty presented it to him, bidding him ever afterwards bear such a one in the fore gamb of the demy lion in his crest.[20]

Member of Parliament and High Sheriff

The fall and execution of Sir Richard's uncle Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, in July 1540,[21] did not (as might have been supposed) adversely affect his social standing, or private fortune.

In 1541, he was appointed High Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire[22] which counties were joined together in one civil administration, there being but one high sheriff for both; this had been (with some few exceptions) immemorially the custom,[23] he was also returned a member for Huntingdonshire, in the parliament which began 16 January 1542.[24] In this year Henry VIII likewise gave him a grant of the monastery of St. Mary's, in the town of Huntingdon, and St. Neots,[25] whose yearly values were £232 7s. and £256 1s. 3d.[26]

War in France

In 1543 Sir Richard was made one of the Thomas Palmer, and Sir Edward Bellingham. However, the English amply retorted upon the French, killing and taking great numbers prisoner. Mark Noble was of the opinion, that the English forces behaved themselves with great gallantry during their short stay in France;[31] which was only until November in the same year.[32] In the account of this expedition history does not record the particular achievements of the gallant individuals that composed the army something that Hollinshed, in his Chronicle, justly laments; but, from Noble speculates that the approved valour of Sir Richard, that he behaved with his usual good conduct; especially as, in the following year 1544, Henry appointed him constable of Berkeley Castle.[33]

Later life

Sir Richard besides the grants mentioned already, had given him the office of steward of the lordship of [37]

Sir Richard made his will so early as 25 June 1545, in which he stiles himself Sir Richard Williams, otherwise called Sir Richard Cromwell, knt. and of his majesty's privy chamber; he directed that his body should be buried in the place where he should die; and devises his estates in the counties of Cambridge, Huntingdon, Lincoln, and Bedford, to his eldest son Henry, with the sum of £500 to purchase him necessary furniture, when he should come of age: his estates in Glamorganshire he devises to his son Fra. and bequeathed £300 to each of his nieces, Joan, and Ann, daughters of his brother, Walter Cromwell; and directed, that if Thomas Wingfield; then Sir Richard's ward, should chose to marry either of them, he should have his wardship remitted to him, therwise the same should be sold. He also left three of his best great horses to the king, and one other great horse to Lord Cromwell, after the king had chosen: legacies were also left to Sir John Williams, knt. and Sir Edward North, knt. chancellor of the court of augmentation; and to several other persons, who seem to have been servants: Gab. Donne, clerk, Andrew Judde, William Coke, Philip Lentall, and Richard Servington, were appointed executors. The will was proved 28 November 1546.[38]

Mark Noble observes, that Sir Richard must have left a prodigious fortune to his family, by what he possessed by descent, grants and purchases of church-lands, and from the sums he must have acquired by filling very lucrative employments, with the liberal donations of his sovereign, Henry VIII. This is evident from his possessions in Huntingdonshire, the annual amount of which, at an easy rent, were worth at least £3,000 per annum. These estates only, in Fuller's time were,[39] he says, valued by some at £20,000 and by others as £30,000 annually, and upwards; and from what these estates now let for, in and near Ramsey[40] and Huntingdon (which are only a part of them) Noble presumes that Sir Richard's estates, in that county only, would in 1787 bring in as large a revenue as any peer at that time enjoyed; and yet it is evident that Sir Richard had considerable property in several other counties as well.


In 1518 Sir Richard married Francis daughter of Sir Thomas Murfyn who was that year Lord Mayor of London.[41] Lady Francis died at Stepney, and was there buried on 20 February 1533. The children of Sir Richard and lady Francis were two sons who survived him.

  • Henry his eldest son and heir, grandfather of Oliver Cromwell.
  • Francis Williams, alias Cromwell, esq. was one of the Knights of the Shire for the county of Huntingdon in 1572,[42] and for the counties of Huntingdon and Cambridge, in the 29th year the same reign; at which time, according to Fuller, he resided at Hinchinbrook;[43] but his usual place of residence was at Hinchinford, in Huntingdonshire. He married Marg. the daughter of Henry Mannock, of that place,[44] and died 4 August 1598: by the inquisitio post mortem taken at St. Ives, 16 November following, it appears that he left a son, Henry Williams, alias Cromwell, then 23 years of age, his heir, possessed of the site of the monastery of St. Neots, called the Fermerne; manor of St. Neots, valued at £14. per ann. with 80 acres of pasture, called Little and Great-Dirty Wintringham; the manor of Grafham, valued at £9. per annum and the manor of Hardwick, valued at £14. per annum held of the king by knights' service.[45]


  1. ^ Noble 1787, pp. 11,12 explains that the reason for Sir Richard Williams, the great grandfather of Oliver Cromwell, changing his name, from Williams to Cromwell. Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, whose present greatness entirely obliterated his former meanness (Various lives of Oliver, lord protector, &c. as also miss Cromwell's pedigree); and it is observable, that Sir Richard's brothers also changed their name to Cromwell (Will of Sir Richard Williams, alias Cromwell, prerogative-office, London, Allan 20. Pedigree of the Williams's, alias Cromwells, Harl. M.S.S. vol. 1174, and Harl. M.S.S. vol. 4135). Thus did the Williams's take, or super-add the surname of Cromwell to that of Williams; and, in almost all their deeds and wills, they constantly wrote themselves Williams, alias Cromwell, down to the seventeenth century. Though the cause of this change is well known, the time is not: many writers pretend the name of Cromwell was not taken up until the time that Sir Richard, was knighted during a tournament; but this is certainly erroneous, as there are grants of ecclesiastical lands patted to him by his names of Williams, alias Cromwell, as early as 1538: these authors are equally mistaken in supposing that the king never knew Sir Richard until the tournament, which cannot be; because those very grants patted some time before these martial games. With the name of Cromwell, Sir Richard assumed the arms of that family; but Sir Henry, his son, and his descendants, retook the proper arms of the Williams's, and never used any other (if the augmentation of the crest is excepted).
  2. ^ Noble 1787, p. 5 cites: Leland's Itinerary, vide letter B in the proofs and illustrations.
  3. ^ a b Noble 1787, p. 5.
  4. ^ Howard Leithead, ‘Cromwell, Thomas, earl of Essex (b. in or before 1485, d. 1540)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  5. ^ John Morrill, ‘Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  6. ^ DeWindt & DeWindt 2006, p. 125.
  7. ^ Noble 1787, p. 6 cites Vide letter E in the proofs, &c.
  8. ^ Noble 1787, p. 7 cites William Dugdale's History of Warwickshire.
  9. ^ Noble 1787, p. 7 cites: Grant in the possession of the Earl of Sandwich. Turkington, Bawynhoo, Elington, Staplewe, and Bewlow, are unknown, except Esington is put for Ellington, which is an adjoining parish to Auconbury.
  10. ^ Noble 1787, p. 7 cites: Thomas Tanner, Notitia monastica, The church of All Saints, at Fulburn, in Cambridgeshire, passed by this grant as an appendant to Saltry. Mr Baker's M. S. S.
  11. ^ Noble 1787, p. 8 cites: Grant in the possession of the earl of Sandwich, whose ancestors purchased the manor of Eynsbury; Eton is supposed to be Eaton, or Eton, in Bedfordshire, and is the adjoining parish to Eynsbury and Little Paxton, and where Lord Sandwich has a small parcel of land; probably the same that is mentioned above.
  12. ^ Noble 1787, p. 8 cites: Papers communicated by the Rev. Dr. Lort.
  13. ^   states: "The revenue, according to Dugdale, was £1716. 12s. 4d., but according to Speed, £983. 15s. 314 d." and cites Chronicon Abbatiæ Rameseiensis in Rolls Series (1886); Cartularium Monasterii de Ramsesia in Rolls Series (3 vols.); DUGDALE, Monasticon Anglicanum, II (London, 1846); REYNER, Apostolatus Benedictinorum, 149; WISE, Ramsey Abbey, its rise and fall, (1881).
  14. ^ Noble 1787, p. 8 cites: The lakes belonging to the Abbey of Ramsey mentioned in the grant were, Huggemere (now Uggmeer) Browswage, Dawntiy (now Dantry) Longbeche, Pollingmere, Wickesmere, Rawingsmere, Baxtermere, Rowmere, and Worlinglowe. Noble gave them as they are written in his time; some of them are large waters, but they are inconsiderable places, many of them not having an house near them.
  15. ^ Noble 1787, p. 8 Notes that: Grant from a M. S. in sir Rob. Cotton's own hand-writing, now the property of lord Carysfort, communicated to me. Mr. Fuller in his church hist, has fallen into some mistakes relative to Ramsey; he says the money paid was £4963 4s. 2d. and that there was a rent of £29. 16s. reserved, but this does not appear by the grant, any more than that Sir Richard had all the manors held of the abbey in Huntingdonshire; not one is mentioned: however, he must have another grant for that purpose; it is certain that all Ramsey, and very many manors in Huntingdonshire became his, which once belonged to this abbey.
  16. ^ Noble 1787, p. 9 The value of the ecclesiastical lands is entirely taken from Speed's maps, as he acknowledges, that he had the hist, of Huntingdonshire from a very learned and judicious friend of his, who was no other than Sir Rob. Cotton, a gentleman every way qualified for such an undertaking. Hinchinbrook is valued by sir Will. Dugdale, at £17. 1s. od. and by Speed, in his hist, of Great Britain, at £19. 9s. 2d. Sultry or Sawtre, by them at £141 3s. 8d. and £199. 11s. 8d. and Ramsey, at £1716 12s. 4d. and £1983 15s. od. 3qr.
  17. ^ Noble 1787, p. 9 cites: Grants, and Thomas Tanner, Notitia monastica.
  18. ^ Noble 1787, p. 9 Notes: Stow's chron. the jousting, &c. is copied verbatim into Hollingshed's chron. and Hall gives the same relation in his, only much more concise.
  19. ^ Noble 1787, p. 11 cites: Fuller's hist, of the church, and M.S. in the possession of Dr. Lort.
  20. ^ Noble 1787, p. 11 cites: Fuller's church hist.—The more ancient way of bearing the crest was a javelin in the demy lion's gamb, the protector Oliver used it before his exaltation, but the stone ring after his assumption of sovereign power; mr. Peck not knowing the armorial bearing of the family, supposed it to represent, that he was married to the state : in one visitation of Huntingdonshire there is an ancient mace substituted for the gem ring; in another, a crescent.
  21. ^ Noble 1787, p. 14 Vide no; i. vol. ii. of the persons and families allied to, or descended from the prot. house of Cromwell; in which is some account of Thomas Earl of Essex, and his descendants.
  22. ^ Noble 1787, p. 14 cites: Nomina vice comitum, Harl. coll. no. 259.
  23. ^ Noble 1787, p. 15 cites: Various lives of the prot. Oliver, &c. The sheriff for the counties of Huntingdon and Cambridge is chosen one year out of the latter in general, in the second year out of the isle of Ely; and the third from Huntingdonshire.
  24. ^ Noble 1787, p. 15 cites Willis's Not. Parl.
  25. ^ Noble 1787, p. 15 cites Thomas Tanner, Notitia monastica.
  26. ^ Noble 1787, p. 15 cites Speed's maps. Dugdale values St. Mary's at £187 13s. 8d. and Speed, in his history of Great Britain, at £232 7s. Dugdale and Sir Simon Degge, value St. Neots at £241. 11s. 4d.—These grants passed to him, says Tanner, by the styles of Sir Richard Cromwell, alias Williams, and Sir Richard Williams, alias Cromwell.
  27. ^ Noble 1787, p. 15 cites Dugdale's Baronetage.
  28. ^ Noble 1787, p. 15 cites Harl. M.S.S. no. 433.
  29. ^ Noble 1787, p. 15 Notes "In the expedition to France were the flower of the English chivalry, viz. Sir Thomas Palmer, porter of Calais; Sir Thomas Rainsford, Sir John St. Johndate=February 2015 , and sir John Gascoigne, captain of foot (Hollingshed's chron. with those of Hall, Grafton, Cooper, Stow, and Martin)."
  30. ^ Brenan & Statham 1907, p. 382.
  31. ^ Noble 1787, p. 15 cites Hollingshed's chronicle.
  32. ^ Noble 1787, p. 15 cites Cooper's chron.
  33. ^ Noble 1787, p. 17 cites Dugdale's baronage—in 1544 the great seal was delivered to Thomas Lord Wriothesley, the deed being executed for that purpose, præsentibus tunc ibidem spectabilibus viris, amongst others, Ricardo Cromwell, milite. Rymer's fœdera.
  34. ^ Noble 1787, p. 17 cites Harl. M.S.S. vol. 433.
  35. ^ Noble 1787, p. 17 cites: M.S.S. lent to him by Dr. Lort.
  36. ^ Noble 1787, p. 17 cites Harl. M.S.S. vol. 433.
  37. ^ Noble 1787, p. 17 cites: M.S.S. lent to him by Dr. Lort.
  38. ^ Noble 1787, p. 17 notes: Sir Richard Williams, alias Cromwell's will, is very long, covering four folio pages of parchment closely written (Prerogative-office, London, Allan 20). It is remarkable, that of the many wills of this family registered in the prerogative-office, there is not one that specifies any particular place for the interment of the testator.
  39. ^ Noble 1787, p. 18 cites Fuller's worthies
  40. ^ Noble 1787, pp. 18,19 notes:
    The abbey of Ramsey, i.e. the Ram's isle, was one of the richest foundations in the kingdom: the abbot was mitred, and sat in the house of lords as baron of Broughton; the abbey had 387 hides of land, 200 of which were in Huntingdonshire: the monks were not famed for their liberality, if we believe the following ancient lines:
    Crowland as courteous, as courteous as may bee,
    Thorney the bane of many a good Tree,
    Ramsey the rich, and Peterborough the proud,
    Sawtry by the way that poor abbay, Gave more almes than
    all they.
    Dugdale, and others, mistake when they say that Sir Richard Williams, alias Cromwell, had all the ecclesiastical lands belonging to the dissolved foundations in that country.
  41. ^ Noble 1787, p. 18.
  42. ^ Noble 1787, p. 20 cites: Willis's not. parl.
  43. ^ Noble 1787, p. 20 cites: Fuller's worthies, and nom. vicecomitum Harl. coll. no. 259, fay the 30th.
  44. ^ Noble 1787, p. 20 cites: Visitation of Huntingdonshire, in 1613. Harl. M.S.S. vol. 1073.
  45. ^ Noble 1787, p. 20 cites T. Cole's coll. ex. Recor. Cur. Wardor. Harl. M.S.S. Noble also notes that there can be little doubt but the above estates were the property of Sir Richard Williams, alias Cromwell, knt. and it should be observed that the value of the lands mentioned in the inquisitions are usually about a 10th part of the annual value, and often not so much.


  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "Memoirs of the Protectorate-house of Cromwell: Deduced from an Early Period, and Continued Down to the Present Time,...", by Mark Noble (1787)
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