The Lord Protector: Religion and Politics in the Life of Oliver Cromwell

By Robert S. Paul | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
FORMATIVE INFLUENCES

I

THE family into which Oliver Cromwell was born owed its fortunes directly to the break-up of the monastic orders and to the Protestant Establishment. Its wealth can be traced to Richard Williams, nephew to Henry VIII's chief adviser and agent in the dissolution of the monasteries, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex.1 This Richard Williams adopted his uncle's surname, "Cromwell" or "Crumwell", in return for his patronage; he was knighted while his uncle was still in power and managed to retain the King's favour after Thomas Cromwell's fall, and he passed on a considerable fortune to his son, Sir Henry "Cromwell", who was knighted by Elizabeth, and whose liberality earned him the title "the golden knight".

Sir Henry was a vigorous local organizer against the threat of the Armada--an activity in keeping with one whose wealth was bound up with the Protestant succession--and of his daughters, one became the mother of Major-General Whalley, and another became the mother of John Hampden. His heir was knighted "Sir Oliver Cromwell" at the accession of James I, and one of his younger sons was Robert Cromwell, the father of the future Lord Protector. Sir Oliver Cromwell was a man "who from love of ostentation pushed his father's liberality to extravagance",2 and eventually had to sell Hinchinbrook House to the Montagus, who thus became the leading family within the shire; which seems to have led to some rivalry between them and the Cromwells. Sir Henry's second son, Robert, inherited an estate at Hunting-

____________________
1
Thomas Cromwell's sister married Morgan Williams, a man from Glamorganahire who had settled in London. Her son, Richard, followed his uncle to Court, and for his help in the dissolution of the monasteries he was granted the Benedictine Priory at Hinchinbrook, Neath Abbey in Glamorganshire, together with many rich properties in the eastern counties and much that was formerly held by the rich abbey of Ramsey. Cf. Noble, Protectoral-House I, 14-17, and J. L. Sanford, Studies and Illustrations of the Great Rebellion ( 1858), 178 note; also W.S. I, 5.
2
C. H. Firth, Oliver Cromwell ( 1903), 3.

-17-

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