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Family and Education
The identity of Thomas Croft has not been established. Even if it is accepted that anyone of his surname returned for Ludlow must have sprung from the family of Croft Castle, Herefordshire, the popularity of his christian name in the family leads to confusion between its bearers.1
The status ‘esquire’ accorded to the Member for Ludlow in 1555 may imply that he had a grounding in the law. Both the uncle and brother of (Sir) James Croft were so qualified. The elder of them, born shortly before 1500 and schooled at Winchester, had left Oxford by 1514 ‘to study the laws of the realm’; of his further career little has come to light, but it is known that he acted for his family in land settlements. He lived at Chelmarsh in Shropshire, and although in his will of 3 June 1578 he made provision for four daughters he may also have had a son, the ‘Mr. Thomas Croft’s son being my godson’ whom Jerome Horde had remembered in his own will a year earlier. Croft’s nephew had followed him to Oxford, graduating in 1538, and had then entered Lincoln’s Inn, where in 1542 the younger Croft was fined for refusing to be the master of revels. In 1551 the Privy Council charged him with the delivery of £1,000 to his brother in Ireland. He may have been the Thomas Croft esquire of Oakley Park, two miles from Ludlow, who in 1564 was judged an ‘enemy’ to the Anglican settlement and in 1581, after being released from the Gatehouse, was suspected of welcoming co-religionists to his home.2
Yet another Thomas Croft lived at Wigmore in Worcestershire, whence as deputy constable in the 1530s he plied Cromwell with advice on the government of the marches and with applications for monastic spoil. His competition for Wigmore abbey at the time of its surrender involved him in a clash with Thomas Wheeler of Ludlow and in rivalry with the president of the council in the marches Bishop Rowland Lee, who wanted the abbey for John Bradshaw I. When Bradshaw was given a 21-year lease of the abbey, Lee compensated Croft by trying to secure for him the keepership of Ludlow park. In February 1535 Croft had taken a lease of the demesne and other portions of Wigmore manor, and when in March 1550 he was granted further leases of these and neighbouring properties he was to be described as of Wilton in Wiltshire. This domicile suggests that he had attached himself to William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, the recently appointed president of the council in the marches. In 1563, 1564 and 1568 Croft renewed his leases, on the last occasion with his wife Audrey, who in her will of 1595 was to ask to be buried beside him at Wigmore. It was his son and namesake whose letters from the Continent were intercepted with those of other ‘young papists’ in 1581.3
In view of his complicity in Wyatt’s rebellion, Sir James Croft could hardly have procured a nomination at Ludlow in 1555. A more likely source of influence was the council in the marches, which in that year exchanged the presidency of Bishop Heath for that (on his reappointment) of the Earl of Pembroke. Heath’s hand is to be seen in the choice of the senior Member, his brother William Heath, and in the absence of any known connexion between the bishop and one or other of the Thomas Crofts it could have been Pembroke who claimed the second place. In that case Thomas Croft of Wigmore and Wilton may be thought a more likely nominee than either his elderly namesake of Chelmarsh or his younger one of Lincoln’s Inn and later perhaps of Oakley Park, with neither of whom Pembroke can be significantly connected. Nothing is to be derived from the fact that Croft does not appear among the Members of this Parliament who supported Sir Anthony Kingston in voting against a government bill.4
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Author: Alan Harding
- 1. Croft families can be traced in East Anglia, Leicestershire and Yorkshire. O. G. S. Croft, House of Croft confuses the namesakes.
- 2. C219/24/135; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-40, pp. 150-1; Croft, 55; CPR, 1548-9, pp. 90-91; 1569-72, p. 65; NLW Herefs. wills box 3 Cr-Cu; Vis. Herefs. ed. Weaver, 85; PCC 19 Langley; Black Bk. L. Inn, i. 261; APC, iii. 402; iv. 425; xiii. 94, 287; Cam. Misc. ix(3), 19.
- 3. LP Hen. VIII, xiii, xiv, xvii; Elton, Policy and Police, 351; CPR, 1560-3, pp. 516-17; 1563-6, pp. 337-8; 1566-9, pp. 283-4; PCC 47 Cobham; CSP Dom. 1547-80, pp. 682-3.
- 4. Guildford mus. Loseley 1331/2.