CROSSE, Robert (d.1611), of London and Marten Abbey, Essex.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

1st s. of William Crosse of Charlinch, Som. by his w. Elizabeth. unm. suc. fa. 1583. Kntd. 1596.1

Offices Held


Crosse was a soldier and sea captain, who looked to the Cecils for preferment. In a letter to Burghley in 1596 he claimed to have

served in the wars since the time of Newhaven [Le Havre] and sometimes in Ireland and Scotland, being at the winning of Edinburgh castle, and since then beyond the sea and yet cannot spend one groat in her Majesty’s gift, and never had more than my bare entertainment.

In 1585 he went on a voyage to the West Indies with (Sir) Francis Drake, and was one of eight captains who assisted him to singe the King of Spain’s beard in 1587. Between these voyages he found time to sit in Parliament for Minehead, a seat which he presumably obtained through the co-operation of the Luttrell family, who controlled the borough. In 1588 Crosse helped to prepare the fleet that fought the Armada and commanded the Hope in the battle of Gravelines. The following year, on the recommendation of both Drake and Sir Christopher Hatton, he was chosen to follow the main fleet—which Drake was taking to Lisbon—with a squadron of victuallers. He sailed about 22 May and joined the fleet near Cadiz. As captain of the Bonaventure in 1591 he sailed to the Azores with Lord Thomas Howard and Sir Richard Grenville II The next year Crosse commanded the Foresight, and again sailed to the Azores, where he captured the Madre de Dios, one of the largest of Spanish ships, carrying a miscellaneous cargo valued—after partial looting—at £150,000. Most of the profits were confiscated by the Queen and Crosse was in trouble, writing to his brother in September from Woodstock that all his things were ‘stayed and seized ... so tell Sir Walter Ralegh if he be not good to me, I shall be the worse by this voyage’.2

A few months later Crosse was returned to Parliament for Yarmouth (no doubt through the patronage of Sir George Carey) and for West Looe, choosing to sit for Yarmouth. In 1594 he prepared some ships to adventure with Ralegh, but was ‘stayed’ for other service by the Queen’s command. Either then, or the following year, he was sent to sea with two of her Majesty’s ships, at a cost to himself, he said, of £400. In May 1596 he was at Plymouth making preparations for the intended voyage of the Earl of Essex to Cadiz. He sailed as captain of the Swiftsure, and was knighted by Essex during the expedition. He kept in touch with Sir Robert Cecil, and on 12 Aug. wrote to tell him of his prizes. The King of Spain, he said, was preparing a great store of new ships, of an improved design, which he intended for an invasion of England. A week later he wrote again, complaining that though he had served so long in the wars he could not spend one groat in her Majesty’s gift, and never had more than his bare entertainment. Worse than that, he feared he had incurred Cecil’s disfavour, although through no fault of his own.3

Crosse was repeatedly employed by the government in 1597 in making preparations for another expedition to be led by Essex against Spain. In August he sailed in the Lion, commanding a squadron of victuallers for the Earl’s fleet. In October he was sent to Picardy to bring home certain companies of English troops, and at the end of the year he was in command of the Vanguard in the channel. Early in 1598 he was anxious to use the Vanguard to carry Sir Robert Cecil over to France, where he was going on diplomatic business. Owing to a renewed fear of invasion, in 1599 a fleet was mobilized with remarkable speed. Crosse, who was in command of the Nonpareil, claimed to have done thirteen days’ work in three days, adding that it was ‘chargeable’. The fleet lay for about a month in the Downs and then returned to port.4

Crosse wrote to Cecil from his lodging in the Strand in April 1600, asking for help. He was ill and had leisure to ponder Cecil’s advice, once delivered in his chamber at Nonsuch, that while he ‘Crosse’ depended upon women to solicit for him with the Queen, they would receive from her good words, but ‘never effect suit’. In the following year he received a gift of £1,500 and was placed in charge of ‘the port of Newgate’ in the city of London. It was presumably Cecil who obtained his return for Saltash in 1601. Crosse took no part in the proceedings of the 1586 or the 1593 Parliaments, but in 1601 he served on the main business committee (3 Nov.), and raised an objection (20 Nov.) to the bill seeking to impose further penalties on recusants:

I would move but one question; if a man be in the Queen’s wars, must he pay for the absence of his wife, children and family? This indeed is a fault in the bill. So if a man be absent from home, as at London about his lawsuits, etc.5

Upon the accession of James I, Crosse rode out to meet the King with Sir Walter Ralegh, whom he described as ‘an old acquaintance, though no great friend’. After a month’s illness he was further entreated by Ralegh’s wife ‘to ride another idle journey’, this time to meet the Queen. During the early years of the reign, when Crosse may have been growing old for active service, he was attentive to Cecil, his only patron. In October 1604 he requested a seat in the Parliament: ‘I have no other friend,’ he said, ‘to depend of, neither do I seek for any’. The end of his life was evidently penurious. In 1610 he sent Cecil a petition to the King for relief. On 12 Sept. 1611 he made a nuncupative will at Moulsham, near Chelmsford, bequeathing his possessions to Gregory Fennor, who was to pay his debts and see him ‘christianly’ buried. He died three weeks later on 18 Oct., perhaps at Marten Abbey, Essex, where his last letters were written.6

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.


  • 1. Vis. Som. ed. Weaver, 105.
  • 2. HMC Hatfield, iv. 226; xviii. 297; J. K. Laughton, Spanish Armada, i. 17n; J. S. Corbett, Tudor Navy, ii. 75-6, 148, 159, 289, 329, 353; Lansd. 70, f. 159; CSP Dom. 1581-90, pp. 399, 592, 600; 1595-7, p. 268; W. L. Clowes, Royal Navy, i. 495, 498-501.
  • 3. HMC Hatfield, v. 206, 332; CSP Dom. 1595-7, p. 268.
  • 4. HMC Hatfield, vii. 352, 490, 510; viii. 7, 15, 16; ix. 427; CSP Dom. 1598-1601, p. 302; APC, xxvii. 235-6, 303; xxviii. 28, 55.
  • 5. HMC Hatfield, x. 125; xiv. 262-3; APC, xxxi. 157; D’Ewes, 624; Townshend, Hist. Colls. 229.
  • 6. HMC Hatfield, xv. 163; xvi. 277; xvii. 465; xviii. 297; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 597; PCC 84 Wood.