CROFT, William (c.1595-1645), of Croft Castle, Herefs. and Westminster
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Family and Education
b. c.1595, 1st s. of Sir Herbert Croft* and Mary, da. of Anthony Bourne of Holt Castle, Worcs.1 educ. Christ Church, Oxf. 1609, aged 14, BA 1611;2 travelled abroad (France, Italy) 1616, 1619, 1622.3 unm. kntd. 13 June 1614; 4 suc. fa. 1629.5 d. 9 June 1645.6
Gent. of the privy chamber, Prince Charles’s Household by 1623-5, King Charles 1625-6.7
J.p. Herefs. 1624-at least 1641,8 dep. lt. 1624;9 commr. oyer and terminer, Wales and the Marches 1625-40, swans, Midland counties 1627,10 Forced Loan, Herefs. 1627;11 freeman, Yarmouth and Newport, I.o.W. 1634;12 commr. subsidy, Herefs. 1641-2,13 array 1642-3,14 safety (roy.) 1643.15
Croft was the eldest son of one of the most prominent parliamentarians of the early Jacobean period. He was first elected to Parliament in 1614 for the Cornish borough of Launceston, even though he was still under-age. He may have owed his election to the intervention of the Scottish favourite Robert Carr, 1st earl of Somerset, whom his father was busy cultivating, or to some local connection, as his father had sat for the same borough in 1597. He is mentioned only once in the surviving records of the Addled Parliament, on 18 Apr., when he was appointed to the committee for the bill to abolish the power of the Crown to legislate for Wales.16 Six days after the dissolution he was knighted ‘as a testimony of his [James I’s] favour’ to Croft’s father.17
Croft tried unsuccessfully to mend the feud between his own family and that of the Coningsbys, which dated back to the Elizabethan period. While in Paris in 1616 he approached Fitzwilliam Coningsby’s* friend (Sir) Thomas Littleton* to act as an intermediary, and sometime thereafter a match with Coningsby’s daughter Ursula was proposed. However, Ursula refused to contemplate marriage with the son of her father’s enemy.18
After his father fled abroad in 1617 to avoid his creditors Croft was for all practical purposes head of the family. He had been forced to consent when his father conveyed a significant part of the family estates to the Crown to settle debts; part were subsequently sold, but trustees for the family retained possession of the rest, including Croft Castle.19 In 1619 he petitioned Prince Charles for a lease of the Crown manors in Radnorshire.20 In November 1622, after visiting the Continent with his uncle (Sir) James Croft†, Croft was put in possession of Croft Castle by the family trustees, headed by Sir John Walter*. However, he made Croft Castle over to his mother the following year, by which time he was a gentleman of Prince Charles’ privy chamber, and was sent to Spain with letters for the prince and Buckingham.21 In November 1623 he vainly strove to use his influence at Court to reconcile (Sir) Dudley Carleton* and Buckingham.22 In 1624 the Prince’s Council nominated him for election at Liskeard, but without success.23
Croft was probably returned for Malmesbury in 1626 on the interest of the earl of Somerset’s father-in-law, Thomas Howard, 1st earl of Suffolk. He was named to five committees in the second Caroline Parliament, three of them for private bills, and was appointed to attend the joint conferences with the Lords of 4 Mar. on the summons issued by the Commons to Buckingham, and of 7 Mar. on military strategy.24 Although he made no recorded speeches, he clearly supported the impeachment of Buckingham, and consequently was suspended from court office on 27 Apr., together with Sir Francis Steward* and Sir Ralph Clare*. A month after the dissolution he was given a pass overseas for three years, which he perhaps needed to evade his creditors now that he no longer enjoyed royal protection.25
Croft had returned by 1628, when he was re-elected at Malmesbury. He was named to five committees, none of major importance, and made five speeches. In a conciliatory effort he desired the Commons on 2 May ‘to appoint the days for the payment of subsidies’ before going into committee on the liberty of the subject; ‘that will make a fair introduction to bring on the business’.26 He wished to tell the Lords on 13 May that the Commons was not ready for another conference on the peers’ proposed amendments to the Petition of Right, but suggested that if the Lords ‘desire to impart new things we shall be ready to hear it’.27 When, on 5 June, Charles Price* argued that Buckingham’s favour was abused by those that ‘are too near him’, Croft retorted that Price was acknowledging that Buckingham’s power was the root of their problems, and ‘if he be removed, we shall have all grievances removed’.28 On 13 June he condemned lord keeper Coventry (Sir Thomas Coventry*) for allowing the excise commission to pass the Great Seal, asserting ‘he ought rather to have given up both place and seal’.29 On the next day he moved for the recommitment of the Remonstrance against Buckingham, in order that ‘the power and the abuse of that power may be made more plain and represented to His Majesty’.30 He was named to help confer with the Lords on 20 June about the title of the Petition of Right.31 During the recess his place in the privy chamber was given to Sir Henry Hungate*.32 He left no trace on the records of the 1629 session.
Little is known of Croft for the next decade, during which time he is sometimes confused with the son of Sir Henry Crofts*, who was prominent at Court. He had to sell Gatley Park in north Herefordshire to Sampson Eure* and recovered Croft Castle from his mother only by virtue of a favourable decision by Coventry in Chancery. He had to pay rent to the Crown but at the time of the Civil War his estate was said to be worth £2,000 a year.33 His grievance against the king led the wife of Sir Robert Harley* to hope that he would replace Coningsby as Member for Herefordshire in 1641; but in fact he had become Charles I’s ‘mighty friend’ and ‘a most violent man’ for the royalist cause. ‘In his private affection’, he told her, he was to Harley as he had ever been; ‘but in the way of the public he would favour none’. Though holding no command, he was the only Herefordshire magnate to lose his life in the Civil War. Returning from an unsuccessful attack on Stokesay Castle in Shropshire in June 1645, he was abandoned by his followers and slain. He died intestate and administration of his estate was granted to a creditor in April 1648. His nephew Sir Herbert represented the county in the first Exclusion Parliament.34
Ref Volumes: 1604-1629
Author: John. P. Ferris
- 1. O.G.S. Croft, House of Croft of Croft Castle, 88.
- 2. Al. Ox.
- 3. Herefs. RO, W15/2 (Littleton to Coningsby, 21 Mar. 1616); Eg. 2595, f. 164; APC, 1621-3, p. 308.
- 4. Shaw, Knights of Eng. ii. 154.
- 5. R.E. Ham, Country and the Kingdom, 286
- 6. D. Lloyd, Memoires of the Lives (1668), p. 674.
- 7. Autobiog. of Sir Simonds D’Ewes ed. J.O. Halliwell, ii. 415; T. Birch, Ct. and Times of Chas. I, i. 396.
- 8. C231/4, f. 164; C66/2859.
- 9. Salop RO, 151/2903.
- 10. C181/3, ff. 154v, 227; 181/4, f. 162v; 181/5, f. 185.
- 11. Add. 11051, f. 33v.
- 12. Add. 5669, f. 97v; I.o.W. RO, NBC 45, f. 197v.
- 13. SR, v. 62, 152.
- 14. Northants. RO, FH133; C115/71/6511.
- 15. Docquets of Letters Patent 1642-6 ed. W.H. Black, 49.
- 16. Procs. 1614 (Commons), 98.
- 17. Croft, 84.
- 18. Herefs. RO, W15/2 (Littleton to Coningsby, 21 Mar. 1616; Pytchard to Coningsby, n.d.).
- 19. C78/431/7; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 602.
- 20. Harl. 781, f. 21v.
- 21. APC, 1621-3, p. 308; C78/431/7; CSP Dom. 1619-23, p. 609.
- 22. CSP Dom. 1623-5, pp. 11, 121.
- 23. DCO, ‘Prince Charles in Spain’, f. 33v.
- 24. Procs. 1626, ii. 195, 216.
- 25. Birch, i. 97, 396; APC, 1626, p. 87.
- 26. CD 1628, iii. 214.
- 27. Ibid. 398.
- 28. Ibid. iv. 128.
- 29. Ibid. 302.
- 30. Ibid. 320.
- 31. Ibid. 390.
- 32. Birch, i. 419.
- 33. Add. 70002, (Harley to Eure, 16 Nov. 1632); C78/431/7; E401/2640; Richard Symonds’s Diary of Marches of Royal Army ed. C.E. Long (Cam. Soc. lxxiv), 196.
- 34. HMC Portland, iii. 81, 90, 92, 96; Croft, 90; SP23/198/797; PROB 6/23, f. 48v.