Ralph, 4th Baron Cromwell

RALPH CROMWELL, fourth Baron Cromwell (1394?-1456), Lord Treasurer of England, is said1 to have been born about 1403, but as he is described as twenty-six years of age in 14202 and was a member of the council in 1422, he can hardly have been born later than 1394. The mistake, repeated by all the peerages, arose from Dugdale’s misreading of the above inquisition. His grandfather, Ralph de Cromwell, second baron (d. 1398), whose exact relationship to John de Cromwell (d. 1355?), styled first baron, is uncertain, married Maud, daughter of John Bernake of Tattershall, Lincolnshire, thereby acquiring considerable property in that county, and was summoned to parliament as a baron from 28 Dec. 1375 to 6 Nov. 1397. He died on 27 Aug. 1398, leaving by his widow (d. 10 April 1419) one son, Ralph, third baron (1368-1417), who by his wife Joanna was father of the subject of this article.

Cromwell first appears as serving in Henry V’s retinue at the battle of Agincourt on 15 Oct. 1415,3 and throughout the reign he continued fighting in France. On 4 Sept. 1418 he was present when Henry took Caen by assault,4 and in the following March, when Henry retired to Caen and Bayeux, ‘leaving the subjugation of Normandy to be prosecuted eastwards and westwards by Clarence, Gloucester, and Huntingdon,’ Cromwell acted as Clarence’s lieutenant and constable of the army. He was present at the capture of Courtonne on 6 March, of Chambrays on the 9th, and of Riviere-Thibonville on the 11th.5 He is throughout these operations styled ‘chivaler,’ though his father is said to have died in 1417. In May 1420 he was one of the commissioners who assisted Henry in negotiating the peace of Troyes with the Queen of France and the Duke of Burgundy6

Cromwell had during Henry V’s reign never been summoned to the privy council, though he is spoken of as taking part ‘in curia nostra militari’.7 But he had gained the confidence of Henry V and of his brother John, Duke of Bedford, and during the minority of Henry VI he at once assumed, in spite of his youthfulness, an important position among the lords of the council. He was first summoned to parliament on 29 Sept. 1422, and in November he was one of the lords appointed in parliament to form the Council of Regency.8 Soon afterwards he was appointed Chamberlain of the Exchequer, and on 29 Jan. 1426 he was one of those sent to mediate with Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester and reconcile him with Cardinal Beaufort.

He seems to have generally sided with Beaufort against Gloucester, and on 1 March 1432, during Beaufort’s absence in France, Gloucester seized the opportunity to remove the cardinal’s friends from office. Cromwell lost the chamberlainship of the Exchequer, and John Tiptoft, Baron Tiptoft, the stewardship of the household. In the following May he was warned not to bring more than his usual retinue to parliament, but on 16 June, following Beaufort’s example, he laid his case before the House of Lords. He complained that he had been dismissed without cause shown and contrary to the ordinances of 1429, by which the council’s proceedings were regulated. He appealed to testimonials from Bedford as to the value of his services in France, but an assurance that he left office without a stain on his character was all the satisfaction he could get.9

In the summer of 1433 Bedford returned to England, and during his visit the disgraced ministers were restored to power. Cromwell was made Lord Treasurer, and during the prorogation of parliament he ‘prepared an elaborate statement of the national accounts.’10 This important statement was laid before parliament on 18 Oct.,11 and led to various attempts at financial reform.12 But after the death of Bedford in 1435 Gloucester’s opposition prevented any satisfactory measures. In 1436 Cromwell led a contingent to the relief of Calais, which was then besieged by the Duke of Burgundy. In the same year he was appointed master of the king’s mews and falcons, and in 1441 he was one of the commissioners nominated to inquire into the alleged sorceries and witchcraft of the Duchess of Gloucester.13

In July 1443 Cromwell resigned the treasury, for reasons that are not quite clear. Possibly his resignation was due to jealousy of the rising influence of William de la Pole, first Duke of Suffolk, who now succeeded Beaufort as the most influential adviser of the king. In 1445 Cromwell was made constable of Nottingham Castle and warden of Sherwood Forest, but he does not again come prominently forward until 1449, when he led the attack on Suffolk. One of Suffolk’s partisans was William Tailboys, a Lincolnshire squire, with whom Cromwell had had some local disputes;14 and on 28 Nov. 1449 as he was entering the Star-chamber Cromwell was hustled by Tailboys. Cromwell accused Tailboys and Suffolk of intending his death; they denied the charge, but Tailboys was sent to the Tower, and two months later Suffolk’s connection with Tailboys was one of the charges brought against him.15

The fall of Suffolk let loose a flood of personal jealousies, and among Cromwell’s enemies were Yorkists as well as Lancastrians, though he seems to have belonged to the former party. He demanded security from parliament against Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter,16 but he was also at enmity with Warwick.17 When in 1455 the Duke of York was dismissed from the protectorship, Cromwell seems to have joined him, and possibly fought at the First Battle of St. Albans on 22 May. In July following he was accused of treason by Robert Collinson, a priest, as having instigated ‘the male journey of Seynt Albons.’18 Nothing seems to have come of the charge, and Cromwell died on 4 Jan. 1455-6.19

Cromwell’s will, dated at Collyweston, Northamptonshire, was proved on 19 Feb. 1455-6. He founded a college at Tattershall, where he was buried. A letter from him to Sir John Fastolf is printed in the ‘Paston Letters’ (iii. 425-6), and from the fact that Fastolf’s wardrobe contained a robe of Cromwell’s livery, it might be inferred that he was at one time in Cromwell’s service. Fastolf also left money by his will to provide for prayers for Cromwell’s soul, and Cromwell seems also to have been known to William Worcester.

He married, before 1433, Margaret, daughter of John, Baron Deyncourt. She was seventeen years of age at her marriage, and died on 15 Sept. 1454, leaving no issue. The barony on Cromwell’s death fell into abeyance between his two nieces, daughters of his only sister Maud, who was second wife of Sir Richard Stanhope (d. 1436) of Rampston. The elder was Maud, who married Robert, Baron Willoughby de Eresby, and died on 30 Aug. 1497; the younger, Joan, married, firstly, Sir Humphrey Bourchier (son of Henry Bourchier, first Earl of Essex), who was summoned to parliament from 1461 to 1471 as Lord Cromwell or Lord Bourchier de Cromwell; and secondly, Sir Robert Radcliffe of Hunstanton, co. Norfolk. She died on 10 March 1490.

1. G. E. Cokayne, Complete Peerage, ii. 430.
2. Inquisitiones post mortem, 7 Henry V, No. 72.
3. Nicolas, History of the Battle of Agincourt, p. 378.
4. Hardy, Rotuli Normanniae, p. 195.
5. ib. pp. 265, 292, 294, 303; Rymer, Foedera, orig. ed., ix. 549, 551-2, 554; Ramsay, Lancaster and York, i. 248, 257.
6. Rymer, ix. 910.
7. ib. ix. 551.
8. Rotuli Parliamentorum, iv. 175; Nicolas, Ordinances of the Privy Council, iii. 16.
9. Rot. Parl., iv. 392; Stubbs, Constitutional History, iii. 115; Ramsay, i. 439.
10. Stubbs, iii. 117.
11. Rot. Parl. iv. 433-8; Ramsay, i. 452.
12. Stubbs, iii. 118.
13. English Chronicle 1377-1461, ed. Davies, Camden Society, p. 58.
14. Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner, i. 96, 98.
15. William of Worcester, Annales, Rolls Series, p. 766; Paston Letters, i. 96,97; Rot. Parl. v. 181,208; Stubbs, iii. 145n.
16. Rot. Parl. v. 264.
17. Paston Letters, i. 345.
18. ib.
19. ib. iii. 425.

Excerpted from:

Pollard, A. F. “Ralph Cromwell, fourth Baron Cromwell.”
Dictionary of National Biography. Supplement, vol. II. Sidney Lee, Ed.
New York: The Macmillan Company, 1901. 90-92.

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