The title of Baron Cromwell has been twice created in favour of the family of Cromwell of Cromwell, and twice created in favour of the family Cromwell of Putney, being revived in the early twentieth century in favour of the family of Bewicke-Copley who were distant relations of the Cromwells of Cromwell and who retain the title to this day.
1. The Cromwells of Cromwell
The first of the Cromwells appears to have been a Ralph de Cromwell, who held Cromwell in Nottinghamshire and West Hallam in Derbyshire during the thirteenth century and was himself descended from one Alden or Haldane who held land at Cromwell as part of his knight's fee at the time the Domesday Book was compiled. This Ralph had a son who was also named Ralph and who served under Edward I in Wales in both 1276 and 1283, and later died a little while before the 18th September 1289. He was followed by a John de Cromwell who was probably, but not definitely, a younger son of this Ralph, and was called to Parliament by writs of summons from the 10th March 1308 as 'Johanni de Crumwell' or 'Crumbewell' which, according to later doctrine, conferred upon him an hereditary peerage as the Lord or Baron Cromwell. John subsequently fought on Edward II's side at the battle of Boroughbridge in 1322 and was later the Admiral of the Fleet in 1324, but despite being married he died without any apparent issue sometime afterwards, and certainly by the 8th October 1335.
John's wife was Idoine, widow of Roger de Leyburne and the second daughter and coheir of Robert de Vieuxpont of Brougham Castle in Westmorland. Through this marriage John obtained half of the Vieuxpont inheritance, with the other half passing into the hands of the Clifford family. Given the failure of his marriage to produce any heirs, John de Cromwell later entered into a scheme of arrangement with Robert de Clifford, 1st Baron Clifford by which his share of the Vieuxpont estates (being essentially half the lordship of Westmorland) also passed into the hands of the Cliffords on his death in 1335.
As it happens John was not the only member of the family to be summoned to Parliament as there was also a great-great grandson of John's probable father Ralph, again named Ralph de Cromwell, who was himself summoned by writ to Parliament as 'Radulfo de Crombwell' or 'Crumwell' on the 28th December 1375, and is therefore similarly regarded as having becoming the Lord or Baron Cromwell. This Ralph married Maude the daughter of John Bernake or Bernack of Tattershall and Joan Marmion the daughter and coheir of John Marmion, 2nd Baron Marmion, by which marriage he obtained the valuable Tattershall estate in Lincolnshire.
The 1st Baron of this creation died on the 27th August 1398, being succeeded as the 2nd Baron by his son, also named Ralph, who was appointed Constable of Castle Rising in Norfolk in 1404. He later died in 1417 and was followed by his son Ralph, the 3rd Baron, who served as Lord Treasurer to Henry VII between the years 1433 and 1443, after which he became Constable of Nottingham Castle and Warden of Sherwood Forest, but was nevertheless suspected of Yorkist sympathies and examined before the Star Chamber in 1453 at which time he managed to acquit himself. The 3rd Baron subsequently died without issue on the 4th January 1455, leaving his two nieces as coheirs, being the daughters of his only sister Maud who had married a Richard Stanhope of Rampton.
2. The Bourchier Connection
Joan, the younger of the two sisters was first married to Humphrey Bourchier (being the third son of 1st Earl of Essex.) This Humphrey was subsequently called to Parliament from the 25th July 1461 onwards by writs made out to 'Humfrido Bourchier de Cromwell', 'Humfrido Cromwell Chl'r' and variants thereof. Various authorities have interpreted this as meaning that Humphrey should be regarded as having been granted an entirely new peerage title as the Baron Cromwell, the Baron Bourchier or the Baron Bourchier of Cromwell, or even became the 4th Baron Cromwell of the 1375 creation in right of his wife. (Here we follow The Complete Peerage which concludes that "probably this Barony should be regarded as a 'new creation'", and not a continuation of the Cromwell barony.)
In any event, Humphrey Bourchier subsequently died without issue, being killed in action whilst fighting on behalf of Edward IV at the battle of Barnet on the 14th April 1471. Joan subsequently remarried, taking for her second husband Robert Radcliffe of Hunstanton in Norfolk, who was conspicuously never summoned to Parliament. Joan later died without issue on the 10th March 1490 at which point her elder sister Maud became the sole heir, and therefore technically would now be regarded as having becoming Baroness in her own right, but although she was twice married she also died without issue on the 30th August 1497.
3. The Cromwells of Putney
As far as anyone was concerned the title of Baron Cromwell became extinct in the fifteenth century, and there was therefore
no objection whatsoever to the bestowing the title on another family of Cromwells. In this case the recipient was one Thomas Cromwell, the son of Walter Cromwell from Putney who was variously a blacksmith, cloth shearer, fuller and brewer, and who originally bore the surname of Smyth and was thus no relation whatsoever of the original Cromwells. In any event this Thomas Cromwell established himself as a lawyer and, after the fall of Thomas Wolsley in 1529, became the most trusted agent of king Henry VIII, the architect of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and of the Royal Supremacy, being created the Baron Cromwell by letters patent on the 9th July 1536. He was subsequently created the Earl of Essex on the 17th April 1540, not long before he was executed on the 28th July 1540 and attainted on the following day with all his titles declared forfeited.
Thomas had earlier married an Elizabeth Wykes, the daughter of Henry Wykes also of Putney, and his only son named Gregory was shortly afterwards recreated the Baron Cromwell on the 18th December 1540. This may well have been because Henry VIII now regretted his harsh treatment of the elder Cromwell, or simply because Gregory had married Elizabeth Seymour, sister of the more well known Jane, and had thus become the king's brother-in-law. The 1st Baron died on the 4th July 1551 and was succeeded by his son Henry who was only a minor at the time. The 2nd Baron later married a daughter of the 2nd Marquess of Winchester, a quite understandable arrangement given that the Marquess was his step-father, and died on the 20th November 1592, being followed by his son Edward. The 3rd Baron joined with the Earl of Essex in his abortive putsch of 1600 but was afterwards pardoned on the 2nd July 1601, although fined the sum of £3,000. He later sold his English estates and purchased the feudal barony of Lecale at County Down in the north of Ireland in 1606 which is where he died on the 27th April 1607. His son Thomas, the 4th Baron was later created the Viscount Lecale on the 22nd November 1624 and again the Earl of Ardglass on the 7th January 1645.
The Barony of Cromwell thereafter remained united with the Ardglass Earldom, until the death of the 4th and last Earl of Ardglass on the 26th November 1687 at which point it became extinct. However the 4th Earl's only daughter Elizabeth thereafter styled herself as the 'Baroness Cromwell', acting on the widely shared misapprehension that the Barony created in 1540 had been by writ rather than by patent. Indeed she even attended both the funeral of Queen Mary II and the coronation of Queen Anne as a baroness. Elizabeth later died of consumption on the 31st March 1709, and her son Edward Southwell (1705-1755) never assumed or claimed the title, although oddly enough her grandson later succeeded to the title of Baron de Clifford through his mother.
4. The Ancient barony revived
Whilst it might have been assumed for centuries that the ancient barony of Cromwell had become extinct in the fifteenth century, the subsequent development of the doctrine of the creation of barony by writ determined that the original 1375 creation had in fact fallen into abeyance on the 3rd Baron's death between his nieces Maud and Joan. Therefore when Joan died without issue in 1490 that abeyance was automatically terminated in favour of Maud, (although one imagines that Mary lived on in blissful ignorance of this fact). In any event Mary was also childless when she died in 1497, at which point (as was later determined) the title once more fell into abeyance, this time between the daughters of the 1st Baron. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century something of a minor industry developed dedicated to the identification of potential heirs to long dead titles, and such was the case with the Cromwell barony and the various descendants of the 1st Baron's daughters.
Amongst these potential heirs was a certain Selina Frances Watson-Copley, the only child and daughter of Charles Watson-Copley, 3rd Baronet, who was indeed a descendant of one Maud de Cromwell, daughter of the 1st Baron Cromwell and therefore qualified as one of the heirs to that title. She duly petitioned the Crown and it was consequently declared by resolution of the House of Lords on the 10th March 1922 that she was a coheir of the Barony of Cromwell. The Committee for Privileges of the House of Lords then decided to recommend that the abeyance be terminated in her favour, but Selina then died on the 23rd June 1923 before any action could be taken. Selina had however been married to Robert Calverley Alington Bewicke, who had earlier adopted the surname of Bewicke-Copley by royal licence on the 5th April 1892, and although their eldest son Redvers Lionel had been killed in action on the 21st December 1916, there was another son named Robert Godfrey Wolesley Bewicke-Copley ready to proceed with his mother's claim. It was this Robert who was summoned to Parliament by writ on the 16th July 1923, becoming the 5th Baron Cromwell on termination of the abeyance that had been going on for the past four hundred and twenty-six years.
Like his younger brother Robert also saw active service during World War I, although in his case he was merely wounded and mentioned in despatches. He again served during World War II when he was wounded once more and became a prisoner of war, and afterwards served as the Lord-Lieutenant of Leicestershire from 1949 until his death on the 21st October 1966. He was followed by his only son David Godfrey who was a barrister, being called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1956, but later went to work in the City of London and became the senior partner of the London Stock Exchange firm of Mullens & Co and Government Broker until his death on the 18th August 1982 following a riding accident. He was duly succeeded by his eldest son Godfrey John Bewicke-Copley who is the current and 7th Baron Cromwell. The present Lord Cromwell has an eldest son and heir apparent in David Godfrey Bewicke-Copley, as well as two younger twin sons in John William and Ralph Thomas, which should be sufficient to ensure that the title remains within the Bewicke-Copley family for at least the next few generations.
THE BARONS CROMWELL
CROMWELL OF CROMWELL
Creation of 1308
Creation of 1375
Title later determined to have been in abeyance between 1455 and 1490
Title later determined to have been in abeyance between 1497 and 1923
CROMWELL OF PUTNEY
Creation of 1536
Creation of 1540
Creation of 1375 revived on termination of the abeyance in 1923
- George Edward Cokayne, Vicary Gibbs, et al, The Complete Peerage (St Catherine's Press, 1910-1959)
- The entry for CROMWELL from Burke's Peerage and Baronetage 107th Edition
- J.E. Powell and K. Wallis, The House of Lords in the Middle Ages, (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1968)
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)
- Stirnet Genealogy at
- The entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for; Cromwell, Ralph, third Baron Cromwell (1393?–1456) and
Cromwell, Edward, third Baron Cromwell (c.1559–1607)