Sir Richard Williams Alias Cromwell
On March 4th 1540 Ramsey Abbey along with the sum of £4,663 4s 2d was granted to Sir Richard Williams, alias Cromwell, in consideration of his good service, for a fee of £29.16s. Ramsey Abbey was then simply turned into a quarry, the lead from the roofs being melted down into fodders and ingots for sale to the highest bidder. Gonville and Caius college in Cambridge was built from the stone and Kings and Trinity were partly rebuilt. Stone from the Abbey also found its way into many local churches and other buildings.
Sir Richard was the son of one Morgan Williams, a Welshman who was a brewer at Putney. But through his mother he was a nephew of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, the architect of the dissolution, whose service he entered and whose name he took. In 1518 he married Frances, daughter of Sir Thomas Murfyn Sheriff of the City of London.
He became a favourite of King Henry VIII, being knighted in 1537. It is also interesting to note that he was one of the Commissioners that visited Ramsey Abbey at the time of the Dissolution.
He appears to have been rather hard-headed and acquisitive, his redeeming feature being his loyalty to his uncle Thomas to whom he owed so much and its is recorded that he went about in open mourning after his uncle’s disgrace and execution. A very brave thing to do at the court of Henry VIII
In 1541 he was appointed High Sheriff of Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire and also received the grants of the monasteries of Huntingdon, St Neots and the Abbey at Sawtry. At this time his income was estimated at £2,500 per annum, the equivalent of one million pounds today. He was made a gentleman of the Privy Chamber in 1543 and when war broke out with France he was made a General of Infantry. In 1544 he ended his career as Constable of Berkley Castle and died the following year being succeeded by his son Henry.
Henry was married to Joan, the daughter of Sir Ralph Warren, Lord Mayor London, by whom he was to have eleven children.
He was in a strong financial position and was well equipped to launch upon a career of lavish hospitality and grandiose projects and became called the Golden Knight’ by the local people. But by the end of his life he had seriously overspent and was in debt.
In 1563 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, whom he entertained at Hinchingbrooke House. He was also a member of Parliament and four times Sheriff of Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire. In 1588 his name appears in a list of possible candidates for elevation to the peerage. This, though not obtained, was to be the height of his career.
He made Ramsey Abbey his summer residence, building the Tudor house, part of which we can see today. He used materials from the quarried Abbey incorporating them into the surviving part of the 13th century lady Chapel. The saying goes that when he travelled in state from his main residence at Hinchingbrooke House to Ramsey Abbey, he would throw coins to the villagers that he passed.
Needing a more dramatic approach to the gateway at Hinchingbrooke House he had the late Mediaeval gateway removed from Ramsey Abbey and re-erected it where it still stands today. He also brought two great bay windows from the Abbey, each of these is two storeys high and one has a large window at ground floor level.
Sir Henry died in 1604, and was buried in All Saints Church Huntingdon. In his will he left provision for two illegitimate daughters.
Oliver born in 1562, was already several thousands pounds in debt when his father died. His first wife was Elizabeth, daughter of Sir H Bromley Lord Chancellor of England, and they had several children. In 1601 she died and he married a wealthy widow, Lady Anne Palavicino, whose late husband had been a rich financier. Like his father and grandfather before him, Oliver was Sheriff of Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire and a member of the House of Commons. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth whom he entertained at Hinchingbrooke on several occasions.
After her death, he received James1 who was on his way to London from Edinburgh, James was caused to say that Oliver had treated him better than anyone since he had been made king. He continued to entertain King James in regal fashion, was made Knight of the Bath, and in 1611 he was made Master of the Princes Game to James’ eldest son Prince Henry. However when the following year Prince Henry died along with him died Oliver’s hopes for higher office.
Throughout his life Oliver was an ardent royalist, and a constant embarrassment to his nephew, Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, supporting King Charles to the last. He raised troops at his own expense and insisted that his sons serve in the Royal Army. His nephew confiscated many of his valuables, and also his weaponry. In 1627 he sold Hinchingbrooke House to the Montagu family.
After this he went to live in Ramsey Abbey, and it was here that his nephew visited him demanding money and threatening to burn down the town if he did not comply. Sir Oliver was unable to raise the sum as by now he was in serious financial difficulties, but agreed to meet the Protector on the High Bridge (now the junction of the Great Whyte and the High Street). Oliver Cromwell arrived with a unit of cavalry and Sir Oliver agreed to give £1,000 and 40 saddle horses to the Parliamentary cause to save Ramsey from being burnt.
Sir Oliver remained a royalist and displayed the Parliamentary colours which he and his sons had captured, in Ramsey Church, during the whole of the Civil War and they were still there as late as 1687
In 1655 aged 94 and the oldest knight in England, he fell into a fire in front of which he was drying himself and died. He was buried at night in St.Thomas a Becket Church in Ramsey in the family vault, which is said to be at the entrance to the chancel.
Henry, born in 1586, was Sir Oliver’s oldest son and heir, and was married three times. His first wife was Baptina Palavicini who died in 1618, his second wife was Mary Doyer who died in 1629 and was buried at St Thomas a Becket Church in Ramsey. His last wife was Elizabeth Ferrars, widow of Sir — Ferrars. She died in 1658 and is buried at the foot of the cross in St Thomas a Becket’s churchyard. Henry was an active Royalist. and was a Colonel in the Royalist army. He was also High Sheriff of Huntingdonshire.
Henry baptised at Ramsey in 1625 was the last of the eldest branch of the Cromwell family. He was the son from his father’s second marriage, his elder brother James, from his father’s first marriage, dying in infancy.
Like his forbears he was also a member of Parliament, and very outspoken at a time when most of Parliament was very hostile to Royalty and to whom his family were open supporters
He became a favourite with Charles II and became one of the first Knights of the Royal Oak, a reference to the King hiding in an oak tree after the Battle of Worcester However the Order was soon abolished as it was thought likely that it would keep animosities alive, and so Henry reverted to the name of Williams He died in 1673 and was buried at Ramsey
He was married to Hanna Cromwell of Upwood, a relative, and as they had no children, Ramsey Abbey along with its estates was left to Henry’s two sisters Carina, married to William Hetley of Broughton and Elizabeth married to Henry English a gentleman from Norfolk. Henry’s widow Hanna had only a life interest in the estate and lived on the income from it in a house near the town on a large piece of land called ~Dame Williams Close’. She was an author and published books of poetry and a book of prayers She died in 1688. (Ref 11)