William Crofts, 1st Baron Crofts
William Crofts, 1st Baron Crofts (died
11 September 1677) was an English peer and courtier.
Crofts was the eldest son of Sir Henry Crofts (c.1590–1667) of
Little Saxham, Suffolk, and his wife, Elizabeth (c.1595–1642), daughter of Sir Richard Wortley, of Wortley, Yorkshire. His sister Cicely was, by 1630, a Maid of Honourto Queen Henrietta Maria and about that time Crofts may have gone to court, where, according to Sir Edward Hyde (later Earl of Clarendon), he was "too much favoured".
Life at court
In 1635 Crofts was sent on a mission to Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia, at
The Hague, and on his return she recommended him to Charles I and Henrietta Maria for a position with one of the princes. However, in 1634 he had quarrelled with Lord Digby, and in 1636 was expelled from court for a time. Nevertheless, prior to the English Civil War, he was appointed Master of the Horseto James, Duke of York, and Captain of the Guards to The Queen. Crofts was one of the king's servants declared by parliament, in February 1642, to be an enemy of the statewho should be removed from court. He was with the court during the Civil War and in March 1645 was granted several manors in Essexand Suffolk. In 1646, his aunt Eleanor Wortley married Robert Rich, 2nd Earl of Warwick, Commander of the Parliamentarian Fleet, and in 1648 Crofts was sent to persuade him to negotiate with the Royalists, but Warwick would not receive him.
In September 1649, Charles II dispatched Crofts and Sir John Denham to the
Balticto seek assistance in regaining his throne. The mission, in Poland, Danzig, Lithuania, and Königsberg, lasted until February 1652. Crofts returned to the court at Parisand in 1652 Charles II appointed him a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, to the annoyance of Hyde, who resented his influence with the king. Crofts held the post until his death and used his position to advance the career of his cousin, Henry Bennet (later Earl of Arlington), who became Secretary to the Duke of York in 1654. In 1652, Crofts took a house near Paris, where he entertained Charles in April and May 1654, and he was also host to Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester, dissuading him from converting to Roman Catholicism.
By a patent dated at
Brussels 18 May 1658, Crofts was created Baron Crofts, of Saxham, in the county of Suffolk. Towards the end of that year he was entrusted with the care of James Scott, Charles's illegitimate son by Lucy Walter, who had died that autumn. The boy was passed off as Crofts's nephew and was known as James Crofts. After the English Restoration, he was taken to England by Crofts and presented at court. When he was created Duke of Monmouthin 1665, Crofts was appointed one of the commissioners to manage his affairs. Monmouth's four children by his mistress Eleanor Myddleton, bore the name of Crofts.
In 1660, Charles directed Crofts to acquaint the French court of his restoration and, although it was thought that Louis XIV would not grant him an audience because of Charles's treatment of
Antoine de Bordeaux, the French ambassador in London, Crofts was able to smooth over any resentment. He also presented Charles's congratulations on Louis's marriage to Maria Theresa of Spainand in 1661 returned to Paris to convey the king's congratulations on the birth of The Dauphin, when he was cordially welcomed and entertained. Having previously carried news of the Restoration to Poland, in January 1662 he was sent with Edward Montagu, 1st Earl of Sandwich, to bring Catherine of Braganzafrom Portugal.
Crofts married, on
1 April 1661, Dorothy (c.1620–1663), widow of Sir John Hele, and also previously of Hugh Rogers of Conington, Somerset, and possibly of Sir Thomas Hele. She was the daughter of Sir John Hobart, Bart. and his wife, Lady Philippa, daughter of Robert Sidney, 1st Earl of Leicester. Dorothy was buried on 7 February 1663at St Andrew's, Holborn. Crofts then married, in or before December 1664, Elizabeth (1618–1672), widow of the Hon. Henry Howard and before that of John Craven, 1st Baron Craven of Ryton. She was the daughter of William Spencer, 2nd Baron Spencer of Wormleighton, and Penelope, daughter of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton. She died on 11 August 1672and was buried at Little Saxham on 18 August.
In 1662, Crofts was granted a pension of £1000 per annum as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. Payment fell into arrears and in 1665 it was replaced by £1500 per annum to him and his wife, and the longer lived of them, payable out of receipts from the dues on coal from
Newcastle-upon-Tyneand the revenues of the Duchy of Lancaster. In 1663, he was awarded the remaining sixty-five years of a lease of the manor, mansion, and park of Holdenbyin Northamptonshire, granted to Henrietta Maria in 1629. He also entered into partnerships to improve crown land in Kentthat had been damaged by the sea and in Whittlewood Forestin Northamptonshire. In 1667, he succeeded to his father's estates, and he had a house at Spring Garden in St Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster, which, in his will, he directed should be sold to pay his legacies and debts.
Crofts died, childless, on
11 September 1677, and his peerage became extinct. He allocated £1000 for his funeral charges if he should die in London, and £500 if elsewhere, but the location of his death is unknown. However, he was buried at Little Saxham on 13 September, having allowed £500 for the erection of a monument to him and his wife in the aisle where he was buried. The monument, of black and white marble, was made by Abraham Storeyand has been judged his best work. It has a life-size, semi-recumbent figure of Crofts, in his peer's robes, with that of his wife on a lower table forward of his, and his coat of arms on a panel on the front of the monument.
*Stephen Porter, "Crofts, William, Baron Crofts (d. 1677)",
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edition, January 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/6727, accessed 2 August 2008]
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