The English Civil War

Elizabeth Cromwell

Born in London in 1598, Elizabeth Cromwell was the wife of the Lord Protector and mother to his nine children. Elizabeth was the first of twelve children born to Sir James Bourchier of Felsted in Essex, a wealthy leather merchant, and his wife. Oliver and Elizabeth married on 22 August 1620. Sir James’s influence among the merchant society in London would later be of great advantage to Cromwell, along with his father-in-law’s extensive land holdings in Essex. The marriage was a happy one, and many of the letters between the pair survive. Those mentioned in my novel, The Cromwell Deception, are, of course, made up, but they are inspired by first-hand accounts of Cromwell writing to her.

As Protectress of England, insufficient evidence of her character has come to light to make a meaningful assessment. After her husband’s death, she was treated relatively well; however, on the back of the Restoration of the Monarchy, she decided to take flight. The story mentioned in the novel of her attempting to flee London while in possession of many valuables, once the property of the royal family, is supported by historical evidence. When the items were discovered, she was forced to part with them. What happened next is something of a grey area. There have been some claims that she fled from England and resided for some time in Switzerland, but primary records do not support this. She did spend some time in Wales before living with her son-in-law, John Claypole, at the manor in Northborough. Her date of interment is recorded as 19 November 1665. In 1846 the author John Heneage Jesse in his Memoirs of the court of England, from the Revolution in 1688 to the death of George the Second recorded Elizabeth’s death as having occurred on 8 October 1672. In 1784, the antiquary and biographer Mark Noble, writing in his Memoirs of the protectorate-house of Cromwell: deduced from an early period and continued down to the present time conjectured that Elizabeth’s death in 1665 was merely a ‘political death’ due to her fear of persecution. The author credited the Rev James Clarke of Peterborough for making him familiar with the story.

Northborough in Cambridgeshire is a real place, and has a population of approximately 1,300 people. Connection with both the Claypole family and Cromwell’s wife and daughter is true, with many of the Claypole family laid to rest within the church. St Andrew’s Church also exists. The Claypole Chapel in the south transept also still exists, and a plaque placed by The Cromwell Association is currently on display. There is a vault, apparently, beneath the chapel where the body of Elizabeth Cromwell was placed in 1665. According to the 1789 edition of William Camden’s Britannia: ‘The vault has long been opened and used as a charnel house’, basically a place to store bones. In volume one of the 1948 edition of Northamptonshire Past and Present the writer adds, ‘The family vault beneath the chapel has long been cleared, so that it is doubtful whether the remains of any of these Claypoles or of Mistress Cromwell still exist . . . The Claypoles have vanished from the scene, but their manor house and their monuments in the church at Northborough are still with us, to remind us of a family who made their contribution to the history of their country, and in a very special way to their county also’.

The nearby manor house is real and is now privately owned. In 2014 it was up for sale for over £1.7m.