The History of  
Hinchingbrooke House  

the Hart of Hinchingbrooke



oliver cromwell

edward montagu


fourth earl

5th-7th earls

Eighth Earl

ninth earl





Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex 1485-1540
after Hans Holbein the Younger
National Portrait Gallery

The Cromwells

Richard - Henry - Sir Oliver - The House

Note that the Sir Oliver Cromwell who was the last owner of Hinchingbrooke was the uncle of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell who had Charles I beheaded.
More information on Oliver Cromwell Lord Protector.

Richard Cromwell

With the Priory now closed it was in 1538 that Richard Williams alias Cromwell received a royal grant of the priory with its “church, steeple, churchyard and house and all lands.”
Sir Richard's father Morgan Williams had married Katherine Cromwell but Richard took the Cromwell name as a tribute to Katherine's family. Katherine's brother was Thomas Cromwell Earl of Essex, executed in 1540.

Sir Richard Cromwell died in 1545. He had acquired Ramsey Abbey, Hinchingbrooke and lands of other religious houses. He does not seem to have lived at Hinchingbrooke, which was about this time occupied by William Cook, who sub-let part of the house and barn together with the stable, gatehouse and great close. However Sir Richard did start the conversion of the nunnery into a house.


Sir Henry Cromwell

Sir Henry, eldest son of Sir Richard, used Hinchingbrooke as a winter residence. He pulled down part of the nunnery and erected a fine Elizabethan house surrounded by an open court in its place.

The new building was mainly made of materials brought from Barnwell Priory, particularly the gilded roof of the great dining-hall. Because of his generosity and magnificence Sir Henry Cromwell was known in his day as the Golden Knight, and it is said that in his journeys from Hinchingbrooke to Ramsey Abbey, his summer residence, he threw money out of his coach to the people who collected to see him pass.

Sir Henry was four times sheriff for the county and once returned as member of Parliament. He entertained Queen Elizabeth here in 1564 when she knighted him. Henry handed over Hinchingbrooke to his son Oliver in 1602. Henry died on 6 January 1604 and was buried in All Saints' Church, Huntingdon


Sir Oliver Cromwell

James I spent a night here, 27 April 1603, when progressing south from Scotland to take possession of the English throne.
Sir Oliver Cromwell on this occasion made many presents to the king “a cup of gold, goodly horses, deepe-mouthed hounds, divers hawkes of excellent winge,” while a deputation of the heads of Cambridge University, clad in scarlet gowns and corner caps, attended to present a learned speech in Latin. In return for this James I on his Coronation Day, 24 July 1603, made Sir Oliver a Knight of the Bath.

The family fortunes were already weak because of Sir Henry's lavish spending but Sir Oliver Cromwell, Sir Henry's eldest son, to whom Hinchingbrooke now passed, carried on the family tradition of entertaining royalty, and James I was constantly there.

Over-generous spending was Cromwell's downfall and Hinchingbrooke was eventually sold to Sir Sidney Montagu on 20 June 1627.


The House

The original church, at 85 by 19 feet, was remodelled into a long gallery and divided into two floors. Sir Henry aimed to make Hinchingbrooke into a Tudor "prodigy" country house to reflect his increasing self importance. The gatehouse (from Ramsey Abbey) would be an imposing entrance to the outer courtyard and an inner courtyard (now the covered inner hall) would balance it in a typically Tudor design.

Draw a simple family tree of the Cromwell family
If you are visiting Hinchingbrooke look out for examples of ornament on parapets and gables, chimney pieces and corbels. These can help date different parts of the building.

Early Tudor ornament is more geometric with floral designs.
The Elizabethans used grotesques, masks, and obelisks.

Other Links

Cromwell Museum Huntingdon

Cromwell Museum St Ives

Civil War Maps

Cromwell Official Website

Huntingdonshire Society

The Commonwealth Seal