1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Craven, William Craven, Earl of

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CRAVEN, WILLIAM CRAVEN, Earl of (1608–1697), eldest son of Sir William Craven, lord mayor of London, and of Elizabeth, daughter of Alderman William Whitmore, was born in June 1608, matriculated at Trinity College, Oxford, in 1623, and joined the society of the Middle Temple in 1624. He had already inherited his father’s vast fortune by the latter’s death in 1618, and before he came of age he had distinguished himself in the military service of the princes of Orange. Returning home he was knighted and created Baron Craven of Hampstead Marshall in Berkshire in 1627. He early showed enthusiasm for the cause of the unfortunate king and queen of Bohemia, driven from their dominions, and in 1632 joined Frederick in a military expedition to recover the Palatinate, meeting Gustavus Adolphus at Höchst, whose praise he gained by being the first, though wounded, to mount the breach at the capture of Kreuznach on the 22nd of February. The Swedish king, however, refused to allow the elector an independent command for the defence of the Palatinate, and Craven returned to England. In May 1633 he was placed on the council of Wales. In 1637 he took part in a second expedition in aid of the palatine family on the Lower Rhine, with the young elector Charles Louis and his brother Rupert, and offered as a contribution the sum of £30,000, but their forces were defeated near Wessel and Craven wounded and taken prisoner together with Rupert. He purchased his freedom in 1639, and then joined the small court of the exiled queen Elizabeth at the Hague and at Rhenen, supplying her generously with funds on the cessation of her English pension owing to the outbreak of the Civil War. He contributed also large sums in aid of Charles I., and, after his execution, of Charles II., the amount bestowed upon the latter being alone computed at £50,000,[1] notwithstanding that since 1651 the greater part of his estates had been confiscated by the parliament and his house at Caversham reduced to ruins.[2] At the Restoration he accompanied Charles to England, regained his estates, and was rewarded with offices and honours. He was made colonel of several regiments including the Coldstream, and in 1667 lieutenant-general and also high steward of Cambridge University. In 1666 he became a privy councillor, but was not included later in 1679 in Sir William Temple’s remodelled council.[3] In 1668 he became a governor of the Charterhouse, was appointed lord-lieutenant of Middlesex, and master of the Trinity House in 1670; and in 1673 a commissioner for Tangier. He was one of the lords proprietors of Carolina and a member of the Fishery Committee.

In March 1664 he was created viscount and earl of Craven. Meanwhile his devotion to the interests of the queen of Bohemia was unceasing, and on her return to England he offered her hospitality at his house in Drury Lane, where she remained till February 1662. At her death, within a fortnight afterwards, she bequeathed to Craven her papers and her valuable collection of portraits, but there is no foundation for the belief entertained later that she had married him. In 1682 he became the guardian of Ruperta, the natural daughter of his old comrade in arms, Prince Rupert. He was again made a privy councillor and lieutenant-general of the forces by James on his accession, and at the age of eighty was in command of the Coldstreams at Whitehall on the 17th of December 1688 when the Dutch troops arrived. He refused to withdraw them at the bidding of Count Solms, the Dutch commander, but obeyed later James’s own orders to retire. His public career now closed and he filled no office after the revolution. Although his claims upon the gratitude of the Stuart royal family were immense, Craven had never been considered a possible candidate for high political place. His ability was probably small, and he is spoken of with little respect in the Verney Papers and by the electress Sophia in her Memoirs. The latter retails some foolish observations made by Craven, and Pepys was disgusted at his coarse and stupid jests at the Fishery Board, where his “very confused and very ridiculous proceedings” are also censured.[4] His military prowess, however, his generosity and his public spirit are undoubted. He showed great activity during the plague and fire of London. He was a patron of letters and a member of the Royal Society. He inherited Combe Abbey near Coventry from his father, and purchased Hampstead Marshall in Berkshire, where he built a house on the model of Heidelberg Castle.

He died unmarried on the 9th of April 1697, when the earldom became extinct, the barony passing by special remainder to his cousin William, 2nd Baron Craven; the present earl of Craven (the earldom being revived in 1801) is descended from John, a younger brother of the latter. The first Lord Craven’s brother John, who was created Baron Craven of Ryton in Shropshire and who died in 1648, was the founder of the Craven scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge universities, of which the first was awarded in 1649.

Bibliography.—See the article in the Dict. of Nat. Biography (and Errata); Lives of the Princesses of England (Elizabeth, eldest daughter of James I.), vol. vi., by M. A. E. Green (1854); Memoirs of Elizabeth Stuart, by Miss Benger (1825); Memoiren der Herzogin Sophie, ed. by A. Köcher in Publ. aus den k. preussischen Staatsarchiven, Bd. iv. (1879); “Briefe der Elisabeth Stuart” in Bibliothek des litterarischen Vereins (Stuttgart, 1903), 155, 157; G. E. C.’s Complete Peerage (1889), ii. 404; Lives and Characters of the Most Illustrious Persons (1713), p. 546; Macaulay’s Hist. of England, ii. 584 (1858); Verney Papers (Camden Soc., 1853); Cal. of St. Pap. Dom.; Tracts relating to the confiscation of his estate in Cat. of the British Museum. Much information also doubtless exists in the Craven MSS. at Combe Abbey. (P. C. Y.) 

  1. Verney Papers, 189 note.
  2. Evelyn’s Diary, June 8th, 1654.
  3. Hist. MSS. Com.; Various Collections, ii. 394.
  4. Diary, Oct. 18th and Nov. 18th, 1664, and March 10th, 1665.