Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Craven, William (1606-1697)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CRAVEN, WILLIAM, Earl of Craven (1606–1697), born in 1606, was the eldest son of Sir William Craven [q. v.], and of his wife Elizabeth, daughter of William Whitmore, alderman of London. William Craven the younger was entered as commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, in 1623, and gave 100l. to the college library in 1636. But, before he was twenty, he entered the service of the Prince of Orange (Maurice). Thus it is not difficult to account for the slenderness of his latinity, which in his maturer days amused the Princess Sophia (Memoiren, p. 43). Under Maurice of Orange and his successor, Frederick Henry, he gained some military distinction, and on returning to England was knighted by Charles I, 4 March 1627. Eight days later he was created Baron Craven of Hampsted Marshall, Berkshire, and not long afterwards was named a member of the permanent council of war.

In 1631, a year in which the foreign policy of Charles I was particularly complicated and insecure (see Gardiner, History of England, vol. vii. ch. lxx.), the Marquis of Hamilton was permitted to levy troops in England for Gustavus Adolphus. They were primarily intended to make the emperor, Ferdinand II, relinquish his hold of the Palatinate, which might thus still be recovered for the deprived elector and electress, the ex-king and queen of Bohemia, now refugees at the Hague. Craven was named one of the commanders of the English forces in Germany, and early in 1632 he accompanied Frederick when the latter set forth from the Hague to strike a blow, if permitted to do so, in his own cause (Mrs. Green, i. 495). This is the first occasion on which Craven is found in personal relations with the heroic Elizabeth, to whose service he was soon wholly to devote himself. Frederick and Craven reached Frankfort-on-the-Main 10 Feb., and on the next morning had an interview at Höchst with the Swedish conqueror, who was already master of the whole of the Palatinate with the exception of three fortified towns. He allowed them to take part in the siege of Creuznach, which he was resolved to secure before it could be relieved by the Spaniards, then in force on the Moselle. The place was taken 22 Feb. (Droysen, Gustav Adolf, 1876, ii. 526), Craven, though wounded, being the first to mount the breach. Gustavus Adolphus is said to have told him with soldierly humour that he had ‘adventured so desperately, he bid his younger brother fair play for his estate,’ and he had the honour of being one of the signatories of the capitulation (Collins; cf. Mrs. Green, i. 497). But to the intense disappointment of the elector the Swedish king, in whose hands his destiny and that of the Palatinate now seemed to lie, refused his request that he might levy an independent force (Mrs. Green, i. 499, from a letter by Craven in ‘Holland Correspondence’).

Craven appears to have returned to England about this time or shortly afterwards, for on 12 May 1633 the compliment was paid him of placing him on the council of Wales, and on 31 Aug. his university created him M.A. (Doyle). Of his doings in these years no further traces seem to exist; but in 1637 ‘the beat of my Lord Craven's drums’ was once more heard, and he again engaged in the service of a cause to which, during the next quarter of a century, he continuously devoted himself.

Early in 1637, though the situation in Germany had not really become more hopeful, there was in England ‘a great preparation in embrio’ (Verney Papers, p. 188). It had been decided that some of the king's ships should be lent to the young Charles Lewis, the eldest son of the queen of Bohemia, and should put to sea under the flag of the palatine house. Several noblemen proffered voluntary contributions towards this enterprise, and foremost among them was Craven, who declared his readiness to contribute as much as 30,000l. (Gardiner, History of England, viii. 204). ‘In this action,’ writes Nathaniel Hobart to Ralph Verney (Verney Papers, p. 189), ‘the Hollanders and Lord Craven join;’ and in his answer to this letter, which contains some ungenerous comments on the wealthy nobleman's generosity, Ralph Verney observes: ‘Wee heare much of a great navie, but more of my little Lord Craven, whose bounty makes him the subject of every man's discource. By many he is condemned of prodigality, but by most of folly.’ As Mr. Gardiner suggests, ‘it is not likely that those who freely opened their purses expected very happy results from such an enterprise;’ but they ‘believed that the conflict once begun would not be limited to the sea.’ In June the fleet commanded by Northumberland conveyed Charles Lewis and his brother Rupert to Holland (Gardiner, viii. 219), and Craven was in their company. With some troops collected here they marched up the Lower Rhine and joined the army waiting for them at Wesel. The force, which now numbered four thousand men, laid siege to a place called Limgea by Whitelocke (Memorials, i. 74; Miss Benger, ii. 337, says Lippe; query Lemgo?); but, encountering the imperialist general Hatzfeld, suffered a complete defeat. Prince Rupert fought with obstinate valour in this his first action, and it is said that but for the interposition of Craven he would have sacrificed his life rather than surrender his sword. Both of them were taken prisoners (Miss Benger, ii. 338; cf. Mrs. Green, i. 559–60). A letter written about this time by Charles Lewis (though dated 1677 (!) in Bromley, ‘Royal Letters,’ p. 312; see Miss Benger, ii. 338 n.) contains a pointed expression of gratitude on the writer's part towards Craven. Miss Benger, who seems to have inspected the papers left behind her by Elizabeth, states (ii. 337) that from the commencement of this expedition Craven transmitted to her regular details of the military operations, and that in these despatches originated their confidential correspondence, which was never afterwards suspended.

Craven, who had been wounded in the battle, remained for some time in captivity. In a letter written by Elizabeth to Roe, 1 Nov. 1638 (cited from ‘Holland Correspondence’ by Mrs. Green, i. 560), she expresses her regret for his imprisonment and that of a companion, and her fear that they will not so soon be released; ‘but,’ she adds in a quite different tone of solicitude, proving the relations between her and Craven as yet at least to have advanced to no great degree of intimacy, ‘if Rupert were anywhere but there I should have my mind at rest.’ Rupert was not released till 1641; Craven, however, who had at first, in order to remain near the prince, refused to ransom himself, on being persistently refused access to him purchased his own liberty in the autumn of 1639, and after even then delaying for some time in Germany while still lame from his wound paid a visit to the queen at the Hague on his way home to England (‘Holland Correspondence,’ 31 Aug. 1639, cited by Mrs. Green, i. 570). According to a passage in Wotton's ‘Letters’ (cited by Miss Benger, ii. 338) the sum paid by Craven for his ransom amounted to 20,000l. Yet when a few years afterwards, during the struggle between Charles I and his parliament, Elizabeth's English pension of 10,000l. a year remained unpaid, Craven's munificence seems again to have compensated her for the loss (Miss Benger, ii. 369–70, citing ‘in a volume of tracts the article Perkins’). When after the execution of Charles I parliament had formally annulled her pension, and the queen prepared a protest comprising a recapitulation of her claims, it was Craven who drafted the document, and who endeavoured to induce the States-General to include the satisfaction of her demands in the treaty which they were then negotiating with the parliament (Mrs. Green, ii. 25, and n., where she describes the rough draft, with additions suggested on the margin in Craven's handwriting seen by her among his papers).

By this time Craven had become a permanent member of the exiled queen of Bohemia's court at the Hague and at Rhenen, near Arnheim, of which so graphic a description has been left by her youngest daughter (Memoiren der Herzogin Sophie, pp. 36–44). She speaks of him as having before the execution of Charles I been one of those who favoured the scheme of a marriage between herself and the Prince of Wales. When about 1650 Charles II was himself a visitor at the Hague, he addressed to the Princess Sophia some very significant compliments on her good looks; but she soon found out that the secret motive of these flatteries was the wish of Charles and his boon companion, Lord Gerard, to obtain through her intervention some of Craven's money. In small things as in great the ‘vieux milord’ (actually about forty-four years of age) was allowed to act as paymaster, providing the young princesses with jewellery and sweetmeats, and with cash for making presents to others. But the graceless Sophia speaks of him as without esteem either for his wit or for his breeding, and unscrupulously makes fun of the family benefactor. When in 1650 the young princess travelled from Holland to Heidelberg, he superintended the arrangements for her journey, ‘et avoit soin de tout.’

During the civil war Craven had repeatedly aided Charles I with money, and it is calculated that before his restoration Charles II received from the same loyal subject at the least 50,000l. (Bruce's note to Verney Papers, p. 189; cf. Collins, iv. 186). From 1651 Craven was himself for a series of years deprived of the main part of his resources. The support given by him to the royal cause was not of a nature to remain hidden, and was particularly offensive to the adherents of the parliament, as being furnished by the son of a citizen of London, himself, in Nathaniel Hobart's supercilious phrase, a filius populi. Charges brought against him were therefore sure to find willing listeners. The first information against him was supplied in 1650 by Major Richard Falconer, one of the secret agens provocateurs whom the Commonwealth government kept near the person of the exiled ‘Charles Stuart.’ He had been at Breda during the visit there paid by the queen of Bohemia and her daughters, accompanied by Craven, to Charles II, shortly before he set out on his Scottish expedition. Falconer now swore that on this occasion he had induced a number of officers to unite in a petition praying the king to accept their services against the parliament of England ‘by the name of barbarous and inhuman rebels,’ and that this petition had been promoted by Craven. Shortly afterwards, in February and March 1651, two other witnesses deposed to Craven's intimacy with the king at Breda, and it was added that he had made some short journeys in the king's service, and had taken care of an illegitimate child left behind him by Charles in the Low Countries, till forced to deliver up the same to its mother, ‘one Mrs. Barlow.’ The result was that, 16 March 1651, the parliament resolved that Craven was an offender against the Commonwealth of England within the terms of the declaration of 24 Aug. 1649, that his estates should be confiscated accordingly, and the commissioners for compounding should be empowered to seize and sequester all his property, both real and personal. An act for the sale of his estates was passed 3 Aug. 1652, by a vote of twenty-three to twenty; and it is stated that several members of the majority afterwards purchased parts of the property. In vain had Craven in 1651 appealed from abroad against the sentence, declaring Falconer guilty of perjury, inasmuch as the petition in question had been merely one for pecuniary aid, and had not included the vituperative expressions concerning the parliament which the spy had himself proposed. Equally in vain had the Palatine family exerted themselves on behalf of their benefactor, both the queen and her son, the Elector Charles Lewis, who prevailed upon the States-General to address to the council in London an urgent representation through their resident there, De Groot. (It is printed at length by Collins, in his short account of these transactions, of which a complete narrative, entitled ‘Proceedings of Parliament against Lord Craven,’ was published at London in 1653: cf. also Mrs. Green, ii. 34–5, and Miss Benger, ii. 409 seqq.) Happily, the beautiful seat of Combe Abbey, near Coventry, which Craven's father had originally purchased of Lucy, countess of Bedford, and where the queen of Bohemia had spent her girlhood, was exempted from the confiscation, because of the heir presumptive's interest in it.

The endeavours made by Craven in 1653, possibly with the aid of what he had saved out of the wreck, to obtain a reversal of the parliament's decision remained fruitless (see the intercepted letters addressed to him by Colonel Doleman, a creature of the Protector, and by William Cromwell, Thurloe, State Papers, i. 513). Equally unsuccessful were the attempts made in the same year by the queen of Bohemia, who enclosed an urgent appeal in Craven's letter to President Lawrence (ib. ii. 139), and by the States-General (ib. ii. 449). Craven adhered to Elizabeth's fortunes, which had seemed likely to trench in some measure on the partial recovery of the Palatinate by her eldest son in the peace of Westphalia. But she was unable to quit the Hague, being deeply involved in debt there, while her son had no money to give her, and cherished no wish for her speedy return to the Palatinate, where she desired to recover her dower residence at Frankenthal. In 1653 Craven seems to have made more than one journey to Heidelberg on her behalf (see her letters to him printed by Mrs. Green, ii. 38–40; and cf. a few data as to his movements in Thurloe, State Papers, i. 237, 467, 704). In the latter part of 1654 he renewed his efforts to obtain a reversal of judgment, and much ineffectual discussion took place on his case (see the notices in Whitelocke, Memorials, iv. 156, 157, 159, 162). Nor was it until the eve of the Restoration that the first sign shows itself of a change of policy in the matter. Whitelocke, who notes (iv. 357) that a petition from Craven was read 11 Aug. 1659, records (ib. 404) that 15 March 1660 an order was issued ‘to stay felling woods in the Lord St. John's and Lord Craven's estates.’

Craven followed Charles II to England at the Restoration. He recovered his estates, though whether completely is not stated by his biographers, and he was loaded with honours and offices. He was lord-lieutenant of Middlesex and Southwark (1670–89), colonel of many regiments, including the Coldstream guards (1670–89), and lieut.-general (from 1667); he was named master of the Trinity House (1670), and high steward of the university of Cambridge (1667); was one of the commissioners for Tangier, and of the lords proprietors of Carolina; was sworn of the privy council (1666 and 1681); and in the peerage he was in March 1664 raised to the degrees of Viscount Craven of Uffington and Earl of Craven (for a full enumeration, see Doyle; cf. Collins). But in prosperity as in adversity he remained faithful to the service of the queen of Bohemia, whose own return to England was delayed for several months by her pecuniary embarrassments. He corresponded with her, supplying her with the news of the court (Mrs. Green, ii. 88); and when Charles II with undeniable indifference continued to leave her without the offer of any residence in England, Craven placed his own London mansion, Drury House, at her disposal, and thus enabled her at last to come back to her native land (26 May 1661). During nearly all the remainder of Elizabeth's life she was his guest, and he generally attended her when she appeared in public (Pepys, 17 Aug. 1661). As to the precise nature of their private relations even in this period, we are, naturally enough, without evidence. The office of master of the horse, which he had nominally held at her husband Frederick's court, he seems to have continued to fill at hers in his own house. In an account of a visit to the queen at Drury House by the Genoese Marquis Durazzo (extracted by Mrs. Green, ii. 81, from his MS. Relation of his Embassy), he states that on entering he was met at the head of the stairs by Craven, ‘proprietor of the house where the queen lives, and principal director of her court.’ Not till 8 Feb. 1662 did she remove from Drury House to Leicester House, hired as a residence for herself; and here a fortnight afterwards (23 Feb.) she died. At her funeral the heralds who bore her royal crown were supported by Craven and his relative, Sir Robert Craven. To the former she had bequeathed her papers, together with her unique collection of Stuart and palatine family portraits. These Craven placed at Combe Abbey, where they are still preserved. It has been asserted that at the time of her death Sir Balthasar Gerbier was building for him at Hampsted Marshall in Berkshire ‘a miniature Heidelberg’ which was to be ‘consecrated to Elizabeth’ (Miss Benger, ii. 432–3). But this is erroneous, or at least inaccurate, since Lysons (i. 286), quoting the epitaph on the architect's tomb, states the mansion not to have been begun till the year in which she died (Mrs. Green, ii. 75 n.) Drury House, where she had enjoyed his princely hospitality, was afterwards rebuilt by him, and renamed Craven House.

On the question of the well-known popular belief, according to which Craven was privately married to the queen of Bohemia, there is in truth extremely little to say. The ‘Craven MSS.’ might be supposed to furnish some clue; but Mrs. Green (ii. 66) states the late Earl of Craven to have been ‘of opinion that no such marriage took place, since neither family documents nor traditions support the notion.’ (It is curious that the margravine of Anspach, in her ‘Memoirs,’ ii. 93, should refer to the report without scepticism.) Mrs. Green further points out that the supposed marriage cannot even be shown to have been a contemporary rumour; for the report is not once alluded to in the extant correspondence of the day, and is, so far as is known, entirely of later date. Moreover, Mrs. Green notices, it is certain that a different rumour was actually current at the English court, viz. that Craven wished to marry the queen's eldest daughter Elizabeth, who was only seven years his junior. A marriage with this learned and pious woman, who had little of the light-heartedness in the midst of grief which characterised her mother and two at least of her sisters, could hardly have proved congenial to the gallant soldier. In favour of the supposed marriage between Craven and the queen there is nothing to urge except the analogies, such as they are, of the mésalliances of the age, among which that of Henrietta Maria to Lord Jermyn is perhaps the most striking. In Elizabeth's published letters there is not a word addressed to Craven, or concerning him, which assigns more than friendliness, or the most unembarrassed gaiety (see, e.g., her pleasant letter to Prince Rupert, in Bromley's Royal Letters, p. 286). Her bequest of papers and pictures to him proves nothing, nor on the other hand can any conclusion be drawn from his extraordinary munificence to her; more especially as, though of this evidence enough remains (the Margravine of Anspach testifies, Memoirs, ii. 93, to having seen a bond for 40,000l., which he had lent the queen), it is equally certain that he gave large sums to Charles II, and that his hand and heart were alike open, even to those who had no special claims upon him. In the days of the plague and of the fire of London he actively exerted himself. Indeed, it is a well-known anecdote that his horse knew the smell of a fire at a great distance, and was in the habit of immediately galloping off with him to the spot; and a Latin elegy on his death expressly draws a parallel between the assistance which he gave to the queen and that which he gave to the unfortunate in general (Mrs. Green, ii. 66 n.) It is difficult to prove a negative; and a balancing of mere probabilities seems in the present instance uncalled for.

After the queen's death Craven, as has been seen, continued to occupy a distinguished place among those who enjoyed the goodwill of her royal nephews. In March 1668 Pepys describes him as ‘riding up and down to give orders like a madman’ to the troops assembled in Lincoln's Inn Fields on the occasion of a city tumult. To Elizabeth's son Prince Rupert their old comradeship in war and tribulation must have specially endeared him; and on Rupert's death, in 1682, he became the guardian of the prince's illegitimate daughter, Ruperta (see Rupert's will in Bromley's Royal Letters, Introd. p. xxvii). At the accession of James II information is said to have reached Craven that his resignation of his regiment would be acceptable in high quarters; but on his warmly deprecating the sacrifice of what he prized so much it was left to him (Collins). He was a member of the new sovereign's privy council, and was in June 1685 appointed lieutenant-general of the forces. Strangely enough, it had nearly fallen to the lot of himself and his beloved regiment to play a prominent part in the catastrophe of the Stuart throne. On the evening of 27 Dec. 1688, when the Dutch guards entered St. James's Park, the Coldstreams had the guard at Whitehall, and Craven was himself in command. Count Solms, the commander of the Dutch troops, called upon him to order his men away; but Craven refused to do so without express orders from the king himself. After an interview with Craven, and another with Count Solms, James ordered Craven to call off the Coldstreams; and when the king retired to rest, his palace was guarded by the troops of the Prince of Orange (O. Klopp, Der Fall des Hauses Stuart, 1876, iv. 289–90; cf. Clarke, Life of James II, 1816, ii. 264–5. There was a dispute as to whether James had agreed that the posts at Whitehall, as well as those at St. James's Palace, should be relieved by the Dutch guards).

Under the new régime the Coldstream regiment was bestowed on General Talmash, and the lord-lieutenancy of Middlesex upon the Earl of Clare. Craven's public life was now at an end; but he is said still to have shown much private activity, and to have continued his practice of aiding in the extinction of fires. He must also have found continued opportunities for gratifying his taste for building and gardens at his various seats—Hampsted Marshall, Benham (purchased by him from Sir Francis Castillon; see Memoirs of the Margravine of Anspach, ii. 90–1, with a reference to Lysons's Berkshire, u.s.), and Combe Abbey, and at his London house aforesaid. He is also held to have been a patron of letters, on the not very conclusive evidence of the dedication to him of numerous works. He belonged to the Royal Society, and is stated to have been intimate with Evelyn, Ray, and other students of the natural sciences (Biogr. Notes, ap. Miss Benger, ii. 456 sqq.) Yet a doubt must be hinted whether he was actually what is called a ‘man of parts.’ The personal sketches of him in the ‘Memoirs of the Duchess Sophia’ and in the ‘Verney Papers’ are not respectful in tone; but his personal valour is as indisputable as his self-sacrificing magnanimity. He died unmarried on 9 April 1697, and was buried at Pinley, near Coventry, with his descendants, in the vault of the church. His earldom became extinct: his barony and estates descended to a collateral line. There are numerous portraits of him in the splendid collection at Combe Abbey, among them one by Honthorst, another by H. Stone, and a third by Princess Louisa, one of the queen of Bohemia's daughters. In most of these the ‘little Lord Craven,’ at whom the courtiers affected to laugh, appears in armour, and well becomes his martial accoutrements.

[Collins's Peerage of England, 2nd edit. 1741, iv. 185–91; Doyle's Official Baronage of England, i. 484–5; Miss Benger's Memoirs of Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia, 2 vols. London, 1825; Mrs. Everett Green's Lives of the Princesses of England, 2 vols. London, 1854; Memoiren der Herzogin Sophie nachmals Kurfürstin von Hannover, ed. A. Köcher, Leipzig, 1879; Whitelocke's Memorials, ed. 1853, vol. iv.; Verney Papers, ed. J. Bruce for the Camden Society, 1853; Thurloe's State Papers, ed. Thomas Birch, 1842, vols. i. and ii. The Craven MSS. remain unpublished as a whole, and do not appear as yet to have been inspected by the Historical MSS. Commission.]

A. W. W.