Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cressingham, Hugh

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CRESSINGHAM, HUGH (d. 1297), treasurer of Scotland, a clerk and one of the officers of the exchequer, was employed in a matter arising from some wrongs done to the abbot of Ramsey in 1282; he was attached to the household of Eleanor, queen of Edward I, was her steward, and one of her bailiffs for the barony of Haverford. In 1292 the king employed him to audit the debts due to his late father, Henry III, and in that and during the next three years he was the head of the justices itinerant for the northern counties. He was presented to the parsonage of Chalk, Kent, by the prior and convent of Norwich, and held the rectory of Doddington in the same county (Hasted); he was also rector of ‘Ruddeby’ (Rudby in Cleveland), and held prebends in several churches (Hemingburgh). On John Baliol's surrender of the crown of Scotland in 1296 Edward appointed Cressingham treasurer of the kingdom, charging him to spare no expense necessary for the complete reduction of the country (Rotuli Scotiæ, i. 42). He is uniformly described as a pompous man, uplifted by his advancement, harsh, overbearing, and covetous. Contrary to the king's express command he neglected to build a wall of stone upon the earthwork lately thrown up at Berwick, a folly which brought trouble later on. The absence of the Earl of Surrey, the guardian of Scotland, threw more power into the hands of the treasurer, who used it so as to incur the hatred of the people. Meanwhile Wallace succeeded in driving the English out of nearly all the castles north of the Forth. Surrey was at last roused, and marched with a large force to Stirling. Cressingham, who it is said never put on chasuble or spiritual armour, now put on helmet and breastplate and joined the army. Wallace left the siege of the castle of Dundee and succeeded in occupying the high ground above Cambuskenneth before the English could cross the river. A reinforcement of eight thousand foot and three hundred horse was brought by Lord Henry Percy from Carlisle. Fearful of the inroad this additional force would make upon the treasury, Cressingham ordered him to dismiss his soldiers, who were so indignant at this treatment that they were ready to stone the treasurer. The position held by the Scots commanded the bridge of Stirling, and it was evident that if the English crossed it they would probably be cut to pieces before they were able to form. Some vain attempts were made to treat. The earl was unwilling to expose his army to such a desperate risk, but Cressingham urged him to give the order to advance. ‘It is no use, sir earl,’ he said, ‘to delay further and waste the king's money; let us cross the bridge and do our devoir as we are bound.’ The earl yielded, and the English were defeated with great slaughter. Cressingham was among those who fell in this battle of Cambuskenneth on 10 Sept. 1297, and the Scots gratified their hatred of him by cutting up his skin—his body, we are told, was fat and his skin fair—into small pieces, Wallace, according to one account, ordering that a piece should be taken from the body large enough to make him a sword-belt.

[Foss's Judges, iii. 82; Rot. Parl. i. 30, 33; Hasted's Kent, i. 520 (fol. ed.); Rot. Scotiæ, i. 42; Hemingburgh, ii. 127, 137, 139; Chron. Lanercost, p. 190; Fordun's Scotichronicon, pp. 979, 980 (Hearne); Nic. Trivet, pp. 351, 367; Tytler's Hist. of Scotland, i. 94–100 (4to ed.)]

W. H.