Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cresswell, Madam

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CRESSWELL, Madam (fl. 1670–1684), was a notorious courtesan and procuress (born about 1625), whose connection with many of the civic celebrities and leading politicians of her day, between Restoration and Revolution, enabled her to secure indemnity from punishment and gather a large fortune. The ballad literature of the streets, manuscript lampoons, and party pamphlets are full of allusions to her. Her portrait was engraved by P. Tempest, after a design by Lauron, and published in the ‘Cries of London,’ 1711. She had been early distinguished by personal attractions, and when her own beauty decayed she used her fascination to corrupt the innocence of others so successfully that she was considered to be without a rival in her wickedness. She was very outspoken in her political opinions as a whig, a zealous ally of Titus Oates, Robert Ferguson the plotter, Sir Robert Clayton's wife, and Sir Thomas Player (who was nicknamed ‘Sir Thomas Cresswell,’ from his intimacy with her). She made noisy proclamations of being devout, as a counterbalance of her known immorality. She lived at Clerkenwell during the winter months, but sometimes at Camberwell keeping a boarding-house, and in summer retreated to a handsome country residence, largely frequented by her civic patrons. She decoyed many village girls into London, in hope of obtaining good service and preferment. Although styled ‘Madam Cresswell,’ she was never married. She is mentioned frequently in Nathanael Thompson's ‘Collection of 180 Loyal Songs,’ 1685 and 1694 (e. g. pp. 80, 328, 344), as ‘Old Mother Cresswell of our trade,’ and ‘Poor Cresswell, she can take his word no more’ (i. e. Sir Thomas Player's); in many manuscript lampoons or satires by Rochester and others; and also in the ‘Poems on State Affairs,’ 1697–1707. When her past dissipations and age had brought infirmities, she made increased pretence to be considered a pious matron, attending prayer-meetings and dressing soberly, but got into trouble occasionally, as in 1684, with a bond for 300l., ‘which not being paid the worn-out Cresswell's broke.’ At her death, near the close of the century, she bequeathed 10l. to fee a church of England clergyman to preach her funeral sermon, stipulating that he was to mention her name and ‘to speak nothing but well of her.’ A short discourse on the solemnity of death ended with due mention of her name and last request, without any praise except this: ‘She was born well, she lived well, and she died well; for she was born with the name of Cresswell, she lived in Clerkenwell and Camberwell, and she died in Bridewell.’ There are other versions, of doubtful authority, one attributing the sarcasm to the Duke of Buckingham.

[Various fugitive satires, manuscript and printed in the Trowbesh Collection; Loyal Songs and Poems on Affairs of State; Bagford Ballads, 1878, pp. 880, 881, 927; Roxburghe Ballads, 1885, v. 282, 338; Granger's Biog. Hist. Eng. iv. 218, 219; Tempest's Cries of London.]

J. W. E.