Oliver Cromwell

Did Oliver Come to Stay? Watch Out, Beadle’s About!

Local legend has it the Lord Protector once paid a visit to Hapton Hall, in part supported by a letter he later sent to “my Noble Friend, Thomas Knyvett, Esq.”. The burning question is did Oliver really come to stay?

The two main Dramatis Personae were certainly distantly related (the family tree has already been posted), and certainly both men met during the course of the Civil War, but found themselves on opposite sides of the struggle.

Knyvett was a Royalist but, like much of the gentry, hoped the King and Parliament would come to a settlement, so kept a very low profile before being caught up in trouble at Lowestoft, the town allegedly being fortified by the Royalists, in March 1643 at which point he was arrested and taken to London.

Knyvett claimed, however, to have been the unfortunate victim of circumstance – “being at Lowestoft purposing to wait an opportunity to go over to Holland….and at that time there being a high contest between the town of Yarmouth and the poor town of Lowestoft, which made them stand upon their guard to defend themselves….but in no way in opposition to the Parliament’s authority and commands, but it so fell out, whilst I was in the town….all gentlemen strangers walked out of the town and yielded themselves without the least opposition, whereof myself was one”

At the same time Cromwell was stationed in Norwich with the Eastern Association of Counties – Parliamentary militia – under the command of the Earl of Manchester, and it was Cromwell who took command at Lowestoft and to whom Knyvett yielded himself. So, both certainly met during the course of the Civil War.

During his early time in London Knyvett corresponded with his wife, Katherine, at Hapton, only later addressing letters to her at Ashwellthorpe, Hapton Hall having been “always the jointure-home of the Knevet family”.

All captured Royalist gentry had their land sequestered by Parliamentary committees, in order to pay for the war and Nathaniel Beadle, solicitor for the Norfolk Committee, was particular in his zeal to attack Knyvett.

Knyvett had influential friends to call on however, most notably Sir John Holland of Quidenham and Elizabeth Hampden, Cromwell’s Aunt and also a relation of his own. The Earl of Manchester, himself, pleaded Knyvett’s case – “….having understood of Mr Knyvett’s innocency since my coming to London from Colonel Cromwell himself, who hath assured me that upon his coming to Lowestoft the same Mr Knyvett did voluntarily yield himself without any resistance, being not otherwise armed than with his sword he ordinarily wore.”

Be that as it may Cromwell later withdrew this statement, claiming Knyvett had tricked him at Lowestoft, all the while Manchester’s stock with Parliament was diminishing, thanks to his knack of falling out with Cromwell (who was, by now, everyone’s favourite).

Nonetheless, Knyvett tried again with Cromwell, drawing up a statement of his case and concluding with an appeal to Cromwell’s graciousness. Knyvett’s letters do not indicate the success of this approach, but the appeal of his friends obviously worked because in August 1644 the order for sequestration was discharged.

Nothing is known of any interaction between the two until the letter of 1646. So, Cromwell had several reasons why he would have visited Hapton and equally several why he wouldn’t. Can it be proved he really came? Does that really matter?

Tim Ward