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The Cowper family had become established Chester merchants by the mid-17th century. Later they became minor gentry. They are probably best known for their house and undercroft in Bridge Street (in 2018 occupied by "Trespass", an outdoor clothing shop). They also owned property at Overleigh (Hough Green). However, a little digging reveals a complex puzzle involving several Oliver Cromwells, some of the wives of Henry VIII and even a cigarette card with the "wrong" name on it.

In summary:

  • The Cowpers owned a property (Overleigh Hall) near Chester;
  • Between around at least 1793 and 1819 there were displayed at Overleigh Hall portraits said to be of Sir Oliver Cromwell (a relative of the better known one), his first wife and some of his sons;
  • The portraits of Sir Oliver and his sons appear to date from around 1646/47;
  • The portrait said to be of Sir Oliver's wife appears to date from a similar period, but is actually a copy of a much earlier portrait and there has been some debate about the identity of the sitter;
  • There is no clear connection between the family of Sir Oliver Cromwell and the Cowpers of Chester;

As well as the puzzle of the portraits, the story of the Cowpers in Chester illustrates many of the social and political changes from the end of the middle-ages to the Industrial Revolution. One important shift being that land was no-longer the sole property of the monarch, whose "tenants" had to guarantee military service: but the "gentry" could own land outright without any such obligations towards the Crown (save for taxes).


As noted above the Cowpers are probably best known for their house and undercroft in Bridge Street: something of a fixture on the tourist trail. However, they held another property (since demolished) and a small estate just south of the River Dee from around 1650 to around 1820. The Cowpers apparently first came to Chester through a royal connection and the estate by the river had also been purchased by the previous owner due to a royal connection.

Overlegh Hall appears on the Lavaux Map of Chester (1745). Lavaux names the occupant as William Cowper. The hall appears on other early maps of Chester but is seldom marked as such.

Overleigh/Overlegh Hall

The "New British Traveller" (1819) described the family as follows:

  • The Cowpers of Chester descended from Thomas a younger son of the Cowpers of Strode in Sussex who was one of the gentlemen of the bed chamber in August 1498. Before the end of the year he married lsabella daughter and heiress of Richard Goodman Esq then Mayor of Chester. Their descendants have ever since continued in Chester and have repeatedly represented the City in Parliament served in all the offices of the Corporation &c The last male heir of this family died in July 1788 and on the death of his widow the house and estate descended to a branch of the Cholmondeleys who are related to the Cowpers by marriage.

There is some exaggeration here, as many other families appear far more often in the lists of Chester MP's and offices of the Corporation, while the Cowpers (with a few exceptions) play a relatively minor part.

Gentlemen of the bed chamber

During the Medieval period a characteristic behaviour of monarchs was the annual "Royal Progress". This involved the ruler, his (or her) ministers, household and much of the rest of his court travelling around the country for months on end, often staying in various royal castles, or those of local or regional nobles. In the days before rapid communications the "progress" was an important part of managing the country. Obviously the monarch needed somewhere to sleep and deal with other bodily needs. Thus, the "King's Chamber" was often a temporary residence. The Lord Chamberlain, the "great officer" sitting in the King´s chamber, was not only in charge of the household above stairs, he was also the most important figure in court. He was in charge of all court entertainments, he supervised distribution of lodgings, made arrangements for the king´s progresses, received the Ambassadors and othrçer visitors to the court, and conducted them into the royal presense.

The chamber was later divided into a privy chamber (distinguished from bedchamber in 1559), an outer chamber (often styled "presence chamber"), and sometimes a great hall. Originating in Henry VII's reign (August 22, 1485 - April 21, 1509), the privy chamber developed through a slow and tortuous process. Originally it had been divided into three sub-departments - the Jewel House under a master, the Wardrobe of Robes (distinct from the Great Wardrobe situated outside of the court), and the Wardrobe of Beds, each under a yeoman. These three departments took care of the sovereign's jewels, clothing, and mattresses. Having a separate role for mattresses seems strange, until one considers the incidence of fleas, ticks and other bugs which could frequently carry disease. In fact a ruler on progress might even take his whole bed on tour. A further role of great importance was to see that "the house of easement be sweet and clear". In other words that what passed for toilets were clean.

An important innovation in the administration of the royal chamber in the sixteenth century was the creation of the post of the Gentleman of the Privy Chamber on the French model (gentilhomme de la chambre). This post was created around 1518 by amalgamating the posts of the two earlier officers - "Esquires of the Household" and the "Knights of the Body". The duties of these gentlemen consisted primarily in giving company to the sovereign and in dressing and undressing him, though they performed a varierty of chores. The gentlemen were assisted by the grooms of the privy chamber who, under the supervision of the gentlemen ushers, attended to the cleanliness of the rooms. Most importantly, to a gentleman of the sixteenth century employment in the privy chamber offered the greatest attraction: easy access to the monarch.

Hence, when Prince Arthur visted Chester from August 1498 until late Septeember it was only reasonable that he was accompanied by Thomas Cowper (and presumably others) to organise his movable household.

During the 17th century the scale of "progressions" both for ceremonial and governance began to decline. Festivities involving the monarch moved into the private world of the court and goverment became fixed at the center of the administration. The entry of James I into London in 1604 was the last until the Restoration of his grandson in 1660, after the English [Civil War]. The court of Charles I intensified the scale of private masques and other entertainments, but the cities, increasingly at odds with the monarchy, would no longer play along. The spread of firearms made rulers more cautious about appearing in slow-moving processions planned and publicised long in advance; rulers now characteristically did no more than show themselves at a ceremonial window or balcony.

Overleigh before the Cowpers

Overleigh was one of two small rural estates which comprised the Domesday territory of Lee, lay south-west of Handbridge, athwart the road to Wales. Leofwine's single virgate there had been granted by 1086 to Hugh de Mara. Whether by descent or some other means, it evidently passed to the barons of Mold, for c. 1230 Robert of Mold granted it to the abbot and monks of Basingwerk (Flints.). In 1462 the convent leased it for 100 years to Elis ap Deio ap Gruffudd, whose descendant, Matthew Ellis (d. 1574), a member of Henry VIII's bodyguard, bought it in 1545 from the Crown's grantees after the Dissolution - another example of advantage gained by being close to the monarch. The timber-framed mansion and chapel of the Ellis family were destroyed in the siege of Chester. Ellis is interred at St Mary on the Hill where Hanshall records his memorial tablet as reading:

  • "Here lies interred Matthew Ellis of Overleigh in the county the city of Chester, one of the gentlemen of the body guard to Henry VIII son of Ellis ap Dio ap Gryffyth successor to Kenrick Sais a British Nobleman and lineally descended from Tudor Trevor of Hereford. He died April 20 1574. Alice his wife died lö47. His son Matthew Ellis of Overleigh gent died 1575 whose Eliz daughter of Thos. Browne of Netherlegh gent died 1570 having issue Julian who was married to Thos Cowper of Chester Esq. Margery and Matthew Ellis of Overlegh gent. He died July 13 1613. His wife daughter to Richard Birkenhead of Maule Esq died July 6 1640 having issue Katherine wife to Randle Holme Chester gent & Matthew Ellis of Overlegh gent who died Nov 2 1663 his wife Elizabeth daughter to Wm Halton of Baddiley gent married Anne daughter to John Birkenhead of Backford Esq. He died Feb 17 1685; she died Aug 4 1689 "

After the Restoration a new brick house was built by Thomas Cowper (d. 1695), who had acquired the estate partly through descent (his grandfather married Julia, daughter of Matthew Ellis) and partly through purchase. In the later 17th and 18th century Overleigh Hall remained the home of the Cowpers. While not the most prominent Chester family, they included aldermen, a city recorder, and a celebrated (if at times innacurate) local antiquarian. After improvements by Dr. William Cowper (d. 1767), the hall was inherited upon the death of the last Thomas Cowper in 1788 by Charles Cholmondeley (1770-1847) of Vale Royal and let back to widow Harriet Cowper (d.1811) on a life lease. Charles Cholmondeley of Condover Hall, Shropshire, was the son of Thomas Cholmondeley and Dorothy Cowper.

Overleigh after the Cowpers

Rev. Charles Cowper Cholmondeley (1795-1831) of Condover Hall, Shropshire, was the son of Charles Cholmondeley. Reginald Cholmondeley (1826-1896), son of Rev. Charles, was host to the American writer Mark Twain (1835-1910) when he visited in 1873 and 1879. Condover Hall and the estate was sold out of the family in 1897. Reginald’s paintings and library were sold soon after his death. Little of the artwork and documents discussed below still exist at Chester.

The "New British Traveller" (1819) described the property as follows:

  • The ancient manor house was of timber and very spacious was demolished during the siege of Chester. The present mansion was not erected untill after the Restoration and it since received considerable additions. It contains a good Library and a great number of old portraits particularly some valuable ones of the Cromwell family of which the principal are the following mentioned in an inventory in the Library: Oliver Cromwell, uncle and godfather to the Protector aet 84 1646; Lady Elizabeth Cromwell first wife of Sir Oliver and daughter of Sir Henry Bromley, Lord Chancellor; Colonel Henry Cromwell aet 60 1616; Colonel John Cromwell second son of Sir Oliver; William Cromwell fourth son of Sir Oliver; Major John Hettley painted in a large wig; Sir Thomas and Lady Hettley Dr Sparks MD and Mr Manley.

As we shall see, the portraits present an interesting puzzle.

Overleigh shortly before demolition. The "pillar" on the green looks very much like the High Cross which may well have been in this part of Chester at the time. See Brown for more on this. The part of the building nearest the point of view is believed to be a private chapel.

At one time Overleigh Hall was a school. The following is recorded in the first volume of the "Journal of the Architectural, Archæological, and Historic Society" in the obituary of Rev W. H. Massie:

  • "Overleigh Hall was the scene of his first school boy life a mansion which stood in close proximity to the site of the present Grosvenor Gateway at the junction of the Wrexham and Handbridge roads Chester. This hall was long the seat of the Cowpers of Overleigh a family which for nearly four centuries graced with becoming rank reputation and ability the highest official positions within the city. Not to multiply instances the names of Sheriff John Cowper the intrepid friend and supporter of George Marsh the Protestant martyr Thomas Cowper Mayor of Chester the loyal subject and friend of the unfortunate Charles I and William Cowper Mayor of Chester in 1741 the indefatigable Cheshire antiquary are enough for our purpose. The original Overleigh Hall was demolished during the Civil War but about 1662 the mansion of which an illustration accompanies this notice was erected by Thomas Cowper son and heir of that loyal alderman who side by side with King Charles and Sir Francis Gamul witnessed the defeat of the Royalist forces from the leads of the Phoenix Tower. The male line of the Cowpers ceased in 1788 by the death of Thomas Cowper Recorder of Chester and Overleigh Hall thereupon passed to the Cholmondeleys of Vale Royal representatives of the family in the female line. In the beginning of the present century the old hall of Overleigh was occupied as a school under the able presidency of Mr Smedley. Thither wont William Henry Massie in or about 1812 to improve an education which had been well commenced under the paternal roof. Ever dotingly fond of history and of looal history in particular we can imagine how his young yet watchful eye dwelt on the wainscotted rooms the ornamented ceilings and generally characteristic interior of Overleigh Hall the more so when some romantic tale some spirited incident in the history of the Cowper family was related in his hearing by his well informed tutor. He used often to say that the new scenes he had visited the strange places he had explored and the tales he had heard in his earliest youth had made a deeper impression and were more easily remembered than were the far more striking and circumstantial events of his later years. Hence it was that our Society was so often indebted to his well stored memory for the clearing up of doubts and the recollection of occurrences which others his local contemporaries had long since forgotten."
The Chester approach road

Overleigh Hall was purchased in 1821 with an estate of 135 acres (about half a square kilometer - somewhat less than the area enclosed by the City Walls) by Robert, 2nd Earl Grosvenor. The hall was demolished in 1830 to make way for a new entrance to the Eaton estate and landscaping of the surrounding parklands. For comparison the Eaton Hall estate covers almost 11,000 acres.

The Enclosure Acts were a series of Acts of Parliament that empowered enclosure of open fields and common land in England and Wales, creating legal property rights to land that was previously held in common (such as Hough Green). Between 1604 and 1914, over 5,200 individual enclosure acts were passed, covering 6.8 million acres. Often the reasons given for enclosure were "agricultural improvement", but in effect the acts were used as a "land grab".

The 1805 parliamentary enclosure of lands in the St Mary on the Hill parish, Chester, came at the initiative of Robert, second Earl Grosvenor. The Grosvenors were immensely affluent mainly through their property in London, newly graduated to the peerage, and politically supreme at Chester. The Grosvenors were intent on enhancing their position as rentiers and furnishing themselves with a country seat and surrounding parkland (by John Webb) worthy of their enhanced status. The essential purpose of the St. Mary's enclosure was to create an impressive 'Chester approach' to an enlarged Eaton Hall. The co-operation of the Crown, together apparently with that of Mrs. Cowper of Overleigh made the enclosure possible.

Earl Grosvenor gave blatant expression to his territorial ascendancy by appointing his own land steward as a commissioner in defiance of the Commons' standing orders of 1801. His influence reached deep into the municipality and constituency of Chester and into the House of Commons itself where, as only the most obvious symptom of Grosvenor power, his first cousins Thomas and Drax both represented the city at Eaton's gates. The involvement of the ubiquitous Richards - town clerk, Grosvenor solicitor, latterly Grosvenor political agent - as clerk and treasurer to the enclosure commissioners provided yet another channel of Grosvenor influence.

Henry VII's Bed

Henry VII's bed (worth up to £20m) was discovered in Chester in 2010. It was dumped in a Chester hotel car park by builders converting the Redland House Hotel in Hough Green for collection by auctioneers. According to one theory the northern progress of the bed can be traced back to 1495, when Henry VII went to Lathom in Lancashire to see the Stanley family, who had helped him to victory over Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 (see: Stanley Palace) - and took his bed with him. Richard was also found in a car-park.

Collector Ian Coulson, of Northamptonshire, bought the "paradise state bed" at auction for £2,200 after spotting it online. Experts now believe it may be worth millions. The headboard depicts Adam and Eve in likenesses of the King and Queen, surrounded by the fruits of paradise which would symbolise fertility and the couple’s hope for an heir, giving rise to its name, The Paradise State Bed.

Curiously, the site where it was found is very, very close to Overleigh, and in May 1611 Matthew Ellis (bodyguard to Henry VII's son, Henry VIII) of Overleigh actually purchased a "Dwelling called Paradise in Handbridge lately held by John, s. and h. of Thomas Lymall, and wife Katherine." Handbridge is next to Hough Green. Thomas Lymall is possibly Thomas Lyneall, alderman (major of Chester in 1591), who died in October 1603.

12 Bridge Street

Number #12 Bridge Street: one of the most impressive buildings on the rows, formerly known as: Nos.2 AND 4 Cowper House BRIDGE STREET ROW (also formerly familiar to many as "Bookland"). The property was improved by Thomas Cowper a Royalist, and Mayor of Chester 1641-2, possibly after severe damage in the Civil War. A sandstone fireplace above the diagonal beams in the Row walk is inscribed TC (Thomas Cowper) 1661 to each side of a blank shield, and has a substantial projecting, moulded mantel.

"Ancient Crypt c.1230." by J. Romney c.1855. This is the crypt at Number 12.

The property extends over 4 storeys including a medieval vaulted undercroft and Row level. A flight of 11 repaired stone steps north of the modern shopfront lead to the Row walk. On the ground floor the front undercroft, its present floor two steps below street level, is lined, however, six steps lead down through a mid 19thC Gothic Revival stone screen with archway on colonnettes and flanking windows in 13thC style, within a broad recessed arched panel, to a spectacular 6-bay quadripartite rib-vaulted rear undercroft. The undercroft was re-discovered in 1839 and is now thought to date from 1350-75, possibly even a little earlier. The undercroft has squared sandstone rubble walling, truncated-cone-shaped rib-corbels, deeply chamfered ribs and a 3-light window at the west end, formerly with trefoil heads but now heightened and with round heads. The undercroft is unique in that the ground at the rear is such that it can have a window so placed.

A trefoil archway in the fifth bay leads to a stone stair within the stone party wall with No.14, rising backward, and displaying the underside of an upper stair apparently serving Number 14 (which is actually not the case!). The rear undercroft was found and excavated in 1839, when the floor level may have been lower approx 0.6m. The front undercroft is 16m long, the rear undercroft 13m. The stall-board is again quite deep, approx 3m from front to back. There is carved fascia above Row opening, above that a seven-light mullioned and transomed leaded window c1870 stretching across most of the frontage. The strap-work carved on the jetty bressumer to the fourth storey is again inscribed TC (for Thomas Cowper) 1664 - which presumably refers to the date of repairs after the siege. Hughes writes of the undercroft as follows:

Cowper House 2014
  • "Previous to 1839, no special archaeological interest attached to this locality; but in that year while excavating for a warehouse behind the shop of Messrs Powell and Edwards, cutlers, a discovery was made which at once set all the antiquaries of Chester "by the ears". The late Rev J Eaton Precentor of the Cathedral, an architectural authority in his day, made the following Report upon this Ancient Crypt as it is called for the use of the proprietors .. The ancient Crypt discovered by Messrs Powell and Edwards is of an oblong form running from east to west The following are its dimensions viz length forty two feet breadth fifteen feet three inches height from the surface of the floor to the intersection of the groinings of the roof fourteen feet This Crypt was partially lighted through the upper part of the west end in which there are three small windows divided by stone mullions and protected by iron bars The upper part of the groining on the centre window appears to have been cut away to admit of more light On examining the intersection of the groins marks were discovered from the lead on the stone work that a couple of lamps had been used for lighting The entrance to the east end is by a flight of steps cut out of the rock to the height of three feet On the south side is an Anglo Norman Gothic doorway which is attained by three or four semicircular steps and forms an outlet within its inner and outer wall by another flight of steps to the surface above the building In a niche on the south side of the window is a font in excellent preservation "

The Cowpers

An early photograph of Upper Bridge Street east. The fourth half-timbered building is Cowper House. Note the large windows: these are absent in earlier watercolours of the building by Louise Rayner, implying that the building was somewhat altered in Victorian times. Also, the side walls of the uppermost floor are of Ruabon brick. The discovery of vast quantities of high quality Etruria Marl clay in the Ruabon area in the 19th Century heralded the beginning of tile and terracotta production on a vast scale, but the characteristic "Ruabon Red" bricks would not have been available when Cowper House was built.

The arrival of Thomas Cowper in Chester (1498) coincided with the final decline of feudalism. This was partly since the military shifted from armies consisting of the nobility and their serfs to professional fighters thus reducing the nobility's claim on power, but also because the Black Death had reduced the nobility's hold over the lower classes by increasing the cost of labour. Under the Normans land held from the king by knight service brought with it the obligation of the tenant to serve his lord for forty days in the field. Apart from the church, the king owned all the land, although the situation as regards the Earls of Chester was a little more complicated until Henry III took the Earldom back into royal hands. The decline of feudalism in the Earldom of Chester is reflected in the fact that Arthur Tudor came closest of all among the Earls of Chester of his time to reaching his majority - there were no adult Earls between the accession of Henry V (1413) and Henry Stuart's elevation to the Earldom in 1610 (Henry then promptly died of typhoid in 1612). Arthur's brother Henry VIII was created Earl of Chester in 1504, but was never invested and none of Henry VIII's children became Earl. Notably, there was only a titular Earl of Chester for only 21 of the 81 years from 1480 until the Restoration in 1560.

The end of feudalism went hand in hand with an increase in the power of the mercantile class, especially in the cloth and related trades. After the treaty of Medina del Campo opened up trade with the Iberian peninsula in 1489 by reducing mutual tariffs, Spanish iron, and wine from Portugal, Spain, and Gascony became the basis for a dramatic expansion in Chester's overseas trade, which allowed other Mediterranean commodities to reach the city, and provided new markets for hides and cloth. Given the Spanish trade and the betrothal of Prince Arthur to a Spanish match, it is perhaps understandable that then mayor Goodman would wish to impress Arthur and this may also explain why he married off his own daughter to Thomas Cowper.

Eventually, after the Dissolution, the Civil War and the further passage of time much land would be held by families such as the Grosvenors quite independently of the monarch. The term "gentleman" came to mean someone who had the means (through ownership of what was generally farmland) to earn a living without the need for work other than perhaps a little administation. Others worked the land and paid rent. In addition, the term gentleman could also embrace some of the clergy, certain military men and some in professions such as law and medicine. The Cowpers never owned enough land to become gentlemen on that count.

Here is a list of the Cowpers:

  • Thomas Cowper = Isabel Goodman, daughter and heiress of Richard Goodman (mayor of Chester 1498);
    • Richard Cowper (died in the lifetime of his father);
    • Thomas Cowper = Anne Done, daughter of Ralph Done of Flaxyards, Tarporley;
    • William Cowper = Dorothy, daughter of Robert Brerewood (sheriff of Chester 1531);
      • Robert Cowper ( - 1544): died unmarried in Chester;
      • Thomas Cowper ( - 1547) = Catherine, daughter of John Aldersley;
        • John Cowper (Ironmonger): mayor of Chester 1561/62, having been sheriff in 1554/55 = Beatrice Calverley;
          • Thomas Cowper (Sheriff of Chester 1582) = Elanor (dau. of Sir Lawrence Smith Kt - mayor of Chester 1558-63-70 - he lived in Greyfriars. );
            • Thomas Cowper ( - 1620): merchant = Juliana, daughter of Matthew Ellis;
              • A daughter;
              • Thomas Cowper (1595 - 1671) mayor of Chester 1641 = Catherine dau of Thomas Thropp (mayor of Chester 1615);
                • Thomas Cowper (1624 - 1695) purchaser of Overleigh = Elizabeth Baskerville (1644-1718);
                  • Thomas Cowper born 1669 - died young)
                  • Thomas Cowper MP (1670-1718) = Martha Callis ( - 1706);
                    • Thomas Cowper (1694 - 95);
                    • Elizabeth ( - 1700);
                    • Martha (1703 - 1780);
                    • Thomas (1696 - 1736) = Esther Alleyne (1700 - 1766);
                      • Thomas Cowper (1723 - 1725);
                      • Esther ( - 1740);
                      • Arbella Cowper = John Hincks (1716-1772);
                  • Rev John Cowper (1671-1718) = Catherine Sherwin ( - 1727);
                    • Catherine (1699 - died young);
                    • John (1700 - died young);
                    • William Cowper M.D. (1701-1767) mayor of Chester 1745 = Elizabeth Lonsdale
                    • John (1702 - 1730)
                    • Thomas (1703 - 1709)
                    • Peter (1705 -1782)
                    • Richard (1707 - 1740)
                    • Thomas (1714 - 1784)
                    • Edmund (1708 - 1787) = Dorothy Gartside ( - 1753)
                      • Thomas Cowper (1742 - 1788) Recorder of Chester 1797 = Harriet Raikes ((1752-1811))
                      • John Cowper (1748) died young
                      • John Cowper (1750) died young
                      • Mary Cowper (1740 -1796)
                      • Elizabeth (1747) died young
                      • Dorothy (1746 - 1786) = Thomas Cholmondeley
                • John Cowper (1628 - 29)
                • Richard Cowper (1630 -)
                • John Cowper (1633-1676)
                • William Cowper (1636 - 1685)
                • Catherine = Arthur Walley (mayor of Chester 1660)
                • Alice (1626 - )
              • Matthew Cowper: wounded at Boughton 1644 later died of injuries;
          • Robert Cowper: "leave-looker" of Chester, died in office 1603;
          • John Cowper: died unmarried at Brasenose college Oxford;
    • John Cowper
      • Thomas Cowper (1517-1594, Bishop of Lincoln) = Amey;
        • Elizabeth
        • Mary

Historical Context

Arthur Tudor - Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester and Duke of Cornwall as the eldest son and heir apparent of Henry VII of England and his wife, Elizabeth of York—daughter of Edward IV—and his birth thus cemented the union between the House of Tudor and the House of York. He was their eldest child and was born months after their marriage. Arthur was viewed by contemporaries as the great hope of the newly established House of Tudor, as his birth symbolised the end of the Wars of the Roses, during which his great-uncle Richard III, the final Yorkist king, had died in battle.

The Cowpers might well be described as the perpetual bystanders of history. From the time of Bosworth Field to that of Waterloo, they were simply there, almost like the chorus in a Greek play, mostly swapping one Thomas Cowper for another as the "guest-stars" made their entrances and sometimes fatal exits. We find them in the shadows of the history books and their dead stacked deep beneath St Peter's and St Mary on the Hill in Chester.

By 1500 trade in Chester was already starting to stagnate after its days as a place from where Edward I could invade Wales. Silting of the River Dee was becoming a problem and ever since the 1480's the citizens of Chester were claiming that Chester had no merchant ship of its own and that the port was "wholly destroyed because no merchant ship had been able to approach within 12 miles for 60 years" (within two years, the 60 years would become 200 years). While there would be revivals in trade, only merchants with a sizeable turnover could carry the heavy costs which arose from carriage from anchorages down the estuary of the River Dee at Neston and from high customs duties.

Henry VII had risen to the throne of England with his victory over Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Henry's claim to the throne of England lacked almost all validity by heredity; his possession of the crown was primarily by right of conquest, and he faced a host of claimants still alive with arguably better legal claims. By contrast, their Most Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella were secure upon what was soon to be the united throne of Spain. They were looking for help against their hereditary enemy, France. Henry had a new son, the Spanish rulers a very young daughter; a marriage and alliance would help each. Henry would gain the acceptance of his position by a major foreign power, and the Spanish would obtain military help against France.

Thomas Cowper c 1500 - Page to Prince Arthur

Thomas Cowper was Page of Honour to Prince Arthur (19/20 September 1486 – 2 April 1502), Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester and Duke of Cornwall. As the eldest son and heir apparent of Henry VII of England, Arthur was viewed by contemporaries as the great hope of the newly established House of Tudor. His mother, Elizabeth of York, was the daughter of Edward IV, and his birth cemented the union between the House of Tudor and the House of York. Plans for Arthur's marriage began before his third birthday; he was installed as Prince of Wales two years later. At the age of eleven, he was formally betrothed to Catherine of Aragon (see: Leche House), a daughter of the powerful Catholic Monarchs in Spain, in an effort to forge an Anglo-Spanish alliance against France.

Compare this Louise Rayner painting with the photograph above, and see what is missing from the front of Cowper House - it does not have the large windows and seems not to be half-timbered.

While a page is a comparatively low-ranking servant, a Page of Honour is nowadays a mostly ceremonial position in the Royal Household of the Sovereign of the United Kingdom. It requires attendance on state occasions, but does not now involve the daily duties which were once attached to the office of page. It is usually a distinction granted to teenage sons of members of the nobility and gentry. Cowper attended the Prince to Chester in 1498 (the prince would have been aged about 12). The Midsummer Watch Parade was first held during the mayoralty of Richard Goodman (in 1498) - organised by the City Guilds. There is an obvious difficulty in reconciling the dates of the visit of Prince Arthur to Chester (4 August 1498 - 19 Sept 1498) with the midsummer festivities during Goodman's mayorality, but it does indicate the nexus of significant events in which the origins of the watch parade is nested: the completion of a part of the Pentice, good progress on building the Abbey, an up-swing of trade with Spain, and of course the visit of the Prince.

The popular belief that Arthur was sickly during his lifetime stems from a Victorian misunderstanding of a letter from 1502; on the contrary, there are no reports of Arthur being ill during his lifetime. Arthur grew up to be unusually tall for his age, and was considered handsome by the Spanish court: he had reddish hair, small eyes, a high-bridged nose and resembled his brother Henry. We do not know what the difference in age was between Arthur and Thomas Cowper, but it may well be that Thomas was older by enough years that he could legally (at 14 or older) marry Mayor Goodman's daughter (perhaps another symbolic act).

In March 1502, Arthur and Catherine were afflicted by an unknown illness, "a malign vapour which proceeded from the air." While Catherine recovered, Arthur died on 2 April 1502 at Ludlow, six months short of his sixteenth birthday. If not for this death his younger brother (Henry VIII - ruled April 22, 1509–January 28, 1547) might well have been a foot-note in history.

In 1506 Henry VII granted the "Great Charter" to Chester (see: Charters). This made the City of Chester (apart from Chester Castle) a county separate from the rest of Cheshire. The Mayor and Sheriffs were invested with authority to hold a Court in the Common Hall of the City for the trial of offences and claims of all kinds (except for treason) arising within the City, its suburbs, and hamlets, and Port-mote and Crown-mote courts were to be held before the Mayor. The forfeited goods of felons were to be the property of the citizens, who were also freed from the payment of all customs except those on wine and iron. The management and regulation of the Dee fisheries was vested in the Mayor and Sheriffs, as well as the control of the city markets. The twenty-four Aldermen were automatically justices of the peace by virtue of their office. As might be expected, putting the legal process into the hands of a largely self-electing body representing the mercantile community was a recipie for the development of vested interest.

Robert (died 1544) and Thomas (died 1547) Cowper 1540's - Soldiers in Scotland

By marrying the mayor's daughter the first of the Chester Cowper's ensured a strong link to the mercantile and land-owning classes of Chester. However, society had not yet developed to the point where they could avoid getting tangled-up in war for no apparent benefit to themselves. In 1544 the Cowpers accompanied Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, with an English army, to capture Leith and Edinburgh from the Kingdom of Scotland. Both Cowpers died shortly after their return from Scotland, although there is nothing to say whether this was due to campaign privations or injury. The attack on Scotland was remarkable because it opened with a naval attack and the burning of Edinburgh. The pay books and the muster-lists from the campaign survive. A book of 'conduct money' notes where the captains came from, e.g., Hugh Chomley from Cholmondeley, Cheshire with 100 men, paid for travelling 130 miles to Edinburgh and back. Other "Cheshire names" in the lists include William Brereton. Robert and Thomas were among the seven Cheshire men made esquires and granted silver spurs by Seymour at Leith, May 11th, 1344. We know little of the up-bringing of Thomas's only son John, but this could not have been in ordinary circumstances as his mother (Catherine daughter of John Aldersley) died within two years of her marriage.

Edward Seynour, with whom two Cowper brothers took part in war with Scotland. Seymour was the brother of Jane Seymour (wife to Hanry VIII) and Catherine Cromwell nee Seymour (of which more below). He was also brother to Thomas Seymour anoher schemer. Seymour survived many an intrigue before finally being executed for felony in January 1552 after scheming to overthrow Dudley's regime.

The Scottish expedition was part of the "Rough Wooing" (December 1543 – March 1551) a war between Scotland and England, although it was not known as such at the time (the phrase dates from Sir Walter Scott c. 1886). Following its break with Rome, England decided to attack Scotland, partly to destroy the Auld Alliance, and prevent Scotland being used as a springboard for future invasion by France, partly to weaken Scotland, and partly to force Scotland to agree to a marriage between its child queen Mary and the English heir apparent Edward, son of King Henry VIII and later Edward VI. It was not until England and France made peace in 1549, followed by the Treaty of Norham in June 1551 between England and Scotland, that hostilities finally ceased.

This house in Park Street was actually built as recently as 1881, but connected with Edward VI (died 1553) and Thomas Seymour via the inscription which is prrobably taken from a February 1549 coin of Edward VI. In March 1549 came the execution of Thomas Seymour (Jane Seymour's brother), a guardian of Edward VI whose crime was providing Edward with "pocket money" stolen from the Bristol mint while bad-mouthing his brother who held the official purse-strings. Maybe the decision to mark the coins thus and Seymour's fate are not unrelated.

As will be seen below there is a further interesting connection between the Seymours and the Cowpers. Edward Seymour was born c. 1500, the son of Sir John Seymour (1474–1536) by his wife Margery Wentworth. In 1514, aged about 14, he received an appointment in the household of Mary Tudor, Queen of France. When Seymour's sister, Jane Seymour, married King Henry VIII in 1536, he was created Viscount Beauchamp on 5 June 1536, and Earl of Hertford on 15 October 1537. He became Warden of the Scottish Marches and continued in royal favour after his sister's death on 24 October 1537.

The abbeys of England, Wales and Ireland had been among the greatest landowners and the largest institutions in the kingdoms. In dramatic contrast to his father, Henry VIII spent heavily, in terms of military operations in Britain and in France, and in building a great network of palaces. How to pay for it remained a serious issue. The growing number of departments meant many new salaried bureaucrats. There were further financial and administrative difficulties in 1540–58, aggravated by war, debasement, corruption and inefficiency. The king had an annual income of about £100,000, but he needed much more in order to suppress rebellions and finance his foreign adventures. In 1533, for example, military expenditures on the northern border cost £25,000, while the 1534 rebellion in Ireland cost £38,000. Suppressing the Pilgrimage of Grace cost £50,000, and the king's new palaces were expensive. The Church had an annual revenue of about £300,000. Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries between 1536 and 1541 and sold off their assets (i.e. assets were not held by the king in a feudal manner). It is unlikely that the monastic system could have been broken simply by royal action had there not been the overwhelming bait of enhanced status for "gentry" large and small (who would gain actual ownership rather than hold the property "in fief"), and the convictions of the small but determined Protestant faction.

Seymour became Lord Protector of England from 1547 until 1549 during the minority of his nephew, King Edward VI (1547–1553). The Lord Chamberlain Henry FitzAlan, 19th Earl of Arundel was by the terms of Henry's will designated one of the council of 12 assistant executors. Under the new King's uncle, Lord Protector Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, Arundel's influence diminished, and he soon became an advocate of Somerset's removal. Somerset was deposed and sent to the Tower of London in October 1549, with Arundel, Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, and John Dudley, Earl of Warwick (later Duke of Northumberland) among the leaders of the new governing group. Somerset would be released, but later re-arrested and executed. Edward VI summarised the charges against Somerset in his disry:

  • "ambition, vainglory, entering into rash wars in mine youth, negligent looking on Newhaven, enriching himself of my treasure, following his own opinion, and doing all by his own authority, etc."

Edward also noted his uncle's death in his Chronicle:

  • "the duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o'clock in the morning".
Edward VI coin - just because it is written in latin does not mean its Roman!

Chester has an interesting connection with Edward VI, a 1881 house (by W. H. Kelly) near the city walls bears the legend, "The Fear of the Lord is a Fountain of Life". This is sometimes said to be the inscription on an "ancient" (some say Roman) coin found on the site, - it is also found in Proverbs [14:27] (so unlikely to be on a Roman coin). However almost the same words: "TIMOR . DOMINE . FONS . VITAE" were struck onto a (now incredibly rare) issue of silver shillings of Edward VI in 1549, as well as on the gold half-sovereign of the same year (and some groats amd other coins). It was feared that ambitious men close to Edward might try to grab his power and use it for their own ends. Therefore the shillings of his reign were inscribed with this legend. The most likely explanation is therefore that the coin found was from Edward VI - and that just because something is written in latin, that does not mean that what it is written on is a Roman relic!

King Edward's health was seriously declining, and on 21 June 1553 Arundel was among those who signed Edward's letters patent which conferred the succession on Lady Jane Grey. After the King's death, and after Northumberland had left London, however, together with the Earl of Pembroke, he worked for the proclamation of Mary I on 19 July 1553.

Mary had always rejected the break with Rome instituted by her father and the establishment of Protestantism by her brother's regents. Philip persuaded Parliament to repeal Henry's religious laws, thus returning the English church to Roman jurisdiction. Reaching an agreement took many months and Mary and Pope Julius III had to make a major concession: the monastery lands confiscated under Henry (such as Overleigh) were not returned to the church but remained in the hands of their influential new owners - another nail in the coffin of the feudal era. By the end of 1554, the pope had approved the deal, and the Heresy Acts were revived allowing the persecution of protestants and this would have an impact on the Cowpers.

Thomas Cowper (Bishop of Lincoln)

This Thomas Cowper (1517-1594) became bishop of Lincoln (Feb 4, 1570), of Winchester (March 12, 1583) and died April 23rd 1594. Cooper was born in Oxford, England, where he was educated at Magdalen College. He became Master of Magdalen College School and afterwards practised as a physician in Oxford. Cooper's literary career began in 1548, when he compiled, or rather edited, Bibliotheca Eliotae, a Latin dictionary by Sir Thomas Elyot. In 1549 he published a continuation of Thomas Lanquet's Chronicle of the World. This work, known as Cooper's Chronicle, covers the period from AD 17 to the time of its writing. Following Robert Crowley's 1559 altered and updated version of the Chronicle which Cooper denounced, he issued an expanded and updated version in 1560 and 1565 that removed or altered most but not all of Crowley's changes and additions. In 1565 appeared the first edition of his greatest work, Thesaurus Linguae Romanae et Britannicae, and this was followed by three other editions. William Shakespeare is believed to have used Cooper's Thesaurus in the creation of his many poems and plays.

Leche House has carvings associated with James I and Catherine of Aragon, but when these were done presents an interesting problem, especially when we take that "spyhole" into account.

John Aubrey in "Brief lives", gave the following glimpse into the creation of the dictionary:

  • Dr. Edward Davenant told me that this learned man had a shrew to his wife, who was irreconcileably angrie with him for sitting-up late at night so, compileing his Dictionarie, (Thesaurus linguae Romanae et Britannicae, Londini, 1584; dedicated to Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, and Chancellor of Oxford). When he had halfe-donne it, she had the opportunity to gett into his studie, tooke all his paines out in her lap, and threw it into the fire, and burnt it. Well, for all that, that good man had so great a zeale for the advancement of learning, that he began it again, and went through with it to that perfection that he hath left it to us, a most usefull worke.

Cowper's biography is slightly problematic, the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900 states:

  • COOPER or COUPER, THOMAS (1517?–1594), bishop of Winchester, was born in Oxford, the son of a very poor tailor in Cat Street, and educated as one of the choristers in Magdalen College school. He made so much progress that he was elected probationer of the college in 1539, and after graduating became a fellow and master of the school in which he had been educated. Among his eminent pupils was William Camden. It had been Cooper's intention to take orders, but having adopted protestant views he found himself checked by the accession of Queen Mary; he therefore changed his purpose, took a degree in physic, and began to practise in Oxford. On the death of Queen Mary he recurred to his original purpose and was ordained, speedily gaining the character of a zealous preacher. And now he engaged in by far his greatest literary work, ‘Thesaurus Linguæ Romanæ et Britannicæ … op. et ind. T. Cooperi Magdalenensis. Accessit Dictionarium Historicum et Poeticum,’ Lond. 1565. It was reprinted in 1573, 1578, and 1584. This book, commonly known as ‘Cooper's Dictionary,’ delighted Queen Elizabeth so much that she expressed her determination to promote the author as far as lay in her power. His life, however, was anything but happy. He had married unhappily, his wife was utterly profligate. He condoned her unfaithfulness again and again, refusing to be divorced when the heads of the university offered to arrange it for him, and declaring that he would not charge his conscience with so great a scandal.

This seems very disconnected from the rest of the wealthy and well-connected Cowpers in Chester, especially given that his father John is described as a "very poor tailor" whereas Ormerod has his father of St Mary Magdelen Hall. The current chorister's records from Magdelen agree that in 1549 the school had a master called Thomas Cooper - the son of a poor tailor in Oxford who:

  • entered the school as a chorister in 1531. By 1539 he had risen to be a fellow but resigned in 1546. He wrote several learned books on becoming master of Magdalen School. He also studied and practised medicine. After his resigning of the mastership in 1567, he became successively dean of Christ Church, dean of Gloucester, bishop of Lincoln and bishop of Winchester, the latter in 1584.

Note that the spelling used in most sources for the Bishop is "Cooper" not "Cowper" - is it possible that an error has crept into Ormerod and John Cooper was not a Cowper at all? A further scrap of knowledge which may be of relevance is that the Cowpers, like many families from Cheshire/Chester, appear to favour sending their sons to Brasenose at Oxford rather than elsewhere.

John Cowper (sheriff 1555, mayor 1561)/Thomas Cowper (Sheriff of Chester 1582) - Rescue of a heretic

By 1555 the Cowpers were apparently quite prosperous and continuing to marry into the relatively small mercantile class of Chester. John Cooper became mayor in 1561 after a somewhat tumultuous past which could have brought the story of the Cowpers of Chester to a premature end.

George Marsh is executed by burning at Boughton. John Cowper apparently puts in a rescue attempt.

George Marsh was a Protestant martyr born in the parish of Deane near Bolton in 1515. He died in Boughton, Chester, on 24 April 1555 as a result of the Marian Persecutions carried out against Protestant Reformers and other dissenters during the reign of Mary I of England. His death is recorded in Foxe's Book of Martyrs, and all the grim details can be found on the St Giles Cemetery page. George Marsh has two memorials in Chester, one is in St Johns Church and the other is a granite obelisk erected in 1888 by the side of a road in Boughton.

The following curious tale is told in Ormerod: on the appointed day, April 24th 1555, said to be a windy day, he was taken in chains to the Gallows Hill by the Sheriffs, just outside the centre of Chester. It is said that on the way, he read his bible and on reaching the stake he turned to the crowd that had gathered only to be told to stop his sermonising. A pardon was offered to him by the Vice-Chamberlin, but only would it be granted if he recanted his Protestant faith – of course, he didn’t. At this juncture, up steps sheriff Cowper of Overleigh, who attempted to rescue George. What exactly happened, is unclear, but the attempt was thwarted and Cowper fled – from Chester over the River Dee bridge at Farndon, to Holt in Wales and "freedom". As a result, his family were supposedly ruined, losing their lands - and there he hid until Bloody Queen Mary died (in 1558). John Cowper, although previously deprived of his lands was mayor of Chester again in 1561 (as Bloody Mary was dead by then, and Elizabeth was queen). Under Elizabeth John got some of his assets back, but not all of them.

These were still times of religious conflict. In 1559: Cuthbert Scott (Bishop of Chester) was one of the four Catholic bishops chosen to defend Catholic doctrine at the conference at Westminster, and immediately after this he was sent as a prisoner to the Tower of London and then in the Fleet Prison 1559-1563. In 1561, the year of John Cowper's mayorality, William Downham became the new Bishop of Chester. Downham was considered rather ineffectual against the Roman Catholics, "preferring not to offend the gentry".

Ormerod records that John married Beatrice Calverley, daughter (by his second wife) of Sir William Calverley (1509-1572). Calverley was knighted by Edward VI, and in 1549/50, was Sheriff of York. Sir William apparently died (intestate) at Chester October 27, 1570. However, Burke's Peerage has Beatrice marry a Robert Hyde. Sir William Calverley's eldest son (and hence John Cowper's brother in law) was, according to some sources, Walter Calverley a supposed (and notable) murderer who was pressed to death in York Castle on 5 August 1605. Given the conflict between Ormerod and Burke there is clearly scope for further clarification.

Robert Cowper: "leave-looker" of Chester, died in office 1603

Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor. After the short reigns of her half-siblings, her 44 years on the throne provided welcome stability for the kingdom.

A "leave-looker" was an official (usually not a Corporation member) given the task of ensuring that after the fairs, merchants from outside of Chester had actually left. As reported (somewhat inaccurately) in Chambers Book of Days:

  • Chester was endowed by Hugo with two yearly fairs, at Midsummer and Michaelmas, on which occasions criminals had free shelter in it for a month, as indicated by a glove hung out at St. Peter's Church,—for gloves were a manufacture at Chester. It was on these occasions that the celebrated Chester mysteries, or scriptural plays, were performed.

After the fair was over, the hand (see Gloverstone) was taken down and the "Leavelookers" would ensure that all unauthorised traders were evicted from the city so that the Guilds and Freemen could get back to their normal monopoly. As Frank Simpson wrote:

  • "The Gildsmen were very keen on protecting their trade, and eager to see the last of these strange traders. The day following the close of the fair the aldermen and stewards of each of the twenty-five city companies were on the war-path arresting, or giving in charge of the beadle or constable any person, or foreigner, as he was called, who attempted to sell or expose his wares. The culprit was then taken before the mayor of the city, who saw that justice was done—especially if the offender had been transgressing against the brethren of the particular company to which the mayor him­self belonged."

However, despite being the dominant port in north-west England, Chester, or rather its Corporation, was not wealthy. Rents from city lands, freemen admissions, and fees for grazing cattle on the Roodee accounted for under £100 p.a.15 Overall income ranged from between £283 in 1607-8 to just £130 in 1616-17.16 Chester’s poverty meant that corporation members were often surcharged to meet extraordinary expenses. In fact while being a member of the Corporation had its advantages, it could at times be a signicant financial burden.

Sir William Brereton before the Mayor's court. From the carvings at the Town Hall.

1603 saw the death of Elizabeth I (7 September 1533 – 24 March 1603) and the accession to the English throne of James I (already James IV of Scotland). Elizabeth never visited Chester, but James did in 1616. The Thomas Cowper who was buried in 1620 may well have joined the celebratory feast as he may well have been an alderman (his father had been sheriff and his son was mayor). He was also well-connected, having married the daughter of Matthew Ellis of Overleigh. As discussed on the page relating to Leche House there is a possibility that the Corporation of Chester tried to drop hints about another "Spanish Match" - this would have been good for trade in Chester. Unfortunately negotiations with Spain turned into a farce and by 1625 England was again at war with Spain leading to a naval fiasco at Cadiz. Charles would blunder on for a few more years believing he had no need to compromise or even to explain his actions. He thought he was answerable only to God. "Princes are not bound to give account of their actions," he wrote, "but to God alone". The result was Civil War and the Cowpers would find themselves deeply involved.

Thomas Cowper (d. 1671) - A royalist mayor

Frank Simpson writes as follows about this member of the Cowpers:

  • "He was appren­ticed to William Spark, ironmonger, of this city. A copy of his apprenticeship certificate is entered, among many others, at the end of the earliest book now existing of the City Company of the “Mercers, Grocers, Ironmongers, and Apothecaries.” He was admited into the Company 13 July, 1618, when he was twenty-two years of age. His name is not entered on the rolls of the city freemen published by the Lancashire and Cheshire Record Society, but had he not first been a freeman of the city, he could not have been admitted into the company. He was admitted into the company by servitude to William Spark, to whom he was apprenticed for seven years. He was junior steward of the company in 1622, and senior steward the year follow­ing. He was appointed alderman of the company in 1657 and retained that position for a considerable number of years. In May, 1658, he was fined one shilling for “not coming to the meeting in gown.” This is the Thomas Cowper whose initials are seen on the timbered front of the old building, and the mantelpiece within. He married Catherine, the daughter of Thomas Thropp, Mayor of Chester in 1615, at St. Michael’s, July 28, 1621"

Cowper served as the corporation’s mayor in 1641–2, remaining loyal to Charles I in the first Civil War. During his Mayorality a drum was beaten at the High Cross for the Parliament at the instigation of Sir William Brereton (the grenade-throwing MP). According to Frank Simpson, Cowper ordered the constables to arrest the leaders of this "treasonable" gathering, but they failed to do so. At this point Cowper stepped-in and seized one of the leaders by the collar, delivering him to the civil officers. He also wrested a broadsword from another of the party, which which he cut the drum to pieces.

Thomas Hughes in the Journal of the Architectural, Archaeological, and Historic Society, Volume 2 (see Hughes: JCAS Vol 2 pp 123-125) is recorded as reporting a follows:

Thomas Cowper, Mayor of Chester, now in the Grosvenor Museum. The interesting details in this portrait include the coat of arms, the Charles I medallion and the "death's head" ring. The painting is said to be from 1657 when Oliver Cromwell was still in charge!
  • Mr T HUGHES volunteered some remarks on the Cowper Family of Overleigh and especially on those members of it connected with the siege of Chester He exhibited an old portrait in oil colour of Alderman Thomas Cowper Mayor of Chester in 1641 which had been recently presented by Mr J Edisbury of Bersham near Wrexham to the Water Tower Museum Chester. Mr Cowper was Mayor of this city the very year in which a drum was beaten for the Parliament at the instigation of Sir William Brereton and Mr Hughes quoted the following passage from Hemingway's History of Chester to show how boldly and bravely his Worship put down the first symptom of rebellion: Information of this treason having been given to the Mayor Mr Thomas Cowper this intrepid magistrate immediately directed some constables to apprehend the leaders of the tumult but the latter forcibly resisted and compelled the constables to retire upon which the Mayor stepped forward in person to expostulate with them on their conduct and upon being disrespectfully treated he boldly advanced up to one of the Parliamentarians and seizing him by the collar delivered him to the civil officers at the same time wresting a broad sword from another of the party with which he instantly cut the drum to pieces securing the drummer and several others This firm and manly demeanour on the part of the Mayor effectually put an end to the tumult and finally repressed it During this affray the common bell was rung the citizens lent their cheerful aid to the chief magistrate and when they had seen him in a state of personal security the city was restored to peace Sir William Brereton a gentleman of competent fortune in the county and knight for the shire and who was a strong partizan for the Parliament was brought before the magistrates at the Pentice to answer for the part he had taken in the above disturbance though he owed his rescue from the popular fury to the personal interference of the Mayor he was however discharged.
Charles at the Phoenix Tower - although it is said that Charles watched the battle of Rowton Moor from here, it cannot actually be seen from the tower. As for the railings: the earliest railings were wrought iron, and the first known examples followed the development of blast furnaces in the 15th century. There does appear to be some smoke on the horizon, but this is in the directtion of Hoole where a later stage of the battle was fought.

Hughes then discusses a portrait of the mayor and a copy of it which has been made for the benefit of the Archaeology society. Hughes continues:

  • As before stated the original picture is preserved in the Water Tower and is one of the most interesting relics in that curious Museum. The Committee of the Chester Mechanics Institution who are the custodians of the Tower collection having obligingly permitted a copy of it to be made the Members of the Society are here presented with an authentic portrait of a man whom King Charles in his misfortunes delighted to honour and of whom the city itself has every reason to feel proud. It is deserving of remark here that this portrait and that of Roger Wilbraham at page 61 are the maiden productions of a young man named James Webster a native of Chester and at present an apprentice to Messrs Evans and Gresty of Eastgate Row. It was this gentleman who in company with Sir Francis Gamull and Charles Walley the then Mayor stood side by side with King Charles on the leads of the Phoenix Tower and saw the Royalists defeated on Rowton Moor. Mr Cowper was one of the six chief citizens who refused to sign the Articles of Surrender when Chester capitulated to the Parliament in 1646. For his stedfast loyalty his ill fated Sovereign made him a special grant of a new coat of arms in lieu of the coat he had inherited from his ancestors which new arms with the expressive motto Fide et fortitudine appear on the proper left of the picture. The loyal Alderman wears his official gown carries an embroidered cap or bag and bears upon his breast the Carolus medal on which is a faithful profile of his unfortunate prince. On the third finger of his left hand is a ring bearing the expressive emblem of a death's head the favourite Cavalier memorial of the martyr King. An inscription to the right of the painting shews that he was 61 years of age when the portrait was taken in 1657 and that he was consequently born in 1596.

Frank Simpson (writing about 1926) also casts some doubt as to whether the portrait of Cowper is the original or not see: JCAS Vol 27(1), pp. 5-23.:

  • "In a picture which is from an original painting executed in 1657, and now hung in the mayor’s parlour, Alderman Cowper bears on his breast the Carolus medallion. He was sixty-one years of age when this portrait was painted."

As noted in the caption above, in 1657 Oliver Cromwell was still alive: Cromwell died 3 September 1658 having been struck by a sudden bout of malarial fever, followed directly by illness symptomatic of a urinary or kidney complaint. Cromwell appears to have not been in poor health before his final illness - the Venetian ambassador wrote regular dispatches to the Doge of Venice in which he included details of Cromwell's final illness, and he was "suspicious" of the rapidity of his death (McMains, H.F. (2015), The Death of Oliver Cromwell, University Press of Kentucky). Despite the Parliamentarians still being in established power, Cowper (as noted by Hughes) is wearing a King Charles memorial medal and a symbolic "death's head" ring.

As noted by Hughes, Cowper was also one of the party which, together with Charles I stood on the Phoenix Tower to see the Royal troops defeated in the Civil War battle of Rowton Moor (Sept 1645). On the day after the battle Cowper accompanied the King (together with Sir Francis Gamul, Captain Thropp and 500 horse to Denbigh Castle. Cowper, Gamul and Thropp stayed with the King at Denbigh for two days and then returned to Chester. The arms granted by the King bear a resemblance to those of Richard of Avranches and his father Hugh of Avranches as well as to that in Scrope v. Grosvenor. Unfortunately Charles was to lose both the Civil War and eventually his head. After the surrender of Chester Thomas Cowper would be deprived of his office together with members of many of the families (Walley, Holme, Gamull & Thropp) with which the Cowpers inter-married.

  • Be it therefore Ordered and Ordained, by the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, That the said Charles Walley Mayor, Nicholas Juce, Randall Holme the Younger, Thomas Cooper, Thomas Thropp, Sir Thomas Smith, Francis Gamull, and Robert Brerewood Recorder, Richard Dutton and Robert Sproston Aldermen and Justices of the Peace James Earl of Darby, John Earl Rivers, Richard Broster and Thomas Savadge Aldermen, Humphry Phillipps, Edward Hulton, Thomas Weston, Richard Wright, Humphry Lloyd, Richard Taylor, and Arthur Walley, Sheriffs, Peers, and Common Councilmen, of the said City, shall be removed and discharged,...

Thomas Cowper (d. 1695) - Bought Overleigh

Purchased the balance of the interest in Overleigh in 1660, having obtained a part by inheritance. He had served as an alderman of the borough under Charles II. He left Overleigh to his second son, John (rather than Thomas - see below), through whom it descended via Edmund to Dorothy. As noted above Matthew Ellis (d. 1574), a member of Henry VIII's bodyguard, bought Overleigh in 1545 from the Crown's grantees after the Dissolution. The original house and chapel had been destroyed during the Civil War and so the purchase probably only consisted of the land. The plot was not large enough to live off the income. A new house was built of brick: conveniently there were brick-fields nearby, between the Flintshire Road and the River Dee at Hough Green. In 1670 the Assembly ordered that no bricks were to be made there without written permission and that those permitted should pay 6d. per thousand bricks made and level the ground afterwards. Brick making continued on the green until the 1840s but was evidently intermittent, presumably subject to fluctuations in the building trade locally.

Thomas Cowper (1670-1718) - MP for Chester (briefly)

Having been admitted to the freedom of Chester in 1696, Cowper was returned as MP for the borough in January 1698, but made little impact upon the records of the Commons, though in February 1698 he assisted Peter Shakerley in attempts to expedite payment of arrears due to Chester for the quartering of invalids in the borough. Grosvenor’s supporters dominated the common council election of June 1697, and in October the same year annual popular election of the common council was replaced by co-option to the assembly for life. January 1698 saw the Tory Thomas Cowper chosen unopposed to replace Roger Whitley. On 19 May 1698 Cowper was granted an indefinite leave of absence, thereby marking the end of his Commons career, since at the 1698 election he stood aside to allow the election of Shakerley. The newly established Tory domination of Chester was confirmed in the general election later the same year when Grosvenor and Shakerley were returned in opposition to Francis Gell.

Cowper died on 13 Aug. 1718 (aged a comparatively young 48) and was buried five days later at St Peter’s, Chester, with Shakerley and Sir Richard Grosvenor, 4th Bt serving as two of the coffin bearers. His short term in parliament, leave of absence, short life and the fact that his father saw fit to leave Overleigh to his brother may suggest some infirmity, although there is no concrete evidence for such.

Rev. John Cowper (1672-1718) - Vicar of Middlewich

Brother to Thomas Cowper born 1670. Son of Thomas, of Overlegh, Chester; matriculated from Brasenose College on 13th Jan 1888/9, aged 16; B.A. 19th Jan 1691/2, Fellow 1693/4, chaplain to William Stanley, 9th Earl of Derby, vicar of Middlewich, Cheshire 1702–18. The parish clergy and church were supported by tithes of ten percent levied on the personal as well as agricultural output of the parish. However while a rector directly received both the greater and lesser tithes of his parish a vicar received only the lesser tithes whereas the greater tithes pass to whoever holds the right to collect them (which could be bought and sold). The position of clergyman was a profession like any other. Any well-educated, well-spoken man of sound morals could enter it, and no particular religious vocation was called for. While Mary Crawford points out in Mansfield Park that the living attached to the post of vicar guaranteed a good income for work that was not onerous: there were some quite poor livings.

Rev Cowper's 46 years of life saw significant social changes from the reign of the restored Charles II, through that of James II to the "Glorious Revolution" and the installation of William and Mary. By the time Cowper died Queen Anne had come and gone and the Georgian period had started. In those years the Grosvenors became an established part of the politics of Chester and began to challenge the established order.

The Cowper family of Overleigh Hall encroached steadily on the south-east corner of the commons at Hough Green. In 1700 the Revd. John Cowper had permission to inclose sufficient land to make a walled carriage drive from the highway to Overleigh Hall, and more land between the house and the road was taken into the grounds by his son, Alderman William Cowper, in the 1760s.

This 1825 map of Chester shows how little development has occurred both within and outside of the City Walls. Click on the map to zoom in. Overleigh still exists in the bottom left corner, but will soon be demolished.

Dr William Cowper (1701-1767) - Antiquarian

COWPER, WILLIAM, M.D., antiquary, was the third son of the Rev. John Cowper, M.A., of Overlegh, Cheshire, by Catherine, daughter of William Sherwin, beadle of divinity and bailiff of the university of Oxford. He was baptised at St Peter's, Chester, on 29 July 1701, was admitted a student at Leyden on 27 Oct. 1719, and probably took his doctor's degree in that university. For many years he practised as a physician at Chester "with great reputation". In 1754 he was elected mayor of Chester. He died at Overlegh on 20 Oct. 1767, and was buried at St Peter's, Chester. He married in 1722 Elizabeth, daughter of John Lonsdale of High Ryley, Lancashire, but had no issue.

Cowper, who was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, published anonymously "A Summary of the Life of St. Werburgh, with an historical account of the images upon her shrine (now the episcopal throne) in the choir of Chester. Collected from antient chronicles and old writers, by a Citizen of Chester" Chester, 1749. This work is said to have been stolen from the manuscripts of the Rev John Stones (died 1738), rector of Coddington.

He was also the author of

  • "Il Penseroso: an evening's contemplation in St Johns churchyard, Chester. A rhapsody, written more than twenty years ago, and now (first) published, illustrated with notes historical and explanatory," London, 1767, addressed, under the name of M. Meanwell, to the Rev. John Allen, M.A., senior fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and rector of Tarporley, Cheshire.

In this work Cowper takes a view of some of the most remarkable places around Chester distinguished by memorable personages and events. He was an intelligent antiquary and preserved many valuable manuscript collections of Williamson and others which would otherwise have perished. He also left several works of his own compilation relative to the ancient history of Cheshire and Chester. These manuscripts, which are frequently quoted by Ormerod, the Cheshire historian, were preserved in the family archives at Overlegh. They consist of various small volumes, most of the contents of which are fairly transcribed into two larger ones, containing memoirs of the earls of the palatinate and the bishops and dignitaries of the cathedral, lists of city and county officers, and a local chronology of events. In his Broxton MSS. he takes Webb's ‘Itinerary’ as the text of each township, adds an account of it transcribed from Williamson's ‘Villare,’ and continues the descent of property to his own time.

He also wrote a small manuscript volume, entitled ‘Parentalia,’ containing memoirs of the Cowper family, and the account of the siege of Chester, which is printed in Ormerod's ‘Cheshire,’ i. 203 seq. This description of the siege had been printed twice previously at Chester (in 1790 and 1793), but with considerable alterations.

Thomas Cowper QC (c1741-1788) - Briefly Recorder

This Thomas was rather briefly Recorder of Chester. He was a QC and elected to the role on the retirement of Robert Townshend in 1787. He died in office in 1788 and is buried at Eccleston, with the following memorial inscription:

  • Sacred to the Memory of Thomas Cowper Esq of Overlegh, one of his Majesty's Counsel at Law and Recorder of the city of Chester, who died the 25th day of July 1788 in the 47th year of his age. He was the last surviving branch of a very ancient and respectable family.

Dorothy Cowper (1745-1786)

According to Ormerod, Dorothy Cowper (1745-1786) was the 2nd daughter and sole heir of Edmund Cowper, esq. of Overlegh, Chester. She was married 29 Oct 1764 at St. Jame's Westminster to Thomas Cholmondeley (d. 1779) of Vale Royal.

The property rights of women during most of the nineteenth century were dependent upon their marital status. Once women married, their property rights were governed by English common law, which required that the property women took into a marriage, or acquired subsequently, be legally absorbed by their husbands. Furthermore, married women could not make wills or dispose of any property without their husbands' consent. Marital separation, whether initiated by the husband or wife, usually left the women economically destitute, as the law offered them no rights to marital property.

Harriet Cowper (1752-1811) - End of the line

Also at Eccleston. Her monumental memorial reads:

  • sacred to the Memory of Harriet widow of Thomas Cowper of Overlegh Hall Esq. She died on the 3d of March 1811 aged 59.

Pigot records that in 1792:

  • "The coachman of Mrs Cowper of Overlegh, having taken the carriage with a pair of horses to wash down to the river, by tbe toll-house drove them out of their depth and, the tide flowing, the footman ahd horses were drowned, the coachman saving himself by holding fast to the carriage."

The "toll house" in question may be that on the Flinshire Road (then a turnpike, now Hough Green) which stood near to the location of Overleigh as marked on older maps. This was located close to the end of a narrow bur deep valley which the Lavaux Map shows as leading down to the River Dee. This valley still exists today and might have been the only way down to the river for a carriage an that place and time.

Arbella Cowper - The Sugar House

An Arbella Cowper (daughter of Thomas Cowper and Esther Alleyne) is known to have married a John Hincks (a Chester banker) in 1759. Arbella was the grand-daughter of Thomas Cowper (1670-1718). Hinks had a part share in a Sugar House in Cuppin Street. John Hincks signed his will on 19th March 1768 and died about 1st June 1772. Arbella attempted to continue with the business and invested significant money in it, but it appears to have gone bust in the 1780's. Her son was Thomas Cowper Hincks and her grandson fought (and was wounded) at Waterloo.

The "Cromwell" Portraits

Despite the potential historical significance of the portraits, and his familiarity with William Cowper, Ormerod hardly mentions them at all.

The potentially interesting part of this story involves the provenance of the "Cromwell" portraits at Overleigh. These would appear to be of some historical significance yet Ormerod (between 1816 and 1819) passes over them rather briefly.

The Cromwells

Thomas Cromwell was born around 1485, in Putney, Surrey, the son of Walter Cromwell, a blacksmith, fuller and cloth merchant, and owner of both a hostelry and a brewery. Thomas's mother, Katherine, was the aunt of Nicholas Glossop of Wirksworth in Derbyshire. She lived in Putney in the house of a local attorney, John Welbeck, at the time of her marriage to Walter Cromwell in 1474. Cromwell had two sisters: the elder, Katherine, married Morgan Williams, a Welsh lawyer; the younger, Elizabeth, married a farmer, William Wellyfed. Katherine and Morgan's son, Richard, was employed in his uncle's service, and changed his name to Cromwell. Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell was the great-grandson of Richard Williams (Cromwell), Thomas Cromwell's nephew; via son Henry, and grandson Robert.

  • Walter Cromwell (blacksmith) = Katherine
    • Thomas Cromwell - chief minister to Henry VIII (1532-40): decapitated.
      • Gregory Cromwell = Elizabeth Seymour (sister to Jane Seymour)
      • Anne Cromwell (died young)
      • Grace Cromwell (died young)
    • Katherine Cromwell = Morgan Williams
      • Richard Williams (Cromwell) = Frances Murfyn
        • Henry Williams (Cromwell)
          • Sir Oliver Cromwell (c. 1566–1655) = Elizabeth Bromley
            • Henry Cromwell
            • John Cromwell
            • Thomas Cromwell
            • William Cromwell
          • Robert Cromwell = Elizabeth Stewart
            • Anne Cromwell
            • Oliver Cromwell: Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653
          • Joan Cromwell
          • Mary Cromwell
          • Elizabeth Cromwell
        • Francis (Williams)
    • Elizabeth Cromwell = William Wellyfed

The Portraits

The painting (supposedly of Catherine Howard) from the Toledo Museum of Art - believed to be the original. There is little doubt that this is a work by Hans Holbein the Younger, and the museum appears to support the view that this is actually Elizabeth Cromwell (nee Seymour).

Victorian scholar Sir Lionel Cust (director of the National Portrait Gallery from 1895 to 1909) identified a portrait (below left) supposedly by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) as a likeness of Catherine Howard - 5th wife of Henry VIII.

The NPG's painting supposedly came from Overleigh Hall, near Chester (Strong, 1969, p. 41). It passed into the collection of Thomas Cowper who gained possession of the estate, in part through descent and in part through purchase, in c.1660. It then descended through the family to Thomas Cholmondeley of Condover (1793-1863) - who was the nephew of the last of the Cowpers. The label on the reverse of the portrait reads T.C. and probably refers to Cholmondeley. In c.1816 the portrait and other Overleigh pictures were removed to Condover Hall - possibly because Overleigh was to be let out as a school building. The portrait was sold in the Cholmondeley sale at Christie’s in 1897 described only as ‘a Lady, in black dress’ (and from Overleigh). It was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 1898 (while Cust was director) as "Catherine Howard", but it was only after the sale that the dealers Colnaghi and Cust would identify it as Catherine Howard.

The painting (also supposedly of Catherine Howard) from the NPG, believed to be a copy of the original. Many elements of the painting have been crudely handled, especially the hands, face and black fabric of the dress. In contrast some of the jewellery is finely painted and convincing, in particular the cameo brooch discreetly positioned at the very bottom of the painting in the skirt. The flesh is painted thinly over a grey underlayer, which gives it a cool tone. In the background a layer containing smalt has been identified beneath a brown upper layer. The original background appears to have been blue which has discoloured and was retouched with brown. The results of analysis by dendrochronology indicate that the last tree ring dates from 1609 which suggests that the only measurable board used for the panel came from a tree which was felled sometime between 1612 and 1644.

It is believed to be based on a three-quarter-length portrait thought to be by Holbein, now in the Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio. Although the Toledo version (dated c.1540) has previously been called Catherine Howard, there is no evidence for this to have actually been a portrait of Howard. It has been suggested, instead, that the sitter was, Elizabeth Seymour (1518-1568) a member of the Royalist wing of the Cromwell family who apparently once owned the picture, and sister to Jane Seymour (c. 1508 – 24 October 1537 another wife of Henry VIII).

Elizabeth Seymour/Cromwell

Elizabeth and her sister Jane Seymour served in the household of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII. In his quest for a male heir, the king had divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon (see Leche House), whose only surviving child was a daughter, Mary. His marriage to Anne Boleyn had also resulted in a single daughter, Elizabeth. The queen's miscarriage of a son in January 1536 sealed her fate. The king, convinced that Anne could never give him male children, increasingly infatuated with Jane Seymour, and encouraged by the queen's enemies, was determined to replace her. The Seymours rose to prominence after the king's attention turned to Jane. In May 1536, Anne Boleyn was accused of treason and adultery with Mark Smeaton, a court musician, the courtiers Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton and her brother, George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford. The trials and executions of the queen and her co-accused followed swiftly, and on 30 May 1536, eleven days after Anne's execution, Henry VIII and Jane were married. Elizabeth was not included in her sister's household during her brief reign, although she would serve two of Henry VIII's later wives, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard.

Elizabeth Seymour lived under four Tudor monarchs and was married three times. In 1531, she married Sir Anthony Ughtred, Governor of Jersey, who died in 1534.

On 18 March 1537, then a young widow of reduced means, residing in York, Elizabeth had written to Thomas Cromwell, then Baron Cromwell, a friend of her late husband who had previously offered to help her, if she was ever in need. Thomas Cromwell was now overseeing the dissolution of monasteries and she had hoped to:

  • "be holpen to obtain of the king's grace to be farmer of one of these abbeys if they fortune to go down ..."

Cromwell, probably encouraged by Edward Seymour, proposed instead that she marry his only son and heir, Gregory. It was also an opportunity for Cromwell to become a relative to the king as his son would be married to the king's sister-in-law. By June, it appears that Cromwell's offer had been accepted and the wedding took place at Mortlake on 3rd August 1537.

So she married Gregory Cromwell, 1st Baron Cromwell, the son of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to Henry VIII in 1537, who died in 1551 (Gregory was actually a patron of Hans Holbein the Younger). During his time in the House of Lords, Gregory Cromwell participated in several high-profile proceedings, notably the attainders of Catherine Howard on 8 February 1542, as well as Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, in January 1547. In 1547 he participated in the funeral of Henry VIII, as one of the lords carrying the canopy over the late king's rather large coffin. On 28 February 1549 he was present in the House of Lords when the bill of attainder was passed on his wife's brother Thomas Seymour and again in January 1550 during proceedings against his brother-in-law and patron Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. Gregory Cromwell died suddenly on 4 July 1551 of the sweating sickness at his home, Launde Abbey, Leicestershire, and on 7 July 1551 was buried in a magnificent tomb in the chapel there. His wife Elizabeth was also ill but survived.

The paintings of Overlegh Hall as described in the "Gentleman's Magazine" 1794. The paintings of the male Cromwells appear to have been done in 1646/7.

Elizabeth married her third and last husband, John Paulet, Lord St John, the son of William Paulet, 1st Marquess of Winchester in 1554.

The "Toledo" portrait is recorded as being in the hands of yet another Oliver Cromwell (1742-1821): a descendant of Catherine, sister of Thomas Cromwell (Earl of Essex) and her son Sir Richard Williams, who took the name Cromwell. The painting had been in the collection of Mr. Cromwell Bush, said by some to be a descendent of Oliver Cromwell's uncle and God-father Sir Oliver Cromwell (1566-1655). It ended-up the collection of Mr James Hamet Dunn. In 1913, his business partner Fischer disappeared and went to ground leaving Dunn with monstrous debts). Dunn was forced by the Fischer debacle to liquidate his art collection in 1914. The transaction included 13 paintings and included works by Holbein, Bronzino, Manet and El Greco. The portrait next became the property of Edward Drummond Libley (in 1915), who later gave it the Toledo Museum (1925), of which he was a founder.

The Fall of Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell is believed by many historians to have engineered the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn (c. 1501 – 19 May 1536) was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 as the second wife of King Henry VIII. Henry's marriage to her, and her subsequent execution by beheading, made her a key figure in the political and religious upheaval that was the start of the English Reformation. Anne was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Howard, and was educated in the Netherlands and France, largely as a maid of honour to Queen Claude of France. Anne returned to England in early 1522, to marry her Irish cousin James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond; the marriage plans were broken off, and instead she secured a post at court as maid of honour to Henry VIII's wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry and Anne formally married on 25 January 1533, after a secret wedding on 14 November 1532. On 23 May 1533, newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer declared Henry and Catherine's marriage null and void. Anne was crowned Queen of England on 1 June 1533. On 7 September, she gave birth to the future Queen Elizabeth I. Henry was disappointed to have another daughter rather than a son but hoped a son would follow and professed to love Elizabeth. Anne subsequently had three miscarriages, and by March 1536, Henry was courting Jane Seymour. In order to marry Jane Seymour, Henry had to find reasons to end the marriage to Anne. Henry VIII had Anne investigated for high treason in April 1536. On 2 May she was arrested and sent to the Tower of London, where she was tried before a jury of peers – which included Henry Percy, her former betrothed, and her own uncle, Thomas Howard – and found guilty on 15 May. She was beheaded four days later.

Holbein's painting of Jane Seymour, elder sister of Elizabeth Seymour around 1536. For much of the time Henry VIII was courting Jane Seymour, Elizabeth was also single, having been widowed in 1534 and not re-married until 1537.

Henry VIII was betrothed to Jane Seymour on 20 May 1536, just one day after Anne Boleyn's execution. The couple were married at the Palace of Whitehall, Whitehall, London, in the Queen's closet by Bishop Gardiner. In January 1537, Jane became pregnant. During her pregnancy, she developed a craving for quail, which Henry ordered for her from Calais and Flanders. During the summer, she took no public engagements and led a relatively quiet life, being attended by the royal physicians and the best midwives in the kingdom. She went into confinement in September 1537 and gave birth to the coveted male heir, the future King Edward VI, at two o'clock in the morning on 12 October 1537 at Hampton Court Palace. Edward was christened on 15 October 1537, without his mother in attendance, as was the custom. He was the only legitimate son of Henry VIII to survive infancy. After the christening, it became clear that Jane was seriously ill. She died on 24 October 1537 at Hampton Court Palace. After her death, Henry wore black for the next three months. Henry married Anne of Cleves two years later, although marriage negotiations were tentatively begun soon after Jane's death.

During 1536 Thomas Cromwell had proven himself an adept political survivor. However, the gradual slide towards Protestantism at home and the King's ill-starred marriage to Anne of Cleves, which Cromwell engineered in January 1540, proved costly. Some historians believe that Hans Holbein the Younger was partly responsible for Cromwell's downfall because he had provided a very flattering portrait of Anne which may have deceived the king. The Franco-Imperial alliance had failed to materialise, and Henry had therefore been subjected to an unnecessary conjugal difficulty which loosened his Principal Secretary's control of events. In early 1540, Cromwell's conservative, aristocratic enemies, headed by the Duke of Norfolk and assisted by Bishop Gardiner (colloquially known as 'Wily Winchester'), saw in Catherine Howard an opportunity to displace their foe Cromwell. At around this time Elizabeth Cromwell would be appointed to the household of Anne of Cleves.

Cromwell was arrested at a Council meeting on 10 June 1540, accused of a list of charges. He was imprisoned in the Tower. His enemies took every opportunity to humiliate him: they even tore off his Order of the Garter, remarking that "A traitor must not wear it." His initial reaction was defiance: "This then is my reward for faithful service!" he cried out, and angrily defied his fellow Councillors to call him a traitor. A Bill of Attainder containing a long list of indictments, including supporting Anabaptists, corrupt practices, leniency in matters of justice, acting for personal gain, protecting Protestants accused of heresy and thus failing to enforce the Act of Six Articles, and plotting to marry Lady Mary Tudor, was introduced into the House of Lords a week later and passed on 29 June 1540. Cromwell was condemned to death without trial, lost all his titles and property and was beheaded on Tower Hill on 28 July 1540 in a public execution, the day of the King's marriage to Catherine Howard. The executioner had great difficulty severing the head.

Elizabeth had been quick to make it clear to the king whose side she was on when her father-in-law was arrested. An undated letter to the king, probably written while Cromwell was imprisoned in the Tower of London, but before his execution shows the position that she took:

  • "After the bounden duty of my most humble submission unto your excellent majesty, whereas it hath pleased the same, of your mere mercy and infinite goodness, notwithstanding the heinous trespasses and most grievous offences of my father-in-law, yet so graciously to extend your benign pity towards my poor husband and me, as the extreme indigence and poverty wherewith my said father-in-law’s most detestable offences hath oppressed us, is thereby right much holpen and relieved … Most humbly beseeching your majesty in the mean season mercifully to accept this my most obedient suit, and to extend your accustomed pity and gracious goodness towards my said poor husband and me, who never hath, nor, God willing, never shall offend your majesty, but continually pray for the prosperous estate of the same long time to remain and continue."

The king, confident of her loyalty, appointed her to the household of Catherine Howard.

Catherine Howard & Catherine Parr

Catherine Howard was the fifth wife of Henry VIII, whom she married on 28 July 1540, just three weeks after the king’s brief marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled. But the union between Henry, who was nearly 50 years old, and Catherine, who was probably just a teenager, ended in tragedy: the king discovered Catherine’s illicit sexual past and she was charged with treason. Worse still, Catherine was still at it: she spent the progress of 1541 having secret assignations with Thomas Culpeper, a member of her husband’s privy chamber. The couple were able to meet at night in Lincoln, Pontefract and York, and were actually nearly discovered when Anthony Denny arrived at Catherine’s room to fetch her to the King but found her door locked. Catherine Howard was executed at the Tower of London on 13 February 1542.

Despite having executed Catherine Howard for "not being a virgin", Henry then went on to marry (1543) Catherine Parr, who had actually been married twice before. By this time Henry VIII was a physical wreck. He became obese, with a waist measurement of 54 inches (140 cm), and had to be moved about with the help of mechanical inventions. He was covered with painful, pus-filled boils and possibly suffered from gout. His obesity and other medical problems can be traced to the jousting accident in 1536 in which he suffered a leg wound. The accident re-opened and aggravated a previous injury he had sustained years earlier, to the extent that his doctors found it difficult to treat. The chronic wound festered for the remainder of his life and became ulcerated, Henry die at the age of 55, on 28 January 1547. Six months after Henry's death, Catherine Parr married her fourth and final husband, Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley. The marriage was short-lived, as she died in September 1548, probably due to complications of childbirth. Thomas was the brother of Jane Seymour who was the third wife of King Henry VIII and he was also brother of Elizabeth Seymour. He came to a sticky end when scheming against his own brother (Edward Seymour) by stealing pocket money for Edward VI from the Bristol mint and telling the young king that brother Edward was witholding funds. He was found out and was beheaded on 20 March 1549. It is worth noting that the words: "TIMOR . DOMINE . FONS . VITAE" (associated with a building in Park Street) were first struck onto a (now incredibly rare) issue of silver shillings of Edward VI in 1549 - maybe a co-incidence, maybe not.

Thomas Seymour was a plotter like his brother Edward, and, like his brother was beheaded. The crime he was finally charged with was stealing "pocket money" for Edward VI (and telling the young King his brother Edward was witholding pocket money) - a cunning plan!. Perhaps it is no co-incidence that in the month before Thomas was executed the coins associated with the house in Park Street were first struck and issued.

Wolf Hall - a summary

Wulfhall, home to the Seymours, was the inspiration for the title of Wolf Hall, the Man Booker Prize-winning novel by English author Hilary Mantel, Of the ten children born to Sir John Seymour at Wulfhall, six survived:– three sons: Edward, Henry and Thomas, and three daughters: Jane, Dorothy and Elizabeth.

  • John Seymour (died 15 July 1510), eldest son and heir apparent predeceased his father without progeny.
  • Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector of Edward VI - executed;
  • Henry Seymour (16th-century MP) married Barbara, daughter of Morgan Wolfe;
  • Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley married Catherine Parr, widow of Henry VIII - executed;
  • John Seymour (died young);
  • Anthony Seymour (died young);
  • Jane Seymour, queen Consort of Henry VIII - died from childbirth complications;
  • Margery Seymour (died young)
  • Elizabeth Seymour married (1) Anthony Ughtred (2) Gregory Cromwell (3) John Paulet
  • Dorothy Seymour

Edward, Thomas, Jane and Elizabeth were courtiers. Edward and Thomas, would both be executed during the reign of Edward VI. Henry Seymour, who lacked his brothers' ambition, lived away from court, in relative obscurity.

Elizabeth Bromley/Cromwell

Skipping forward to the 16thCent, the family of Thomas Cromwell's sister Katherine has prospered and her grandson is Henry Williams, alias Cromwell. Highly esteemed by Queen Elizabeth I, who knighted him in 1563, he was an important enough man, with a large enough house, for the Queen to do him the honour of sleeping at his seat, Hinchingbrooke House, on 18 August 1564, on her return from visiting the University of Cambridge. Sir Henry Williams, alias Cromwell, married twice. His first marriage was to Joan, a daughter of Sir Ralph Warren, twice Lord Mayor of London; she died at Hinchinbrooke and was buried there in All Saints' church in 1584. By the first marriage, Sir Henry had numerous children; by the latter, none. Sir Oliver, the eldest son, gained the bulk of his fortune. Sir Oliver's brother Robert was the father of Oliver Cromwell (25 April 1599 – 3 September 1658), Lord Protector of England, Scots and Ireland

Sir Oliver Cromwell (the uncle) married firstly Elizabeth Bromley, daughter of Thomas Bromley (1530-1587), the Lord Chancellor and Elizabeth Fortescue, and had four sons and four daughters. Sir Oliver Cromwell was loyal to the crown at the outbreak of the English Civil War. His nephew and godson Oliver Cromwell was sent by parliament to the house at Ramsey to search for arms which could be sent to the King at York. The younger Cromwell is said to have stood head uncovered in the presence of his uncle. Later the Ramsey estates were sequestered but were restored to him on 18 April 1648 through the influence of his nephew who became the "Lord Protector".

There are several reasons to believe that the "NPG/Cowper" portrait is not an original of Catherine Howard:

  • The results of analysis by dendrochronology indicate that the last tree ring dates from 1609 which suggests that the only measurable board used for the panel came from a tree which was felled sometime between 1612 and 1644. On that basis the picture can be dated to the later seventeenth century. Catherine Howard died 13 February 1542 (aged 18–19);
  • The text on the portrait, ETATIS SVA 21, indicates that the sitter was in her 21st year, an age Catherine Howard never reached;
  • The sitter is wearing a sleeve which follows a style set by Anne of Cleves, which would date the portrait to after 6 January 1540, when Anne's marriage to Henry VIII took place;
  • The painting style and technique is not consistent with sixteenth-century workmanship. The handling is more consistent with a work of the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century;
  • There was no reason to have a portrait done of Catherine Howard - she had not produced an heir and the end of her life was a disaster. It also seens strange that the Cromwells should own a potrait of someone so linked to the death of their forebear Thomas Cromwell;
The painting from Overleigh even ended up on a 1935 "tab card" - wrongly labled as being Catherine Howard.

However there is a clear problem with dates: Elizabeth Seymour (1518-1568) was also long dead by the dendrochronology date of 1612-1644 and was only Elizabeth Cromwell from 1537 to 1551 (between ages 19-33). The NPG'a portrait cannot be by Holbein and must be a later copy.

The later Elizabeth Cromwell is also slightly problematic as regards the dendrochronology: Sir Oliver (her husband) died in 1655 and her father in 1587. She must have been dead by 1601 when her husband remarried (she died in July 1600). So why then describe this a painting of "Lady Elizabeth Cromwell first wife of Sir Oliver and daughter of Sir Henry Bromley". The likely explanation is that the "Chester" picture was probably a copy of the Holbein for what became the Cowper family collection. The mix-up is probably that this is in fact a copy of Holbein's painting of of the earlier Elizabeth Seymour who married Holbein's patron Gregory Cromwell and therefore became an earlier Elizabeth Cromwell.

Said to be a potrait of Sir Oliver Cromwell, aged 84 in 1646. There is posssibly something "fishy" about this portrait as Sir Oliver appears to be wearing a Charles I memorial medal, and Charles was not executed until 1649.

Sir Oliver's Death

There is a little to add to the description in "The New British Traveller" (1819):

  • The ancient manor house was of timber and very spacious was demolished during the siege of Chester. The present mansion was not erected untill after the Restoration and it since received considerable additions. It contains a good Library and a great number of old portraits particularly some valuable ones of the Cromwell family of which the principal are the following mentioned in an inventory in the Library: Oliver Cromwell, uncle and godfather to the Protector aet 84 1646; Lady Elizabeth Cromwell first wife of Sir Oliver and daughter of Sir Henry Bromley, Lord Chancellor; Colonel Henry Cromwell aet 60 1645; Colonel John Cromwell second son of Sir Oliver; William Cromwell fourth son of Sir Oliver; Major John Hettley painted in a large wig; Sir Thomas and Lady Hettley Dr Sparks MD and Mr Manley.

Cromwell’s sons Thomas and William fought for the king during the Civil War, and his eldest son was apparently appointed royalist sheriff of Huntingdonshire in 1643. Cromwell’s death, on 28 Aug. 1655, was caused by an unfortunate accident, described by the antiquary William Dugdale:

  • ‘he was out in the rain, and after his return, sitting by a good fire without any company in the room, by some weakness or swoon [he] fell into the fire and was so scorched that he died about two days after’

A portrait believed to be Sir Oliver exists. This is annotated with the same age (84) and year (1646) mentioned in the letter written to the "Gentleman's Magazine". It is possible that this was the portrait seen at Overlegh, passed on to the Cholmondleys and presumably sold off, although the portrait is not mentioned in the Christie's sale catalog.

As for the fate of his sons the following is recorded:

  • COLONEL HENRY CROMWELL (1586-1657): The name of Henry was given to many of the eldest sons of the Cromwell family in honor of their munificent patron Henry the Eighth Henry Cromwell was the eldest son and heir to Sir Oliver and evinced his duty to his parent by a spirited and vigorous conduct in behalf of the Royal party This occasioned his estates to be sequestered but on petitioning Parliament in 1649 the house decreed that the fine imposed on him should be remitted The Protector afterwards courted his friendship and appointed him one of the assessors for the county of Huntingdon.
  • COLONEL JOHN CROMWELL (1589-c1660): second son of Sir Oliver. John, was a military man who served in James I’s army in the Palatinate in 1624. He then entered the service of the Netherlands and was Colonel of an English Regiment serving in Holland. Late in 1648 when news of the condemnation to death of Charles I was received, he was sent by the Prince of Orange to his cousin Oliver to plead for the King’s life. Having with difficulty gained admittance, he argued vehemently that the execution would be seen on the Continent as an indelible stain on England and even threatened Oliver that the entire family would change their name back to Williams out of shame if the execution went ahead. The mission was, of course, unsuccessful, and John Cromwell returned to Holland. He saw the conduct of his cousin as criminal, though that didn’t stop him applying to the Lord Protector for redress over a case involving his estranged wife who had, he claimed, reduced him to penury.

Thomas probably died at Newbury MA in 1645. On 29 Sept., 1646 the will of “Thomas Croomwell” was brought in to the Ipswich court to be proved.

  • WILLIAM CROMWELL (1593-1655): fourth son of Sir Oliver. The life and death of this gentleman were both singular He had frequently proved his attachment to the unhappy Charles the First yet was employed by the Protector in a secret expedition to Denmark The vessel in which he embarked was cast away and as he endeavoured to escape by leaping into a boat he broke his arm and very much bruised his head His servant was drowned his money and clothes all lost and to aggravate his calamity a fever attacked him and from being obliged to conceal his name he was for some time unable to procure assistance He afterwards returned to England and engaged in a plot to assassinate the Protector but this miscarried and Oliver acquitted him. His death was occasioned by the purchase of a new coat the cloth of which had been brought from London and was infected with the plague which he caught and died in February. The taylor with all his family and about four hundred people at Ramsey in Huntingdonshire where he resided fell sacrifices to the pestilential malady generated by this fatal garment.

Elizabeth's gold medallion shows the flight of Lot and his family from Sodom (Genesis 19) and was designed by Holbein; the drawing survives in the British Museum. Whether this choice of image has any special significance is unknown.

The auction catalog for the Cholmondeley sale states that the painting of a woman in black came from Overleigh. The description is very similar to both the paintings shown above.

The Restoration

The Commonwealth, which preceded the English Restoration, might have continued if Oliver Cromwell's son Richard, who was made Lord Protector on his father's death (3 September 1658), had been capable of carrying on his father's policies: see "The Booth Rising" for more on this. Richard Cromwell's main weakness was that he did not have the confidence of the army. On 4 April 1660, Charles II issued the Declaration of Breda, in which he made several promises in relation to the reclamation of the crown of England. On 8 May the Convention Parliament, proclaimed that King Charles II had been the lawful monarch since the execution of Charles I on 30 January 1649. Constitutionally, it was as if the last nineteen years had never happened. Charles returned from exile, leaving the Hague on 23 May and landing at Dover on 25 May. He entered London on 29 May 1660, his 30th birthday. The Indemnity and Oblivion Act, which became law on 29 August 1660, pardoned all past treason against the crown, but specifically excluded those involved in the trial and execution of Charles I. Thirty-one of the 59 commissioners (judges) who had signed the death warrant in 1649 were living. The regicides were hunted down; some escaped but most were found and put on trial: twelve were condemned to death. Oliver Cromwell, Henry Ireton, Judge Thomas Pride, and Judge John Bradshaw were posthumously attainted for high treason. Because Parliament is a court, the highest in the land, a bill of attainder is a legislative act declaring a person guilty of treason or felony, in contrast to the regular judicial process of trial and conviction. In January 1661, the corpses of Cromwell, Ireton and Bradshaw were exhumed and hanged in chains at Tyburn.

The Puzzle

The puzzle here is why a painting which ended up at Overleigh was listed as being the later Elizabeth Cromwell when it was actually a fairly poor copy of a genuine Holbein for which the sitter may well have been an earlier Elizabeth Cromwell.

The key dates in this minor mystery are:

  • Elizabeth Seymour (1518-1568) was married to Gregory Cromwell (like his father, a known patron of Holbein) from 1537 to 1551: it is probable that the Toledo Holbein dates from 1537-51 (Elizabeth was 21 around 1539 - which possibly makes that the most likely date);
  • Elizabeth Bromley first wife of Sir Oliver died in 1600: the NPG "Holbein" is a badly restored copy of the Seymour portrait, and not (as the inventory said) Bromley. The earliest possible date for the copy is 1612 but it is likely to date from later;
  • The paintings of her husband and sons appear to date from 1646-47; No painting of Thomas is mentioned (he died in the colonies in 1645)
  • Sir Oliver died in 1655, almost outliving his sons: the youngest son, William, dies of the plague in 1655. The last of the family estates passed to his sisters, who sold them off to settle his debts.
  • Thomas Cowper rebuilds Overleigh after the Restoration (1660);
  • The portraits are described in the "Gentleman's Magazine" as existing in 1793;

The Second Wife

Elizabeth Bromley was born in 1564 in Holt Castle (not the one near Chester). Her parents were Sir Thomas Bromley, Lord Chancellor, and Elizabeth Fortesque. Sir Thomas presided over the commission which tried Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1586, but the strain of the trial and the responsibility of ordering the execution of a monarch proved too much for his strength, and he died soon after. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. Elizabeth died 17th July 1600 (aged 36), and was buried at All Saints Church, Huntingdon, as Mrs Oliver Cromwell of Godmanchester. Sir Oliver then married Anna, daughter of Giles Hooftman, and widow of Sir Haratio Pallovicini of Babraham, an Italian. By 1559, Hooftman had already become one of the richest men in Antwerp.

Accoding to one website this is Sir Oliver Cromwell's second wife: Anna Hooftman (1613-c1645) - the problem is, this the wrong Anna Hooftman!

Sir Horatio Pallovicini was a financier and diplomatist, was born at Genoa about 1540, the son of Tobias Palavicino, a member of the wealthy, aristocratic banking family in Northern Italy, which was closely connected with most of the powerfull Italian banking firms. The family business was based on handling the Papal monopoly in alum, a commodity greatly in demand in the Netherlands and England for the cloth trade and tanning of leather. Pallovicini's morals were most un-Puritan like, having been referred to as "a scalawag, reprobate, philanderer, letch, debauchee, rapscallion, sycophant, and a practitioner of the fetish of deflowering virgins". After his death in 1600 (July 5), Anna Palavicino remarried as soon as she decently could: the ceremony took place a year and a day after her first husband's death. Her chosen partner was Sir Oliver Cromwell: hopstiable, prodigal, and several thousand Pounds in debt. Though his father, Sir Henry Cromwell, was one of the wealthiest men in late-Elizabethan England, the old man was inconveniently long-lived: he died in 1604, leaving his son Oliver with an income of 5,000 Pounds a year. Sir Oliver, like many noblemen of this time, contrived to spend both the Cromwell and Palavicino fortunes on the entertainment of King James, who was inclined to favor Sir Oliver's home as a convenient hunting lodge. The Cromwells entertained King James with "the greatest feast that has ever been given to a king by a subject" in 1603. The king returned for visits in 1605, 1616, and 1617.

Horatio Pallovicini had been employed by Queen Elizabeth to raise money for the Queen to finance the States of Holland and Brabant in their contest with the Spaniards. The sum of 28,000 Pounds was due to Sir Horace and his brother, and arrears of interest from 1593 to 1606, at 10 percent, more than doubled their claim against the Crown. Of that, 15,000 Pounds were due to Sir Oliver in the right of his wife. This was not the end of the financial scheming: as soon as it was legally possible, Sir Oliver and the second Lady Cromwell married the Palavicino children to Sir Oliver's children by his previous marriage, as follows:

  • Henry Palavicino (14) married Catherine Cromwell (12), and
  • Toby Palavicino (12) married Jane Cromwell in 1606.

It was not possible to marry off the third child, Baptina, simultaneously, since she can have been no more than 10: her marriage to Sir Oliver's heir, Henry, followed c. 1608/10. This threw the entire Palavicino fortune, including Baptina's dowry, into Sir Oliver's dubious control.

The portraits possibly turn up in connection with Henry/Baptina Palavicino: daughter Carina, baptized at Ramsey Sept. 5, 1622, married Will. Hetley. A Major Hetley, who lived in London, was "sprung from the marriage" and "possesed fine full-length portraits of the Cromwells" (see: Mark Noble: "Memoirs of the Protectorate-house of Cromwell"(1787) and "Fenland Notes & Queries, Volume 5"). If this is the case then the portraits were in the hands of the Hetley's at some point after about 1660. Noble writes:

  • "Carina baptized sept 5 1622 at Ramsey she married to Will Hetley of Broughton in Huntingdonshire esq who was descended from Tho Hetley or Hedley of Riseley in the county of Bedford esq whose son Will marrying Jane sister of Rich Worme of Peterborough the family seated themselves at Broughton they bore gules three sparrow hawks proper achevron arg charged with a cross crosslet fable and for a crest a sparrow hawk proper sitting upon a nest with a branch on each side also proper. There were descendants of this marriage but which neither I nor mr Hetley of Alwalton in Huntingdonshire are able to trace: it gave me the more concern as major Hetley who lived in London some years ago and was sprung from this marriage had very fine pictures at full length of the Cromwells. I should have been tempted had it been possible to have had some of them engraved especially those representing Sir Rich and Sir Hen Cromwell with their ladies as they were the progenitors of the protectors if such portraits made a part of this collection."

This makes sense, as the Overleigh collection included some Hetley portraits, including (according to the sale catalog) one by William Dobson. During the English Civil War Dobson was based at the Royalist centre of Oxford and painted many leading Cavaliers. His portrait of the future Charles II as Prince of Wales at the age of around twelve is a notable baroque composition, and perhaps his finest work. He also painted at least the head of Duke of York, as well as portraits of leading Royalists such as Charles Lucas and John Byron, Prince Rupert of the Rhine and Prince Maurice. After Oxford fell to the Parliamentarians, in June 1646, Dobson returned to London. Now without patronage, he was briefly imprisoned for debt and died in poverty at the age of thirty-six later in 1646.


The paintings of the Cromwells are described in the "Gentleman's Magazine" 1794 as being at Overlegh Hall. When and how they arrived remains a puzzle. What seems probable is that the "Lady in black" sold on to the National Portrait Gallery is that described as being "Elizabeth Cromwell". While Sir Oliver Cromwell had a wife named Elizabeth, the "Toledo" portrait, almost certainly by Holbein, is the earlier original. Hans Holbein died between 7 October and 29 November 1543 at the age of 45, whereas Cromwell's wife was only born later, in 1564. An earlier Elizabeth Cromwell (1518-1568) was born Elizabeth Seymour, sister to Jane Seymour and wife to Gregory Cromwell (a patron of Holbein). Gregory died in the last Pandemic of the "Sweating Sickness" which had also, it seems, claimed Arthur Tudor.

Just why the "Gentleman's Magazine" reports the wrong "Elizabeth Cromwell" isn't clear, but it may be the mistake arose with William Cowper, the antiquarian. Cowper is not the "cleanest" of antiquarians, as he appers to have stolen entirely the work of of the Rev. John Stones (died 1738), one of the minor canons of the Cathedral and rector of Coddington. This related to the shrine of Werburgh at the Cathedral and Cowper published the work as "A Summary of the Life of St. Werburgh, with an historical account of the images upon her shrine (now the episcopal throne) in the choir of Chester. Collected from antient chronicles and old writers, by a Citizen of Chester", Chester, 1749. While he did not openly claim the work to be his own, he did not credit Rev. Stones either.

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